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NYC Helpline: How To: Teach Literacy

Determining What to Teach during the Readers Workshop Allison Demas

Using an integrated curriculum is a good way to conserve time and extend your exploration of a topic. For example, if I chose to create a theme unit on dinosaurs I would incorporate that theme into my reading lesson by using the book Dinosaurs, Dinosaurs by Byron Barton. I could use the topic to demonstrate generating an idea and developing a story through modeled, shared and interactive writing. A social studies lesson could address careers and focus on paleontologists. A science lesson could be about dinosaur “stomach stones.” A math lesson could focus on size and measurement. There, I now have the beginning of an integrated curriculum.

Now, let’s look at my reading lesson. Dinosaurs, Dinosaurs is a great book for introducing my topic and I might want to develop a KWL (Know, Want to Learn, Learned ) chart with my class. This is a good idea BUT it is NOT a reading lesson. It’s a science lesson

To use this book for a reading lesson I could use a page with the text “There were dinosaurs with horns...” to demonstrate how to figure out a word by finding a smaller word within it (“or” in “horns”).

  • I could show how to use graphophonic cues (especially initial and final sounds). I might then use it to show how to look through to the end of a word.
  • I could demonstrate how to use picture cues. I could address the three cueing system (Meaning, Visual and Structure). I could then follow up by demonstrating how to check one cue against another in order to make sure that the text makes sense.
  • Another approach would be to use a reference book on dinosaurs to teach the elements of a non-fiction book. I would focus on the Table of Contents and its purpose. I could highlight the Index and teach students how to use it. I might want to introduce a Glossary using the book. If I do not have an appropriate big book for these lessons I would enlarge the pages by using an overhead projector (or a copy machine) in order to use them for my Shared Reading lesson.

By using any of these approaches I would be integrating a science theme into all areas of study, including reading. Of course the students will pick up information about the topic during the reading lesson. However, I would not be conducting a science lesson. I would be using a science text to teach a reading lesson.

Here are some other topics you should consider for reading lessons. Remember to make sure they are appropriate for your students.

concepts of print

  • directionality
  • return sweep
  • punctuation
  • what a word is
  • what a letter is
  • upper and lower case letters
  • spacing

one-to-one correspondence
parts of a book
identify characteristics of a book
identify characteristics of a non-fiction book

Word Attack Strategies

looking at picture cues
using initial sounds
looking through to the end of a word
three cue system

  • Meaning : Semantic Cue System
  • Visual : Graphophonic Cue System
  • Structure : Syntactic Cue System

check one cue against another
check to see if it makes sense
how to monitor and self-correct
using onsets and rhymes (spelling patterns)
skip and go back


clarifying confusions (“stopping to think”)
relate to own experience
relate to other texts
character analysis
parts of a story (map)

  • setting
  • characters
  • main events
  • problem
  • resolution

beginning, middle, end
“prove it”


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