Launching the Writing Workshop
The Writing Workshop Defined
Writing Workshop creates an environment where students can acquire skills, along with
fluency, confidence, and desire to see themselves as writers. Students are put in charge
and are actively involved with creating their own texts. The writing workshop puts
students on the spot and makes them responsible for their learning.
Three Components of Writer’s Workshop
The three components that make up the writing workshop are the Minilesson, Writing
Time, and Sharing. The Minlessons are short, focused, and direct. This is a time for
whole group instruction. The second component, Writing Time is devoted to having
students do actual writing. Students are rough drafting, planning, rereading, proofreading,
or conferring with other students. While students are involved with writing, the teacher
moves around the classroom, examining, complimenting, asking questions, or making
suggestions. The final component of the workshop, Sharing is when students have a
special time to share their writing with the entire class. Some teacher’s designate a
special Author’s Chair for this purpose. In the sharing sessions, the teacher coaches the
students in how to give and receive response to each other is writing.
The Physical Requirements of Writer’s Workshop
The elements that are important for a writing workshop are a meeting place, a place for
materials and tools, carefully arranged desks and tables. The Meeting Place is a gathering
space large enough for the entire class to meet. You will gather here for minilessons and
whole-class response sessions. A Writing Center, cart, or caddies will allow the students
to have access to writing tools. When arranging desks and tables, there are a number of
factors to consider: comfort, on-to-one conferences, and space. On the classroom walls,
students should see reminders that allow them to value writing simply by “reading the
Long-Term Goals vs. Short-Term Goals
Long-term goals are the goals that are included in the Language Arts curriculum. These
goals are detailed and may cause panic as to “how on earth” is anyone going to cover so
Short-term goals such as getting the students to love writing, establishing a safe
environment so that students can take risks in their writing, and setting up a workable
management system to handle flow of paper, folders, and so forth.
The long-term goals of the curriculum are definitely valuable; however, short-term goals
launch the workshop.
Fostering a Love for Writing Time
Your genuine interest
Establishing a Safe Environment
Give specific praise
Allow drawing for primary students.
Read aloud “from-the- heart” pieces of writing
Use a writer’s notebook.
Write with your students
Creating Workable Classroom Management
When it comes to classroom management, every teacher has to devise a system that
reflects his or her personality. You may want to include a Finished Box and have students
place their writing as they finish it. By using a finished box, a student will not interrupt
your conferences. The term “finished” will evolve over time as students self edit their
Unfinished Writing Folder
Students will use an Unfinished Writing Folder to hold works in progress. A personalized
list of writing ideas, Topics to Write About Form, and a chart that keeps track of
writing conferences may be included in the Unfinished Writing Folder.
Finished Writing Folder
This is a place where student store filed pieces of writing that they have finished. In some
classrooms, kids put a table of contents. Teachers may have them use a form to self
evaluate each finished piece.
Surviving the First Days
Prior with your kids time for their actual writing, spend time reading to them. You may
opt to read shorts texts (poems, narrative passages, or picture books).
In your meeting area, begin with saying to your students: “A writer is someone who
makes decisions.” How will you begin? What words will you use? Whom do you want to
read your writing? How long will it be? What are you going to write about?
Start with sharing two or three personal stories. Keep your stories short. Choose
to tell stories that may include emotional content. (sad, funny, strange)
After you have finished sharing, ask the kids: “Those are my stories. But what
are you going to write about?”
Tell your students to please turn and tell the person beside you what you plan to
write about. Do not tell the whole story just the main idea. Give the students a
minute or two to share their writing ideas. Then ask four or five kids to read
their stories aloud.
If you provide a variety of paper choices (lined, unlined, large, small, pre made
books), ask the students to choose what kind of paper they want to write on.
Tell the students that writing is chatting on paper and the amount of time that
you are allowing them to write.
Let them know that you will meet in the same area after the allotted writing
Find a seat and write with your students. You may only want to write for five
minutes or so modeling that adults write, too.
After you spent some time writing, begin to move around the room and
conference with your students. You may ask, “How’s it going?”
Keep the conferences short. Try to be there as a reader not as a corrector.
If you have students with blank papers you may want to ask the following
What do you know lots about?
Do you play sports?
What about other activities like dance or chess?
What number are you in the family?
Whose is your best friend or a good friend?
Is there a special relative that you spend lots of time with?
Do you collect stuff?
Ever go to a hospital?
Did you ever move? Did you have a best friend you left behind?
Do you have a pet? Do you wish that you had one? What kind?
Jot down their answers. Have the student read over the list.
A student’s interview may work but it takes of time. You may even want to pair
him up with another student. By pairing up students, you are free to meet with
As you are conferring with students, keep an eye out for writing that you would
like students to share with the rest of the class.
You may want to ask, “How many writers are not finished?” You can then tell
them,” It takes time to do good work. We do not want to rush our writing.”
Pick two or three students to orally share their writing. Only those students
should bring their writing to the meeting place. Pick kids with different abilities
and try to avoid silly, superficial or offensive writing because other kids will be
encouraged to produce similar writing.
After the presenting students read orally their writing ask the other class
members the following:
What did you learn from this piece of writing?
What did this writer do well?
What questions do you have?
Keep the share positive. Encourage your students to talk to the presenting
student snot to you. After the class feedback, you may want to ask,” What are
you going to do with this writing?”
You may not want to put one student o the spot, you might want to have each
class member to read aloud one sentence form his or her writing.
After the first workshop session, you may want to collect the unfinished drafts.
Begin day two of the writing workshop by bringing students to the meeting area exactly
as you did on day one.
Say, “Remember how yesterday we started with a minilesson before we wrote? We’re
doing the same thing today.”
It is important to reinforce rituals so kids know what to expect.
Say, “Today, you will have a new thing to decide. Am I finished? Have I said all that I
have to say in my writing? Or do I need to add more?
How will I make that decision? By rereading what you’ve written.”
Hand back the papers to the students.
Say, “I want you to read it over and if you have said all that you are going to say put the
piece of writing in the finished box.”
If students are finished with their writing form day one, have them use the Topics to
Write About Form in their Unfinished Writing Folder to stimulate new writings.
You may also want to begin day two with some classroom guidelines for Writer’s
1. Use quiet voices.
2. Please do not interrupt.
3. Everybody writes.
In the early weeks, students can write fast, moving quickly from one topic to another. .
As the weeks progress, the topics of your minilessons and conferences will give them the
help they need to linger longer in a single draft, to return, reread, and revise to develop
See day one guidelines for conferences and teacher writing time.
See day one for questions to stimulate share time.
Conferring with Writers
The writing conference lies at the heart of the writing workshop. You get to engage with
students in a unique on-on-one interaction. The conference session allow you to talk with
a student, get dialogue going, make a suggestion, and exit. At first conferring with
students may feel strained or awkward. You may not know what to say of you may have
too much to say and overwhelm students with suggestions.
Guidelines of the Conference
Listen~ Deep Listening
Lean forward, eyes alert, will give signals to the student that they are in an active role as
a writer and that you the teacher is responsive.
Be Present as a Reader
React to the student’s writing, as you would respond to any other piece of writing that
you would enjoy reading. Let the writer see that the piece of writing has affected you.
Understand the Writer
The following are questions to ask yourself prior to the conference
Understand the Writer’s Intention
What can I learn from the student’s body language?
Does the student seem “up” and engaged or listless and bored?
What kind of writing is the student attempting? Is it a poem? A fiction story? Personal
narrative? Information piece?
Where is the student in the writing process?
Has the student just begun or are they almost finished?
To Help Them Achieve their Intention
Is this a genre’ the student has never tried before?
What are the strengths that the student shows as a writer?
What is the student ready to learn?
What surprises you about the student’s writing?
If a student is slumped over, cradling their head, that should give you a clue as how you
may want to proceed.
Ask, are you writing about a topic that matters to you?
If they are not writing about a topic that matters to them, suggest another topic.
Build on Strengths
It is important to give students concrete praise- a wonderful word, to sharpen an image,
or create a surprise ending during the early part of the conference.
Teach One Thing
“Teach the writer” Lucy Caulkins has written, “Not the writing.”
The one-to- one encounter allows the conference to begin with understanding the writer
and movers towards teaching a particular skill of technique, or strategy.
Common Writing Conferences in Second through Fourth Grade Classrooms
Focusing on the most important part
Ask, “What’s the most important part of your story?
Suggest that the student focus the writing on just that part.
Focusing when there is more than one story
If a student gloms together two or three subjects into a single piece of writing
show, them how each idea deserves to be its own separate piece of writing.
Breaking a large topic into manageable “chunks” or chapters
Ask the student to make a simple Table of Contents is a way to handle a big topic
like “Summer Camp” or “My Family”.
Cutting and taping additional information
During the conference, you can show the student how to reread and decide where
new writing needs to be added. With the student’s permission, you can cut open
the story at that part and use tape to add a blank piece of paper. This opens a
“window” where more writing can be added.
Anticipating reader’s questions
You can ask the following questions to allow the student to consider the readers.
What questions might your friends ask if you read your story to them?
What information have you left out that they will need?
Sharpening a Lead
Ask the writer, have you reread your lead? Does it do the job of grabbing the
Common Writing Conferences in Fifth through Eighth Grade Classrooms
Using a timeline
Suggest that the student put together a simple time line to make the important
events in the story.
This conference could take place while the student is brainstorming or in the
middle of drafting
Focusing on the MIT (Most Important Thing)
Ask, what is the most important thing in the story?
You can ask them to write another draft with this new focus.
Slowing down a “hot spot”
Help the student to identify the climax or “hot spot” of a story.
Have the student slow the spot down by expanding it, adding details, dialogue, or
Selecting authentic details
Invite the student to talk about the topic.
Tell those details back to the student. If they are not already there, suggest that
the details are incorporated into the writing.
Most student writings are plot driven. Have the student slow down and bring alive
Ask, Could you take a moment to describe what your character looks like?
Additional Conference Tips
Keep Conferences Short
Frame one issue, discuss options, and make your exit.
Go Beyond What is on the Page
Help the student discover those parts that have not been written down through
Get Students Involved
Read the student’s story aloud. The teacher listens hard and follows the student’s lead.
You could say, “I can help you be a problem solver in your writing. However, it would
help me if you are a problem finder.
Ask the student to put an asterisk next to the part that works well and a circle in the
margin of the part that needs more work.
Know Your Tastes
It is important to know your own tastes so you can appreciate those students who may
write well in ways that are different from you.
Tell the “Story of your Reading”
When you do not know what to say, try to be a mirror and let the student know what
happens when you read their writing.
Don’t Get Into a Power Struggle
If you are going to confer well with your writers, you will need a generous heart, a long-
range perspective, plenty of tact, patience, and stamina. A sense of humor does not hurt.
Remember: There is no magic conference.
The Writing Cycle
The writing process or cycle is not a program but a .cycle that writers go through as they
write. The writing process is messy and nonlinear. Described in separate consecutive
stages, but the fact is that writers move fluidly in and out of these stages.
This stage is also called rehearsal or brainstorming.
Prewriting should be a help not a burden for writers in school. Show your students
various ways they can rehearse their own writing. Let them decide which one, if any, they
find to be the most helpful to their writing process.
Writer’s Notebooks encourage kids to “live like a writer” and can be used for rehearsing,
planning, sketching, and wondering.
Fluency, along with risk taking, is the foundation of a writing workshop. To increase
fluency encourage kids to get a chunk of writing on their paper. They should put away
the editing tool sat this stage. Replace the term “sloppy copy” with “best first draft” to
describe what is expected fro students during this stage.
Kids are not eager to revise. They think that this stage is a way to fix a bad piece of
writing, when in fact, revision can be a way to enhance a good one.
We can show kids alternatives when revising their writing.
Change the beginning
Change the ending
Add a section
Delete a part
Change the order
Change the genre
Change the point if view
Change the tone
Change the tense
Slow down the “hot spot”
Focus on one part
Break a large piece into chunks or chapters
Keep the following in mind as you suggest ideas for revisions during minilessons, writing
conferences, and share time.
When your students publish writing you need to make sure the writing will be “reader
Create an editing routine with a checklist.
Teach students the editing routine.
Diagnose student needs
Teach skill in an editing conference
Writing is a form of communication. Provide opportunity for students to have an
audience for their writing. Most times teachers provide the purpose and audience for
student writers, but it is important for kids to find their own purposes and audiences, too.
Rereading is crucial, and many students do pay attention to it.
Tell students, “You should be the best expert in the world on your own writing, and the
way to do that is by rereading it over and over as you write.”