Summer, for most of us, is a time to regroup. We might take a week or so where we don’t touch our school material. But let’s be real, after that grace period, we’re back at it, planning, acquiring new ideas, and figuring out how we can make the next school year the best yet. One teaching technique easy to tweak a little each year is READING WORKSHOP.
Ok, where to begin?? The idea of Reading Workshop can be overwhelming, and it can look different ways. I wouldn’t say there is specifically a right or wrong way to do it. And each year, with each class, it’s going to look differently. One thing this year that works GREAT for sixth graders was a literature reading workshop unit featuring Gary Paulsen.
Organization. Reading Workshop. HELP!!!
So to get organized and to get students to buy into this unit, begin modeling exactly what you want them to do with a riveting sneak peek of one of Gary’s finest novels, Woodsong. Discuss what a memoir is, and do some background research on Gary Paulsen. Quick hits on where he’s from, where he’s lived, and where most of his stories take place incorporate geography ( if you have a good relationship with the social studies teacher like I do, you can even do some team teaching across the board here )!!
The modeling done with them prepares them for what’ll be expected out of them throughout the unit. Each student has an interactive literature notebook, which can be purchased from Teachers Pay Teachers, I’m Lovin Lit. Totally affordable and so worth it! The notebook allows them to having an interactive resource that they can reference throughout the year. So what is modeled for them is how to lay out the information. This can be easily tweaked to each individual preference, but I like to have my students look the same and it’s organized so they can easily find information should they need to go back later.
Once you have them hook, line, and sinker, the process can easily be turned into a small group project. You can build up your classroom library with a Gary Paulsen collection or utilize your school library that has multiple copies of his books. I strategically place the students into groups of two or three according to ability level ( high, middle, low readers and for this first unit, I tend to try to place them in groups where they are comfortable- coming into middle school is often difficult enough and I want to make this enjoyable!) In older grades, I use slightly larger groups, but for sixth graders, and since they are new to the middle school scene, I keep it pretty small and simple. Take a day and preview several of his books. Each group has a novel and reads the back cover and then the first two or three pages of the text. If it’s something the group is interested in, they write the title down and then the books are rotated through the groups. Once all books have been previewed, the groups choose which Paulsen book they’d like to read (ownership!). And the workshop begins!
Day one begins with planning. You’ll want to give the unit a deadline. Two weeks is a good number to use with 42 minute class periods, 5 days a week. Start by guiding the groups to make a plan as to how much they want to read each day. They know they’ll have 10 school days so they should be able to plan accordingly. What they don’t get done in class, stress the importance of working outside of class time independently to keep up with their schedule. Let the reading begin!
At the beginning of each session, or at the end, depending how they are at keeping to the schedule, they should come up with an essential question. This will guide their next section and keep them thinking throughout the book. They can also jot down vocabulary they have questions about in their interactive literature books and also any other questions they are wondering about while reading~ almost like a think aloud ( and again, all this is modeled during the teacher-lead model ). You can either have them write a reflection, summary, main idea, or answer to their essential question at the end of each session/section.
Now to pull it all together! So at the end of the two weeks, each group creates a storyboard and presents it to the class. They LOVE this! Each group can get as artsy as they choose. This can be used as a final assessment to the project. I do ask the groups to leave the presentation in a cliffhanger, in hopes to spark some interest in some of Gary’s other novels! It’s an almost guarantee that it will!
What is the teacher doing??? All the while the groups are reading during class, you as the teacher are sitting with each group. Ask questions, take a peek at the interactive literature books and make sure that the progress is being updated. This is another great assessment tool! The conversations you’ll have with your students will amaze you! Deeper level thinking, connections to the text, and relationships will be built on this small group conference setting!! Win, win!!