Most Important Elements of Middle School Reading Workshop

At the end of the school year I give an evaluation to all of my students, looking for their opinion on our reading workshop.  I always learn a lot from the evaluations every year, but this year’s evaluation was especially important to me.  Because I will be moving from a two hour block to less than one hour per period, I was especially interested in what my students deemed the most valuable elements of our reading workshop.  While I know what I consider valuable, I wanted to take their ideas into account while planning this summer.

On the evaluation, I asked my students the following question (special thanks to Donalyn Miller for her amazing book, which inspired this question):

9. In the next section, put a checkmark next to the elements of this class that have helped you as a reader.  Circle which factor was MOST important to you.

_Classroom library

_School librarian/library


_Independent Reading time in class

_Class read-alouds

_teacher who reads

_conversations with classmates

_literature circles


_monthly reading logs



I was fascinated by my students’ responses.  This is the first time I have asked my classes to rank the elements of our reading workshop and boy, am I glad I did!  Knowing I will have to rework my schedule a lot next year, I was interested to learn what my students’ considered to be non-negotiables, elements I could not leave out next year.

What are my non-negotiables, according to them, in order of importance?

  1. Booktalks
  2. Read-alouds
  3. Teacher who reads
  4. Classroom library
  5. Conversations with classmates
  6. Independent reading time in class
  7. Letter-essays

Now, a teacher who reads, a classroom library, and letter-essays weren’t in danger of disappearing when my schedule changes.  However, booktalks, read-alouds, conversations with classmates, and independent reading time  will have to be reworked.  I’m thrilled that my booktalks and read-alouds are considered vital by  my students!  

What I find interesting is that the majority of the elements listed above are NOT part of most language arts classrooms.  Classrooms, especially in intermediate and middle schools, are full of basal readers, literature sets, leveled readers, and lectures. 

Read-alouds are considered “silly” once students reach a certain age in most schools, yet my students considered them vital to the culture of reading in our workshop.  As I’ve mentioned before, they begged to read more everyday in our read-alouds.  Plus, the read-alouds permit me to introduce a variety of genres and authors in the classroom and as a result, the students usually go on to read more books from the author or genre.  Without read-alouds, they might not have been exposed to those books or had the confidence to try them on their own.

Booktalks are done sometimes, with little regularity, in most classrooms I encounter.  The person doing the booktalk is usually a student who is presenting the book as part of a book report or other graded assignment.  They are rarely enthusiastic about the novel they are presenting, which doesn’t encourage anyone else to pick up the book.  If the teacher who models booktalks is enthusiastic about reading and books, that will be reflected in the classroom!

We also come back to the idea of social reading, as Jen Robinson wrote on Booklights a few days ago.  Conversations with classmates were high on the list of elements my students noted as vital to the classroom culture and workshop.  A few also wrote in “conversations with teacher” in the “Other” field.  We need to  harness this!  Classroom teachers MUST make time for their students to talk about books with each other.  And teachers must share their own love of books and reading through conversations and conferences with students.  You don’t have to be a bibliophile in order to teach language arts, but you should have books that you enjoy reading and sharing with your students.