Reading Workshop Conferring Bag – Help Kids Transfer Teaching Points!


This year a major goal of mine has been to improve the quality of my conferring.  I have been stuck in the pattern of bouncing from reader to reader helping them get through a specific book.  I help them solve words or use pictures, and when I leave them they can usually make it through that book.

However, it is hit or miss at to whether the kids can ever apply the strategies we used in a new context. Some kids are good at that type of transfer.  However, many – maybe most – do not see those connections.  So, my goal is to teach more universal skills that can be applied to many texts.  Rather than helping a child read the words, “My dad likes to eat chicken,”  I might teach them how to look for and notice chunks at the beginning of words.  Then, hopefully when they come across the word “chocolate,” or “cheese,” they can apply the chunking skill.  Their learning is not limited to “chicken.”

First, I am using a new structure for conferring.

1. Check in a see what the child is working on.  This is also my time to “research” what they are doing, and decide what I would like to teach them.

2. Tell the child that I am going to teach them a skill that will help them in this, and many, books.  Name the skill.  Example:  “I am going to teach you how to look at the first letter in a word, along with the picture, to help you figure out the word.”

3.  Have them watch me get out a different book.  I will then find a page where I can teach this skill.  I will model this whole process, thinking aloud as I go.  It is important to use a different text, because it immediately shows kids that what you are teaching them applies to more than just the book in front of them.

4. I will then find another place in this book (not their original book) and have them practice the strategy or skill.

5.  I will then have them turn back to their original text.  I will suggest they use their new strategy, and I will watch to see if they are successful.  (If they are, I will move on.  If not, I will reteach steps 3-5).

6. Finally, I will tell them to remember that this strategy can help them whenever they come across that particular challenge in a book.  I might even draw a quick picture on a sticky note that will remind them what we worked on.  I can leave this note with them on an individual anchor chart that they can reference later.

In order to make this work, I have created a conferring bag.  This was prompted by learning that conferring bags are widely used in Teachers College in New York.  My bag has all the tools (hopefully!) that I will need for excellent conferences, all ready to go.  Here is my bag:

Included I have:

  • Various levels of guided reading texts that are pre-tabbed (I have looked for books that provide opportunities to teach strategies that I know come up regularly.  I have marked these books with tabs and labeled the tabs.  This way I can quickly grab something and know it will support my teaching point.)

This is a great book for teaching various ending chunks:

This text has lots of opportunities for making predictions, sometimes uses pictures, sometimes first letter, and sometime both:

  • Various high quality picture and/or nonfiction books that are pre-tabbed (These should be books that I have already read to the class.  Because the students are familiar with them, they can focus on a reading strategy, rather than exploring a new book.  These types of books are great for comprehension work.)

I might use Koala Lou to demonstrate how pictures can help us to infer how characters are feeling.

I might use Skeleton Hiccups to show that sometimes words show up in unexpected places and shapes in text.


  • A highlighting hammer (This helps me to showcase word parts for students.)


  • Two mini white boards, one with lines, and one without (These are to be used with kids that really benefit from a reading/writing connection.  If I am focusing on word solving, some kids do this best by writing the word first.  So, I like to have the tools ready!)

  • A pen, pencil, dry erase marker, and dry eraser.

There you have it!  (And of course, it was a great excuse to buy a super cute bag, too…)

Then my little bag goes with me wherever I go!  I can pull out great texts to support my teaching points without wasting time, and I can actually use more universal teaching points.  How do you get the most about of your conferences with students?  Do you have a “conferring bag?”

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14 Responses to Reading Workshop Conferring Bag – Help Kids Transfer Teaching Points!

  1. Jenny October 28, 2012 at 9:14 am #

    Oh my- I LOVE this! You made it so straightforward and easy to understand!

  2. Teaching Ace October 28, 2012 at 9:57 am #

    I am so glad! Let me know how it goes in your class.

  3. Ashley October 30, 2012 at 5:28 pm #

    This is great! This is my first year doing mostly reading conferences as opposed to guided reading. I love this idea! Thanks so much for sharing. My goal is to put one of these together this week.

    Thanks again. This will be a LIFE SAVING tool!!

    • Teaching Ace October 30, 2012 at 7:23 pm #

      Let me know how the bag works for you! I am planning on putting one together for writing workshop as well. I still have some thinking to do about that though! So glad you found the post helpful.

  4. Melanie N November 4, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

    I ran across this post on Pinterest and was so excited! I attended a Teacher’s College Homegrown Institute this summer and although I took copious notes this post reminded me to get this together! This is so awesome! Thank you!

    • Teaching Ace November 4, 2012 at 9:16 pm #

      I am so glad you saw the pin! Sometimes a little reminder is all it takes. Tell me how it goes!

  5. Denise December 12, 2012 at 11:08 pm #

    Love your description of the conferring bag! I would love to do this! But it seems a bit overwhelming. Could you tell more about the books you use for the strategies? That would be most helpful!!

    • Teaching Ace December 16, 2012 at 9:44 am #

      Hi Denise! I know it can be overwhelming at first, but I think the biggest step is getting it set up. The books I use are guided reading texts that I pull from our guided reading library at school and some of my favorite read alouds. I have found that, year after year, I have favorite guided reading texts. I tend to go to the same books. So, I grabbed a copy of a few of my favorites. There are MANY lessons you can teach out of any text, so the key is to tab and label good pages for the lessons you regularly teach. For example, I can use just about any book to teach left to right, one to one, picture clues, etc. But I might choose a book that uses the word rabbit instead of bunny if I want to teach first letter work. I have about five books tabbed. I make sure to have books at different levels, so I can meet the needs of more advanced students. So I might have one book tabbed in a place that is great for inferring, or another one tabbed in a place that is good for talking about character traits. I also use copies of some of my favorite read alouds. For these books, I only use ones in the bag that the kids know well. Then they don’t get distracted by the story, and they can focus on the lesson at hand. I use The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything a lot early in the year. Because it is so familiar to the kids, I can use it to teach other skills. Hope this helps!

      • Denise January 1, 2013 at 4:08 pm #

        Thanks so much for the detailed explanation!! I need to start to think about my books and how to organize this!! One more question (actually 2 questions)– about how many books do you have ? About how many strategies do you cover with those books?
        Your blog is so helpful!! I used to live on Long Island and attend sessions at Teachers College (Summers and the free Saturdays). Since I’ve relocated to Virginia- I can’t make it back for them. Your posts are very, very helpful!!!

        • Teaching Ace January 2, 2013 at 6:33 pm #

          I am SO glad it is helpful! Knowing that is great motivation to write! I have about five books in my conferring bag at the moment. Because my kids are not widely spread this year as far as skill level (my range is about DRA A through 4) five books covers what I need. I think you need enough to cover the lessons you expect to encounter for a few weeks.

          As for my students – they have lots of books. I give them several types of books to choose. They get to choose three interest books (books at ANY level, but that interest them through the pictures), two Star books (Sulzby books that we have read together many times), a poetry collection, and a bag of just right books. In a month or two I will start having them choose their own just right books as well. I like them to have at least five just right books at any time because they are so short.

          The strategies are kind of limitless. When prepping my conferring bag, I stick to about two per book. I don’t want them to be so tabbed up that I can’ use them. That does not mean that the same book wouldn’t be good for other strategies – you might add something on the fly. But when tabbing, I made choices. For example, I decided to tab one book up for predictions based on first letter. That same book would have been great for lots of other things, but I had to pick.

          Hope that helps!

  6. Jen February 3, 2013 at 10:38 am #

    This is so wonderful. Sometimes the hardest part is getting started and organized. I am going to do this today. Thank you for such a helpful tool 😉

  7. Liz July 14, 2013 at 7:13 am #

    wow, what a fabulous idea! Thank you!

  8. Erica November 13, 2014 at 12:13 am #

    Can you talk a little about how I might use this in third grade with higher readers?

    • Karen Langdon November 17, 2014 at 11:00 pm #

      I think this could go three ways. One option would be to keep copies of a couple of books that you have read aloud, or read together as a class in the bag. The key component here would be that it is a familiar text. For example, maybe it is a chapter book that they have all read or heard. Then you pre-mark certain passages that highlight decoding or comprehension strategies. Then, if you noticed a child needed work on inferring, for example, you could turn to the page you marked. Read aloud the passage, and either model how you infer, or guide the child to infer and discuss how they did it. Then re-iterate the strategy. “You used the clues in the context of the story to read between the lines and infer what the author was trying to say. You can do that in your own book as well.” Then have them try it in their own book, with you there to help as needed. The point is to teach the STRATEGY, not the book. If the book is known, it gives the student some context.

      Another way would be to have articles, poems, email, or essays pre-marked in the bag. Higher readers need to transfer their skills to a variety of genres. Again, have them marked for the STRATEGY you are trying to teach. You use the pre-marked example to model, and even give the child a chance to practice with you. Then you encourage them to try it on their own.

      You could also have very simple leveled texts in the bag. Often a decoding strategy that they need in a higher level text will be just as applicable in an easier text. If you show them how they ALREADY know how to do it (in the easier text) they may make the connection and try the strategy in their book.

      I hope this helps!