Beginnings are important, whether it is building a new relationship, building a home, or starting a new school year. Lucy Calkins talks about building invisible structures so that the deeper, meaningful work can take place. Laying the foundations of those invisible structures begins with workshop launching lessons.
My first launching lesson introduces the workshop concept with two or three video clips or slide shows of people working at their jobs or practicing or learning a skill. Students are given a think sheet to record their observations of the clips. The think sheet might include these questions:
What is the purpose of this shop or practice?
What are the people creating, repairing, practicing, or learning?
What kinds of tools are being used?
How are the tools organized?
What do you notice about the environment?
What procedures are being followed?
What else do you notice?
You can make your own clips of area businesses or even a school sports team. I like to use places in our community. Businesses will welcome you and a camera if they know you are using it for the classroom. You can also search for interesting clips on YouTube.
We have an Amish bakery that is well known for their “melt in your mouth” caramel cinnamon doughnuts and has a video posted on YouTube:
Older students will enjoy this tour of a cardiac surgical room. A surgeon shares detailed procedures on keeping the room safe for patients. Be sure to preview this clip before showing to make sure it is not too graphic for your students:
You might show a clip of an admired author or illustrator.
I have even used a clip of Santa’s workshop with younger children. Any business or service will be engaging.
Give students the opportunity to share their observations using the turn-and-talk procedures, and document the learning on an anchor chart. This is a good time to introduce procedures for how we share our observations and thinking by turn-and-talk and whole-group sharing. We extend the conversation with “what-if” questions such as “What if employees didn’t follow procedures?”
The observations and conversation from the clips easily segue into the structure and procedures you want to create for your own workshop.
What is reading workshop?
What will we be doing in workshop? Why?
What will our workshop look and sound like?
What kinds of procedures will we need?
What tools will we need for an effective workshop?
How do we take care of the tools we use?
After this initial lesson I spend the next few weeks using many of the books I read aloud to the whole class to talk through reading workshop expectations. Here are some of my favorite books to read aloud during the first weeks of school to build a strong foundation for literacy workshop all year long. The titles in this list are books that I revisit throughout the year for other minilessons.
My Map Book by Sara Fanelli
Sara Fanelli has created a collection of maps that will inspire kids to create infographics of their own lives. Some of my favorite maps in the book are Map of My Heart, Map of My Dog, and Map of My Day. The book jacket is unique, because it unfolds into a large poster. This book is a gem that can be used throughout the year for community building, visualization, and an introduction to infographics.
Procedure or lesson: Readers have a reading identity that is shared with their learning community. I share my own map of my reading identity. Students then create their own maps of who they are as readers. Consider giving poster-size paper for students to add information as they discover more about themselves as readers. Students could also create a writer’s identity on the other side.
Who are you as a reader?
What do we want to know about each other as readers?
What are your favorite books?
What genres do you like to read?
How much time do you spend reading?
How do you feel about reading?
Could you share a reading memory?
A Quiet Place by Douglas Wood
“Sometimes a person needs a quiet place” is the opening line of this beautifully illustrated picture book. Each page takes the reader on a journey of quiet places. Perhaps your quiet place is the woods . . . the beach . . . the desert . . . or . . .
Procedures or lesson: Readers and writers find places to read and write for their work. Students can draw and write about their quiet places and put this in their notebooks after you have introduced notebook procedures.
Where do you read outside of school? Do you have favorite places?
Describe the place where you do your best reading.
Describe the ideal space for you to read and write at school. Do you like to work independently? With a partner?
What distracts you from your work?
What choices can you make during workshop to have the best working environment?
Where are the places you can work in our room?
The Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood
Who knew there were so many different kinds of quiet? Each page of this gentle picture book explores the many different kinds of quiet one might experience throughout the day.
Procedures or lesson: The classroom community creates the environment that is supportive of each community member.
What kind of sound environment do you do your best work in?
What will reading workshop sound like in our classroom?
Will it always sound the same throughout the workshop?
What can you do if someone is disturbing you?
Me . . . Jane by Patrick McDonnell
Whimsical watercolor pages chronicle Jane Goodall’s childhood as she explores her world with Jubilee, her stuffed toy chimpanzee. Even though I have read this book several times, goose bumps still erupt when I reach the ending: “to awake one day . . .” and then turn the page to a photograph of Jane Goodall with the words “to her dream come true.”
Procedures or lesson: Readers and writers have dreams. Readers and writers have a plan to meet their goals to fulfill their dreams.
How does reading and writing help develop and fulfill a dream?
What are your reading goals for this year?
How can you meet your goals? What are your plans?
How will you monitor your goals?
Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts
Jeremy wants a pair of black high-tops with two white stripes . . . badly. Grandma is not able to afford a pair of much-wanted new shoes. Jeremy does find his shoes at a thrift store. He doesn’t let Grandma know the shoes pinch his toes.
Procedures or lesson: Readers determine the purpose of their reading work. Readers choose just-right books for that practice and work. Bring in a pair of too small, too large, and just-right shoes to show the connection to selecting just-right books. You can also bring in dressy shoes, running shoes, and flip-flops to show that shoes have different purposes, just like books.
How do you choose just-right books?
Is it always about the reading level? What other criteria can we use for choosing just-right books?
What are the different purposes of our practice?
Alfred Zector, Book Collector by Kelly DiPucchio
Alfred Zector was a book collector and wasn’t satisfied until he had collected every book in his town. Something was missing. What should he do? He decided he needed to read every book he had collected. Instead of feeling joyful when he had finished the last page, Alfred realized something else was missing. What was it?
Procedures or lesson: Readers share their reading and thinking with other readers.
What are some different ways we can share our reading?
How do we talk about books? What does it sound like?
How do we get with a partner or a group?
How do we get others to say more?
How do we disagree respectfully?
Max’s Words by Kate Banks
People make over Max’s brothers’ interesting collections of coins and stamps. What should Max collect since his brothers won’t share? Max comes up with a brilliant idea for a collection, one that is better than either of his brothers’.
Procedures or lesson: Readers collect their thinking when they read. Just like Max used his collection of words to make a story, we can use our collection of thinking to create ideas.
Why do readers collect and document their thinking?
Where will we document our thinking in this classroom?
What procedures will we use for notebook entries?
How do readers decide what thinking to document?
What kinds of thinking do we document?
What does our documentation look like?
What are different tools we can use to collect our thinking?
What are the procedures for using these tools?
The Incredible Book Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers
Henry loves books but not like you or me. He loves books . . . to eat. When Henry discovers he becomes smarter after each book he eats, he begins to eat them at a ferocious rate until . . .
Procedures or lesson: Readers have a toolbox of tools to construct meaning. Reading is not just saying words fluently.
What is a proficient reader?
What does a proficient reader sound and look like at different reading levels?
How do readers construct meaning?
What tools do readers use to construct meaning?
How do you know if you understand?
Wolf! by Becky Bloom
A cow, a duck, and a pig did not pay attention to a hungry wolf leaping into the pasture. They were educated animals who were too busy reading to give a second thought to the dangerous wolf. The wolf needed to fix this situation.
Procedures or lesson: Readers practice to become stronger.
What does practice look and sound like?
What are you good at?
How did you become good at something?
How do we become better readers? What kind of practice will support you in becoming a stronger reader?
What is stamina?
How do we develop stamina?
The Bee Tree by Patricia Polacco
Mary Ellen is tired of reading and doesn’t want to continue. Grandpa takes her on a chase following a honeybee through the Michigan countryside to find the bee’s home. Grandpa knows there will be a stash of wild honey. When the comb is pulled out, Grandpa puts a drop of the sweet honey on her tongue, comparing it to the sweet knowledge gained through pages of a book.
Procedures or lesson: Readers and writers know that the work may be difficult but the rewards are great. We celebrate the end of the launching unit with a plate of biscuits served with butter and honey. We are ready to become stronger readers!
What is difficult for me?
When the going gets difficult, what strategies can we use to continue?
What is “grit” and how do we get it?
What are the rewards of reading and writing? What can reading and writing get us?
These are a few of the books that are shared during the first few weeks of school as workshop is being launched. Anchor charts that include the book cover and procedure or precept displayed around the room might serve as reference points for your students.