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Engaging With Literature: A Workshop for Teachers, Grades 3-5

This video workshop shows grade 3-5 teachers how to help students become effective and engaged readers of literature.

A video workshop for grades 3-5 teachers; 9 one-hour video programs, workshop guide, and website.

This video workshop — part of the Envisioning Literature series based on the research of Dr. Judith Langer —shows grades 3-5 teachers how to guide students in becoming effective and engaged readers of literature. Nine 60-minute programs showcase teachers from across the country discussing and demonstrating the philosophy and techniques they employ. The workshop centers on the belief that students have the innate skill to make sense of information they discover in a text — if they are presented with the opportunity and expectation of doing so, and are generously scaffolded by their teachers as their story worlds evolve through reading, writing, and talking about literature. Individual programs deal with initiating and maintaining such a classroom community while dealing with numerous pragmatic issues, including high-stakes assessments and meeting the needs of students of many ability levels. A print guide and Web site supplement the videos, providing for a complete professional development workshop.

Find out more

Visit the library companion to the Engaging with Literature workshop.

Learn about other workshops and libraries in this series.

Explore Dr. Langer’s research on closely interacting with literature.

Every teacher knows the powerful moments when students actually begin to “live” the literature they are reading. Their minds are working nonstop—forming ideas about what they are reading, seeing the characters and the world they live in, validating hunches, evaluating the way the words strike them.

How can we plan for and provide these compelling experiences for all students? That’s the basic question the eight teachers in this workshop tackle. Explore along with them to find out what it means to be truly engaged in a work of literature.

About This Workshop

Getting the Materials
You may watch this series online . The facilitor guide is available as a PDF under Support Materials on this Web site.

If you are participating in a group session, your facilitator will give you a copy of the print guide or request that you print the PDF for yourself from this Web site. Your facilitator will give you any instructions concerning meeting time and place, what you should bring to sessions, and work you should do outside the group sessions.

Using the Materials
The guide and Web site provide background, activities, discussion questions, homework assignments, and resources to supplement the video programs and provide a robust professional development experience. They also provide information for facilitators to plan and structure group sessions.

Workshop sessions generally are held weekly for at least two hours. The workshop guide describes pre- and post-viewing activities and discussion to fill out the remainder of the session. The guide also provides homework to expand on what you have learned and prepare you for the next session.

If you are leading a group session, read our workshop guide for more information on planning and facilitating this workshop.

More Details About This Workshop

Engaging With Literature: A Workshop for Teachers, Grades 3-5 can help you create the kind of classroom where all students interact with literature successfully. They dive into books as if they were going on a grand adventure, living within the story world and trying out its ideas from many different perspectives, and finally emerging from their experience to evaluate the text and its author from their informed vantage point.

This workshop features eight teachers working with students in grades 3 -5, all at different levels in their careers. They represent an assortment of schools serving a variety of students throughout the country at the third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade levels. These teachers talk about both philosophical and practical matters, bringing the audience into their classrooms to see their ideas in action.

There, we see their students making predictions, following hunches, using logic, recalling past experiences with life and in literature—all in an effort to create a unique and complex mental picture of the text. Dr. Judith Langer, the Director of the National Research Center on English Learning & Achievement, calls these pictures envisionments. She first identified these processes of involved learning through a decade of research throughout the country with students of all ages.

Educational Basis for This Workshop

Throughout this workshop, active and engaged literary education is promoted. In celebrating these practices, the teachers you will see in the videos have made these basic assumptions about their work and their students’ work:

  • Good works of literature are an important part of every language arts curricula. They can help students as they learn to read, write, speak, and listen.
  • Readers can purposefully interact with a variety of literature, relying on what they know and what they have experienced, and employing not only their logic but also their intuition, to make sense of a text.
  • In this interaction, readers form unique and diverse understandings that grow richer as they are shared with their peers in a respectful classroom atmosphere. These understandings are firmly rooted in the text.
  • Through active engagement in a text, students develop strong mental muscles of logic and analysis on which they can rely throughout their academic career.

In doing so, the following NCTE/IRA Standards for the English Language Arts are addressed:

  • Standard 1. Students read a wide range of print and non-print texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • Standard 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, and aesthetic) of human experience.
  • Standard 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, and graphics).
  • Standard 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, and vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • Standard 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.

Workshop Sessions

Workshop 1. Foundations
In this introductory workshop session, you will meet the eight teachers who will be part of this workshop and find out what kinds of literary experiences have had the most meaning for them. The group talks about ways in which they have brought a love of literature to the students in their classes and the reasons and benefits for these kinds of experiences. You will see the teachers in their classrooms, where you can observe how this love of literature directly informs their work. They enumerate the kinds of books you would find in their classrooms, and the reasons they are there. In a think-aloud, the group shares their impressions of a selection from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, demonstrating the habits and processes that successful readers employ.

Workshop 2. Looking at Literature
A love of literature begins with a love of story, and teachers shown in this video start by talking about ways in which story affects their lives and the lives of their students. From this background, they move to talking about selecting texts that encourage students to interact with the stories there. Some issues that impact that choice include: age/interest appropriateness, text availability, reading texts online, working with basal readers, and presentations that span reading levels, including book read-alouds. Classroom visits punctuate the discussion, showing practical ways to implement the suggestions the teachers discuss.

Workshop 3. Starting Classroom Conversations
Since class discussion is such a vital part of a classroom that celebrates interacting with literature, two sessions in the workshop are devoted to this topic. This introductory session concentrates on the basics: defining “good” questions, identifying those who should have an opportunity to ask questions, and explaining the goals for this technique. The discussion continues to address ways in which teachers can evolve a classroom where everyone feels comfortable in contributing to a literary discussion, including classroom setup and expressed and implicit expectations. The group also talks about ways in which teachers can help students as they begin to discuss, and gives strategies for involving reluctant participants. Practical suggestions for bringing these ideas into the classroom are foregrounded by numerous classroom visits.

Workshop 4. Classroom Dialogues
In this session, you will see teachers further refine their impressions on issues of classroom discussion, including whole-class discussion vs. small-group discussion. Elements from traditional language arts curricula are incorporated seamlessly into the discussion, and, most important, the various roles open to a teacher as the class discusses a text are explored. . These roles are clearly demonstrated as you return to the teachers’ classrooms to observe authentic discussions as they develop and proceed.

Workshop 5. Using Art and Other Disciplines To Enrich Classroom Conversations
In this workshop session, you will hear a discussion about using arts and other disciplines to enhance individual literary experiences for each student. Footage gathered in classrooms around the country show these strategies in practice. Teachers point out that the key to these experiences is a student’s ability to transmediate information from one genre of expression to another. The group talks about drama, drawing, and music as adding depth and dimension to literature, as well as offering students alternative ways of expressing their understandings of the text. The group also talks about integrating writing into an ongoing literary conversation, and various ways to encourage students as writers

Workshop 6. Beginning the Year
The kind of literary community every teacher wants in his or her classroom begins with seeds sown from the first few days in which students meet together. The assembled teachers share their thoughts on specific ways to set the tone for the year, talking about text choices and ways they chose to first interact with them. They also share their goals as they begin, how they communicate these with their students, and how they get to know the people in their class in order to tailor literary experiences to meet their needs. You will visit classrooms throughout the nation on the first few days of school, to see how these theories come to life.

Workshop 7. Many Students: Many Voices and Abilities
Each student is an individual, with an individual perspective to share with the world. In this video, the teachers talk about ways to celebrate their uniqueness, providing an atmosphere in the classroom in which each plays a respected and respectful role in conversations surrounding literature. Validating the rich classroom that results, the group acknowledges background, reading levels, language acquisition levels, and other personal characteristics that allow for the formulation of multiple perspectives that add significantly to a group’s interaction with literature. Interwoven with their thoughts are actual classroom examples of ways in which teachers invite many voices to participate in the ongoing literature discussions.

Workshop 8. Reacting to Students’ Work
In this workshop session, the teachers talk about the various ways in which they evaluate their students and translate the information they gain to evaluate themselves and their work. They offer various suggestions for communicating their expectations to students and families. Other topics the assembled group touches on include dealing with high-stakes assessments, deciding when to assess and when to evaluate, and suggestions for helping students assess their own work and the work of their peers. Classroom visits present examples of a variety of situations where assessment and evaluation are taking place.

Workshop 9. The Professional Teacher
There are enormous benefits that teachers can draw from a rich and varied professional life. In this video, the teachers talk about the ways in which they nurture themselves as professionals: their mentors and heroes, their activities, and the ways they reach out to their peers as they all grow in their chosen career. They define what being a professional teacher means to them, and enumerate and showcase-through documentary-style footage-the myriad ways in which they maintain their professional edge-learning from their students as well as other professionals.

Workshop Teachers

About the Teachers Who Appear in This Workshop

The following teachers appear in this workshop to share their experiences. To learn more about them, read their professional biographies (PDF) in the introduction of the Engaging With Literature: A Workshop for Teachers, Grades 3-5 guide.

Katherine Bomer is an author and teacher, currently teaching in Austin, Texas. Ms. Bomer was teaching at Pleasant Hill Elementary when she participated in the workshop. More than 80% of the 510 students there are of Latin American or Mexican descent. About 70% of the students are classified by Texas as “economically disadvantaged,” and more than 83% of the student body qualifies for free lunches.

Katherine Bomer’s “Must-Reads”

Favorite Professional Books:
The Art of Teaching Writing (2nd ed.) by Lucy McCormick Calkins. Heinemann.
The Art of Teaching Reading by Lucy McCormick Calkins. Heinemann
Time for Meaning: Crafting Literate Lives in Middle and High School by Randy Bomer. Heinemann.
Releasing the Imagination: Essays on Education, the Arts, and Social Change by Maxine Greene. Jossey
Subtractive Schooling: U.S. Mexican Youth and the Politics of Caring by Angela Venezuela. State University of New York
Creating Classrooms for Authors and Inquirers by Kathy Gnagey Short, Jerome C. Harste, Carolyn L. Burke. Heinemann.
Pedagogy of Hope: Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paolo Friere, translated by Robert R. Barr. Continuum Publishing Group

Favorite Chapter Books:
” . . . These were very powerful in my classroom last year:”
The Color of My Words by Lynn Joseph.
The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child by Francisco Jimenez.
Anything ever written by Sharon Creech.
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis.
The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis.

 Jonathan Holden teaches fourth grade in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. The urban school where Mr. Holden currently teaches, Nathan Hale Elementary, has 199 students, most of who are African American, Hispanic, and Asian.

 Barry Hoonan works with the 5/6 cluster at Odyssey School on Bainbridge Island, Washington, teaching all subjects, but especially concerned with literature and writing, his two passions. Odyssey, with 121 students, is an alternative public school where families promise to volunteer between five and ten hours a month at the school.

Barry Hoonan’s “Must-Reads”

Favorite Professional Books:
Creating Classrooms for Authors and Inquirers by Kathy Gnagey Short, Jerome C. Harste, Carolyn L. Burke. Heinemann.
“You Gotta BE the Book” Teaching Engaged and Reflective Reading With Adolescents by Jeffrey D. Wilhelm. Teachers College Press.
Literature Circles and Response by Bonnie Campbell Hill (Editor), Nancy J. Johnson (Editor), Katherine l Noe, Katherine L. Schlick Noe (Editor). Christopher-Gordon Publishers

Favorite Picture Books:
Crow and Hawk: A Traditional Pueblo Indian Story retold by Michael Rosen, illustrated by John Clementson
Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki, illustrated by Dom Lee
Encounter by Jane Yolen, illustrated by David Shannon
Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Ronald Himler
Smoky Night by Eve Bunting, illustrated by David Diaz
John Henry by Julius Lester, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
The Bee Tree by Patricia Polacco

Favorite Read-Alouds:
Skellig by David Almond
Thunder Cave by Roland Smith
Crash by Jerry Spinelli
The Last Book in the Universe by Rodman Philbrick
Cages by Peg Kehret

 BJ Namba teaches third grade students at Honolulu’s prestigious Punahou School. The 3,700 students there reflect Hawai`i’s rainbow of ethnicities and cultural and socio-economic diversities.

BJ Namba’s “Must-Reads”

Favorite Read-Aloud Books:
Crow Boy by Taro Yashima
Hooway for Wodney Wat by Helen Lester
The Table Where Rich People Sit by Byrd Baylor
Amos and Boris by William Steig
The Bracelet by Yoshiko Uchida
Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco
Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco
The Wednesday Surprise by Eve Bunting
Heroes by Ken Mochiguchi
Westlandia by Paul Fleishman
Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox
The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes

Favorite Books for Literature Circles:
Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
The Pinballs by Betsy Byars
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Because of Winn-Dixie by Katie DiCamillo
The War With Grandpa by Robert Kimmel Smith
Just Juice by Karen Hesse
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry
Sun and Spoon by Kevin Henkes

Professional Books for Literature Circles Information:
Creating Classrooms for Authors and Inquirers by Kathy G. Short and Jerome Harste
Getting Started with Literature Circles by Katherine L. Schlick Noe and Nancy J. Johnson
Grand Conversations: Literature Groups in Action by Ralph Peterson and Maryann Eeds
Conversations: Strategies for Teaching, Learning, and Evaluating by Regie Routman
Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in Book Clubs and Reading Groups by Harvey Daniels

 Tim O’Keefe is a teacher of the 2/3 cluster at the Center for Inquiry in Columbia, South Carolina – a school he helped co-found. The Center for Inquiry’s 132 students are drawn from the Columbia area and enter the school through an application and lottery process.

 Latosha Rowley, in her second career, taught the fourth-fifth cluster at the Indianapolis Center for Inquiry during our video visit. The Center for Inquiry, founded by Jerry Harste, is a language arts magnet school. It draws its nearly 300 students from throughout the city.

 Bileni Teklu teaches fifth grade at Fair Oaks Elementary in Marietta, Georgia. Almost 78% of the 582 students who attend Fair Oaks are eligible for the free lunch program. The school population is highly transient: typically, nearly 60% of the student population change schools or classes in any given year.

 Rich Thompson teaches Grade 4 at Canyon Elementary School in Hungry Horse, Montana. The school serves a remote valley community about 10 miles from Glacier National Park, from which it draws 150+ students each year.

Workshop Advisors

About the Advisors Who Guided This Project

These dedicated educators and researchers guided this project. You can learn more about them in the Introduction of Engaging With Literature: A Workshop for Teachers, Grades 3-5 guide.

  • Judith Langer, Ph.D., is Distinguished Professor of Education at the University at Albany, State University of New York, and Director, National Research Center on English Learning & Achievement (CELA). Dr. Langer is the chief content advisor for this and other projects in the Envisioning Literature series.
  • Dale Allender currently serves as the Associate Executive Director of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).
  • Arthur N. Applebee, Ph.D., is Professor in the School of Education, University at Albany, State University of New York, and (with Judith Langer) is Director of the federally sponsored National Research Center on English Learning and Achievement. (CELA).
  • Corrine Falope has devoted over thirty years to teaching in the classroom. She currently serves as Social Studies Teacher Leader at Lynwood Elementary in New York’s Guilderland Central School District.
  • Cora Lee Five is a fifth-grade teacher at Edgewood School in Scarsdale, New York. She has been teaching in New York for over 20 years.
  • James Flood, Ph.D., is professor of Reading and Literacy Development at San Diego State University’s School of Teacher Education.
  • Michele Anderson Goady is Reading Specialist for the Maryland State Department of Education and a Faculty Associate at The Johns Hopkins University.
  • Taffy E. Raphael, Ph.D., is currently professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
  • Karen Smith, Ph.D., serves as Associate Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the College of Education of Arizona State University, Tempe.


About the People Who Developed This Project

These people helped guide the production of the video, print, and online materials for Engaging With Literature: A Video Library, Grades 3-5.

Executive in Charge of Production
Gail Porter Long

Executive Producer
Carol Jackson

Content Development
Ann Chatterton Klimas

Darcy Corcoran
Christine Nusbaum

Darcy Corcoran
Lee Cohen Hare
Christine Nusbaum

Velocity Pictures
Michael Fevang

Additional Editing
Kit & Kaboodle Productions
Neil Beller

Associate Producers
William Beustring
Tiffany Judkins
Maggie Stevens

Field Content Supervisor
Kathleen Rowlands

Assistant Producer
Ben Graff

Elisabeth Noone

Program Participants
Katherine Bomer
Pleasant Hills Elementary School
Austin, Texas

Jonathan Holden
Nathan Hale Elementary School
Boston, Massachusetts

Barry Hoonan
Odyssey School
Bainbridge Island, Washington

BJ Namba
Punahou School
Honolulu, Hawaii

Tim O’Keefe
Center for Inquiry
Columbia, South Carolina

Latosha Rowley
Center for Inquiry
Indianapolis, Indiana

Bileni Teklu
Fair Oaks Elementary
Marietta, Georgia

Rich Thompson
Canyon Elementary School
Hungry Horse, Montana

National Advisory Panel
Dale Allender
Associate Executive Director, National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)

Arthur Applebee, Ph.D.
National Research Center on English Learning and Achievement (CELA)

Corrine Falope
Social Studies Teacher Leader, Lynwood Elementary, Guilderland Central School
District, New York

Cora Lee Five
Grade 5 Teacher, Edgewood School, Scarsdale, New York

James Flood, Ph.D.
Professor, Reading and Literacy Development, School of Teacher Education, San  Diego State University

  Michelle Anderson Goady
Reading Specialist, Maryland State Department of Education

Taffy E. Raphael, Ph.D.
Professor of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Illinois-Chicago

Karen Smith, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Curriculum and Instruction, College of Education, Arizona State University

Chief Content Advisor
Judith A. Langer, Ph.D.
National Research Center on English Learning and Achievement (CELA)

Opening Titles
Vizual Solutions

Primary Field Videographers
Frank Leung
Kim Moir
Tim Pugh
Marlene Rodman

Additional Field Videographers
Debbie Brown
Chip Nusbaum
David Oglevie
John Stephens
Lyle Sorenson

Field Sound
Wayne Bell
Jefree Bloomer
Eddie Calilao
Dan Casey
Peter Drowne
Mark Hollensteiner
Carlson Look
Jeff Meese
Henry Miller
Mike Piopriowski
Eric Reeves
Tim Rohrman
Bill Shamlian
Scott Stoltz
Keith Toombs

Post Production Sound
John Davidson
David Wainwright

Closed Captioning
Judi Mann
Robin Gautney


Director of Business Affairs
Joan Foley

For Annenberg Media

Project Officer
Deborah A. Batiste Online Design
Bean Creative

enforme interactive

Kathleen Dudden Rowlands
Ann Chatterton Klimas

Technical Support
Chris Klimas

Online/Print Supporting Materials
Project Manager, Bill Gonzalez

Support Materials

The complete guide to the workshop session activities is available here for download in PDF. You will need a copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader to read these files. You can download it for free from Adobe.

Some of the activities discussed in this workshop are explained in detail in the Engaging With Literature: A Video Library. Related Teacher Tools and Student Activity Sheets from the library are included here for your convenience.

Introduction (PDF)

Workshop 1 – Foundations (PDF)

Workshop 2 – Looking at Literature (PDF)

Workshop 3 – Starting Classroom Conversations

Related Engaging With Literature Library Activity Sheets:

Workshop 4 – Classroom Dialogues (PDF)

Workshop 5 – Using Art and Other Disciplines To Enrich Classroom Conversations (PDF)

Related Engaging With Literature Library Activity Sheets:

Workshop 6 – Beginning the Year (PDF)

Workshop 7 – Many Students: Many Voices and Abilities (PDF)

Workshop 8 – Reacting to Students’ Work (PDF)

Workshop 9 – The Professional Teacher (PDF)

Appendix (PDF)


Produced by Maryland Public Television. 2003.
  • ISBN: 1-57680-683-9

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