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


Meet the eight teachers in the video programs and find out what kinds of literary experiences have had the most meaning for them. The group talks about how they have brought a love of literature to their students. Observe the teachers in their classrooms and see how this love of literature directly informs their work. In a think-aloud, the teachers demonstrate the habits and processes that successful readers employ.

“When we read something, we build envisionments that help us make sense of the text. Our ideas grow and change and become more full or complex over time. In the classroom, we want our students to do the same thing.”

-Dr. Judith Langer, Director,
National Research Center on English Learning & Achievement (CELA),
State University of New York at Albany

During a time when much educational attention is on the importance of standards and high-stakes assessment tests, how can teachers justify spending generous amounts of class time on literature instruction? What are its values? What does it contribute to a youngster’s education?

The teachers in this workshop believe strongly in the power of literature to enrich and change lives. They believe it broadens students’ views of the world, introducing them to people and places far beyond the boundaries of their lived worlds. As they connect with the experiences presented by fictional characters, students are forced to evaluate the kinds of decisions and choices they might make. As they experience the power and beauty of literary language, they develop the potential of their own language use.

These teachers also recognize that as students discuss their understandings of texts with one another, they develop their perceptions and their analytical abilities as they confront and evaluate points of view different from their own. As Tim O’Keefe notes, “by having kids respond to literature, we’re doing way more than the standards that are expected.”

Key Points

The four principles of an envisionment-building  classroom are:

  1. All students are lifelong envisionment builders. Their background and experience help them bring some knowledge to the text.
  2. Questions are at the heart of the literary experience. Students are encouraged to ask questions to deepen their understandings.
  3. Multiple perspectives also enrich a student’s understanding. Many points of view are encouraged.
  4. Class is a time to develop deeper understandings about literature. It’s assumed that students will leave class with a more sophisticated understanding about what they’ve read than they had when they arrived.


  • Providing reading time in the classroom is important for many children.
  • Many students need to be taught the strategies and behaviors for a good conversation about literature.
  • Regular read-alouds are important in the development of students’ appreciation of literature.
  • Envisionment-building teachers seek to help students love literature and make it an important part of their lives-in school and out.
  • Students can make personal connections with literary texts as well as use them to learn about worlds and experiences very different from their own.
  • Talking about literature helps students enjoy and appreciate it more fully.
  • Many envisionment-building teachers find ways to use literature when teaching subjects other than English/ Language Arts.
  • Students may need help learning ways to reflect on their reading and make connections with their own lives.
  • Some students need help learning to make mental images from their reading.
  • Often teachers can use their own experiences as readers as a guide when designing ways to help their students become more effective readers.
  • Think-alouds model strategies for making meaning and allow students to integrate them into their own repertoires.
  • Effective readers often begin with a plan, a purpose, or a goal before they start to read.
  • Learning to choose the right book is an important aspect of being an effective reader.
  • Effective readers like to discuss their literary experiences with others.
  • Students in envisionment-building classrooms feel comfortable and trust that their views will be respectfully received.
  • Teachers in envisionment-building classrooms recognize the importance of giving students choices about what they read.

Learning Objectives & Background Reading

Learning Objectives

After participating in this session, you will be able to:

  • Recognize the four hallmarks of envisionment-building classrooms.
  • Understand the goals of envisionment-building classrooms.
  • Identify a number of instructional strategies that encourage and support envisionment-building.
  • Develop your own envisionment-building classroom.

Background Reading

In preparation for Workshop 1, read the “Preface” in Dr. Judith Langer’s Envisioning Literature from the Teachers College Press, 1995.

You may be interested in the panelists’ professional biographies (PDF).

A compendium of resources and articles about Dr. Langer’s research and the envisionment-building process can be accessed from the National Research Center on English Learning & Achievement’s Web site.

Explore the “Envisionment-Building resources” to access articles and guides to fostering literary communities in your own classroom.



Choose one or two of the teachers portrayed in this workshop program whose classroom you found particularly appealing. What made it so? Were there any behaviors or activities that you would like to incorporate into your own classroom? What and why?

In preparation for Workshop 2, read “Literary Thought and Literate Mind” in Dr. Judith Langer’s Envisioning Literature from the Teachers College Press, 1995.

For additional resources, refer to the Additional Reading section of this workshop’s materials.


Classroom Connection

Student Activities

Try these activities with your students.

  • Read-alouds. Choose a book that you think your students would enjoy, but that may be too difficult for them to read independently. Establish a regular time for reading and discussion. (Many teachers like to do this first thing in the morning or right after lunch as a way of easing the transition back to the classroom.)
  • Think-alouds. Model this by choosing a book you haven’t read. Read some aloud, pausing to share your thinking with your students as you go. Pose questions, make connections, posit predictions. Demonstrate the ways you make meaning when reading literature. When you finish, ask students to discuss what they noticed your doing. (You may wish to record their observations on chart paper to post.)
  • Use literature to support instruction in another subject area such as math, science, or social studies. Ask your librarian to help you find appropriate titles.

Teacher as a Reflective Practitioner

What classroom activities observed in this workshop program did you find particularly appealing? How might your students respond if you incorporated them into your literature instruction? What support might they need to become successful?


Additional Reading

This non-profit site collects booklists, authors, reviews, and “must reads.” The children’s literature section of the site features a wide variety of links and author lists.

Newbery Medal Homepage
This site lists all the Newbery winners and authors as well as providing information about the selection process.

Professional Journals About Literature Instruction:

CELA Newsletter
The National Research Center on English Learning and Achievement, State University of New York, Albany, publishes a newsletter in the fall, winter, and spring. The newsletter addresses a wide range of issues concerning literacy.

The National Council of Teachers of English
The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) publishes many subscription journals including Language Arts for the elementary school level. Many issues are available online to members.

Texts mentioned by teachers or students in this workshop program:

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary
The Jacket by Andrew Clements
I Have a Dream: The Story of Martin Luther King Jr. by Margaret Davidson
One Grain of Rice: A Mathematical Folktale by Demi
Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
My Side of the Mountain by Jim Dodson
Yolanda’s Genius by Carol Fenner
“First Baseball Glove” by Donald H. Graves in Baseball, Snakes, and Summer Squash
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
The Color of My Words by Lynn Joseph
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
Bad Boy by Walter Dean Myers
Rascal by Sterling North
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco
War With Grandpa by Robert Kimmel Smith
Abel’s Island by William Steig

Authors mentioned in this program include:

Laurie Williams
C. S. Lewis
Mary Elfin