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4 Ways to Help Students Successfully Summarize

teaching summary writing activities

If you are an elementary teacher then you understand the struggle that comes with teaching students how to summarize. The concept of summarizing is one of the trickiest for students to grasp. Recap the whole book or chapter, but make it brief? Insert confused student faces here! While there are different strategies to teach students how to summarize, I have found that the best way to drive home the concept of summarizing is to start with teaching students what they should NOT do when summarizing. The number one thing students should NOT do when summarizing is to retell what they have read and usually, this is what they do initially!

By beginning summary writing instruction by showing students a retell, you can easily explain the difference between the two. In the primary grades, students are always asked to retell a story. Retelling is something that students know how to do, making it the perfect way to grab their attention when teaching how to summarize. It also allows students to easily make connections within their own learning. The students can self-monitor their summary writing, by asking if what they wrote is a summary or a retelling. Read on to find out how I begin tackling the concept of summary writing with my students. (Grab free summarizing teaching points to guide summarizing lessons below.)

1. Select a Book to Summarize That Was Previously Read Aloud

teaching summary writing activities

By the time I begin summarizing instruction, we have already read many different picture books. Before the lesson begins, I pull out a few of the class' favorite previously read picture books and display them. I also write a retell and summary for one of the books before the lesson begins, so that the students will have modeled writing to compare summaries and retells when the lesson gets started. Using previously read books is a great way to teach summarizing, since it allows the students to focus on the skill of summarizing, instead of trying to comprehend the story for the first time. (Read more about using previously read books during reading here.)

2. Create an Anchor Chart

teaching summary writing activities
I prepare an anchor chart ahead of time to complete with the students during the initiation of the lesson. A simple SUMMARY vs RETELL t-chart always does the trick. Then I enlist students to tell help me fill it in by telling me what they already know about both summarizing and retelling. Their ideas are discussed and recorded. Using the completed T-chart we begin our discussions on the differences between summarizing and retelling. 

3. Use Modeled Writing

I love to use modeled writing in the classroom for teaching just about everything! After we discuss our summary vs. retell T-chart, I share with the students the retell that I prepared ahead of time, of  one of the previously read books that I have displayed. Students can immediately pick the book that is being retold because it includes all the details of the story.  At this point, I enlist help from the students to cross off some less relevant details from my retelling that would not make it into a summary of the same book. Then I unveil the pre-written summary. Presto! The summary looks like the retell without the unnecessary details. This part of the lessons helps students to understand not just the difference between summarizing and retelling but also illustrates to them that they already have the skills to write summaries!

4. Practice, Practice, Practice

After analyzing the modeled writing, students are able to grasp the difference between summaries and retells. Now is the time that we practice. I send small groups of students off to write summaries of different previously read picture books, but only give them an index card to write their summaries on. This reminds the students that summaries include only the critical information from the book and are brief. When students are done, we come back together as a class and begin to share. We use our class created T-chart of summaries vs. retell to help us decide if students have written brief summaries or story retells. Students are also able to evaluate if the summaries that students share included important information since they have all heard the stories that students wrote summaries about.

Moving Forward

teaching summary writing activities 4th grade
Summarizing Organizers
This lesson is a great way to introduce summaries in your classroom, but it is only the beginning. This lesson provides the students with background knowledge to help them understand the structure of summaries and provides an anchor chart visual of what to do, and what NOT to do when writing summaries. At this point, student summary writing skills are just developing, so they need to be honed and sharpened throughout the year. (Yes, this is a year-long process!)  There are many different strategies to help students perfect their summary writing skills. My favorites include: 
  • The 5 Ws-Students answer the 5W questions about the book that they are reading to help them write their summary. Who? What? When? Where? Why?
  • SWBSA-This strategy works well when reading books with strong characters. This stands for somebody, wanted, but, so, and. Once the students complete an SWBSA organizer they can easily write a summary.
  • Story Map Summaries-Students complete a story map after their reading. Using the completed story map, students then write a summary. 

teaching summary writing activities 3rd grade
Important vs. Interesting
If you are finding that your students are struggling with including important information in their summaries, try teaching a lesson on interesting vs important information. Create a class t-chart to help students understand the difference between the two. 

Summarizing is one of the most difficult concepts to teach and requires many follow up mini-lessons to help students succeed. Students must be given many opportunities to practice writing summaries, so do not expect them to become experts right away. Hold your students accountable for summary writing at least once a week. The more that students practice the better they will become. Students should also be sharing summaries orally each day. This can be done while you confer with them one-on-one or during reading partnership time. Remember the more times a student can practice summarizing, the better that they will become! (Grab free summarizing teaching points to guide your follow up lessons below.)

What is YOUR best tip for teaching students how to summarize? Share below!

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6 Autumn Picture Books for Upper Elementary Classrooms


One of the trickiest things that I have found about being an upper elementary teacher is the ability to stay on track with content and standard based learning while celebrating the all engaging seasons and holidays in the classroom.  Even though students are getting older, they still love to celebrate the changing of seasons and each of the holidays, too! And to be honest, so do I! I always look forward to the beginning of each new month when I can take out my monthly stack of picture books, change out the door d├ęcor, and get ready to dive into each holiday. As the years go by and more and more standards are introduced and the scope and sequence gets tighter and tighter, it gets harder to squeeze in the all engaging seasonal activities! With a little creativity, engaging picture books, and content alignment, you can still celebrate each season in your classroom! 
These fall picture books and activities are the perfect way to welcome autumn into your upper elementary classroom while providing content based lessons and addressing the standards, too!

Here are my favorite read-aloud books to share with students during the autumn season. Read on to find out more about each book and be sure to grab the coordinating FREE student activity for each book at the bottom of this post. 
(Affiliate book links included.)

The Scarecrow's Dance  Written by: Jane Yolen

picture book freebiesI cannot rave about this book enough! There is no end to the lessons that you can do following a read-aloud of this book, as it easily connects to many different reading and writing units and standards. This book follows a nighttime adventure of a scarecrow that is not sure about his place in the world. It is chock full of figurative language with similes, metaphors, alliteration, and personification. It is written in a way that students will discover these writing techniques on their own, even if you have not introduced these concepts yet, making this a great book to tie into revising lessons during your writing block. This book also filled with amazing word choice! With synonyms on almost every page for walk, like trotting, jogging and pirouetted, it pairs nicely with lessons on synonyms, antonyms, using a thesaurus, and revising a written piece for better word choice. Lastly, I love to talk about context clues with this book. Many words included are new to my students, like forlorn, making this a great way to introduce or review the use of context clues to help you understand the text you are reading. Grab a coordinating activity for FREE at the bottom of this post.

Too Many Pumpkins Written by: Linda White

autumn picture book freebieI have gone through so many copies of this book in my teaching career! We read it several times each year and the kids always love to revisit this book on their own because of the great story and amazing illustrations. Though a longer story, the kids are always engaged and on the edge of their seat with the turn of each page. This book follows the main character, Rebecca Estelle, as she tries to rid her yard of pumpkins. The story takes place over the course of a year, allowing students to see the progression of how pumpkins grow from seed to fruit.  With too many pumpkins and not enough uses, this book is a great backdrop to writing math multiplication word problems. This is a book that you will want to read again and again for different uses, one great use is summary writing. Read this post to find out how I repurpose read alouds in my classroom. Grab a coordinating activity for FREE at the bottom of this post.

Why Do Leaves Change Color? Written by: Betsy Maestro

autumn picture book free
I read this book during my first year of teaching and it has become a staple in my classroom, being read aloud to my students each and every fall season. Is there a better nonfiction author than Betsy Maestro? Though filled with high-level concepts, content, and vocabulary such as chlorophyll, pigment, and tannin, your students will easily understand how leaves change color. I love dissecting this book for its content and informational text writing style and also introduce note taking with the students. The leaf rubbing activity at the end of the book is a must and a great science art connection. Grab a coordinating activity for FREE at the bottom of this post. 

autumn picture book free

Winter is Coming Written by: Tony Johnston

This book is beautifully illustrated by the incredibly talented Jim LaMarche. (I can’t rave enough about his book The Raft, see more about that book HERE) Each page is filled with beauty with written words and pictures all about fall. It follows a young girl who keenly observes her setting, noticing each and every small detail that signals autumn is on the way. She keeps track of all she observes in her own notebooks, through the words and sketches she records. What better activities than to take the kids on an autumn walk and have them do the same! This is a great way to teach descriptive writing, focusing specifically on writing descriptive settings. Grab a coordinating activity for FREE at the bottom of this post.

Because of an Acorn Written by: Lola M. Schaefer and Adam Schaefer

autumn fall picture book freeI love this book because it is an upper elementary version of circular stories. This story leads to meaningful discussions about the power of an acorn and will give your students opportunities to predict with each turn of the page. This book is short and sweet and will not take a lot of time to read aloud, but the message of the book will stay with your students for a lifetime. Don’t forget to read the informational pages at the end that help students understand how important forests and ecosystems are to our planet. Grab a coordinating activity for FREE at the bottom of this post.

Those Darn Squirrels! Written by Adam Rubin

fall picture book freeI came across this book in the discard pile of my local library many years ago and have enjoyed reading it with my students every year since! In this story, Old Man Fookwire who is trying to feed his birds gets wrapped up in a battle of wits with the pesky seed-stealing squirrels. Fookwire and squirrels take turns devising plans and carrying them out to stop the other. This is the perfect book to connect to your STEM lessons and NGSS engineer, plan, and design standards. Grab a coordinating activity for FREE at the bottom of this post.

There is nothing more powerful than reading aloud to students. I look forward to sharing each and every one of these picture books with my students as we welcome the season of fall. I hope that you enjoy sharing them with your students, too! What is your favorite fall themed picture book to read with your students Share below!
fall picture book free

Looking for more fall and Halloween activities to do with your students? Click the picture below to see all my autumn products!


3 Tips to Become a Pro at Student Reading Conferences

reading workshop conferences

Conducting reading conferences with your students is an important part of reading workshop. A teacher-student reading conference takes place during independent reading time within your reading workshop block.  During this quick one-on-one meeting time, the teacher listens to the student read, they discuss the book that they are reading through discourse about the reading strategies that the student is using, and the teacher compliments the reader and gives them a suggestion or tip to use as they continue to read. By conferring with your students you are giving them one-on-one time devoted solely to improving their individual reading skills. It is reading differentiation at its best! Reading conferences allow students to get tailor-made individualized mini-lessons suited just for them!

It is important to make the most of the time that you have for your reading conferences. This will ensure that the student you are conferring with gets reading strategy work that will help them get stronger as a reader. 
Grab a reading workshop kit for FREE below.

Here are some ways that I have found that work for me to make the most of your individual reading conference time.

Be Organized

reading workshop conferencesPlanning for reading conferences can be challenging. Students that you planned on meeting with might be absent during your reading time, your mini-lesson may run over time, and students you thought were ready to work alone, may need a little extra support to help get started independently. All of these interferences cut into your reading conference time, meaning you will not meet with as many students as you had planned. My goal is to always meet with about five students each day. This ensures that by the end of the week I would have met with all of my students at least one time. To help me stay organized, I keep a reading conference log right at the front of my binder. It is completely organized to keep track of the conferences that I have had and which type of conference it was. Although traditional reading conferences are between the teacher and one student, I also utilize partner conferences and strategy group conferences as teacher conferring opportunities. These type of conferences do not occur as often, but there are days that students work together on reading tasks, so when I meet with them as a pair, we all confer together! I also mark this sheet with information that will help me keep track of student growth such as absences or when a student is pulled out of my classroom for additional services. This page serves as a great tracking system! This sheet is also helpful for planning. Before reading workshop begins, I can quickly look at this page and know which students I will need to confer with that day. Get a closer look at the forms I use HERE.

Be Prepared

reading workshop conferencesHaving a reading conference toolbox is a great way to be prepared for all of your reading conferences. Inside my reading toolbox are the essentials that I need to meet with each student for their reading conference. It contains a reading workshop conferring guide to keep me on track, a previously read picture book from the current unit of study, so that we can refer back to it together to review strategy work, conference data sheets for me to take notes on, reader take away cards so that I can leave the students with a handwritten compliment and suggestion,  and of course pencils, highlighters, pens, and sticky notes! Having student data sheets are a must! The more detailed notes you take during the conferences, the better you are able to help each student as an individual. You can use a plain notebook and take detailed notes, making sure to note the student's name, date, and book that they are reading, or you can use very detailed note sheets to track reading fluency, include  strateies, and your entire discussion. Both work well, so pick the style that works for your! Just be sure to keep track of each and every conference that you hold with each student. Get a closer look at the forms I use HERE.

Be Positive

reading workshop conferencesAlways, always, start your reading conferences off with a positive vibe, to ensure that the students are excited to see you approach them for a reading conference. When you first get next to your student for a conference be sure to give them a compliment about what they are doing. Some suggestions for compliments could include student organization, the student getting lost in the book, student taking notes, student use of reading strategies, or student fluency after you listen to them read. The more positive and celebratory that you are, the more the student will continue to do what you celebrated as they read independently. Be sure to always mix up your compliments each time you meet with a student.

Be Present: Leave Your Voice Behind

reading workshop conferencesreading workshop conferences

I love using these reader take away cards to help students stay on track while they independently read. I use them in two different ways. The first way I use them is during our reading conference. I will take quick notes on each card as we speak, including a compliment and a suggestion. When I leave, the reader gets to keep this card. They can use it as a bookmark, keep it in their reading folder, or staple it to their reading notebook page. When students forget their focus or goal, they can take out the card and remember our conversation during our conference and “hear” my voice once again coaching them along. I also use these reader cards on days that I did not meet with a student to confer, especially if a few days have passed. I will collect student notebooks or activity pages and correct it, and fill out a reader card with a compliment and suggestion just as if we were having a conference. When the student’s work is returned, they will see the reading card and know exactly what they are doing well and what they need to focus on as they continue to read. These cards are a great way to keep track of your conferences, too! See these reading cards HERE.

Reading conferences must be planned and purposeful, just like all of the other elements of reading workshop. Read more about planning for reading workshop HERE. These tips and strategies will help you to make the most of the time you have to confer with your students. If you are looking for more tips, check out the professional reading book: Conferring with Readers*. I love this book and refer to it often! It is a great professional read to help you understand the ins and outs of reading conferences.

How do you organize your reading conferences? Share below! 
*affiliate link


3 Ways to Effectively Use the Mid-Workshop Break

reading workshop upper elementary classroom

3 Ways to Effectively Use the Mid-Workshop Break

The Reading Workshop model is a great way to engage students in reading and build their reading stamina throughout the year. This means that as the year progresses, students are able to sustain reading for longer periods of time. One way to increase reading time on task and reading stamina during your reading workshop block is to use the mid-workshop break. 

The mid-workshop break takes place about halfway through your reading block after the students have read independently for about 20 minutes. It allows the students a chance to take a quick, yet purposeful break, then return to their reading recharged and ready to go! The mid-workshop break is a scheduled pause during independent reading and something that is exciting for the children. Our workshop break is always a positive experience and a highlight of our reading time. It is a chance to celebrate the great thinking that your students are doing as readers. It is not a time to redirect or correct students. You want students to leave the break energized and ready to keep on reading! Read more about planning for reading workshop HERE.

Here are three ways that I have found engage and energize my students during the mid-workshop break. Only use one of these a day as the mid-workshop break is a just a short pause in their independent reading time. It is about 5-8 minutes long, just enough time to stretch, discuss reading strategies, and then get back to reading!

reading workshop upper elementary classroomReader Super Star Shout Out

By the time the mid-workshop break comes along, I have had enough time to check in with a few students and find great examples of reading strategies in use. After celebrating each student, I put a sticker in their reading notebook next to their writing evidence of a reading strategy in action. On days that we have Reading Super Star Shout Outs, those students stand up and share how they used a reading strategy during their reading. After about three students quickly share, we ring the bell and reading time resumes.
Why I love it: This strategy calls attention to students who can be reserved or too timid to volunteer to share on their own. There is always something positive to share about students of all levels. It is a true confident booster!

Reading Conference Highlight

reading workshop upper elementary classroomThis is a great mid-workshop break strategy to use when you are short on time because you control how long this one takes to share. By the time the mid-workshop break rolls around, I have met with a handful of students for a reading conference. During this time, I pay close attention to strategies in use and take quick notes on stickies to share during the break. During this type of break, I share student thinking about something about a previously taught strategy, a strategy used correctly from the current unit or even a reading fluency strategy that was used. I always ask for student permission first and make sure that it is OK that I share their thinking with the whole class. Everything that I share during the mid-workshop break is always positive, remember that this is not a time to redirect or correct students. At the close of this type of mid-workshop break, I present the students with a challenge to see if they can use the same strategy in their reading. Grab a copy of a reading workshop kit for FREE below.

Why I love it: This is completely teacher controlled. It is perfect if you are short on time or have a lot of students absent (students would be without their reading partner so they would not be to collaborate during the break).

Stop, Collaborate, and Listen

reading workshop upper elementary classroom

As you can imagine, this is always the class favorite! Students love to collaborate and talk with each other! Who doesn't love to get up and talk to their friends, especially about a good book? This mid-workshop break strategy has to be very structured and purposeful or students can get off task quickly. During this time, my students meet with their reading partner (these change for each reading unit) and discuss a specific question that I pose related to the mini-lesson. This question is shared before students head out to read on their own and written at the board. During the first 20 minutes of independent reading, the question focuses students' reading and gives them something ahead of time to share with their partner. For example, if we are in a character study unit a question for this type of break may be: Think about the main character in the book you are reading. Would you be friends with that character, why or why not? Students would need to collect evidence to support their thinking on a sticky note and be ready to share with their partner. They are also encouraged to read aloud a section of the book to support their reasoning. After both partners have shared, they head back to their independent reading spots and after about 8 minutes all students are back to reading independently. Grab a copy of thes student partner talking guide that I use for FREE below.
Why I love it: Student engagement!

The mid-workshop break is a planned and purposeful pause during reading. As with all the steps of the reading workshop model, the expectations of the mid-workshop break require explicit teaching, practice, and time for students to know what to do and to do it successfully. The more time you spend practicing, the more effective this break will be for both you and your students. Students will return to their reading energized and excited to read for the remainder of your reading block.
How do you run your mid-workshop break?

If you implement reading workshop conferences in your classroom, you might be interested in these
conference forms to keep your reading conferences on track:


6 Tips to Keep Your Mini-Lessons Mini

mini lesson strategies

6 Tips to Keep Your Mini-Lessons Mini

The reading workshop model is highly effective to help students grow as readers. The first part of the workshop model is the mini-lesson. The mini-lesson is the time that you teach your students a specific strategy or skill that you want them to carry over into their own independent reading. It should be no more than 5-10 minutes. It is important to stick to this time limit since the biggest chunk of your reading workshop time is having your students read independently. For me, the hardest part of the mini-lesson is keeping it mini! Here are some strategies that I have found to be successful to keep my mini-lessons within ten minutes.

Use a Timer

Grab a timer and set it for eight minutes. When it goes off, you know that you have to wrap up your mini-lesson. This gives you the opportunity to finish up what you are teaching or squeeze in a part from your lesson you did not address yet. You can use a large visual timer, a small timer on your smart board, or an old finished wind-up timer. Anything works! After a week or two, you will start to get a feel for what ten minutes feels like while teaching and you will soon begin to finish right when the timer goes off! Don't worry about keeping the timer out of view from your students. Include them in your mission to keep your mini-lesson mini. By helping them become aware of the time restraints, they will understand when student talk time is kept to a minimum. Click HERE* for the timer that keeps me in check.

Use a Guide 

When I first started reading workshop, I kept a mini-lesson planning template on a clipboard behind my chart paper stand. It is a great visual for me to help me move through each of the steps of the mini-lesson in a timely manner. You can also fill in the template with what you want to say and have the students do to maximize your mini-lesson time. The time it takes to plan out each part of the mini-lesson is worth it to help keep you on track for the short ten minutes that you have to teach!  Grab a copy of the mini-lesson template I use for FREE below.

Prewrite on Anchor Charts

mini lesson strategies
Anchor charts are a great way to remind the students the steps of different reading strategies that you teach them. My room is always covered with anchor charts! To save time during your mini-lesson, be sure to pre-write some of the information on your anchor charts like the headers and subheading. Anchor charts should be interactive so be sure to leave space to record student ideas whenever possible. By creating anchor charts ahead of time, you will not only save time during your mini-lesson, but you will be creating a lesson guide to follow, too! Grab a reading workshop bulletin board banner set for FREE below.

Break Out of Your Reading Corner

Another way that I shave some time off of my mini-lesson is to take a break from teaching in my reading corner. By bringing our mini-lesson right in front of our smart board, I am able to prepare all of my slides ahead of time and use each slide as a guide to move through the mini-lesson quickly and efficiently. The smartboard slides work as a prewritten script to keep you right on track! You can type out the teaching point, information you want to share with students, and leave blank slides to record student ideas. Working by the smart board is especially time-saving for topics that require a longer mini-lesson like the introduction or closing lesson to a new unit.

Read Ahead of Time

This is a HUGE time saver. Read your mentor texts at a different time during the day and then refer back to them, or simply reread a specific page or passage during your mini-lesson. I have found that reading aloud during odd times during the day like snack and ten-minute windows between lunch and specials is a great way to get all of my mentor texts read with my students. Look at your schedule and see where you can squeeze in some read-aloud time. Even just ten minutes somewhere else during the day will keep your mini-lesson mini!

Repurpose Past Reading

mini lesson strategies
My favorite corner of my classroom library is the corner with my previously read basket. This basket holds all the books and mentor texts that we have read aloud throughout the year. It is a great reference spot for both myself and my students. For me, it is a great spot to grab a book that we have already read and discussed for a previously taught reading strategy, that can be revisited with different reading lenses. One great book that works as a mentor text for many different reading strategies and skills is The Raft written by Jim LaMarche. This book is great to teach everything! (Grab it HERE*) Character traits, how characters change, symbolism, visualization, making inferences, and so much more! By repurposing books, you save the time needed to read, discuss and digest new stories. Our previously read basked is a place that I often find my students visiting, too. They enjoy rereading books that we have already read to grasp a deeper understanding. This basket is especially great for struggling and reluctant readers since they are already familiar with the storyline in these previously read books.

When it comes to keeping your mini-lesson, mini, these tips will do the trick! Keeping your mini-lessons short will allow your students more time to read independently, which is the ultimate goal of reading workshop. What tricks do you use to keep your mini-lessons to ten minutes or under?

If you are getting ready to implement reading workshop in your classroom, you might be interested in this resource to help you kick off your school year!

kicking off reading workshop

*affiliate links


3 Important Parts to Plan for Reading Workshop


Reading Workshop in My Classroom:
3 Important Parts to Plan

Reading instruction is a true highlight of my day! I love everything about reading time in my classroom. I love reading aloud to my students, teaching reading strategies, talking about books and of course bringing what we do during reading workshop into content areas. I have always loved to teach reading, but my love grew even stronger after attending the Reading Workshop Summer Institute at Teacher’s College with Lucy Calkins. This week-long seminar helped me develop and maintain a structured workshop model in my classroom and create an atmosphere to help my students develop a deep love and excitement for reading. The first year of implementing the format, strategies, and mini-lesson ideas that I learned at TC I noticed a huge increase in student engagement during reading. Students strengthened their reading comprehension skills and written responses to texts. They were also highly engaged in serious and meaningful discourse about the books that they were reading. Reading became the time that we all looked forward to each day!

Reading Workshop follows a specific schedule within a given block of time. It begins with a short mini-lesson and is followed by a large chunk of time for students to independently read and apply reading strategies that they have been taught. Reading Workshop time wraps up with a short sharing session. Since independent reading time is the most critical part of this block, it should make up the largest portion of your reading time. Smack in the middle of independent reading is a mid-workshop break, my students' favorite part of reading!

When I plan and prepare lessons for reading workshop, I think about what I call the 3 Ts: TEACH, TRY, & TALK: What do I want to teach? What do I want my students to try? What do I want to hear students talking about in their reading discussions? I consider these three components the most important part of planning for reading workshop lessons. Planning out each of these carefully allows me to maximize the time we have during reading. I carefully select and plan mentor texts, independent tasks, and partnership activities to complement the teaching point so that all three of these Ts are interwoven and students move throughout the reading block seamlessly.

Readers Workshop Planning GuideTEACH:

Thinking about what you want to teach for any lesson is an important part of the planning process, but it is especially important when planning a reading lesson for reading workshop. Your objective needs to be concise as the mini-lesson portion of the reading workshop is only 5-10 minutes long. One way to approach planning your objectives is to use the umbrella strategy.  To do this, begin with a specific reading strategy you want to teach and list the different lessons within each.  Each lesson idea becomes a day's teaching point. For example, summarizing is too broad to teach in one mini-lesson. Break apart summarizing into five chunks and teach one idea each day. This will ensure that you stick to the 10 minutes allotted for your mini-lesson and have a clear and concise teaching point for each day's lesson. This also allows time for students to learn and practice the skills needed to summarize over a week's time and allows you to scaffold as you teach each skill. Grab an umbrella planning organizer for FREE below.


What I love most about the workshop model is that it allows so much time for students to try out and practice different reading strategies each day; both the strategies they are learning in the current unit of study, as well as strategies they have previously learned that still apply to their current reading. During one day's reading lesson, I plan for multiple opportunities for students to try out the strategy taught during the mini-lesson. Students will try it during the mini-lesson, while independently reading and during our reading conferences. You can plan for students to complete a task or assignment, think graphic organizertake notes, think jotting, or you can create scaffolding questions to help each student along in their understanding, think small group work or reading conferences. No matter what tasks you assign, planning to support students as they try it out and practice multiple times in one day is critical for student success.  HERE is a quick way to hold students accountable to practice reading strategies during their independent reading time.


Reading Workshop Turn and TalkGood readers talk about the texts that they read, and good teachers plan many opportunitiees for students to talk about what they are reading. Create an anchor chart of your book talk expectations and create a small paper copy for students to keep in their reading notebook as a reference. To help prepare opportunities for students to talk during the lesson, create questions or statements that you want them to discuss and debate. This is especially helpful during the mid-workshop break to keep your students on task. Each day, students should be discussing the books that they are reading and the reading strategies they are using multiple times. Student discussions take place during the mini-lesson, the teacher-student reading conference, the mid-workshop break, and at the end of reading workshop during share time. Talking about texts takes a lot of practice. I spend much of the beginning of the year practicing and rehearsing how to talk about books and using discussion starters to help keep the dialogue about books "going".  The discussion stems we use are designed to help students engage in meaningful discourse using their critical thinking skills. These discussion starters go beyond just summarizing or restating a part of the text. By creating an anchor chart and student reference sheet of discussion starters your students will be expert book talkers in no time! Grab the discussion starters I use for FREE below.
When you sit to plan each lesson during reading workshop, don't just plan the teaching point. Remember the three Ts. Plan what you will TEACH, what you want students to TRY and many opportunities for students to TALK about the strategies they are using. These expectations show your students that you value what they think and have to say about the books that they are reading.

If you are getting ready to implement reading workshop in your classroom, you might be interested in this resource to help you kick off your school year!

kicking off reading workshop


5 Tips for Content Area Close Reading Success

5 Tips for Content Area Close Reading Science

The transition from reading during a language arts block to reading in the content areas is quite challenging for upper elementary students. Fourth and fifth graders are still figuring out the layout of informational text, using context clues to decipher content-specific words and recognize the structure of the text, all while trying to understand the complex content in science and social studies articles. Often times, when faced with an informational text or textbook chapter, my fifth graders forget that they are actually supposed to be reading and instead just peck and hunt for content information they need to answer a question. By doing this, students are just glazing over the reading material and gaining very little to no understanding of the content. This is why I have found that direct instruction of close reading strategies in the content areas is a must, especially for upper elementary students. 

So what is Close Reading?

Close Reading is the “thoughtful, critical analysis of a text that focuses on finding significant details or patterns in order to develop a deep, precise understanding of the texts’ form, craft, and meaning. It directs the reader’s attention to the text itself.” (Burke, Beth: A Close Look at Close Reading) Though close reading strategies support the anchor standards of reading informational text found in the Common Core State Standards, (CCSS) it also reflects the good reading practices we want from our students whether you follow the Common Core Standards or not.  Utilizing close reading strategies helps students to understand the text deeply, ultimately helping them to answer text-dependent questions and make inferences to develop their own critical stance to understand the overall meaning of what they have read. Questions or no questions, we want students to develop their own critical stance and gain deep understanding of the informational texts that they are reading.
The time spent teaching reading and writing expectations in the content areas will go a long way to help your students understand, infer, and reflect on what has been read all year long.  The following tips have helped my students practice good reading and writing strategies during content area lessons.

Use Close Reading Anchor Charts

Close Reading anchor chartI love anchor charts! I love making them, displaying them, and sharing them with my students to help them succeed. When crafted correctly, anchor charts are mini-teachers ready to support your students when they are working independently.  As upper elementary teachers, it is easy to assume that students know what we mean when we say read and answer these questions. After moving from third to fifth grade, I found myself guilty of this the first few weeks of school. I realized quickly that even though my students were older and had a few years of close reading instruction, I needed to teach my expectations of close reading and written responses, especially since now students were switching classes and experiencing true science and social studies periods. With direct instruction on WHY we close read and HOW TO close read, students began to take ownership over their reading. These anchor charts helped my students so much, that I made smaller versions of them to keep in their content area journals. This allowed them to refer to the strategies we discussed in class while they were independently working at school and at home, too! Grab a FREE sample of my close reading anchor charts below.

Teacher tip: Don’t limit your anchor charts to these ideas or your own ideas, ask the students to share their ideas and add them to your class anchor charts!

Get Professional

Content Area Close Reading ScienceWhen it comes to annotating the text students of all ages need direction and a little motivation, too. To motivate my students we call close reading their "professional work". With professional work, comes professional tools. By presenting close reading activities as their “job” to do when reading, students feel grown up and professional. Simple tools like clipboards, different colored highlighters or colored pencils, and post it notes help to motivate students immensely! You can easily create close reading toolkits for your students using materials your students find motivating and placing them in buckets, baggies or inexpensive pencil pouches.  When it is time to close read, they can grab their kit and get right to “work”. The tools in their kit remind students that reading in the content areas is not a time to glaze over the material, but rather work hard, read carefully, and dig deep for meaning.

Teacher tip: Collect student close reading toolkits after each use to help them stay tidy and last longer.

Get Purposeful

When instructing students to annotate the text, be sure that your directions are purposeful. I have three sets of directions for annotating text in my classroom. Too many expectations or tasks can be overwhelming, even for upper elementary students. Close Reading Text Markings
Here are my annotating expectations MUSTS:
-Circle new and unknown words (during the first read)
-Use the left margin to record important facts and information found in the text

-Use the right margin to record your own ideas that you are developing/inferring as you read the text
I have found that these three expectations are just the right amount for my students. After a few lessons of modeling, these expectations students are ready to work on their own. Be sure your annotating expectations are clear, purposeful, and practiced together before sending students off to use them. You can grab the checklist I use with my students for FREE below.

Teacher tip: Laminate student size annotating anchor chart and keep them inside students' close reading toolkit for easy access while they work.

Differentiate the Good from the Bad

5Close Reading Anchor chart
Okay maybe it’s not the good from the bad, but when it comes to close reading students must be able to differentiate fact from opinion as well as differentiate interesting information from important information.  Help students understand the difference between interesting and important information with a direct instruction lesson annotating an article together. Create a t-chart on chart paper and label one side interesting information and the other side important information. To help my students separate the two, I say that if it is important, it supports the main idea, calling attention the M in important. As you read the article together, stop and have students share ideas and add it to the t-chart. This activity will not only help students differentiate between interesting and important information, but it will also help with their annotating skills as the important information is the information that would be recorded in the left-hand margins of the articles they read.

Believe it or not, upper elementary students STILL need lessons on facts and opinions and distinguishing the difference. Many students think that because something is typed out in black and white makes it a fact. Students need instruction and practice on pulling out opinions from the materials that they are reading, especially opinions by experts in the articles that they read as sometimes those are implied in the reading. By doing this, students will be able to better craft their own opinions about the information that they are reading. Try this organizer for FREE HERE to help your students differentiate between fact and opinion. Click HERE for more Fact and Opinion resources.

Work Together

 Close Reading graphic organizerWhen my students are face to face with new close reading material, (book, typed text, or article) there is always that initial excitement and glow in their eyes! They love to scan ahead and look for new words, photographs and text headings in anticipation of what is to come. If your students are like mine then you know that the initial excitement fades before they get around to reading the text for the all-important third time. To help combat that loss of enthusiasm, I like to mix up close reading activities with a twist in my classroom that we call the “2 + 1 Reading”. This strategy does require that each student read the text three times, but instead of working independently for each of those three reading, students read two times on their own and then use that last reading time to buddy up and read
with their close reading partner. This strategy has not only brought life back into each of the three readings, but it has allowed for rich and meaningful reading discourse, too. Students are eager to share their text markings and notes with their partner. Students also build reading comprehension confidence after reading with a peer, helping them to complete text-dependent questions and reader response activities on their own. 

Grab a FREE graphic organizer students can use during 2+1 Reading Strategy below.

When it comes to close reading strategies in the upper elementary classroom do not assume that students know what to do. Always take the time to teach and make your expectations clear to your students. Remember, the time you invest in teaching students how to close read will benefit your students greatly.

Check out more Science Close Reading Passages:
Science Close Reading Bundle

Content Area Reading Anchor Charts and Organizers:

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