Writer’s Workshop is my absolute favorite portion of the school day. I absolutely love it, and my students do too. People think that I have lost my mind, or they think that I am being sarcastic whenever I say something positive about writing.
But, it’s true.
Believe me whenever I say, writing was not always a pleasant experience for me as a teacher… and it wasn’t my students’ favorite portion of the day either. My first year teaching (God bless first year teachers), writing was the subject that I dreaded! It was like pulling teeth: there were many tears and frustrations for both me and my students. Not to mention, it took FOREVER.
With the help of amazing mentors, co-workers, and teacher-friends, I slowly began to refine my Writer’s Workshop. Below, I have outlined four strategies that changed my Writer’s Workshop into something that was enjoyable rather than dreadful.
5-10 minutes of whole-group writing instruction: I found that whole-group writing instruction was imperative. Modeling and inviting the class to share in the process of formulating ideas, planning a story, writing the story, revising, and editing is absolutely invaluable. So invaluable, that successful Writer’s Workshops devote 5-10 minutes to whole-group writing instruction every day no matter the topic. This is a great time to pull in and review grammar and phonological skills.
20-30 minutes of independent writing in which the teacher pulls small groups: While the students are writing independently, I pull writing groups to my teacher table and guide them as they form their ideas and put them on paper. The other students are writing independently at their desks. This is a time to conference with students, encourage strugglers, and differentiate instruction.
3-5 minutes of sharing: After writing, I allow students to share their writing in some way. Sometimes, we hang them up. Sometimes, they share their stories with their tables. Sometimes, they share them with another teacher, principal, or friend.
I stick to this structure, even when I incorporate Writer’s Workshop during science, social studies, and math. Which brings me to number two…
Integrating Writing in Other Subjects
“I Don’t Have Time for Writing”
I was like a broken record. I just couldn’t get writing in every day. Sure, I knew that students needed daily writing practice. I knew that great writers make for great readers. I knew that writing was a challenging subject for all grade-levels– it’s time-consuming, tedious, and riddled with grammatical rules. I learned how to fit writing into my incredibly jam-packed English, Language Arts, and Reading block.
The trick is to stop trying to fit Writer’s Workshop into ELAR every day.
When the ELAR block seems particularly packed, it helps to look at science, social studies, and math. Say the kids are learning about graphs in math, can they not write about a skittle graph that they create? Talk about higher-order-thinking skill! A. They are creating a graph. B. To write about the graph requires students to analyze their graph, evaluate it, and put their observations into words. While the students are creating and writing about their graphs, I am able to pull writing groups and helping them revise and edit their writings. The same applies to science and social studies.
A Positive Environment
Whenever my students write, I do what I can to set the mood. For example, if we are writing about the beach, I pass out leis and set a video to play on my Smartboard of waves crashing at the beach. Setting the mood helps students generate ideas, sure. But more importantly, it makes writing different– thus engaging! It takes writing from mundane to exciting. Adding a craft to accompany the writing has also proved effective in motivating students to write to the best of their ability in a timely manner.
Setting the mood only goes so far and won’t truly be effective if the teacher is a negative-nag that constantly points out writing errors and flaws. I had to learn how to pump students up, encourage their process, praise their ideas, celebrate their accomplishments (even the small ones), and correct in a way that encourages rather than tears down. In short, when they feel encouraged, they work their tails off.
For example, a student fails to space between their words. I could say, “What are you doing?! *eye roll* We just talked about that! It is SO lazy to not space. Erase it all right now and space between your words!!!” Or, I could say, “Gosh, I really love your sentence. I’m going to read it aloud and share it with the class, but it’s a little hard to read. Go ahead and rewrite it with spaces between your words. Remember, if words run together, it’s really hard to read such excellent writing. *smile*” See the difference? The kids definitely do.
Successful Writer’s Workshops have extremely positive environments.
Charts, Cheers, and Motions
Every writing lesson begins with a whole-group lesson in which the class helps me build a story. If we are writing in Science, we might write about the basic needs of living things as a class. The students literally dictate everything I write on the board through motions, chants, and cheers. We have chants for sight words, motions for every phoneme, and cheers for punctuation, spaces, and Capital letters. The students are completely engaged due to the kinesthetic approach to writer’s workshop. And the best part, they help make up the chants and motions.
Without a doubt, writing can be an exciting and engaging portion of the school day. Of course, what works for me, may not work for you. And that’s okay.