Reader's Workshop Series – Balancing Accountability and Choice

“Time for reading is time well spent.” – Donalyn Miller, The Book Whisperer.

In Miller’s class, students spend half of their reading block engaging in choice reading while she sprinkles meaningful, targeted instruction around the room…sounds like my cup of tea! I agree with every study she cites and all of her evidence that choice reading is the number one way to engage and build stronger readers.

My classroom reality is…of course…different. I have to modify Miller’s style to get as close to my ideal while still meeting district initiatives. The result is a reader’s workshop block that starts with a 15-minute whole class read aloud, followed by 30 minutes of choice reading accompanied by reading activities that keep my students and me accountable.

Here is a look inside a typical day during our third grade Reader’s Workshop:

Our reader's workshop daily schedule


My school uses the Accelerated Reader program (the first conflict to Miller’s approach). All of my students take the STAR/AR computer reading test to get their Independent Reading Range. I carefully instruct students on the importance of using this range as a guide for finding books, not as a restrictor. If they are highly engaged with a book beyond their range, it will help them grow as a reader…if not, they will likely abandon the book and try something more suited to their needs and interests. Either way, my student knows their reading interests and choices are highly-valued in our reading community.
When students finish reading a book, they log it in their Read and Respond Journal and have the option to take an AR quiz on the book. I like having AR as an optional tool for students because some are so intensely motivated by earning points and tracking their number of words read in a year.
As students read, a hold conferences at the back table.


I am utterly incapable of keeping to a time limit and meeting with every child every week if I let myself conference around the room at desks and in nook. I get lost in the conversation and leave too many students out of my conference rotation. Therefore, each day, I have a different group of students read at my back table while I conference one-on-one with each of them.

Reading Conference Area and Supplies

This system ensures that each of my students gets 5 minutes to chat with me each week about their reading interests, struggles, and progress. During a conference, we chat about the book they are reading and I give them a quick piece of advice to help them grow as a reader in the week ahead. Advice is given based on their most recent blog post or my observations as they whisper read from their book.


One day each week, my third graders blog using an app/website called Lino (details here). They write a Reading Rundown and then have the option to respond to one another’s rundowns or create an additional post to practice their Read and Respond skills in the “blogosphere”.

Reading Recommendations

When students finish a book, they are given the option of adding a Reading Recommendation to our classroom library wall. We display a few recommendations at a time so they are easy to read and the display does not becoming overwhelming and useless. Our recommendation archives are easily accessible nearby.

Reading recommendation board and archive.

These systems ensure that reading remains the focus of our workshop but also that our time reading is, indeed, time well spent. My students and I enjoy this balance between accountability and choice.
Comment below to share what you would like to learn about next:

  • a look inside our Read and Respond Journals
  • using PowerPoint to manage time and transitions during reader’s workshop
  • something else already mentioned that you need more detail on

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8 Responses

  1. Love getting a peek into your reading workshop Laura. I love the idea of having your group come to you and then conferencing with them one-by-one a the table! Cle-ver! Like you, I can't get to everyone when I'm moving around the classroom. I think I should implement that for writing workshop!! TOMORROW. 🙂

    Next, I'd love to know how you're using PowerPoint to manage time and transitions.


    1. Hi Laurie,
      Glad you are enjoying the series of posts! Looks like the popular vote is for notebooks instead of powerpoint. My original plan was to have four posts in the series but I may have to make it five. 🙂
      Enjoy your weekend!

  2. All of your suggestions for future posts are good, but I'd like to see your reading response journals! Thanks for the chance to share my thoughts.

I’m Laura Santos

I’ve been an elementary teacher for ten years, and love sharing tips and resources that make differentiated learning more manageable for you. Thank you for visiting.

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