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Readers' Workshop for High School

Updated on January 12, 2012

Learning the Art of Teaching High School Reading

I teach reading at a pretty run-of-the-mill high school. I am in my tenth year as a teacher, but this is my first go at teaching reading to high school students. Students in my classes are usually two or more grade levels below their peers. This year, we have only sophomores and freshman in our school. I am trying out a bunch of strategies passed on to me by very accomplished leaders in the field of adolescent literacy (Cris Tovani, Ellin Keene, Marie Clay…to name a few). I’m not claiming to be perfect, or even pretty good. I am just a humble learner of the craft.

Reader's Workshop for the High School

After struggling to find a book or website that told me exactly how to run readers workshop for high schoolers, I started culling together any resources I could find. My search led me to some pretty amazing people and ideas for readers workshop, but they were mostly at the elementary or middle school level.

We just finished the first nine weeks, and it has been quite a ride. I have fantastic students, a brand new high school and a lot of headaches, but each day is a new and wonderful challenge.

I will say this now: I am a beginning reading teacher. I have taught writing, American Studies and other social studies classes. I have been an instructional coach and young adult librarian. But, until this year, I have never taught reading. So, much of what I post here is just the product of my feeble attempts at learning how to do this job. If you find some of it useful, great! If not, don't say I didn't tell you so!

Good luck to all of you who are doing what I am trying to do. Literacy is the greatest gift we can give young people. Continue to fight the good fight!

Fake Reading

One of the most successful pieces of my classroom came from reading guru, Cris Tovani. She introduced me to the concept of FAKE READING. According to Cris’s definition, fake reading occurs when students read the words, but don’t do any thinking. They may read an entire page, chapter or novel and not remember a single thing that they read.

When I told my students about FAKE READING in the first few days of class, they got it. They identified themselves as fake readers almost immediately. Some even seemed relieved to finally have someone call them out on what they are doing. I told my students that fake reading was strictly forbidden. I want them to think about what they read and be able to tell me what it is that they read.

For some students, this has been a struggle. They had to start with very small passages, read more slowly or tell me what they thought, rather than be able to articulate it through writing. The students who resisted the most were the ones who had the most to gain by slowing down and trying to think as they read.

Some students were already pretty good thinkers as they read. For these kids, the concept of sharing what they think was a bit insulting. Yet, even these students learned that by sharing their thinking after they read, they were able to clear up some confusion, learn more as they read or have interesting conversations with their peers.

I have several posters around my room that have fake reading in the middle of a big circle with a slash through it (kinda like the no smoking posters you see everywhere). Even now, several months into the school year, I refer to the poster and ask students if they are fake reading or if they thought about what they read.

Sometimes they give me a guilty smile and admit to fake reading. It’s OK, I tell them. Let’s try again. And, 9 times out of 10, they do.

Having this phrase and concept to refer to has been powerful for me as a teacher. It is a concept that my students understand. It was easy to explain and it has had leverage throughout my instruction. Next year, I plan to hammer fake reading even more. I hope to help my students transfer this concept beyond my class to the reading they do in English, social studies, math and other content areas.

Finding the Right Books for Reluctant Readers

Writing about What They Read: Reading Journals

I firmly believe that students should think about and write about what they read. I ask students to journal each time they read. I provide journal prompts to help students focus their writing on one aspect of what they read. As always, I give them “managed choice;” they can choose the prompt to which they would most like to respond. I change up the prompts every so often depending on the focus of our workshop. Here's a sample of what I give the kids.

Journal Entry

Thinking While You Read

Making Connections

What did you read? (title):

After reading:

Summarize what you read in one to two sentences:

Answer one (1) of the questions below in four (4) or more sentences.

1. This reminds me of the time when…

2. This is just like another book I read called…because it…

3. This is just like a movie or T.V. show I watched called…because it…

4. I had an experience just like this when…

Introducing Students to Writing Notebooks or Personal Journals

When students first begin a personal journal or writing notebook they will spend a lot of time staring at a blank screen. “What should I write about?” they ask. I tell them they can write anything they want. Their faces fall. The pressure weighs on their shoulders. I have asked them for too much. I have given them too much choice.

What do I do? The magical answer came to me from a colleague who teaches in Casper, Wyoming. Managed Choice. I offer them a list of choices, with the freedom to suggest other types of writing projects if they so choose.

My managed choice list:

A short story

A poem

A personal journal

Song lyrics (their own-not simply copying lyrics they already know)

A biography

Keep in mind that I teach freshman and sophomores. They come to me as 13, 14, and 15 year olds-the age of extreme narcissism. With that in mind, it has been helpful for me to suggest that they write about themselves. They love it. Ideas flood into their brains: A song about their first heart break. A poem about their family. A biography detailing the best memories from their childhood (this is a popular choice).

What should I write about?

A solid list of age appropriate writing prompts:

Has fun and engaging topics for students from 1st grade all the way through 12th grade. Some of my high schoolers liked the prompts from early elementary!

Dozens of short, thought provoking prompts:

You can’t really find a site with more writing prompts than this one. Students can get a bit lost looking at all of the prompts, so you may want to give them “managed choice” of which prompts from which to choose.

Personal Journal Writing Prompts:

Thank you Northern Nevada Writing Project! Writing Fix has wonderful teaching resources for writing notebooks and journals. I recommend you spend a while getting familiar with the resources available through this site.


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    • profile image

      Kelly Santos 

      7 years ago

      I am glad you wrote this. I have come up from elementary school Spanish immersion, and I am teaching traditional Spanish I, and I have been told to implement Reader's workshop without much more direction than that! This at least gets me started! Now I have to figure out what kind of books, but so far they are just reading from my personal collection of picture books....

    • marwan asmar profile image

      Marwan Asmar 

      7 years ago from Amman, Jordan

      Giving Classes on reading sounds exciting. The idea of making people read and understand is a good idea. It will be nice to go into more detail about the technicality. Cheers

    • profile image

      L. Fulton 

      7 years ago

      It is so good to read about someone who is doing the same thing I am doing - teaching reading for the first time to high school students who are two or more years below grade level. It was comforting to me to see that you had accessed some of the same sources and that you had required independent reading and writing responses in journals. I am looking forward to reading more of your posts and would love to share information.


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