What was I waiting for? Implementing reading workshop in my heritage classroom

Hello, fellow colleagues and friends! I feel like it’s been forever since I wrote a blog post, so I’m so glad to finally get this out! And we hope to be more consistent, too. This blog has really brought us a lot of joy, it’s been a great chance for us to reflect on what we’ve learned and figure out how to share it in a way that’s helpful for other teachers. And it’s been a great way to sort of memorialize our learning so we can refer back to it again and again, and easily share it with others. My point is, this blog is a labor of love. Thank you so much for your support, for reading along and being part of the journey!

I wanted to take some time to share my experience adding in a full reader’s workshop unit this year. It was AMAZING! And I had that feeling of, “Why haven’t I been doing this all along?” So it seemed like something worth sharing here. We’ve been using the Units of Study Writing units for a few years now, (and they are amazing), so when I found out they had Reading units…all I could do is dream. And then this year, I was able to make it a reality.

I usually teach 10th grade heritage these days, and this year I picked up 11th grade heritage as well. I decided to do the unit in both levels this year, because a) 11th grade is completely new for me and I can only really plan for one new course at a time, and b) the 11th graders hadn’t had it and I thought it would be beneficial to them, too. So we did it! I’ll post a little table of my units for this year, although next year I’ll do it differently with the 11th graders.

10th grade heritage 11th grade heritage
1st quarter Narrative writing: Personal Narrative (check out this blog post) Narrative writing: Realistic Fiction (blog post coming soon!)
2nd quarter Reading: Deep Study of Character Reading: Deep Study of Character
3rd quarter Argument writing: Literary Essays (check out this blog post) Argument writing: Persuasive essays (“Art of Argument”) (blog post coming soon!)
4th quarter Informational writing: Research Based Info Writing (Information Books) Information writing: Companion Books

All of the units mentioned above can be purchased from Heinemann. Because of copyright, I will not be sharing very many actual resources in this post. However, I would like to share my process and some of my takeaways.

If you are not familiar with the workshop model, the idea is that the class is similar to an art class or PE class where students huddle at the beginning of the new class, learn or see a new skill demonstrated, and then are sent back to continue their work, trying out that skill and/or practicing others they have learned. The teacher’s job is more of a coach, walking around, helping as needed, and checking in with students.

So you might be asking…what does that even look like in a reading class? Well…I’m here to tell you 🙂 I am on a block schedule, so I teach 75 minute classes. This allows me to still do free voluntary reading (FVR) at the beginning of class, but if you have shorter classes, you might consider dropping the FVR part because they will be reading most of class.

Before you start a reading workshop unit, I’d recommend taking some time the day before to lay the groundwork. If you are regularly doing FVR and have students indicate what pages they read each day, that will be a huge help. (Also, if you aren’t doing FVR, you might check out these other posts here and here to get it off the ground – it could be the best thing you do all year!) After reading some reading workshop setup materials, I learned that a student should be reading about ¾-1 page every minute. In my class, we always do FVR for 10 minutes, so I realized that students should be reading about 7-10 pages every 10 minutes. If they aren’t reading that fast, either the text was too hard or something else was happening (most likely distraction or disinterest). So, I had my students do these reflection questions about their reading speed and reading habits. I also met with each student over the next couple of days to find out what their goal of pages was for every 10 minutes of reading. Knowing their reading speed was an important tool for accountability during the reading unit because students were required to complete the number of pages for the minutes we read. For example, if a student is reading 7 pages in 10 minutes consistently, and one day they read for 30 minutes, that student is responsible for 7*3=21 pages of reading. 

I’ve written about the concept of learning laps before, so I’ll just summarize it here. The materials we use are designed to have two opportunities for the students to practice similar skills; the first time, it’s done slowly and with lots of scaffolding. The second time, it moves a little faster and with considerably less scaffolding. I really like this model because in the past I’ve sort of erred on one side or the other in the past. And I also like that they apply the same skills to a slightly different topic. I usually do a test at the end on something totally new/different, to see if they can transfer their skills. 

The reading unit I picked was “Deep Study of Character.” It seemed like a good option because all students had just done some narrative writing, I didn’t have to buy anything because it could be done with the free reading books we were already reading, and the authors highly suggested that students be able to choose their own books – perfect! The main idea of the unit is that students are starting to learn how to analyze literary characters. In the first learning lap, students are taught a variety of strategies to help them start thinking more critically about the characters. In the second learning lap, students are taught several strategies that help them investigate the role of the setting on the characters.

So what does this actually look like? My students have a reading notebook; the first thing in there are the answers to the reflection questions I mentioned above, and their 10 minute reading goal page number, written and signed by me. Each day, they huddle at the front of their room with their partner (first semester, I allowed them to work with their friends, and that partner continued for this unit; I reassigned partners for second semester). They go to the next page in their notebook, and they write the learning target for the session while I write it on the board. So I might say (all this is in Spanish, ok, but that takes longer, so bear with me): “Session 4: Good readers notice not only the good things about the character, but also the less likeable sides.” And then I usually share a story or comparison…like, in this case, when you really like someone, you’re kind of biased and you kind of minimize their flaws…like, I really like my Denver Broncos and I stand up for them even though sometimes they are terrible. Then they watch me DO the strategy, and then finally do a little easy practice themselves in pairs. Sometimes, depending on time, we do one or the other. For my demonstration, I went back to our mentor text (“Once” by Sandra Cisneros) and talked about the less likeable sides of the narrator…like…why does she act like a victim? Why doesn’t she just stand up for her herself? (See photo of my board from that day below. Also, PS, the giant sticky notes are AWESOME for modeling what they should put on their jots! This is not an affiliate link :)) Finally, for the part where they try it out, I showed a clip from Toy Story where Woody displays some likeable, and not likeable characteristics, they talked with their partner about what they saw, and shared out.

sesion 4

The next step is important. I added that strategy to the anchor chart of “Strategies to Think Deeply about Characters” and then I remind them of all the other strategies we’ve learned so far. That list is like their toolbox. They will go back to their seats and read for usually 30 minutes, sometimes 40 minutes. Their goal is to jot 1 post it note (using any strategy from the chart) per 10 minutes. Will they notice less-likeable traits today? Maybe. But if not, that’s ok. The important thing is that a) they are READING and b) they have several strategies they are able to try out. And this is making them more independent…they get to choose what strategy or thing they notice because they think it best fits that passage.

Before I send them back to read, they write in their notebooks: Today we read for ___ minutes. Today I read pages ____ – ____. They know if it’s 30 minutes, and their goal is 7 pages per 10 minutes, I will be checking that they read 21 pages (or maybe a few less, because of the jotting).

While they are reading, I check in with students individually. I call them up to my desk and check the work from the session before. I check the page numbers they’ve read (I know sometimes they aren’t entirely truthful but it’s hard to lie when each day builds on the day before), I check that they have the minimum number of post it notes, and I check the quality of what they wrote on the jots. I put in their points (every day is 20 points, and I just make a judgement call if they were short on reading or missing post it notes). We might troubleshoot or talk about their book, too, but if they’re doing well and keeping up I don’t keep them long. 

I try to build in a least one day during each learning lap to give them time to look back at all their post it notes, read them, and look for some patterns. What are they seeing? What is emerging? What big ideas are they growing? On these days, we don’t read. Instead, they have two options. One option is they can write long (usually 3 pages) answering those exact questions; the other option is to synthesize their ideas into something visual. It’s a really important day; after doing all that daily work, they need to be encouraged to step back and think about the big picture. What is the big idea that is emerging about their character? I want to get better at teaching them how to synthesize these big ideas. But, I have to tell you, those visual pages have really turned out cool!! Here is a link to some examples, some of them are ones from Facebook of other teachers (in English), but the Spanish ones are my students’.

 At the end of the first learning lap, they had a test. Honestly, it was not my plan to test at this time; I recommend only testing at the end of the second learning lap. But I wanted to make sure they were actually…LEARNING something. They thought it was an easy test, which is a great sign. For the test, I gave them a list of all the strategies they had learned, and asked them to show evidence that they had applied those strategies at some point in their book. For example, one of the questions on the test from Session 4 is, what are the less likeable sides of your character, and where is the evidence? They were able to use their notes and books for the test. You can see the test here, if you’d like. They did great.

For the second learning lap, they just kept on reading their books, and we talked about strategies for studying the setting and its effect on the character. At the end, they did a test (just like the first one) where they showed how they used each of those strategies for their own book. Normally I would not give another end of unit test, but students without As have to take a final exam, so I thought it was a good fit to do a final exam with a new text with the questions from both learning laps. I had them read a short story (“El hijo” by Quiroga, on the AP Spanish Literature list) a few days before (we went over some comprehension questions to make sure they understood it) and they did a test where they had to answer questions for both learning laps. I wanted to see if they could transfer their knowledge to a new text…and they rocked it!

And here are some of my takeaways:

  • My kids read pretty much all class period for an entire quarter and…they didn’t die! In fact, most of them enjoyed it!
  • If I want kids to get better at reading, they have to actually…SPEND TIME READING! 
  • If I want to be more intentional about pushing kids along in their reading, I need to start with keeping an eye on reading volume; while it sounds crazy, my kids actually really loved that part of it.
  • My 10th graders are moving on to literary essay now, and their ability to analyze characters is light years ahead of what my students could do last year; I believe it’s because of this unit.
  • I need to plan a way for kids who are absent to make up classes; I either need to be prepared for kids to ask to take books home (even though they can’t usually take them home), or allow kids to be excused from sessions…or something.
  • This unit had a ton of built-in differentiation, mostly in the books they chose, but also I could meet with them individually every single class period.
  • I should have started this earlier 🙂 
  • I can’t wait to look for another unit to use with my 11th graders next year!

If you’re still reading, props to you! I’d love to hear your thoughts, your experiences, your suggestions, all the things! Happy teaching!


PS! I almost forgot! As a quick reminder, don’t forget that you can come to beautiful Colorado this summer and work with Mary Beth and I for three lovely days of heritage teacher PD 🙂 Info is here, act fast if you’re interested because it will fill up. Now…happy teaching!

13 thoughts on “What was I waiting for? Implementing reading workshop in my heritage classroom

Add yours

  1. This was a really helpful post to understand the approach that you often refer to. Thanks so much for writing this up! I really liked the character analysis link too.

    Question: I gather that sts are mostly reading their own self-selected books for all class, for most classes. How do you build into the class a sense of “We’re all in this together”? What kinds of discussion is there during a reading unit like this?


    1. Thanks for reading! The partnerships played a big part in this unit. I tried to have pairs reading the same or similar books, but it was kind of a mess and I won’t do that next year. It did pay off in some partnerships, though, bc they could talk about the same book.


  2. I love the differentiation in this. I imagine some students’ books are shorter than others…or they are faster readers…so what happens if they’ve already finished their book? Do they continue the character analysis in a new book?


    1. Thank you for reading! Yes, that happened a few times. It’s really ok, bc as long as they are practicing the strategies it’s fine. In fact, they might actually get more experience applying the skills to more texts. On the test, I allowed them to answer different questions about different characters or different books, they just had to indicate it 🙂


  3. I was looking at the Units of Study products on Heinemann, and they seem fantastic. But they’re all in English… how did you adapt them for your Heritage class? Did you translate them all yourself?


    1. The teacher books are in English, but the kids never see the teacher books. Some of the resources have already been made available (like rubrics) in Spanish, and then I collaborate with other teachers to find reasonable mentor texts. If you decide to buy, let me know and we can collaborate:)


  4. This is very helpful. Do you have a suggestion for a book list?
    I am also looking into purchasing the Units of Study/Deep Study of Character from Heinemann. If I purchase those would we be able to collaborate? I am trying to find good resources for my Heritage students and looking to get more books in my classroom library as well. I like the Deep Study of Character Unit, but would like to be able to see your ideas/translations in Spanish if possible after I purchase.

    Thanks for all you do, your blog has so many great resources.


    1. Hello! Yes I would happily share what I have on the unit if you purchase. I found while it was helpful for kids to be reading the same book, it’s totally doable without that. So the beauty of that unit is you can use your already-existing classroom library! There are lots of classroom library book ideas on our FVR blog posts…just search “FVR”.


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