August 2017 - Room 213

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5 Ways to Blend Reader's and Writer's Workshop

I get a lot of questions about the best way to balance reading and writing workshop; it's something that I've struggled with myself on my journey with this approach. However, the more I think about it, the more I wonder: why do we want to separate them at all?

Reading and writing are closely entwined. That's obvious. And yet, we tend to teach them as separate entities, even during workshop time. However, whether students are reading beautifully written language, or experimenting with it themselves, they are learning to become skilled readers and writers. It's all so inextricably linked.  

But, the question remains, how do you combine reading and writing workshop? Let's start with a look at some of the common core standards for reading literature in grade nine and ten:

Analyze how an author's choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise.


Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).

And now, check out these standards for writing in the same grades:


Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, description, reflection, and multiple plot lines, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.

Use precise words and phrases, telling details, and sensory language to convey a vivid picture of the experiences, events, setting, and/or characters.

Even though the wording is a little different, each standard is basically asking the kids to focus on the same concepts, so why not ask them to do it all at once, rather than during separate lessons? That's exactly what I plan to do this year. As always, it'll be a work in progress for me, but I will share my successes and failures as I go, as well as some of the tools I will use to blend these two workshops. Make sure you sign up for my newsletter above to get some freebies in your inbox this week!

Here are four ways that I plan to blend reading and writing workshop:

1. Book Talks:
Book talks are an essential ingredient for a reader's workshop. We use them to spread the work about great reads, inspiring the kids to pick up a title they might not otherwise choose. However, if you are more deliberate with planning your book talk, you can use it for a writing mentor text at the same time. For example, at the beginning of the year, I always talk about the methods authors pull their readers into their stories. I want my readers to be able to identify and evaluate these techniques. I also want my writers to be able to craft engaging openings to their texts too, whether they are writing a narrative, a description, a poem or a non-fiction piece. I will gather a variety of novels with great openings, as well as some magazine and newspaper articles. We will evaluate them as readers, and then, during independent work time, students will use some of them as mentor texts to experiment with in their own writing. 

2. Student Novels as Mentor Texts 

When we do writing prompts and/or skill building exercises, I will ask students to use the novels they are reading as mentor texts. In the example above, after I show them the openings from the texts I have found, they will evaluate the effectiveness of opening lines of their novel, either in writing or in a conference with me. But, they will also be expected to use it as a model, and to try some of the writer's techniques themselves. If I'm teaching them about variety in sentence length, they will be tasked with the job of looking for examples in their novel and again, use them as a models. It's so easy to make that link -- and it's easier for the teacher, because you don't have to spend hours looking for mentor texts. It puts more responsibility on the students to do the thinking and the work, and it is an activity that blends reading and writing skills, as they have to be able to identify the technique in the novel (reading) and use it in their own writing.

3. Reading/Writing Notebook
I don't see any need to have two separate notebooks for reading and writing workshop, especially if I'm combining lessons as I explained above. The kids don't need another thing to keep track of (nor do you) and, if you're linking reading skills and writing skills, it only makes sense to link the notebooks as well.  Whether they are writing about the book they are reading, using a writing prompt, or using their own ideas, the end result is the same.  

4. Inquiry Questions

Inquiry questions are a staple in my classroom. I use them to approach everything we do, so I can link what happens in my room with what's happening in the students' lives. It makes them see the relevance in what we do and increases engagement significantly (you can read about how it works in Room 213 here). This year, instead of giving them the question, I'm going to open it up and let them choose their own. In the initial weeks of workshop, I want the kids to think about big questions that they'd like to find answers for. Then, they will attempt to find those answers in the books they read and use these ideas as jumping off point for their own writing. At the end of the year, they will complete a multi-genre project that will illustrate their exploration of the question. This will require that they explore the ideas in non-fiction, poetry and other texts as well as their novels. It will also require that they experiment with various types of writing as they explore the idea. 

5. Conferences

Conferencing is another essential component of the workshop approach, as they allow you time to instruct and assess your students. These provide another easy way to blend your reading and writing workshop. If I have a conference to assess a student's ability to understand how authors use language for effect, I'll ask them to show me examples from their novels and their pieces of writing. Not only is this "one-stop shopping" for the teacher, but it's a process that makes sense. Separating reading from writing is kind of like separating multiplication from division in math. Yes, they are separate skills, but students use them simultaneously in math class. 

Keep following for more details on how I blend my workshops, including the assessments that I plan to use. More posts coming soon.  And don't forget to sign up for the newsletter, so you can receive free products to use in your classroom:


If Teacher Isn't Happy, Nobody's Happy: Five Things to Take Care of First

It's taken my two decades of fighting against my type A perfectionist self to realize that one of the most important thing I need to do to have a good year, is to take care of myself.  It doesn't matter if I have the most engaging, mind-blowing lessons if I can't maintain the pace all semester.  If I can't sleep all night without waking up with my mind racing, if I can't have enough energy when I come home to be a good mother to my children, then something is not right.

So as I begin yet another school year, I am committing to five things that going to be a priority so I can be healthy, happy and sane:

1.  Exercise
I don't need to remind you of the research. We all know that we are healthier and happier when we move our bodies. I certainly am. However, after a long, demanding school day, I am really good at rationalizing why I'm better off exercising my ability to select something on Netflix than putting on my sneakers. This needs to stop. I am committing to doing something every day, whether it's a trip to the gym or a long walk with a friend (which is a double whammy). Even if I am exhausted -- which I will be during the first few weeks of school -- I am going to at least spend twenty minutes doing squats and weights while I watch Netflix.

2.  Eat Well
Right now, I'm on vacation and have lots of time to make some delicious and nutritious meals. Once school starts, though, it's harder to do that. But it's still just as necessary. To prevent myself from diving into a bag of chips after school, I'm not going to have any in the house. I'll stock up on healthy snacks so the temptation is not there. Also, I'm going to get back into the habit of spending a few hours on Sunday afternoons, making some meals that I can use all week: a casserole or a big pot of spaghetti sauce that will last for more than one meal,  and pre-chopped veggies that can be used for a salad or a stir-fry. It takes some time, yes, but it will ensure that my family and I are getting the good fuel we need for the week.

3.  Get Some Silent Time 
I desperately need some time when my brain isn't running a mile a minute, as it is prone to do. If I don't find ways to slow it down, I can run around like an Energizer Bunny until, inevitably, I crash, overwhelmed and unable to do anything well. Electronics have added to this problem, as there's always something for me to check or look up. I'm committing to carving out more quiet time. I'm going to give myself at least twenty minute a day when I leave my phone upstairs and grab a book or do some meditating -- anything that will distract my mile-a-minute mind from highjacking the time I need to unwind.

4.  Avoid the Drama
I don't know about your school, but at mine there's always some sort of drama. One staff member is ticked about something and another is incensed about something else. The staff room can become a cesspool of complaint that goes way beyond healthy venting, and I can get sucked deeply into it. I know that the best way to stay healthy is to just avoid certain people and certain situations. I'd also like to cultivate the art of diverting the conversation so I don't have to avoid. Until I do, however, for my own health, I will be seeking out the positive people who make me feel better when I leave the conversation, instead of worse.

5. Remember That It's Just. A. Job.
I know it's a calling and a passion; I get that. However, it is a job that can suck the life out of you and your relationships if you can't separate it from the rest of your life. Yes, we need to do homework in the evening and on weekends, but we need to make time for ourselves, our families and friends a priority in the after work hours. I don't have an answer for how to shut it off, but I do know that it has to happen. So, this year, I plan to work on strategies for walking away, for sometimes accepting less than my best. That might sound like a bad thing, but I don't think it is. I can go into overdrive and put way more time and energy into a lesson than is really necessary. Instead, I need to know when enough is enough. For example, maybe it is ok to use last year's untweaked lesson and go to a movie with a friend instead of reworking it.

That's my plan and I hope I can stick to it. There will be times that I do go for the junk food or get sucked into some hallway drama, but as long as I stay committed to trying, I should have a happy and healthy year. I hope you do too!

* One way you can get a break is to let other people help you. I've got lots of  classroom tested lessons and activities that you can check out, including this FREE back to school activity. Grab it by clicking here.