Writing workshop routine
Slowly, carefully build writing workshop. By explaining, modeling, and practicing what to do early in the year, the teacher gradually releases the responsibility totally to the students. My goal: after the minilesson, students don’t care whether I’m in the room or not because they are so engaged and they know the routine.
1. What’s a minilesson?
- Explain the structure of the writing workshop. Most of the time, students will move from a lesson to time to write to time to reflect on their learning. Moving to a place for the minilesson sets the brain in gear to anticipate new learning. Whether it be gathering on a rug or sitting in chairs, students practice moving into the space quickly. Playing music as a signal to move can be a soothing way to set the tone. Depending on grade level, make a list of materials students should bring to the minilesson setting: daybook, pencil, homework, and/or clipboard.
2. How do we pair-share?
- Students will talk to a partner at specific times during the minilessons. Even though this is a simple technique that gives students time to articulate or infer during the lesson, it has many components to model. (1) It’s important for partner to face one another. Little ones touch knee-to-knee and look eye-to-eye. Research shows that older students are more successful if they turn to face their partner as well. (2) One partner cannot dominate. Partners must make room in the time provided for both to talk. (3) On signal, partners turn back to the teacher after they quickly finish their thoughts. (4) Ask two students to pair-share. The others make a list of what makes listening to a partner work.
3. What does “stay on the rug” mean?
- Minilessons are just that...brief, quick, to the point. Some students need more time to process the minilesson than others. I invite primary students who need more time to stay on the rug to talk. Older ones elect to talk more also. Some students ask clarifying questions about the lesson. I ask process questions to assist others who truly don’t know how to begin. What will you write about? How will you start? What do you need for writing today? I don’t want them dependent on talking to me first. I help them understand that they have to power to solve their problems independently and move them as quickly as I can into writing. “Staying on the rug” is a great way to move most of the class into writing but reteach or jumpstart others.
4. What do I do during writing time?
- In the beginning of the unit, students draft... a lot. As the study deepens, students use this time to revise the piece they’ll be sharing. They continue to work on personal projects as well. Towards the end of the unit, students edit their school project and write personal projects. In the beginning of the year, I insist that writing time is silent. Some teachers play wordless music lightly. Eventually, I teach students to use this time to talk to one another without disrupting others.
5. What do I do if I’m stuck?
- Help students brainstorm what to do when they can’t think of anything to write. In my classes, they continue writing a piece they started, read until they find an idea, interview others about what they’re writing, reread their daybooks (writing notebooks), make lists, and freewrite. We talk about and I model each strategy.
6. How do we build writing stamina?
- Talk to the children about building stamina. See if they can increase the time they sustain writing each day. Kep a record from day to day and praise as the time increases. Elementary students enjoy beating their record from the day before. Within a month, third grade students can work up to 30 minutes. They’d write longer but we don’t have time!
7. What problems might we face?
- Write out potential challenges of writing workshop on cards and put them in a jar. Take a few minutes each day to discuss a couple problem cards. Seek solutions for situations students will probably face. By thinking through problems ahead of time, students practice problem solving. i.e.: my partner isn’t here, I forgot my daybook, I didn’t do my writing homework, I don’t have a pencil, two of us want to sit in the bean bag chair, etc.
8. What’s a closure circle? What makes “good” reflection?
- At the end of the lesson, the teacher will ask and the students will either discuss or write what they learned about writing. By anticipating this daily reflection time, students think about their learning during lesson and writing time. In the upper grades, written reflection builds in the daybook and is used for evidence of improvement.
9. What’s the teacher doing?
- Students need to know what the teacher is doing during writing time. Take time to show them the records you’re keeping, the writing you ‘re doing and the conferring you’ll be doing. Clarify their role and yours.
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