What Is It?
Kids learn to write by writing, so the bulk of a writing workshop consists of...writing! A writing workshop is a block of time set aside in the school day to focus exclusively on the writing process. Writing workshops take various forms, but the basic components are the same. In most cases, a writing workshop consists of a mini lesson teaching a particular skill or concept, a much larger block of time devoted to writing and conferring, and an activity that allows students to share their writing with the group.
Why Is It Important?
To help students learn to write, give them time to write. The writing workshop allows students time to work through the entire writing process—from first drafts to revision to final published pieces. Donald Graves, in A Fresh Look at Writing (1994), discusses the need for ample writing time in this way:
If students are not engaged in writing at least four days out of five, and for a period of thirty-five to forty minutes, beginning in first grade, they will have little opportunity to learn to think through the medium of writing. Three days a week are not sufficient. There are too many gaps between the starting and stopping of writing for this schedule to be effective. Only students of exceptional ability, who can fill the gaps with their own initiative and thinking, can survive such poor learning conditions.
When Should It Be Used?
Many teachers plan for their writing workshop at a time that is least likely to be interrupted, but it can be scheduled for any time during the day. The workshop should be a consistent, structured, uninterrupted block of time where students can concentrate on the writing process. Some teachers prefer to schedule the writing workshop just before or after the reading workshop to provide an extended literacy block. In this way, a teacher can take advantage of the reading and writing connection by extending and transferring the skills and concepts learned in one workshop to the other.
How Can You Make It Happen?
Although the writing workshop won't look exactly the same in every classroom, many elements are common. The simplest structure for a writing workshop starts with a mini lesson and a much larger block for writing and conferring.
A "typical" writing workshop might look like this:
Teacher conducts mini lesson on a specific skill or concept (5-10 minutes)
Students write while teacher confers with individual students (45-60 minutes)
Selected students share completed pieces or works-in-progress with whole group (10-15 minutes)
Students complete final edits and publish their works when they are finished.
The keys to a good writing workshop include scheduling it regularly so that students know that they will have a given amount of time to develop their pieces. You may think you need a highly creative, ever-changing environment to stimulate young writers. The opposite is actually the case. Lucy Calkins, in Lessons from a Child (1983), found that children thrive best when they can depend on a set structure within which they can work:
It is significant to realize the most creative environments in our society are not the ever-changing ones. . . . They are deliberately kept predictable, so the unpredictable can happen (Calkins 1983).
Materials for a writing workshop often include a writer's notebook, which is a place for students to collect thoughts, ideas, questions, and wonderings from which longer pieces will grow. It is a place to experiment and make mistakes.