Workshop approach


The workshop approach (see among others, Hill & Crevola, 1999) is a literacy teaching structure that involves: 

Examples of the structure

Example A

Traditionally, the time allocation for teaching literacy using the workshop approach is 120 minutes per school day, which is demonstrated with Example A of the workshop model

Example B

However, given the importance of establishing early literacy knowledge and skills, components within, this approach can be expanded to go beyond the daily 120 minutes through the purposeful links to literacy across the curriculum such as an inquiry unit. Workshop model Example B expands the workshop model to 150 minutes. 


The workshop approach can be used by Foundation to Year Two teachers to explicitly teach a new literacy concept or skill.  Typically, the teacher introduces a new concept or skill to a whole cohort by teaching up to the level of the most able learners in the classroom (Tomlinson,  2009).  Differentiated teaching then follows where the teacher would work with smaller groups or individual students to support their understanding and facilitate success with the new learning.

For short periods of time, as teachers are working with small groups or individual students, the majority of the cohort are undertaking authentic and purposeful reading, writing and speaking and listening practices linked to the whole class focus or individual needs. Through multiple exposures to the introduced skill or concept, students become confident with its use and embed it in their own repertoire of literacy practices.

Although this advice is specifically designed for Foundation to Year Two students, the workshop approach can be adapted to suit the needs of students across Years Three to Six.

This advice recognises the foundational importance of phonological awareness and phonics, with attention to morphology for reading and early writing (Adoniou, 2014; Goswami, 2014; Moats, 2005). As a result, a specific component on decoding and encoding has been designed as a new feature of the contemporary workshop. 

This concurrent teaching of phonological awareness and phonics for reading and spelling is not isolated and discrete. Rather, strong links are extended across the workshop components to demonstrate how the decoding and encoding process complements and operates across the modes with a range of text types.

The workshop approach can be used to teach literacy skills, concepts and conventions such as:

  • oracy skills including the: physical, linguistic, cognitive and the social and emotional (Mercer, 2018).
  • the six essential elements of reading:  oral language and early experience with print, phonological awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension (Konza, 2016; NICHD, 2000).
  • the clear relationship between early writing and drawing (Mackenzie, 2016).
  • a range of text types for a range of purposes (Derewianka & Jones, 2016) and the inclusion of spelling knowledge: phonological, orthographic, morphological and etymological (Adoniou, 2014).
  • handwriting.
  • grammar in context (Christie, 2005). 


The workshop approach for teaching literacy draws on the following supportive elements to underpin its design:

  1. The high impact teaching strategies (HITS) which "reliably increase student learning wherever they are applied" (p. 5).
  2. The gradual release of responsibility practices including the explicit description, modelled, shared, guided and independent practice of a literacy concept or skill (Duke, Pearson, Strachan & Billman, 2011). Through the use of these practices, differentiation can be effectively built into every literacy lesson to promote student engagement with their literacy learning.
  3. The importance of reciprocity when teaching early literacy (Clay, 1991). Clear and explicit links between the English modes can support early literacy learners to build their oral language through listening and reading which can then be applied to speaking about ideas and writing them down (VCAA, 2017).
  4. The capacity to link literacy content with literacy across the curriculum through an inquiry unit of work (Christie & Derewianka, 2008). The literacy skills and concepts embedded in an inquiry unit can be purposely planned for and taught through a workshop approach.

    This purposeful planning can see the integration of content-specific vocabulary and knowledge and the reading/viewing of texts which support the writing of a range of text types. Moreover, through the participation of experiences in an inquiry unit, (e.g. excursions, presentations and/or school-based experiences), opportunities for building oral language and concept-based vocabulary can be targeted, rehearsed and reused during the workshop approach and across the school day (Beck & McKeown, 2007).

Some F-2 examples of units of work which demonstrate how literacy (including an EAL focus) and a Science or Geography/History discipline can be integrated are found at these links:


When using the workshop approach, it is recommended that teachers:

  • ensure students read, write and undertake purposeful speaking and listening practices in every literacy lesson (Derewianka & Jones, 2016; Freebody & Luke, 1990; Mercer, 2018).
  • draw on a plurilingual approach towards teaching EAL students (Choi & Ollerhead, 2018).
  • provide opportunities for learning English grammatical patterns (Gibbons, 2015).
  • encourage talk for learning within a dialogic classroom (Mercer, 2018).
  • facilitate talk as a rehearsal for writing (Myhill, Jones & Wilson, 2016).
  • model and teach relevant metalanguage (Christie, 2005; Myhill, Jones & Wilson, 2016).
  • incorporate a concurrent focus on phonological awareness and phonics with attention to morphology for reading and early writing (Adoniou, 2014; Goswami, 2014; Moats, 2005), (for example, Konza (2014) argues for 20 minutes of differentiated, explicit teaching, four times a week).
  • embed handwriting into the phonic lesson drawing on the kinesthetic movement of writing letters including letter formation to promote memory retention of phonemes and matching graphemes (Longcamp, Zerbato-Poudou & Velay, 2005; Mackenzie & Spokes, 2018).
  • provide instruction and time for students to learn irregular spelled words (sight words) to automaticity (Ehri, 1991; Konza, 2014).
  • plan and teach the rich instruction of vocabulary in context (for example, Beck & McKeown (2007) recommend 400 words per year -Tier 1 and 2 words for F-2).
  • develop student vocabulary, fluency, grammar, comprehension and models for writing across text types using fiction and non-fiction texts (Pressley & Allington, 2015; Wing Jan & Taylor, 2020).
  • support the composition of texts for different purposes across a range of text types (Derewianka & Jones, 2016; Mackenzie, 2016).
  • use texts in context to support language use across the modes (Derewianka & Jones, 2016).
  • link the daily literacy workshop with literacy across the curriculum (Christie & Derewianka, 2008).
  • use student feedback to redirect their teaching and/or refocus students on the learning goal (HITS).