Social Constructivism: Reading/Writing Workshop

*Content adapted from Stevens, E. (1995). The Design, Development, and Evaluation of Literacy Education: Application and Practice (LEAP). An Interactive Hypermedia Program for English/Language Arts Teacher Education. (

In the last decade the reading/writing workshop has gained favor and fervor within the educational community. Basically it is a way of teaching reading and language arts as an active, student-centered process that gives students, individually and in groups, much of the responsibility for making decisions about what will be studied and why. It is also an approach that emphasizes the social and collaborative nature of learning. As with most methodological or pedagogical innovations, the reading/writing workshop has been redefined, realigned, and renamed on its journey toward widespread acceptance. It's early predecessor was perhaps the writing workshop in the 1970s. Reading workshops then developed to complement the writing workshops and the term "reading/writing workshop is now used because writing is an important aspect of learning to read in these classrooms. Also, because they encompass reading, writing, speaking, and listening, they are also referred to as literacy workshops.

Collaboration in the workshop entails sharing responses, ideas, drafts, and finished written products through conferences with the teacher, conferences and journal exchanges with peers and the teacher, and with members of the student's wider, nonclassroom, community such as parents. Collaborating to make meaning, rather than summarizing or reiterating teacher-held interpretations, is the function of small-group discussion and whole-class discussion. The teacher in these classrooms takes on many roles including that of a learner who, in collaboration with students, constructs meaning through reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

The two examples of reading/writing workshop activities below illustrate the possibilities of this approach. The first describes an elementary school project and the second presents one of the many pieces of software that can support reading/writing workshop approach to reading/language arts instruction. for a some of the types of reading/writing workshop activities that programs available today. Summaries of both these examples are provided below. There is also a World Wide Web links you can follow to get more information on the elementary school project. A demonstration version of the software is also on the CD. You can copy it to your hard drive and try it out on your computer.


A Collaborative Workshop Project At Hillside Elementary School

This web side describes a collaborative workshop at Hillside Elementary School. Different grade levels have different topics to work on they write about the topic using writing, drawing and many different formats. For example, the sixth graders took on the topic of inventors, the fifth graders, selected states, the fourth graders wrote about presidents, and the third graders picked seasons.

For grade one, during the 94-95 school year students created a character named Jessie who spent a day in a first grade classroom at Hillside Elementary School. The students welcome you to watch their movie or read their book about Jessie's day. The purpose for this project was for the students to take what they learned about characters and character development, and create a new character of their own. After talking about characters and how they are created and used in stories the class brainstormed what they wanted their character to be like. They used a basic character sketch web as shown below. To create the web students told the teacher about the character and he drew the web and wrote in character traits.


The students then narrowed their choices down to create their character by voting. The next step was to make a visual of Jessie. So, from the ideas stated in the character sketch the students all drew what they thought the character looked like. Again, by voting, the class chose one image to represent their class.

After selecting the picture of their character, the students the took part of the day to draw. They drew pictures representing different parts of the day. The pictures of Jessie were then put in order to show a typical first grade day at Hillside Elementary. A sound byte from each child was added to the electronic "picture" composition and the teacher created a "movie" of the series of pictures.

In "What We Would Like You To Do" section, the first graders challenge the visitors, after viewing their collaborative works, to take one step further:

"Now that we have created "Jessie" (Something unique about our character is it is not a specific sex. It is an it) we would like you to invite Jessie into your classroom and do something similar to our project.

Don't change the Character's looks, but show us what a typical day is like in your classroom at your school.

If you wish to participate or correspond you can contact Chad Palmquist. We hope you've enjoyed our project and hope that you take it one step further."

During the 95-96 school year the first grade students also created their own opposite book. Each student drew up a picture to demonstrate different examples of opposite. For example, a girl called Abby is trying to explain the idea of brother and sister with the following graphic. The on-line opposite book includes more than twenty children's illustrations.

If you would like to go to the Hillside Elementary School site for more information, please click: Hillside (

Rainbow  from Curriculum Associates

Rainbow is an instructional package that has a multimedia CD-ROM, student books, teacher guides, and audiocassettes. Rainbow is designed for use in social studies classes and it is designed to provide learners a richer experience when they look at different parts of the world with different peoples and different cultures.

Rainbow includes three modules: A World of Hats portrays hats worn around the world, including hats used for protection, work, safety, ceremony, and fun; Walk in My Shoes highlights shoes designed for the terrain and weather of countries all over the world as well as shoes for dance, work, celebration, sport, and everyday use; The House I Live In explores houses that are unique to different countries, including houses that can be found in rural, suburban, and urban areas.

Rainbow focuses on the five geographic themes of place, location, relationship, movement, and regions.

The Rainbow CD-ROM is an electronic version of the three Rainbow books - A World of Hats, Walk in My Shoes, and The House I Live In. Learners read the pages, or have them read aloud upon request. Clicking on an underlined "hot" word prompts the Picture Glossary to open. For example, when the word "jute" is clicked, a picture of "jute" from the photo glossary pops up to illustrate the word.

With the Write It! software, which is embedded in the program, students write, design, and print their books using pictures from the Picture Library (or they can import their own pictures from other sources). Students may combine their pages to create a class book. They may also draw from the library of pictures, videos, music, and produce personal or class videos. They may even add their own pictures and record voices.

Additional Information

Dr. Elizabeth Stevens's Dissertation

Dr. Stevens devotes a section in the literature review chapter of her dissertation discussing the reading/writing workshop approach to teaching and learning. Her dissertation is easy to follow even for a non education major. She summarizes from the works of the leading proponents of this approach the following principles for workshop teachers:


Running a Reading/Writing Workshop

This web page describes the role of the reading/writing workshop as follows:

The author then briefly discusses starting and managing a reading-writing workshop, and refining and extending the existing workshop.

Return to Homepage
Return to Social Constructivist Theories