So What Has Actually Been Working – 7th Grade Readers Workshop

Every year I start with so many ideas of what we will try, what will do, things we can accomplish. Every year, I have a long list of all of my ideas from the summer waking me up at night, getting me excited to teach again. And then…the year starts, I try some things, others are forgotten, some work, some don’t. This year with a new grade level and a new subject and only 45 minutes, there has not been a dull moment yet. So why not share, hopefully we can learn from each other.

What has worked:

  • Starting with independent reading. Jillian Heise shared this wonderful idea of having the first 10 minutes dedicated to independent reading, and while that cuts class time down to 35 minutes, this is the best use of 10 minutes I can think of. Students get settled, they actually read, and we all get a nice start to class.
  • Status of the class. This great idea from Donalyn Miller is a simple check in tool where students write down what they read in the 10 minutes. I use it to have students track their reading habits, such as whether or not they are actually reading and whether or not they are picking good books.
  • The “What to Read Next List.” Rather than showcase new books one at a time, I save them up and have book shopping time. Yet, with 5 English classes they cannot take any of the books until the end of the day. Thus the need for somewhere to write it down. Students get free time to browse the piles of books on the tables and share their excitement with others. They always have a book they cannot wait to read without it taking too much time.
  • Blogging! I was very nervous about whether we could fit blogging in but I am so glad we found the time. We blog every other week in class but then the students can blog as much or as little as they want outside of class. They can’t believe the comments they are getting, I cannot believe how much I am learning about them, but again, their voices and ideas are getting a place in the world, which matters so much.
  • Mini-lessons. I wasn’t sure how 7th graders would respond to this but it has worked well. We are able to get through the teaching so they can get to work. They don’t mind gathering on the carpet in chairs or on the floor and I like that we have a smaller area for discussion.
  • “Adult” discussion. We actively work on how to discuss our thoughts without raising our hands, I love how the students are figuring out how to do this while listening and responding to each other. We have a long way to go but the seed has been planted.
  • Choice. These students need to choose their books in order to keep reading. I have been a proponent of choice for many years and even more so with this age group. Some of my students hate reading with a passion and much of that hate comes from being forced to read certain books.
  • Picture books. I wasn’t sure if 7th graders would be too cool for picture books, but once again these timeless tales are capturing their audience. I love when I see two 7th graders sharing a picture book somehow thinking they are getting away with it. Reading is reading no matter what. And there is always time for a great picture book.
  • A huge library. I knew I needed a lot of books to keep 121 7th graders reading, and boy was I right. The taste, abilities, and needs are so varied that I am so glad I didn’t get rid of my “easier” books, nor nixed some of my tougher ones. Sure the library is a bit more messy than it was in my 5th grade but it also getting a lot of use, even though we have a fantastic library here too. I have even had teachers come in and borrow books, now that is a success.

What has not worked:

  • Post-its for all. I really drove the use of post-its home with my 5th graders but have fund it less useful with my 7th graders. Some need the, some use them, others don’t need them at all, and stil others need an entirely different system to get them thinking. What matters is that each child is on the path to figure out what works best for them in order to push their thinking.
  • Outside reading. I have yet to see a huge growth in outside reading. While the students know they are supposed to read, some choose not to, some don’t have time, and others forget. I am not enforcing it through a system simply restating the expectation every day. I will keep working on it.
  • My old conferencing ways. I used to call students to my table with all of their stuff but have found this wastes too much time. Instead I pop next to them with a sheet of address labels and I write my anecdotes on those. They then get transferred to an “I Have Noticed” sheet that I keep in their section binder.
  • Partnering students. I had partnered students based on personalities and not friendships, this has definitely backfired. I forgot how shy some 7th graders can be and have to re-think how to partner them better. They do not have assigned seating which has been fine so far so perhaps self-chosen partners wont be a bad idea.

While this is just a snapshot, I am happy to see more ideas that have worked than not. Working under the 45 minute time constraint has given me a whole new appreciation for middle school and high school teachers and all they do. Whew, there is a lot to cover int hat amount of time. What has been working for you?

cross-posted at

Pernille Ripp is the the author of Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classroom Back to Our Students, creator of Global Read Aloud Project, and co-founder of EdCamp MadWI. She teaches fifth grade in Verona, Wisconsin, and blogs at