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’ll be all set.
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 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 the needs of your students.
Here’s a short list of possible writing mini-lessons:
- Procedures for writer’s workshop (should be taught at the beginning of the school year and as needed)
- 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.)
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? 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. Fantastic! 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 than 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: listening for strong verbs! As we stop and share what strong verbs we find, we’ll write them on this anchor chart here.
Now, 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 most of my teaching career, I’ve found value in extending my mini-lessons when appropriate and as needed.
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. If working on biographies, they’ll work on those.
Within independent writing, students follow the writing process: brainstorming, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing. So you’ll have some students peer-revising and peer-editing.
(Using revising and editing checklists effectively and with peers is a 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 clarification of ideas 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: Play soft music in the background if possible. I’ve played jazz, classic bossa nova, and classical music. My students loved it! It really helped to 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, so 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! 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, you’ll hopefully be ready to publish or already in the process of doing so.
Before I call another student, I’ll make sure that I have quick anecdotal notes on Johnny.
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 detail within the components of writer’s workshop.
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/conferencing be?
Aim for 30 to 45 minutes. If you have a longer block, you’ll do the upper end of this range. Less time? Complete 30 minutes or so.
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. 🙂
This is a time for students to share their creations and receive constructive feedback from peers.
Volunteers share, or I use a sharing schedule where each student shares at least once before there’s a repeat.
Sharing is done from a chair that you’ve designated especially as the “author’s chair”. 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, we do the TAG method. Three separate classmates will do the following…
T= Tell one thing liked about the writing.
A= Ask one relevant, thoughtful question about the writing.
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 skill that you can informally assess while they read. These anecdotal records will surely come in handy when it’s time to write 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! 🙂
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.
The most important thing, though, is the content within each component, so I hope this article gave you some great insight into the workings of an effective writer’s workshop!
Happy teaching and learning!