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Organizing middle school classrooms for reading and writing

Current thinking on reading/writing classrooms suggests that they include some student choice regarding topics and books, a wide variety of texts at multiple levels so students read books they CAN read, extended periods of time for independent reading and writing and the use of nonjudgmental language. Here are some tips for easy ways to enact these principles:

  • Paper, pencils and lots of trade books (paperbacks) are all you need to get started. Then, designate a place in your room for peer conferences and you've got the basics.

  • Writers need to be immersed in literacy. Reading/writing classrooms should be filled with print. Think in terms of student writing, newspapers, magazines, books—any printed material—and you're on your way to creating an environment conducive to writing.

  • Pared to its core, if we want students to become lifelong readers and writers, then they'll need many opportunities to read and write. Make time, at least a half hour or more most days, for students to read and write, usually on topics or books they choose.

  • Encourage students to be risk-takers regarding their learning, trying new authors or new genres. Students should read and write daily in class and at home. Make time in class to invite students to share their reading and writing and receive response from their audience--you and their classmates.

  • When you and the class use nonjudgmental language, you'll create a safe classroom environment that encourages students to risk sharing. Use stems such as:
    • I noticed…
    • I wondered…
    • I thought…
    • I felt…
    • What if…

  • During share time, it helps to seat students facing each other in a circle. It keeps attention focused on the person sharing and makes everyone feel more a part of the group.