Writing Conferences

The writing conference is a one-on-one strategy, that takes place between the student writer and the teacher.
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Updated on: March 8, 2007
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When Should It Be Used?

Individual writing conferences occur at any grade level where students are involved in independent writing projects. Many teachers try to have an individual conference with every student at least once a week.

Teacher-student conferences generally occur after a brief focus lesson launching the writing workshop and when students are working individually on writing projects.

What Does It Look Like?

Generally, at the beginning of the writing block, teachers will gather the class and conduct a focused lesson with the whole group. Often, teachers, especially in the younger grades, will engage the class in whole group discussions in which they model the kinds of questioning and discussions that they want to encourage later in individual conferences. Many teachers use a "thinking aloud" strategy with a piece of their own writing, asking themselves questions about the work-in-progress out loud so that students learn to question their own writing.

Next, in a typical writing workshop, students work on individual writing projects while the teacher roams with a clipboard and a conference checklist, conferring briefly with as many students as possible.

When conducting writing conferences, the "golden rule" is to listen to the student. Teachers experienced with writing conferences focus more on the writer than on the writing. Many start the conference with a question such as, "Tell me about your writing." They then enter into a natural conversation with the student, telling what they understand, asking questions about what they don't understand, asking for more information or detail about something that piqued their curiosity, or posing other probing questions about the student's writing.

Carol Avery (2002) lists some questions she typically asks students, yet she makes the point that every student is different, so specific questions will vary:

  • What is happening in your story?

  • How did you get that idea?

  • Will you put that information in your story?

  • Can you tell me more? I don't know much about...

  • When this happened, what do you remember most?

As you listen to the students talk about themselves as writers and about the pieces of writing they are working on, you begin to get a sense of where you want each student to go from here in his or her writing. Of course, previous conferences and your overall knowledge of the student will help you provide feedback that will move the student forward. Often, the needed feedback is very simple: "Keep going!" or "Write down what you just told me." In fact, simple, specific, and focused feedback is generally much more effective than complex or grandiose feedback, especially for younger writers. Think about what you want for that student as a writer. Where do you want him or her to be, and what is the next step to help him or her get there?

If you are new to writing conferences, just remember it is important to provide encouragement and good, focused feedback and to leave each student with a direction, a particular issue to concentrate on, or strategy to try out. At first, keep it simple! Feeling comfortable with writing conferences takes a little while. In time, you will gain confidence, learn to relax, and begin to talk less and listen to the student writer more. In time, you will learn to trust the fact that you know your students and can provide them with what they need to become better writers.