No matter what time of the year writing workshop starts, these are 5 writing workshop mini lessons that shouldn’t be skipped! I find that doing these lessons will start my workshop on the right foot and help students know all about my expectations.
Writing Workshop Mini Lesson #1: The Components of Writer’s Workshop
Before introducing the writer’s workshop model, plan out the pieces you’ll be using in your workshop. I modified my workshop slightly from the traditional model so that it skips the daily check in.
Each day I cover a mini whole class lesson, independent writing time, and share time. My first mini lesson when I am starting writer’s workshop is to teach my class about each component. Sometimes it may be necessary to break it apart in several lessons (especially if you want to really focus on the dos and don’ts of each section).
I like to take my time and explicitly teach the roles of a student and the teacher (like in the Daily 5 process). Going over exactly what I want it to look like helps minimize off task behaviors at the start. Likewise, it’s important not to skip the step of what it shouldn’t look like. Not only do students find it pretty funny when they see off task behaviors modeled, but it really sticks in their memories.
Writing Workshop Mini Lesson #2: Writer’s Workshop Materials
The next important writing workshop mini lesson is teaching about the writer’s workshop materials and their appropriate uses. In my class we call these writing tools. This may feel like a silly lesson to teach but it’s important to teach expectations for using their supplies.
Things to consider when planning this lesson:
- Will students be allowed to color pictures heavily during each writing block?
- Will students be using pencils or pens for their writing?
- Will students use notebooks or folders to store their pieces?
- Where will they keep their daily materials?
- Where will they keep their revising and editing pens?
- Will they need highlighters?
- Will they be using loose leaf paper or a notebook? Spiral or composition?
My Writing Tools Set Up
Each answer to these questions will help you plan what to say during your lesson. For example, in my class students are only allowed to color pictures during the publishing phase. I chose this rule because we only have 45 minutes and it’s more important for them to be writing than working on coloring. This year I have chosen to use pencils for daily writing but most years I use pen. Writing in pen keeps students from agonizing over writing and erasing the same words.
Notebooks or Folders?
Students are provided a blue three-prong plastic folders with several page protectors. Inside the page protectors they are given an alphabet chart, blends and digraphs, and common rimes chart. I left one blank page protector that gets filled with their writing goals tracker once goals are created. They are also given a very slender bound notebook that we use for planning out our writing. This notebook is thin enough to be kept inside their folder along with any loose leaf writing papers.
Writing Tools Storage
Just like with the first mini lesson we are discussing dos and don’ts of handling the workshop materials and where they should be stored. This year with social distancing guidelines each student keeps their own folder in their desk. In prior years students turned in their folders at the end of each writing block and one student passed out their group’s folders.
I have a series of three metal bins (meant to be flower pots) that keep my black, blue, and red writing pens. Even though I have black pens I don’t often have students use them to write this year. Having them write in pen saves me from sharpening a ton of pencils each day. Since editing (red pens) and revising (blue pens) only happen every few weeks, I prefer to keep the pens out of their desks and on my writing center table. Unfortunately this year the table is not used except to hold my writing center cards and letter templates as well as my pen selection.
Writing Workshop Mini Lesson #3: Building Writing Stamina
My students now know what writer’s workshop should look like and how to use the tools appropriately. This means it is time for them to practice building up their writing stamina. Although this isn’t going to be a one and done type of writing mini lesson, it is an important one.
Just as readers need to build up their reading stamina, I feel the same is true for writers. My class seems to do really well with writing the whole time during independent practice, but if you are lucky enough to have a nice long writing block you will want to make sure you build up their practice time.
Many years ago I used to have a good hour for my writer’s workshop. During those days I would have a second mini-lesson in the middle of our writing time. This way I could address immediate things I was seeing about sentence structure or punctuation. It was also another way to address what was going well with students applying the day’s lesson. Don’t be afraid to break up your writing block like this if you notice students getting squirrely halfway through.
When students work with a writing partner, they can also increase their stamina. It naturally takes longer to work on a writing piece when both partners need to share and work together. This brings me to the next mini lesson.
Writing Workshop Mini Lesson #4: Working with a Partner
I like to establish my writer’s workshop routines before I have students begin working with a partner. Once routines have been established then I’ll add writing partners into the mix. If I do it too early I might have some classroom management issues.
When planning your writing mini lesson, establish what you want partners to do. Will students have partners during independent writing time? Will students only be using partners when revising and editing?
Plan to provide several mini lessons on how to work with a partner. Now that students have had a lot of schooling impacted by Covid, it’s important to teach them the basics of how to work appropriately with each other. This might include things like sentence stems for questions to ask and how to respond, what help looks like (i.e. not doing everything for their partner but guiding them), and how to be a good listener.
Writing Workshop Mini Lesson #5: Compliments and Questions for Share Time
Share time is the last component of writer’s workshop and it’s the one I feel is the most important. Students get to see and hear examples of their peers’ writing. Many teachers use an author’s chair specifically for the purpose of this daily share time. I do not have space in my classroom so I just have students stand at the front of the room.
These one or two mini lessons should cover very similar topics as having a writing partner. In fact, many of the expectations for partners crossover to share time which makes it a perfect place to review and reinforce what students should do.
My share time is usually about 5 minutes tops since I only have a total of 45 minutes. If you have a little longer, pick mini lessons to teach about how to choose which partner goes first and how to offer specific feedback. I like to think of writing partners like mini coaches. They should be giving their partner suggestions for improvement but also a positive comment.