Be sure that you’ve got all the key components of writer’s workshop as you prepare to launch your literacy block!
This article details each part so that you easily visualize the elements of each part.
Here are the main components of writer’s workshop:
- Independent Writing/Conferencing
I’m going to detail each part while also sharing my experiences in making writer’s workshop the most effective for upper elementary students.
The time given to each component is approximate and will vary based on the needs of your writers.
The graph shows an approximate ratio.
Part 1: The Mini-Lesson
The components of writer’s workshop begins with the mini-lesson.
A mini-lesson is a short introductory lesson that introduces the skill or strategy that you want students to be able to apply during independent writing.
This is a whole group session, so all the kids gather on the carpet. Having students remain at their desks is perfectly fine, too.
What skills or strategies should you introduce during the mini-lesson?
Choose writing skills and strategies based on your mandated curriculum, scope & sequence, and/or needs of your students.
Here’s a short list of possible writing mini-lessons:
- Procedures for writer’s workshop (taught at the beginning of the school year and as needed)
- The elements of (insert any writing genre)
- Any read aloud book with examples that show targeted writing skill
- Brainstorming using writing graphic organizers
- How to use a editing checklist
- Effectively using a revising checklist
- Strong verbs
- Adding vivid details that “show and not tell”
- Organizing with a beginning, middle, and end
- Grammar skills (e.g. semicolons, dashes, etc.)
- Writing an effective lead
- Writing a good conclusion
- Generating ideas
- Any trait from the Six Traits of Writing framework
- Introducing the format of various writing genres (e.g. personal narrative, biography, etc.)
And the list goes on…
Before you do the actual mini-lesson, make sure to hook the students (grab their attention).
What will you do to peak their interest in the lesson?
Read aloud books are great for this as is showing authentic student samples that demonstrate the targeted skill (from anonymous kids, of course, not from your school).
If your school has a membership, Brainpop videos are great hooks!
Sample Mini-lesson Dialogue:
Good morning everyone! I see how eager and ready you are for today’s lesson.
I’m going to show and read to you some pairs of verbs.
After a moment of thinking, you’ll share with a partner the difference between the words in each pair.
Verb Pairs Shown & Read
- Walk, skip
- Said, yell
- Run, dash
- Hit, bash
- Start, launch
After students pair and then share with a partner their observations of the word pairs, the whole class discusses the differences.
EXPLICITLY INTRODUCING THE SKILL
Great job everyone!
I’m so happy to know that you noticed that the second words in each pair are stronger verbs compared to the first.
When writing, authors sometimes use strong verbs to more clearly tell the reader what action is happening. These strong verbs also help the reader to visualize better.
Now I’m going to reread to you one of our favorite books: Jumanji.
We’ll read it for a different purpose this time: listening for strong verbs!
As we stop and share what strong verbs we find, we’ll write them on this anchor chart here.
And that’s the gist of the introduction.
Duration of Writer’s Workshop Mini-Lesson
I’ve read a ton of books and articles recommending that the mini-lesson be 5-15 minutes.
For me, that time range has worked, and other times I’ve had to extend it a bit.
My teaching is very responsive; I flow with the rhythm of my students.
Because I’ve taught mostly second-language learners for the majority of my teaching career, I’ve found value in extending my mini-lessons when appropriate.
Part 2: Independent Writing/Conferencing
The second element in the components of writer’s workshop is independent writing/conferencing.
After the mini-lesson, the young authors go to their table groups or individual writing spaces and begin writing independently. It’s time for them to put their skills and strategies into practice!
Hopefully they’ll apply the new skill that they’ve learned from the mini-lesson!
What are students actually working on?
Students continue drafting a previously-started piece or begin a new one.
If your class is working on personal narratives, they’ll work on that writing genre, focusing on whatever skill you targeted in your mini-lesson.
If working on biographies, they’ll work on those.
Within independent writing, students follow the writing process:
So during this block of writer’s workshop, you’ll also have some students peer-revising and peer-editing.
As a side note, guiding students in using revising and editing checklists effectively and with peers is a great mini-lesson idea!
Writer’s workshop is an ongoing, differentiated writing process, so each learner will be at a different stage.
As they publish one piece, they start another.
Some students may even abandon a piece of writing before publishing, and that’s okay if the writing is not a required piece that will be formally assessed.
What is the teacher doing while students are writing?
You’ll conference with students either one-on-one or in small groups.
I devote time to both.
During individual meetings, I target the specific writing needs of each student.
Together we’ll review a piece of writing and target specific elements, skills, or strategies that present a weakness for that particular student.
I praise proper application of previously-taught skills, seek depth of understanding said skills by asking questions, plus I offer feedback. I’ll also record anecdotal notes.
I try to give 5-8 minutes of conference time to each student.
Within a week, I will have had a conference with everyone at least once.
Small group conferences are strategically organized based on all the writers in the group sharing a similar writing need.
I determine these groups beforehand while planning. I prefer groups of no more than 4, but three is ideal.
Quick Tip: During writer’s workshop, to set a calm, “my writing just flows” mood, play soft music in the background. I’ve played jazz, classic bossa nova, and classical music.
My students loved it! It really does help set the writing mood for writer’s workshop!
Sample One-on-One Student Conference Dialogue
Teacher: Hi Johnny. What are you working on today?
Johnny: I’m wrapping up my personal narrative piece. I peer-edited with two classmates yesterday: Raúl and Samantha. I think I’m ready to publish.
Teacher: (after looking over piece) Wow Johnny! Your lead is so engaging and really grabs the reader’s attention.
I also like how well you used transitions throughout. Great work!
I see you’ve applied the feedback from our last meeting. What I’d like for you to do is take this piece of writing, or another piece that you’ve been working on, and change at least three verbs to make them stronger.
Johnny: Like we did in our mini-lesson today?!
Teacher: Yes! Exactly! Let’s take a look at your paper. Take your colored pencil and circle three verbs you think could be stronger.
Johnny: There. Done! Now I’ll go back to my writing space and brainstorm synonyms for these verbs. I can use my thesaurus!
Teacher: Absolutely! Keep up the good work, Johnny.
When we meet again, I think you’ll be ready to publish or maybe already in the process of doing so.
During this strategic conversation, I’m taking mental notes and maybe even jotting down some important information about the student’s progress.
Before I call another student, I’ll make sure that I have quick anecdotal notes on Johnny.
I keep these handy for when progress and report card comment time comes around.
Quick Tip: At the end of the week, while reviewing student notes, if I notice a recurring skill or strategy that a significant number of students are struggling with, I’ll make it a mini-lesson in the coming days of writer’s workshop.
This is such an important action to take within the components of writer’s workshop as it guides your future planning and instruction.
What other questions are good for prompting discussion during a writing conference?
The questions you ask students during conferencing will vary, again based on the needs of each student.
Here are some suggestions:
- How well are you moving through the stages of the writing process with this piece?
- Is there a skill/strategy you need help implementing?
- Have you found any good writing strategies from mentor texts that you’d like to use in your own writing?
- How can I help you today?
- What success have you had with a writing piece this week?
- Any thing particular you’d like to focus on during our conference today?
How long should independent writing and conferencing be?
Aim for 30 to 45 minutes.
If you have a longer block, you’ll do the upper end of this range.
Complete 30 minutes or so.
Part 3: Sharing/Author’s Chair
Once independent writing and conferences are complete for the day, everyone meets once again on the carpet for sharing!
Of all the components of writer’s workshop, this one is my favorite!
If you’d like a more detailed look at author’s chair and how to get the most out of it, check out this post on author’s chair expectations.
This is a time for students to share their creations and receive constructive feedback from peers.
Volunteers share, or you can use a sharing schedule where each student shares at least once before there’s a repeat.
Sharing is ideally done from a chair that you’ve designated especially as the “author’s chair”.
From there, the child reads aloud his chosen piece of writing (it can be a draft or published piece).
The others remain on the carpet as active listeners.
After the student shares, I like to do the TAG method.
Three separate classmates will do the following…
T= Tell one thing you liked about the writing.
A= Ask one relevant, thoughtful question about the piece.
G= Give a suggestion that will help to improve the writing (or give a compliment).
*After TAG, one or two more students share if time permits.*
How long is sharing time?
10 minutes or so is okay.
But I’ve done 15 minutes, especially for larger classes.
Quick Tip: While each student shares, take more anecdotal notes for that student.
Take note of reading fluency or any other targeted writing skill that you can informally assess while they read their writing piece.
These anecdotal records will surely come in handy when it’s time to write writing report card comments.
Any Other Key Ideas About the Components of Writer’s Workshop?
If your students have school gmail accounts, Google docs will make the conferencing process a bit more efficient due to its “sharing” and “commenting” features.
Technology or not, just be sure to make writer’s workshop a regular part of your daily classroom schedule!
Being able to write well is such a great skill to possess, and it’s so rewarding to instill that skill and love of writing into young writers.
As you get ready to launch literacy block in your upper elementary classroom, make sure to have all of the components of writer’s workshop.
There’s no need to over complicate things; simply stick to the 3 parts.
The most important thing is the content you bring to students plus how well they implement the writing skills and strategies within that content.
I hope this article gave you some great insight into the workings of an effective writer’s workshop!
Happy teaching and learning!
WHAT TO READ NEXT:
- The 6+1 Traits of Writing is a fantastic framework to use within writers’ workshop. Check it out for yourself.
- For a detailed guide on Part 3 of writer’s workshop (SHARING), take a look at this post on author’s chair expectations so that you hit the ground running from day 1.