We are often asked when kindergarten students should begin reading workshop or independent reading.
Is there a time of year that is best?
Is there a certain reading level that determines when the optimal time is?
Do readers need to know a certain number of sight words?
Do they need to know all their letters to begin?
We think it depends on how you define reading workshop and your vision for this time in your classroom.
We believe the primary goals of reading workshop are to develop a love of reading and the dispositions of a reader. We therefore launch our workshop on Day 1! We want our young readers to know this is a vital part of our classroom community, and we want them to begin viewing themselves as readers right away. Our workshop in the first half of the kindergarten year looks a bit different from how it looks in our other elementary grades. We structure it to emphasize talk, strategy, and response.
Our kindergarten readers are seated at tables in the first half of the year. They often share books from bins and are encouraged to talk with each other about the books they are reading. This is not a quiet time in the classroom. We want these readers to show each other the books they are reading and talk about what is happening in the texts. We hope to hear comments such as these:
- Hey, check this out!
- What do you think of this?
- Did you know?
- Can I have that book next?
We want our readers to grow their thinking about texts through talking with each other about what they are noticing and wondering. We know that talk is the foundation for writing. If we want our students to write in response to their reading, they need to start by talking in response to their reading.
While they are seated at tables . . . they are not always seated! Albert Einstein said, “Play is the highest form of research,” and we couldn’t agree more. We hope to see our kindergarten readers acting out the stories, speaking as if they are the characters, and retelling the story by moving through the steps in sequence. When our readers construct their understanding through movement, drama, and play, we know they are truly monitoring for meaning as they read.
Types of Texts
Readers need to read lots of easy texts, but in the beginning of kindergarten we do not think our readers need to have a diet of leveled readers. We want them to be retelling the stories they are hearing read aloud to them and reading the pictures of authentic literature. We are not suggesting they cannot read some leveled texts, but we want them to experience a range of text difficulty, genre, and structure. When young readers “reread” familiar texts, they deepen their comprehension, learn to look closely at text and pictures, and build their vocabulary and oral language. Here are several different types of “easy texts” that we include in shared book bins at the beginning of the year:
- Chants, Songs, Rhymes, and Poems—The songs, chants, and poems we sing during transitions or read during shared reading lessons are perfect texts for reading workshop at the beginning of the year. Once students are familiar with the text, we add a few copies to each basket so students can sing and chant these texts just like they do during shared reading lessons.
- Books with Repetitive Refrains—As we choose texts to read aloud, we are always on the lookout for those with a catchy, repetitive refrain or memorable rhymes. After we read and reread these texts aloud, students are eager to “read and retell” these stories during reading workshop. A few of our favorites are Rhyming Dust Bunnies by Jan Thomas and Be Quiet, Mike! by Leslie Patricelli as well as classics such as Pete the Cat by Eric Litwin and The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Paul Galdone.
- Wordless Texts—We want our readers to know that reading the pictures means connecting what is happening on one page to the next. After we have read these texts aloud, students read the pictures and use story language as they turn the pages (e.g., once upon a time, then, next, after that). Wordless picture books such as Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle, Good Dog, Carl by Alexander Day, Mr. Wuffles! by David Wiesner, and The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney are texts that students quickly grab from the shared book bins.
- Nonfiction Texts—We make sure to include lots of nonfiction titles in book bins. When we select nonfiction texts, we choose texts with clear illustrations so that students can identify what they are learning on each page. Texts such as My First Day by Steve Jenkins, The Pumpkin Book by Gail Gibbons, and About Fish by Cathryn Sill are books students can retell what they learned and read the pictures once we have read them aloud. We listen in to see how students approach retelling nonfiction.
We love to see reading workshop up and running right away in kindergarten. We think it sends some important messages about reading:
- Reading is more than decoding the words.
- Reading is meant to be shared with a community of readers.
- We grow our thinking through talking with other readers.
- Reading is an active, messy, problem-solving, and strategic process.
- Reading is not about perfection; it is about the pursuit of understanding.
Reading workshop in kindergarten is loud, busy, and productive—exactly what literacy is meant to be for young learners.