The Minilesson

This post is part of the Workshop 101 series, designed to teach the nuts and bolts of Reading and Writing Workshop. You can view the entire series here.

If you were a fly on the wall at the beginning of a typical Reading Workshop, you would observe something like this: The students are busily gathering their books, notebooks, and pens. They quickly settle into spots on a cozy rug, legs criss-crossed as their attention focuses on their teacher. She is seated in front of the group, next to an easel with a partially-completed anchor chart titled, “Moves Strong Nonfiction Readers Make.” Her gaze sweeps across the group as she leans forward and says, “Readers.” All eyes are on her and chatter comes to a stop as the teacher begins. This is the minilesson.

Only ten minutes long, the minilesson begins the day’s workshop. Within the minilesson, the teacher activates students’ prior knowledge, delivers a succinct and explicit teaching point on a reading or writing strategy, demonstrates the strategy, gives students the opportunity to try the strategy with support, and then reminds students of the teaching point before sending them off to work independently. The minilesson is set up to be a gradual release of responsibility, beginning with the teacher demonstrating (“I Do”), followed by students practicing with support (“We Do”), and then sending students off to try the strategy on their own (“You Do”).

Let’s take a closer look at the components of the minilesson.

1. Connection

Lasting only a minute or so, the Connection portion of the minilesson reminds students of previously learned strategies or makes a connection between the day’s teaching point and students’ everyday lives. The Connection sets up your students for the Teaching Point.

2. Teaching Point

The Teaching Point is a statement, usually two sentences long, that explicitly tells students the strategy you plan for them to learn. The Teaching Point is usually structured to state a reading skill, and then state one strategy you can use to achieve the skill. A Teaching Point for figuring out word meaning may sound something like this:

“Today I want to teach you that strong nonfiction readers don’t just skip over tricky words, they use a strategy to figure out what the word means. One strategy readers use to figure out tricky words is to first read around the word, and then read inside the word.”

3. Teaching

In this portion of the minilesson, the teacher models the day’s strategy. Using a mentor text, the class read aloud, or the teacher’s own writing, the teacher shows step-by-step how to use the strategy, usually thinking aloud and narrating her work as she goes. The students are keen observers during the Teaching. At the end of the Teaching portion, the teacher usually sums up the steps again for the students: “Did you notice that first I…? And then I…? And then last I…?” You might also ask the students to share with their partners what they observed you doing as you demonstrated.

4. Active Engagement

During the Active Engagement portion, the students try out the strategy that was just modeled by the teacher during the Teaching portion. The students might practice the strategy using another segment of the mentor text/read aloud, projected via document camera, or they might practice in their own texts. As the students practice, the teacher circulates among the students, observing, coaching in, and giving voice over prompts. This is a great time to get some quick, informal assessments on which students might need extra support during independent work time.

5. Link

After the Active Engagement, the teacher brings the whole group back to attention for the Link–the final portion of the minilesson. The Link is just a minute or so where the teacher repeats the Teaching Point (“So remember, any time you are reading and you come across a tricky word, one strategy you can use is…”). The teacher will add the new strategy to the anchor chart and remind students of the other strategies they’ve learned during the unit. It’s common for Workshop teachers to end the minilesson by asking students to choose a strategy that they would like to work on during the independent work time (There’s that choice again–remember, the teaching point is not a daily assignment for all students, but one possible choice of work that they can do that day!).

I know that for some, understanding the minilesson is a lot easier when you can see it in action. I pulled two of my favorite minilesson videos from TCRWP’s Vimeo account to show you what a minilesson looks like, sounds like, and feels like. See if you can pinpoint the five components of the minilesson in the videos, and be sure to keep an eye on the timestamp–you will be amazed when you see what powerful teaching these teachers fit into just ten minutes!

The first video is a fourth grade Writing Workshop minilesson, which I think is SO fun (though I might be biased since I teach fourth grade…):

The second video is one that gives me goosebumps every time I watch it. Mary Ehrenworth is just such a powerful teacher. In this video, she’s teaching a Reading Workshop minilesson to a middle school group. You also get a bonus look at what her students are doing when they leave the minilesson!

If you are a primary grades teacher interested in implementing Reading and Writing Workshop, there are also tons of videos geared toward the lower grades at the TCRWP Vimeo, as well! Be sure to check them out!

What did you notice about the minilessons you watched? What questions do you still have? Tell me in a comment!

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