Looking @ ELA, the Workshop Model, and Classroom Libraries

Looking @ ELA, the Workshop Model, and Classroom Libraries - The School Library can't just be about reading books. School Librarians need to rigorously contribute to student learning by fully integrating Library Lessons with all subject curricula. Otherwise, we can't lament a lack of appreciation for the library when curriculum changes affect our circulation. #NoSweatLibrary #schoollibrary #ELA #classroomlibraries #readerwriterworkshopLately I’m seeing a lot of librarian posts that run something like this:

The English Language Arts department adopted a reading & writing workshop model with classroom libraries. Students choose books in their classrooms and read for 10-minutes at the start of class, so teachers no longer bring them to the library. Our library circulation has plummeted and I don’t think students have the time and freedom they previously had for free reading.

Friends, this is why our library program MUST be more than just books and reading! If we focus only on promoting reading and checking out books, we will suffer when classroom libraries and reading workshop programs are implemented. Our school library must be a multi-faceted learning space, not just a book repository.

I’m a School Librarian who has gone through this experience, and I can tell you that, because I built strong curricular relationships with ELA teachers, I wasn’t adversely affected when our district adopted such a program. Well, we did follow the “rules” for the first 9-week grading period, but teachers were very unhappy with our reading results, so by the middle of the second 9-weeks we reverted to our already-successful regular recurring ELA library visits with sustained silent reading. Yes, because of our long record of DEAR/SSR, we were able to see the shortcomings of the new model.


  • 10-minute reading doesn’t allow story immersion
    Students need 2 or 3 chapters to really get into a story, and that takes a lot longer than 10 minutes. Teachers found that students weren’t continuing to read a book they’d chosen the day before, but would look for a new one. Limiting their browse time didn’t solve the problem (of course not!) and students just grabbed any book off the shelf, read for the allotted time period, then put the book back and grabbed a new one the next day. Students weren’t really “reading” nor finishing books; they were just fulfilling a “requirement.”
  • 10-minute reading doesn’t foster comprehension
    Try it yourself. Pick up a new book and read for 10 minutes, then mark your place and put it away. The next day, pick up the same book and begin reading where you left off—don’t reread—for 10 minutes. Do the same thing for a third day, and when you put the book down, write a short summary of the story. The fourth day, start a brand new book at the beginning and read for 25-30 minutes, then write a short summary of the new story. Compare the two summaries: you’ll shake your head at the shallow understanding those short reading periods gave you and how much more you got out of the longer reading session. You’ll also want to continue reading that second book!
  • 10-minute reading doesn’t build reading endurance
    When we reverted back to our regular library visits with DEAR Time, kids would look at the clock after 8 or 9 minutes to see if the “10 minutes” they’d gotten used to was over—and then they’d get restless and disruptive. Even upper grades who had enjoyed extended reading in prior years did this. We cajoled and stuck with it–providing the same long DEAR Time in classrooms in the off weeks–and eventually students settled into reading for 25-30 minutes.

So ended our experiment with daily reading as a “bell-ringer” activity. In all fairness, the workshop model is supposed to provide lengthier reading times, but all too often curriculum writers make the “reading workshop” into a text analysis activity instead of free reading.


With classroom libraries I had fewer intermittent students coming in during class to get a book, but that wasn’t a huge contributor to circulation. I was actually happy to have teachers building classroom libraries. I rarely purchased more than 2 hardback copies of any book, even if popular, because I’d found they sat on the shelf after the first burst of interest and would be weeded for non-circulation within a couple years. Since classroom libraries were predominantly paperbacks, teachers could get several copies of best sellers and by the time the “newness” wore off, the books were pretty worn out anyway.

Two problems the ELA teachers had were a lack of shelf space for books and a lack of funds to keep purchasing new books. Because they were so supportive of the library program, I decided to help:

  1. The 5-foot high oak bookcases in our school library are a perfect height for middle school. I have 3 shelves of books and use the bottom shelf to display new books or featured themes. Each bookcase came with 4 shelves, so I had over 100 extra solid oak shelves on the bottom shelf of bookcases.
    I designed a 6” deep, 2-shelf bookcase that would fit under whiteboards in ELA classrooms and had a high school construction class use my excess shelving to build 4 for each ELA teacher. You can imagine their surprise when I gave each teacher 20 feet of additional paperback shelving that didn’t eat into their classroom space!
  2. I’d been running a school store in the cafeteria during lunch for a couple years. I sold school supplies, all priced from 25¢ to $2, that were fun & flashy, and the students gobbled them up. Income purchased more supplies, but by the end of 2 years I had accumulated some significant profits. After replenishing supplies, I donated $385 of school store profits to the ELA department for purchasing new books for their classroom libraries.
    If ELA teachers were delighted with the bookshelves, they were over-the-moon about the money! They met at our local brand-name bookstore that very weekend and chose dozens of new books–substantially discounted, thanks to a supportive store manager. They praised students for helping to get those books by supporting the school store, and my business boomed even more during ensuing weeks. At the end of the school year I donated another $160 to ELA teachers.


In its simplest form, the workshop model has 4 parts: opening, mini-lesson, work time, and debriefing. This coordinates well with the 4 instructional steps of my Library Lesson Planner: direct instruction, modeling & guided practice, independent practice, and sharing & reflecting, so it made sense for me to configure our library visits as Reader Writer Workshops:

Warm-up – I share Learning Targets and allow for the return of books.
Mini-LessonDirect Instruction and Modeling & guided practice to the whole class.
Workshop is Independent practice. Usually we have Reader Workshop where students browse for new books and have DEAR Time free reading. Sometimes the lesson is Writer Workshop where students complete an activity.
Sharing & reflecting – The last several minutes of the period is our by-table book checkout and I can talk to each student about the books they’ve chosen.

From the first Library Orientation visit, 6g ELA teachers liked my adoption of the RWW model, but their big concern was moving students for the half-period each of classroom and library every other week. (If you know anything about 6th graders, you understand!) After studying their new curriculum I could see opportunities to bring certain activities into the library for a more enriching experience covering the entire class period.

6g ELA teachers and I began to work together, customizing Library Lessons with their Literary Text Unit Themes and integrating their classroom learning activities into a full-period Library Lesson visit. These new Library Lessons are quite extensive, often with us co-teaching, and yet still allow plenty of time for book browsing and silent reading. Because we collaborated, 6g English Language Arts is intricately woven into every-other-week library visits, and the content and pacing of curriculum is not just preserved, but enhanced.

I’ve adapted 6th grade Literary Text Units for use by any middle school librarian. Narrative text, Expository text, and Persuasion units are available from No Sweat Library, my TeachersPayTeachers store. A poetry unit and units for 7th grade are under construction.

NoSweat ELA Narrative Text Unit for 6th grade (as Reader/Writer Workshops) NoSweat ELA Expository Text Unit for 6th Grade (as Reader/Writer Workshops) NoSweat ELA Persuasive Unit for 6th Grade (as Reader Writer Workshops)


I clarify that my school library program wasn’t negatively impacted by the workshop model and classroom libraries for 3 reasons:

  • We’d already established regularly scheduled library visits with silent reading every other week for all ELA classes.
  • I’d already created short Library Lessons for some visits that supported classroom learning.
  • The strong relationship between School Librarian and English Language Arts teachers prompted collaboration to overcome the deficiencies of the workshop curricular plan.

The School Library can’t just be about reading books. School Librarians need to rigorously contribute to student learning by fully integrating Library Lessons into all subject curricula. Otherwise, we can’t lament a lack of appreciation for the library when curriculum changes affect our circulation.

line of books laying down - indicates end of blog article


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