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Online reader-writer workshop? Absolutely!

This might just be the perfect time to use this student-directed approach to reading and writing

If you are like most ELA teachers right now, you are wondering how you are going approach instruction at the beginning of this school year. My answer, whether in-person or online, is workshop! If you are unfamiliar with the approach, it’s basically students doing the work. There aren’t any long lectures or copious notes – it is students practicing reading and writing. It’s student-directed, teacher facilitated. It lends itself to teaching reading and writing. It also lends itself to this moment because it can be done online with little (if any) change to the framework.

My basic framework for workshop is:

  • Reader-writer notebook

  • Self-selected reading

  • Mini-lessons

  • Mentor texts

  • Collaboration (between students)

  • Conferring (between teacher and student(s))

How would these look online?

Reader-writer notebook

This element can include a lot of things that can be kept online. For example, students can create an online journal or an online glossary of terms they’ve learned. This is where they can keep their reader-responses and vocabulary work. If you are using Google Apps for Education, have students create a Google Site portfolio. One of the pages on the Site can be their virtual reader-writer notebook.

Self-selected reading

Students can read anywhere. Many would rather read in the comfort of their own home than in an uncomfortable desk at school. The point is students are reading. The challenge here will be getting them the material. Will the school or local library be available? Can the students access a wide variety of books online? If they can access the books, you are ready to go!

But don’t stop there. Students need to share what they read. You can use an app such as Flipgrid for students to create book talks for their books. You could also organize book clubs/literature circles through Google Meet, etc.


The mini-lesson may look differently depending on if you are teaching synchronously or asynchronously. If you are synchronous and all students will be with you live, you can give your mini-lesson then. If you are asynchronous, you can create a video with the mini-lesson. The bonus of the video is the students have that resource at their fingertips all the time.

However you do it, make it short and sweet. Be visual and model, model, model!

Mentor texts

Students will need to have access to a copy of the text online. The explanation of how to use the mentor text will have to come during one of your mini-lessons. Show the students what to look for and how to annotate. You will also need to show them how they can use that mentor text as a model for their own writing. This is very doable.

A tip to model annotation is to use your iPhone as a document camera. You can share your phone’s screen just like you share your computer screen. You can connect your phone with a cable or via AirPlay. Either way, you will be prompted with directions on how set it up depending on your model of phone.


This is the one piece that could be logistically challenging depending on the platform your school or district is using for online instruction. Will students be able to meet virtually for discussion and collaboration? Can you use breakout rooms on Zoom? The important part here is that you get students to interact with each other.

If meeting online with video is too difficult, you can still have students use online written discussions through platforms such as Google Classroom.

This collaboration can be asynchronous as well. Students can respond to a prompt on Flipgrid and then reply to others. The reply feature is a great way to get students responding to each other if synchronous response is not available.


This online environment is the perfect opportunity to get better conferring with students. You can schedule times throughout the week to meet one-on-one with students to discuss their work. You could even group students based on need and schedule time to meet with them. This is unique because you can have a conversation with a student without the potential distraction of the entire class. Think about this as an opportunity for truly individualized feedback.

Hopefully, you can see that there are some fun and exciting opportunities for workshop in the remote setting. Student-directed instruction is a must, and workshop lends itself to that. If are a teacher that likes control, this is an almost forced opportunity to loosen the reins and let the students go!

Some tools to use:

  • Google Site to create online portfolios

  • Flipgrid for verbal responses and book talks

  • Google Classroom for written discussion

  • iPhone as a document camera for mentor texts on Zoom

  • Google Meet or Zoom or your platform of choice for collaboration of conferring

How would this look in action? What might a lesson include?

  • Students respond in a journal entry in their virtual reader-writer notebook to a picture or video stimulus you post.

  • Students read a book of their choice for 10-20 minutes a day and record a Flipgrid response about the book by Friday. Students reply to each other using the app.

  • You record a lesson about the use of figurative language, using your cell phone to model annotation of the mentor text.

  • Students use Google Meet to analyze the text as a group.

  • You use Zoom or Google Meet to conference with that group about their analysis and annotation.

That’s workshop online!

Want a more visual explanation? Check out my latest YouTube video:

Have questions? Email me at

Want customized support on implementing workshop in your online classroom? Email me! Let’s schedule a time for me to work with you!

On a final note, teachers you’ve got this. Use this as an opportunity to try something new and build your teacher tool belt. And have fun!

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