Tips & Tricks for Managing Reading Conferences

Raise your hand if you’ve ever started the school year strong with reading conferences, only to quickly become overwhelmed and watch conferring fade away as you struggle to fit everything else in! Or perhaps you’ve powered through reading conferences for the entire year, but you’re so exhausted and burnt out that you’re searching for a better way. Maybe you’ve been wanting to try reading conferences forever, but you’ve been intimidated by the commitment conferring requires. 

Sound familiar? I’ve been there. And while I’m on the other side, shouting from the mountaintops about why I love conferring, what it looks like in my classroom, and how to make it happen, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that it’s not easy. Conferring can be challenging and time-consuming, especially when you have large classes and short class periods. The struggle is real, but reading conferences are too powerful of a strategy to give up on, so it’s crucial to find ways to work smarter, not harder.

Here are a few of my favorite tricks for making reading conferences more manageable, efficient, and sustainable.

Tips & Tricks for Managing Reading Conferences
Keeping up with conferring can be challenging, but these tips will help you work smarter, not harder!

Strategically plan a full class period of conferences.

Sometimes, you just have to be strategic and plan a full class period of conferences. The next time you plan a project work day, reading/writing workshop, or even a movie day (hey, no shame), power through as many reading conferences as you can. Depending on your class size, you might be able to get through everyone, but even if you can’t, you’ll get through a decent chunk of your conferences. This super-efficient approach will keep you feeling motivated and “caught up” on reading conferences. I like to use this method for a “quick fix” when I’m feeling behind, overwhelmed, and disconnected from my readers. 

Plan a full class period of reading conferences.
When you’re in a slump, plan a day to pull yourself out of the hole! No shame. Students will appreciate the extra time.

Add a “conference station” to your next set of learning stations.

Another way to confer with more readers at once is through a set of well-designed learning stations. Even if your stations are not related to independent reading, create one “conference” station. During this station, you can meet one on one with students as the others read quietly or host a small-group reading conference. (More on that in #3!) If you go this route, you will want to be a little more deliberate in structuring the rest of the learning stations so that students can work independently, since you’ll be occupied with the conferences. With the right approach, it’s definitely doable. If you’re someone who does stations frequently, like me, you can rely on this method to get most–or even all–of your conferences accomplished.

Add a conference station to learning stations.
Need to get through more reading conferences? Add a teacher conference station to your next set of learning stations.

Get creative with small-group conferences.

It can be tedious and time-consuming to meet with every student in a class, only to start the rounds again as soon as you’re done. But you don’t need to feel like you’re constantly on the hamster wheel of reading conferences. With a little bit of extra organization, you can host efficient small-group conferences every once in a while. Not only will this help you get through conferences quicker, but it will give students the opportunity to have authentic conversations, share book recommendations, and connect with other readers.  You’ll be surprised at which readers will end up bonding over a shared love for books. There are a few different ways you can organize groups for this kind of conference. Here are some options:

  • Group students by their reading goals. The key here is to ask students what their goals are, rather than labeling and assigning goals to them. For example, you might have a group of readers whose goal is simply to “learn how to enjoy reading again.” You might have another group of voracious readers who are seeking to expand their reading horizons by trying genres outside their comfort zones. Whatever the goal, you can have much more focused, helpful discussions that benefit all students.
  • Group students by the genres, formats, and/or topics of the books they are currently reading. You might end up with a realistic fiction fan club, a novel-in-verse group, a team of fantasy lovers, etc. The best part about grouping this way is that students can mix and mingle as they read different books throughout the year.
  • Ask students to form their own groups. Organizing groups so students meet other readers is great, but giving students some freedom to pick their own reading buddies can be just as powerful. When students are sitting with peers they like and trust, they are more likely to open up and have joyful discussions about reading. 
Get creative with small-group conferences.
Who says you can’t host some small group conferences? You’ll love the efficiency and students will love the opportunity to chat with their peers, share book recommendations, and bond over reading!

Give students more ownership in the conferring process.

Do you feel like you’re spending too much time prepping for conferences? Are you running out of questions to ask? If so, try getting students more involved in the process. When you shift to a more student-centered or even student-led conference model, you’ll be giving yourself a break AND empowering your students at the same time. What this looks like will vary, but here are a few options to get you thinking. When in doubt, ask your readers. Take their lead!

  • Give readers a choice board or list of questions to choose from for their next reading conference. This will allow you to meet readers where they are without doing too much of your own prep work first. 
  • Ask readers to set a goal and track their progress before the next round of conferences. Then, during a conference, ask them to talk through their “evidence” of progress and offer support to help them on their journey.
  • Give your readers the chance to determine what you discuss in your next reading conference. This typically works best after you’ve already facilitated a few conferences and students generally know what to expect. You can ask students to submit their discussion topics/questions beforehand if this makes you feel more comfortable, too. Otherwise, just follow their lead and go with the flow. Sometimes this is how the best conferences unfold!
Give students more ownership in the process.
If conferring is overwhelming you, shift some of the responsibilities to your students.

Use technology and other tools to “confer” with readers in unique ways.

Nothing beats a face-to-face reading conference, but when you’re pressed for time, don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Ultimately, a conference is just a conversation. Luckily, there are so many virtual options for communication and connection. To be fair, these strategies shouldn’t replace face-to-face conferences altogether. When used in between conversations or during busy seasons, they’re a great way to stay connected to your readers.

  • Give your students the chance to pass “notes” or write mini “letters” to you. Whether you do this with paper and pencil or a Google doc, “note-passing” is a flexible, private way to converse with your readers. You can start conversations with simple prompts like “Tell me what you like or dislike about reading” and ask follow-up questions to get to know your readers. You can also ask questions like, “What do you think of your current book?” and connect with your students throughout their reading experiences. This kind of note-passing can be a great opportunity to share book recommendations and bond with readers over a shared love for novels.
  • Use Flipgrid or a voice note app to communicate with your readers. If you are struggling to give students ample time to share their reading experiences with you, try assigning a Flipgrid or voice memo update. This works best for more focused reading conferences with specific questions. 
  • Use Padlet, Jamboard, or another tech tool to stay up to date on your students’ reading lives. With Padlet, you can use the column layout to give each student a space to post what they are currently reading and what they’ve finished. (This idea is actually from Colby Sharp. I highly recommend his and Donalyn Miller’s book, The Commonsense Guide to Your Classroom Library.) You can also use Padlet to ask more specific check-in questions or facilitate classwide reading connections. Google Jamboard is another great option for the same type of quick reading check-in.
  • If you have Google Classroom, use questions to check in with your readers. You can quickly see the status of all readers at a glance and easily reply to each student via the comments. Students can keep the conversation going by replying to you, as well. Keep in mind that students can see their peers’ responses, too, so only use this when it makes sense. Another way you can use Google Classroom questions is to facilitate reader-to-reader conversations. Ask each student to submit a question, and then ask students to reply to their peers.
Use tech and other tools to confer in creative ways.
Don’t be afraid to try tools like Padlet, Flipgrid, Jamboard, voice notes, and Google Classroom to check in on your readers in between in-person conferences.

Take notes and keep track of your reading conferences in some way, shape, or form!

You gain so much insight and informal data when you confer with readers. This information can help you plan whole-class lessons, organize small-group instruction, individualize learning, and tailor your next round of reading conferences. This data is as valuable as it gets in the reading classroom, so make sure you have a system for tracking it.

After spending my first few months of conferring scribbling on different notepads, sticky notes, and random pieces of paper, I created a one-stop-shop spreadsheet to help me manage reading conferences. I have one spreadsheet per class period and one tab for each student. Within each student profile, I keep track of what the student is currently reading, books they’ve finished, book recommendations, and more, as well as a dated conference log. In the conference log, I jot down quick summaries and sometimes write down questions or goals for next time. All I have to do is glance at a student’s tab to feel “prepared” for my reading conference. If this kind of master spreadsheet goodness sounds glorious to you, you can check out my resource HERE.

Get organized, make the most of reading conferences, and help your students grow with this independent reading master spreadsheet.
Click HERE or anywhere on the image to check out this master spreadsheet that will make conferring more manageable and purposeful.

I hope these tips make your reading conferences a little less stressful and a lot more sustainable! Conferring with readers is an integral part of independent reading, so it’s worth finding a way to make it work. As always, please let me know if you have any questions in the comments. And if you have any other brilliant tips and tricks to share with fellow educators, please share those, too!

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