Creating a Community of Readers

Adapting a Reading Workshop approach in a Year 1 class


 'Readers are made, not born. Few students spring out of the ground fully formed as readers. They need help, and we cannot assume they will get it from home, but they should always get it from us, their teachers'

The Book Whisperer- Unlocking the Inner Reader in Every Child by Miller Donalyn 


 I had always been happy with my  teaching of reading, however I had employed the same approach for many years and was interested in finding out about more current practises. When I researched balanced reading programs further, I began to evaluate the effectiveness of some of my routines and approaches. 


Jan Miller Burkins and Melody M. Croft in their book entitled 'Preventing Misguided Reading (2009) suggest that, "Literacy centres for guided reading can limit teachers by holding them to particular patterns and rotations for gathering students for guided reading- this kind of grouping does not allow for flexibility". Miller Donalyn mirrors this thought and goes on to say, "'Time and time again, I have seen a heavy dose of independent reading, paired with explicit instruction in reading strategies, transform nonreaders into readers" cited in 'The book Whisperer- Awakening the Inner Reader in every Child'


Having implemented a Writing Workshop in my Year 1 class last year and seeing significant impact on student’s writing, I became interested in looking further at a similar approach to reading. I started to inquire further into whether this approach would be less limiting for me as a teacher and also maximize the POTENTIAL of my young readers; by providing them with increased time to read and structured development of their reading habits including independence and stamina. 












Finding out more about the POTENTIAL of my young readers : understanding yourself as a reader, stamina, habits, attitudes, where to go next, life long skills for reading.


I used selected questions from the Burke's reading inventory for my data collection, adapted to make it more suitable for younger children. I also conducted observations of reading habits and stamina for reading in the classroom.

POTENTIAL: understanding yourself as a reader, stamina, habits, attitudes, where to go next, life long skills for reading.


My initial interviews with students indicated that they had strong, positive attitudes towards reading and themselves as readers. However, they had not yet developed awareness of what readers do. Observations showed, perhaps not surprisingly, that stamina and habits for reading were not quite as developed. It was in this area that I focused my action.


            Looking closely at my current approach to teaching of reading


To understand the changes made to my reading program, it is useful to first understand my exsisting structure for reading. 


  • Read alouds several times a day

  • Shared reading daily

  • Independent reading time daily 15mins- outside of guided reading time

  • Guided reading groups organised by reading levels and/or strategy need. Groups changed regularly according to need

  • Each group will have guided reading with teacher once per week, they will also read in a group with the EA once per week- 20mins

  • Guided reading groups organised to rotate through tasks throughout the week. Tasks would include phonics, sight words, consolidating reading strategies taught, reading independently work on writing. These tasks are differentiated according to needs of each group and all groups work through all the tasks.

  • Regular benchmarking assessments, phonological awareness, phonics and sight word assessments


What is Reading Workshop?

Reading Workshop, “...structures reading time and activities to make reading the primary activity and to give students ownership of their reading,” (Graves, Juel & Graves, 2007, p. 306).


This model can be used in any grade level, but it is more likely used in primary schools.


It focuses on the teacher modeling important reading skills and strategies, and then letting students practice them independently.

Readers workshop is...

“a teaching method in which the goal is to teach students strategies for reading and comprehension. The workshop model allows teachers to differentiate and meet the needs of all their students. Reading Workshop helps to foster a love of reading and gives students chances to practice reading strategies independently and with guidance” (

Readers workshop is...

“The basic philosophy behind the Reading Workshop is to allow students to spend an extended amount of time reading authentic texts that interest them on a daily basis and to provide opportunities to talk about literature. The ultimate goal of a Reading Workshop is always to develop life-long passionate readers” ( )

Sharing Literature- Read Alouds

The teacher reads a book aloud to the whole group with the purpose of modeling appropriate reading behaviors and strategies. Texts are chosen from a range of genre and literary styles. Teachers need to make sure they have a planned purpose for each read aloud. Read alouds are an opportunity for teachers to model how they would like to read i.e. with enthusiasm, expression, tone, rhythm, intonation and fluency.

There are variations of the Reading Workshop, but all include these key elements. 


This is a short 5/10 min whole class session. This minilesson is usually a quick demonstration of a reading habit, skill or strategy—a way for readers to handle a challenge or, in general, to lift the level of their reading work. (Lucy Calkins)  

The Elements of Reading Workshop

Independent reading


Students continue to work on the focus from the minilesson and/or previous small group sessions. The teacher engages in small group instruction (guided reading, strategy lessons or shared reading) or individual conferences. The focus of this session is specific to the needs of the group or individual. 




During this section, reference is made to the strategy/ies from the minilesson. The teacher may make reference to students who have been employing that strategy or students may share how and what they have been focusing on during independent reading.

Setting up Reading Workshop in a Year 1 Classroom

This next section will outline some of the main elements that I tried out in my class. I adapted the structure of the workshop approach, whilst maintaining the key elements. I shortened the time for each session from the recommended hour to 30-45 mins. Due to the age of the students in Year 1 in ESF schools, this was a major consideration as the Reading workshop approach is used mainly with students aged 6+ but 1 hour of sustained reading for Year 1 students would not be developmentally appropriate.


To ensure that I had time to fit in all the aspects of a balanced literacy approach, I included a 'Word Work' element during the independent reading time. The word work is differentiated and is based around a small bank of games/tasks so that students do not waste time learning instructions for new games each day but use the whole time for developing knoweldge of these key elements for reading. 

My Action


Reading Workshop is a perfect model for differentiated instruction as it involves flexibility, student choice, activities personalized for learning styles, on-going assessments and modified instruction.




The class environment is particulalry important when setting up a Reading Workshop approach.  To support growth of reading stamina, students need to develop independence with selecting reading materials and also awareness of where and how they read best.


'Book Nooks' or a range of different spaces for reading needs to be set up. These can include seating at tables, standing spaces, cushioned areas, even under tables and cupboards! It is amazing how much more engaged young readers can be when offered a choice of where they can read.



Class Library

I organised the class library to include a range of texts that are available for independent reading. They are clearly organised alphabetically by author's surname and non-fiction texts organised by topic. Students can quickly choose the books that engage them as readers and that are a 'good fit' for them.  The library includes a selection of both teacher and student chosen texts.

Setting up the environment

Space to read

Book nooks or comfortable reading spaces need to be available around the class. I set up a variety of reading spaces including standing up, sitting at tables, a cushioned area, even under tables and cupboards! Students choose where and how they like to read best during independent reading time. 

Developing routines and habits


 '...even as early as kindergarten, children can read independently' 

Jan Miller Burkins and Melody M. Croft 2009


In order for students to read independently it is vital that we teach them what this looks like. These habits and routines need to be explicitly taught and can form the basis of a series of mini-lessons or units of work. There are many published units of study based around developing a Community of Reading and I adapted some of these to support the teaching and learning of routines and habits in my class. (See Resources section for key resources to support planning)

Anchor charts and visuals

Anchor charts and visuals are necessary to support independence in young readers.  








Building stamina

The concept of building stamina is one that I have not explicitly taught before but was a very simple and effective strategy to support students to read for extended periods of time. I introduced the idea in a mini-lesson and then I used a visual to chart stamina each day during the independent section of reading workshop. I downloaded a ‘Stamina Clock’ and it plays on the IWB so students can see how they are progressing. This has been one of the most popular additions to reading time as it plays to the students competitive nature and they get very excited when they see their stamina grow!





Book shopping

The concept of shopping for books is mentioned in many published Reading Workshop resources. The idea is that students 'shop' for ‘just right’ books once a week and store them in a personal bag box. Students in my class select 3 or 4 books from levelled readers and 2 or 3 interest books from the class library selection. This enables them to spend more time reading during reading workshop, rather than spending a lot of time selecting books.




Grouping students flexibly counters group stagnation and offer students of differing skills levels opportunities to collaborate and capitalize on one another’s strengths(Guastello and Lenz 2007) I change groups daily depending on student need. The visuals support the students to know exactly where they need to be and what their focus is during reading workshop time.




Flexible grouping

What reading now looks like in my class


  • Read alouds several times a day
  • Shared reading daily
  • Independent reading every day for 15/20min
  • Reading workshop 4 times per week. Students read for the whole duration of reading workshop
  • Students 'shop' for books once a week. They choose from 'good fit' levelled books and interest books. 
  • Students are grouped flexibly and do not rotate around a range of activities. Groups change after each reading workshop session according to need. Students are grouped according to instructional level, strategy need and/or interest
  • Reading workshop takes the same format for each session but the teacher focus changes according to need. This may include individual conferencing, guided reading, small group strategy sessions or shared reading.
  • Routines, habits and reading behaviours are explicitly taught in a unit of study (Developing a Community of Readers) at the beginning of the year and constantly reviewed and reevaluated througout the year
  • Reading strategies explicitly taught during mini-lessons in Reading Workshop, reinforced during independent reading, small group instruction and share time
  • Word study- including phonics and sight words are taught seperately to reading workshop. They are also incorporated into workshop instruction and followed up during indpendent reading time and small group instruction.



I repeated the questions from my inital data collection to see what impact, if any, this approach has had on student POTENTIAL. This time I asked the whole class as part of a series of mini-lessons.

Comparative Data


 Key conclusions


Readers workshop is child centred. Students have opportunities to choose their own books, they choose where they want to read and they learn from each other during shared time. 


Students are engaged and excited to see how their stamina grows. They quickly learn how to read independently.


Structures to support and a focus on what the reading workshop looks, sounds and feels like is essential to the success of the approach. We cannot assume children know what expected behaviour is. 


When students are given choice of text and/or where to read, they respond very positively to the increased independence. This allows me to spend extended periods of time conferring with indivduals or with small groups without interruption. The expectations for the rest of the class are very clear and they are engaged in their own reading.







Key conclusions continued...


The reading workshop approach significantly increases the amount of time that children read and practise reading strategies. 


Reading workshop in naturally differentiated. 


Students enjoy reading workshop and are definitely more actively aware and responsible for their reading development.


A workshop approach accomodates reading conferences, including PM benchmarking, into daily instruction rather than it being an add on that has to be done. The data can be used straight away to inform teaching and learning.


I spend more time planning for next steps for students rather than designing and preparing lots of games and activites for Guided Reading rotations. 

Where next?


Implementing this approach into a Year 2 class. Beginning the Year with a unit to support the development of a community of readers.


Further inquiry into systems and methods of conferring with students about reading.


Strengthening the home-school communication about Reading Workshop and individual student reading targets, habits and behaviours. 






Bibliography and Resources

 Parsons, S. (2012) First Grade Readers: Parsons, Units of study to help children see themselves as meaning makers


Burkins J,M, Croft, M (2010) Preventing Misguided reading


Donalyn Miller, (2009). The Book Whisperer: Awakening the inner reader in every child

(For more information about elements of reading workshop and units of study)

(Samples of units of study for reading workshop, anchor charts and mentor texts)

(excellent post on setting up reading workshop) 

(Explains how reading workshop can be adapted for younger students)

(Particulalry good links to parent resources for supporting reading strategies at home)