Umbrella Minilessons for Reader’s Workshop

by Jill Eurich, Intermediate/Middle School Trainer

Minilessons are a way to provide short, explicit instruction that students can apply independently and then deepen their understandings through a share at the end of class. Each minilesson has its own teaching point but when minilessons are clustered around a broader topic it has several advantages.

  • Focuses on one particular aspect of reading or writing over time to allow students to investigate the concept in different ways.
  • Provides students with the opportunity to deepen and broaden their understanding of the teaching point.
  • Gives students an opportunity to stay with the same concept over time and apply the concept to future learning.
  • Provides an opportunity to develop the reciprocity between reading and writing.

Here is an example of an umbrella reading minilesson:

Readers think about the ways authors provide information about characters in order to learn more about   them and deepen their understanding of the text.

In teaching this minilesson I might ask students to provide ideas of how we as readers learn about characters and chart their responses. Here are some of the ideas they might share:

Ways We Learn about Characters

From their actions

From their thoughts

From their appearance, habits or lifestyle

From ways they change

From ways they react, respond or relate to others

From what others say about them

From the way others react, respond or relate to them

To finish that minilesson I would then ask students during their independent reading to put a post-it next to any place they gain information about characters in their book and then be ready to discuss how they learned about characters during share at the end of the lesson.

Based on the list they come up with and perhaps some ideas of my own, I would then take one week or two and explore each of these ideas in more depth, providing strong examples from mentor texts and having them look for examples we could share from their independent reading.  Here are a few examples of minilessons I might develop:

*Readers notice physical descriptions to help visualize and gain information about  the characters.

*Readers notice the character’s actions in order to get more information about the character’s personality.

*Readers notice the character’s inner thoughts to gain a better understanding of how the character thinks and feels.

In this way students would become familiar with the broader concept that there are different ways for readers to learn about characters and then have the opportunity to explore some of those ways in greater depth through subsequent minilessons. Umbrella minilessons followed by related minilessons are a strong teaching tool for exploring an idea in depth.

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