Three Steps to a Successful Writer’s Workshop

A workshop approach naturally connects reading and writing through the use of mentor texts and mini lessons. As students work with the teacher to analyze mentor texts for the structure, writing ideas, and author's craft, students build their own skills. This post explains the writer's workshop process.

Have you found your students struggle to latch on to writing or that they somehow just don’t love it? This week, we had a training that really spoke to me. I have always loved teaching writing. Actually I love writing myself. As I read the book, Writers ARE Readers by Lester Laminack and trained on running Writer’s Workshop, I got a big ah-ha moment for the teachers I work with. I decided it might be good to share what we learned in our training on my site.

GETTING STARTED WITH WRITER’S WORKSHOP

A workshop approach naturally connects reading and writing through the use of mentor texts and mini lessons. As students work with the teacher to analyze mentor texts for the structure, writing ideas, and author’s craft, students build their own skills and interestingly, they look at the writing piece through a different lens which helps build writing skills, but also deepens reading comprehension. The workshop model is broken down into three lesson components, and personally, I prefer running the writing block first just in case my kids wish to write a bit longer in their literacy station. The components are:

  1. Whole Group Instruction (Mini Lesson)
  2. Writing Time
  3. Share/Structured Response Time

Teachers who wish to implement a workshop approach would want to have about an hour of time blocked off. If the time has to be split, then the best place to divide the block is after the mini lesson. I know in my school, there are some grade levels that just do not have uninterrupted time for both reading and writing. Ideally, you’d want the block to flow from one to the other though versus two isolated blocks.

COMPONENTS OF WRITER’S WORKSHOP

Whole Group Instruction (The Mini Lesson):

Teachers begin the writer’s workshop block with a skills based mini lesson. Mini lessons are determined by student needs that you determine as you confer, and you use them to demonstrate the writing process, writing traits, grammar, and writing structure. Teachers can use a variety of teaching resources for mini lessons including mentor texts, anchor charts, shared writing, anchor papers, websites like Flocabulary, and more. For a few ideas of what you might include in a mini lesson, check out these suggestions (But again, base your choices on your students’ needs.):

  • Routines and Expectations
  • How to Confer with the Teacher or Other Students
  • Writing Process (stages and behaviors)
  • Writing Skills (author’s craft in mentor texts)
  • Revising for Content and Clarity
  • Grammar Lessons for Editing

PLANNING YOUR LESSON

As you plan out your mini lesson, one important thing to keep in mind is your location. Believe it or not, that is really important because as you run your mini lessons, you’re building your writing community. One of the biggest benefits of a workshop model is the dialogue you get with your kids. The feedback students get and give to each other is excellent once the kids feel comfortable. Students really put themselves out there when they give and receive feedback on their pieces. In fact, sometimes, there pieces can be very personal. As we run our mini lessons, we set the stage for making the community safe for thoughtful communications which leads to growth.

Because our goal is to build a comfortable community, we need kids in a comfortable place (not in desks, but rather, on a cozy rug.  Up close and personal is best. This would mean in a sharing area such as around a “share chair” on a rug near your Smartboard and/or chart stand.  I have found this very helpful because the proximity typically means better attention and engagement too.

Writing Time:

If you think about it, writer’s workshop follows the I Do, We Do, You Do pattern. Once the mini lesson is complete, students are ready to dig in and work. With a workshop model in its truest form, the students choose what they want to work on. Your students may have multiple pieces in progress. They may opt to abandon a piece that they’re not “hooked on”, or they can choose to take piece all the way through the writing process. This means that your students may be at different places in the writing cycle and will be working on writing for different purposes.

As you implement the workshop schedule, you may also find that your kids work best in flexible places. My kids use Google docs on their laptops. They beg me to work in our reading nook, and I’ve found they manage their time quite well. It has never been a problem. You may find bath mats or beanbag chairs handy. Kids might also like using lap desks.

What does the teacher do during this time?

A workshop approach naturally connects reading and writing through the use of mentor texts and mini lessons. As students work with the teacher to analyze mentor texts for the structure, writing ideas, and author's craft, students build their own skills. This post explains the writer's workshop process.

Trust me…you will be busy! This is the time you will be conferring with your students. Several students may be needing to confer at the same time, so you always have the option of having them confer with another student first. As you think about these moments, you might find a checklist helpful. You can also use a recording form to make note of what your students are working on just to keep a pulse on how things are going. It will help you determine ideas you wish to weave into mini lessons too.

I loved this checklist from Julie Shope on Teachers Pay Teachers. You can keep a running list of conference notes which can be pulled out at parent-teacher conferences or with the student to discuss progress. To download the checklist, just click the image above.

Sharing Time:

The final stage in the workshop model is sharing. As I’ve been composing this post, I’ve thought about the three stages, and honestly, I do not think there is one that is more important than the others. Kids want and need praise for their hard work. To me, the best way to show our students how important their hard work is by displaying it. You truly can tell a lot about a classroom when you walk in and see it overflowing with kid work. I just love it.

One thing to keep in mind with student work is that not every piece needs to be published with a pretty cover and ribbon. In fact, you might just keep a writing binder of the pieces and let the students choose if they want to polish one to this level. Others can be kept as a portfolio of work for progress monitoring.

A workshop approach naturally connects reading and writing through the use of mentor texts and mini lessons. As students work with the teacher to analyze mentor texts for the structure, writing ideas, and author's craft, students build their own skills. This post explains the writer's workshop process.

When you begin sharing times, you may find a few students feeling a bit overwhelmed. For these, one suggestion is to start sharing time in a small group. Kids expect to meet for small groups already, so having a writing group for feedback might be just what the doctor ordered.

What about grades?

Did I read your mind? Teachers do seem to get very concerned about grading, and with writing, the best way to evaluate is with a rubric. Using anchor papers with your mini lessons will help your students understand the requirements of  a paper, but certainly, I’d outline your expectations for grading. You might give your students a required number of finished pieces as a target each grading period just to keep them from becoming repeat abandoners.

Why Writer’s Workshop?

By this point, you have a great picture of a workshop model, but why should you choose to use it? What are the pros and cons? Well, here are a few of the major benefits:

  • Increased Engagement and Motivation
  • Improved Effort on Completed Work
  • Fewer Worksheets and Lecture and More Practice
  • Naturally Differentiated Work
  • and Instruction that Matches Needs
  • Finally, Intervention Time Well Utilized

Additional Reading:

  • Writing Workshop: The Essential Guide by Ralph Fletcher and JoAnn Portalupi
  • Writers Are Readers by Lester Laminack
  • How’s It Going? by Karl Anderson
  • Into Writing: The Primary Teachers Guide to Writing Instruction by Megan Sloan
  • and The Unstoppable Writing Teacher by M. Colleen Cruz
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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Elizabeth Wilburn

    As always, I love this post! I saw Lester Laminack at a reading conference once and was so inspired! I will need to purchase his book. I agree that sharing is such an important component and is often one that many teachers forget. I have learned that if students do not get to share regularly, they stop writing. Thanks for continuing to inspire me with your posts!
    Teaching Tips and Treasures

  2. Elizabeth-That book was just awesome! I love all of the lesson ideas included in it as well as how he connects reading and writing. I can't wait to share it with the teachers in my school.

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