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NYC Helpline: How To: Teach Literacy

From the "How to Teach Literacy" Mailbag Allison Demas

The following exchange offers advice on guided reading and reader's workshop.

When I do a mini lesson on a strategy, then break into independent work, do the independent readers do an exercise or activity based on the mini lesson? Does the guided reading group focus on the lesson just taught, or a completely different strategy?


Dear NC,

After your mini-lesson, before you send the students off to work independently, you should remind them of their focus. Ideally, they should be looking to use the strategy you have just taught them. In reality I don’t believe every child is able to do this or chooses to do this (Please remember - I teach kindergarten). However, as long as they are attending to reading and not getting into trouble I don’t mind. If I have done a decoding lesson on chunking then I would remind the students of this skill and tell them that I would like them to try this themselves in their own books. I would also remind them of other strategies they can use when they get stuck (reread, find small words in big words, sounding out, etc.). When we come back to the share session I have the children share what they have done independently - especially those who have managed to use the decoding strategy successfully.

Your guided reading groups should not be static. They should be constantly changing as the children’s abilities are changing. The guided reading lesson is group specific. For example, if the children in a group are not following through words to the end, then that should be the focus of your guided reading lesson for that group.

For more on guided reading and guided reading groups, make sure to read the articles by former web mentor Miriam Bissu. You can also read my article, Conducting a Guided Reading Lesson.

Good luck,

Dear Allison,

Let me see if I understand you correctly. I have a fourth grade class. When they are doing independent work in the readers’ workshop, they shouldn’t be allowed to go into the literacy center and do some language arts exercises such as reading a story and writing another ending; or go to a social studies center and locate countries on a map? Do they strictly have to sit and read a book?

Thanks for all your help.


Dear NC,

Readers' Workshop is for just that - reading. I don't send my students to literacy centers at this point of the year. I do send them in the beginning and then I start weaning them off the centers at the end of January. Many students just play when they are at centers.

I stress to my students that reading time is for reading. Some of them are reading independently. Some are buddy reading. Some are responding to books. Some are having discussions about books they have read together. I do let them write about the books they’ve read in their reading logs, or about connections they have made between books or their lives. Sometimes they make story maps of the books they are reading, others make "before and after" charts. They share these with us as a class during the last part of the workshop.

I do caution you against having the students write about their favorite part; they tend to get stuck in the rut of "I like the part when … "

Expository writing (story writing) is done during the Writers' Workshop. At times the activities in both overlap but you have to be careful not to blur the boundaries.

If you feel that they need more information in content areas (i.e., social studies) you can have a basket of books on this topic. I have a basket of autobiographies. I use an enlarged copy of one of these to do a shared reading lesson on the characteristics of non-fiction books and present the class with a basket of smaller versions of similar books. If they read these books during the Readers' Workshop they are getting historical information as they hone their reading skills.



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