Launching Readers' Workshop Using the Perfect Read Aloud

launching readers' workshop, read aloud, seed lessons for reading
Every teacher loves a great Back-to-School read aloud.  There are so many popular titles to use as springboards for first day experiences, engaging students in making new friends, or getting back into the swing of school routines.  But what about a read aloud for introducing readers’ workshop?  I have found the perfect story that will not only set the tone for your reading instruction but also foster a mindset toward reading we’d all like to instill in our students.  This book has been powerful in launching my readers’ workshop when used with the following activities.

 Grab your copy by clicking this link!Wolf!, by Becky Bloom, is a story of a wolf who comes across some barnyard animals who can read.  In the story, the wolf is determined to learn to read, but he has a lot of misconceptions about what makes a good reader when trying to impress his friends.  This is the perfect storyline to get students focused on what good readers do, and to help dispel any misconceptions they may have about what a good reader is.

Before introducing the story, I have my students do a brainstorming activity.  On a Post-It, I ask students to write what they think makes a good reader.  After a few minutes of think and jot time, I have students share out their ideas as I record them on a chart paper.  As you can see from the anchor chart, students said many different things about what they do. You can also see some misconceptions students shared, but when recording their responses, I do not comment on any of them.  I simply take note of their ideas and tell students we will look at this list later.

Next, students go to the carpet for the read aloud.  I preplan the occasional turn-and-talk during the story to get the students thinking about what Wolf thinks a good reader is, as well as what the barnyard animals think.  Later in the story, I also ask students to evaluate those points of view based on students’ own perspective about what makes a good reader.  Wolf’s perception changes in response to the animals' comments each time he goes back to the farm to read to them, so of course, I also ask students to think about how his point of view changed.  
After the read aloud, we revisit the list we created on the chart.  I have students consider Wolf’s experience in the story and talk in table groups for a few minutes to discuss whether they agree or disagree with the various ideas on the chart.  Then, I ask students to share their thinking in a class discussion and have them explain why they think the idea is important, or why they might disagree with an idea.  

Two things happen at this point in the lesson.  One, students review good strategies and reiterate why they are important, and two, the misconceptions get dispelled.  Dispelling these misconceptions transforms students’ way of thinking about reading and about themselves as readers, just as it did for Wolf in the story.  Students need to have the mindset that a good reader is defined by what they do each and every day (strategies & good reading habits), not by their performance with regard to reading level, the thickness of their chapter book, or the speed at which they read.  Yes, we want our students to move in the right direction with text complexity and fluency, but for this lesson, I want to foster growth mindset in my students.  Notice, I crossed out those misconceptions as we talked about them.  

 Grab your copy by clicking this link!I want to point out that students usually leave one important idea off this list, which needs to be added.  This is why I turn to the last part of the story and reread where Wolf gets caught up in the stories with the other animals.  I want students to come to the conclusion that good readers also enjoy reading, and rereading this part of the story prompts them to add this.  If students have already included this on the list, I would star it to remind students that our attitude toward reading is just as important as the strategies we use.

The next activity lays the foundation for the purpose of our readers’ workshop: to grow as readers.  Students are given an interactive notebook template which becomes one of the very first entries in their reader’s notebook.  During this activity, we brainstorm various strategies that have helped them with their accuracy, fluency, and comprehension.  I teach third grade, so my students come to me with a variety of strategies they have learned and continue to use.  Together, we create these lists of strategies and write them under the appropriate flaps in their readers’ notebooks.  I find it easier to take one component at a time. i.e. We begin with accuracy and then move on to fluency, etc.  (Note: the objective isn’t to list ALL the strategies, but to list main ones students use.  At the end of the lesson, I share with students that we will be adding strategies throughout the year as new ones are introduced.)  You can download that template by clicking here.

To wrap up this activity, I begin to talk about how every reader has different strengths and weaknesses, and that during readers’ workshop, we will be exploring our own strengths and weaknesses so that we can set goals to help us grow as readers.  I explain that everyone will have different goals based on where they are and what will help them.  I also explain these goals change, just as Wolf adjusted his goals throughout his journey in becoming a reader. 

Not only has this anchor lesson been powerful in helping my students understand the purpose of Readers' Workshop and to foster students’ growth mindset, but it has also set the stage for next steps: reflecting about themselves as readers and setting goals.

(See my blog post about setting specific reading goals students can understand and manage.)

I hope you will take a moment to read this wonderful story and find a way to incorporate it into launching your Readers' Workshop.  If you are interested in more seed lessons for launching reading strategies, click the resource cover below.  Happy Teaching!                                                                                                                    
 Seed Lessons for Growing Thoughtful Readers

Understanding Characters Through Shades of Meaning

 Teach shades of meaning to help students better understand characters.
When reading with students, I often ask them to describe how the character is feeling in the story.  I typically get the same one-word responses: good, happy, sad, mad, etc... Of course, I prompt further to help them dig deeper into the text, but it can be frustrating when students don't have the necessary vocabulary to describe precisely how the character is feeling.  This can also hinder their ability to fully understand the character's actions or how they contribute to the events in the story.

Students need to understand that different intensities of feelings influence what a character says and does, or how a character reacts.  For example, a character who is uneasy about something will act differently than someone who is frantic, thus setting in motion different events.  When analyzing characters, students have to learn to 'read' the character to determine how they are feeling in order to understand their actions or the events that unfold.  

Shades of meaning play a huge role in students understanding of the text. Having the ability to discern between someone who is enraged versus someone who is upset is key.  Students need to pay attention to details in the text to consider the character's situation.  This can be a difficult concept to teach when students lack the vocabulary or understanding of the degrees of feelings a character can experience.  

Teaching Shades of Meaning

To take on this challenge, I developed a few activities to help my students learn essential feeling vocabulary.  Rather than providing my students with a set of related feeling words in isolation, I created various sentences in which the feeling words were used.  I directed my students' focus on reading the sentences for the purpose of analyzing the situations first. Students highlighted or underlined the situations in each sentence. Then they conferred with a partner about which levels of intensity the feelings were being experienced in each sentence as they compared and ordered them from low to high degrees based on these situations.

Once students had some experience with the vocabulary used in this activity, I posted chart paper around the room with a feeling word on each poster. Students were then divided into small groups. Each group was assigned a poster to chart situations in which they thought someone might experience that feeling.  Once the given time was up, they rotated to the next feeling poster to see what the group(s) before them had written and then added to that list.  After the groups had carouseled around the room to each poster, the groups revisited the first poster they were assigned, reviewed what the other groups had added, discussed whether they agreed or disagreed with each of the situations on the list (using checkmarks and x's), and then shared out their poster with the class.  This activity really engaged them in some great conversations and sometimes debates.

Another activity that really helped solidify their understanding of feeling vocabulary and their different intensities was a word association sort. Students were partnered up and given sets of words with a feeling card. Their task was to read each word and decided if the word was associated with the intensity level of that feeling.  This was a simple activity that took little prep time.  I used a word card template to write a feeling on one card and various words that would or would not describe someone who is experiencing this feeling.  Students had to consider each word and discuss why it was or was not associated with the feeling.  This really gave students practice with clues they might see in a text that might help them infer how a character is feeling and to what degree.
Shades of Meaning
Implementing these simple activities have assisted my students' success, not only with shades of meaning, but how it applies to a better understanding of the characters and plot of the stories they read.

If you have any activities or strategies to share regarding teaching shades of meaning or feeling vocabulary, please share in the comment area below. I've added a sampler of a word association sort for you to download and use in your own classroom. It includes two sets of sorts (panicked and uneasy). You can use the sort with or without the emoji icons.  There is also a blank template for you to create your own sort.  Just click here for this download.  Hope your kiddos find it engaging as well. For more activities to teach shades of meaning with feelings, visit my Intensities of Feelings resource or click on the resource cover at the beginning of this article.   Happy teaching!