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NYC Helpline: How To: Teach Literacy

Understanding "The Look" of the Readers' Workshop Allison Demas

Now that you understand the components of the Readers’ Workshop, I would like to focus on the mini-lesson portion. The possible topics generally fall into one or four categories: Routines, Word Attack Strategies, Phonics, and Comprehension.

Routines should be addressed at the beginning of the school year and then revisited when necessary. Examples of topics that fall under routines are ‘how to work together in a group,’ ‘how to have a Book Talk’ or ‘how to share materials.’ This area addresses management. Without management the most well prepared lessons in the world can go right out the window.

Word Attack mini-lessons would be conducted in a Shared Reading lesson (using enlarged text). Word Attack strategies include such skills as finding smaller words in larger words, sounding out the word, and determining the meaning of a vocabulary word from contextual clues. This category addresses very specific skills readers use to help themselves understand the text. The skills are broken down into simple steps and are demonstrated in an obvious manner. The student won’t have to guess at what you are doing. They are also demonstrated repeatedly. You don’t just teach a strategy once and assume that the children understood it. By the same token, once the students do understand the strategy and how to use it, you should move on. You can review it periodically, but you don’t keep teaching the same lesson.

To teach Phonics, you can use the enlarged text to focus on spelling patterns, blends and digraphs, and sound explorations. When you choose a book you are not choosing it solely for its phonetic content. Comprehension is the main reason you choose a text for a lesson. It may, however, also lend itself to phonics mini-lessons. For example, if you choose the poem “Seed, Sprout, Flower” by Helen H. Moore, (portion below) the text is addressing a science theme (seeds (S2b life cycles of organisms)). However, you can use the text to focus on consonants or to teach consonant blends (pl, spr, st, ) or to teach about the diphthong /ou/:

A seed is planted:
First a sprout,
then stem,
and leaves
and buds
come out.

Comprehension skills can be taught in a Shared Reading lesson, however I feel that the text may be too limiting. The skills addressed are very basic ones, such as prediction and sequencing. Initially, you can focus on these topics, however, you don’t want to limit the children to just these skills. I personally find that my best comprehension lessons come from Read Alouds.

(Click here for a printable, one page, bullet point chart of the above)

You can use a Read Aloud, such as The Talking Eggs by Robert San Souci, to study character traits. Read Alouds, simply by virtue of being more involved texts, lend themselves to more in-depth lessons and discussions. You can study cause and effect, main idea, or create a story map (setting, characters, problem and solution).

Mini-lessons are not generic, one-size-fits-all lessons. They should be specific to the needs of your students. You must know your students well and choose your texts carefully.


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