Dedicated to Teachers

Tips for Designing and Setting Up Your Classroom to Support Independence


by Anna Gratz Cockerille

Studying a classroom, even when there are no teachers or students present, can reveal so much about the way that learning takes place in that room. Are desks arranged so that all students are facing the front with the teacher on stage? Are they arranged in clusters to support students working together? What materials are present to help students with their work? How do students access them? Do students have visual supports upon which they can draw for help?

Workshop classrooms are instantly recognizable. Each part of a workshop classroom is designed to support students in moving through routines, working together, and above all, becoming more independent. Here are some of the telltale signs that a workshop is taking place in a classroom: 


One should be able to tell the Unit of Study, or at least the kind of reading and writing that is taking place in the classroom, just from looking at the charts. Using brief phrases and visuals, charts act as guideposts to remind students of what they have learned so far and what techniques they could try to make their work better. They support independence because they provide a first line of defense for students who need a bit of help rather than needing to turn to a teacher if they get stuck. 

Meeting area

In a workshop classroom, there is a meeting area where students gather for minilessons and to share their work with the larger group. Meeting areas represent the whole group coming together to learn information that will help them to make their independent work better. When students leave the meeting area to go off to work independently, they do so armed with new knowledge and, more often than not, new resolve. 

Spaces for students to meet with partners

Students drawing support and inspiration from peers is an important part of workshop learning. Rather than having to wait for a teacher if they are stuck or need a sounding board, students are invited to meet with a partner for help, thus supporting their independent ability to move through the work process. 

Access to materials

In a workshop classroom, students can get materials they need without having to ask a teacher. There is a writing center with paper, writing utensils, and materials for revision such as scissors, tape, and white-out. There are easily accessible mentor texts students can use to lift the level of their work. There is a classroom library that is organized so that students can quickly find and choose the best books for their level and interest.


The great news is, workshop instruction doesn’t just support independence for students, but for teachers as well. There are a multitude of ways teachers can set up their classrooms to best suit their and their students’ needs while still adhering to workshop classroom structures. In tomorrow night’sTCRWP Twitter chat, led by Alyssa Newman, community members will gather to share ways they set up their classrooms to support independence. Come prepared to share experiences and ask questions, and expect to leave feeling energized and creative. We really appreciate snapshots, so grab a few to share if your classroom is already set up! 

Each Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. eastern, The Teacher's College Reading and Writing Project hosts a Twitter chat using the hashtag #TCRWP. Join @alyssanewman to chat about setting up your classroom to support independence tomorrow evening. 

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Anna Gratz Cockerille is a staff developer, literacy coach, and writer based in New York City. She has taught in K–8 classrooms all over the world in places such as Sydney, Australia; San Pedro Sula, Honduras; and Auckland, New Zealand. Anna has been a staff developer for the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University (TCRWP) and an adjunct instructor for the Literacy Specialist Program at Teachers College. She writes at Two Writing Teachers.

Not on Twitter? New to Twitter? Take Heinemann’s free Twitter for Educators course here.

Topics: Units of Study, Lucy Calkins, Education, Education Policy, Literature, New Year, Reading, TCRWP, Writing, Anna Gratz Cockerille, Literacy

Date Published: 08/23/16

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