Writing Workshop

A writing workshop is a block of time set aside in the school day to focus exclusively on the writing process.
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Updated on: March 1, 2007
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Mini Lesson

The mini lesson is a critical part of the writing workshop. It is a teacher's chance to directly teach a particular skill, concept, or strategy to the group at a time when it is most needed and will be of most use. Sample mini-lesson topics include writing strong leads, developing interesting characters, descriptive writing techniques, editing, how to give useful feedback, and reasons to write: to inform, to persuade, or for personal expression.

Writing and Conferring

When conferring with students, start by asking them what they are working on, and then listen. What actually happens in a conference will depend on what a particular student needs. Don't try to get to every student every day, but be sure that you have an individual conference with every student on a regular basis. Some teachers keep a checklist, a sign-up list, or another record-keeping system to ensure that they have had time with each student at least once or twice a week.

The long-term goal of a writing conference is to provide each student with the tools to improve his or her own work and to provide help in looking critically at the writing.

Lucy Calkins discusses conferring with young writers in her 1994 book, The Art of Teaching Writing:

In order for young writers to learn to ask such questions of themselves, teachers and peers need to ask them of young writers. Teacher-student and peer conferences, then, are at the heart of teaching writing. Through them students learn to interact with their own writing (Calkins 1994).

Peer Response and Editing Groups

As the writing workshop progresses, students can begin to form peer response groups to provide feedback about one another's works-in-progress. As students begin to bring their pieces to completion, establish peer editing groups that focus on mechanics such as spelling, grammar, punctuation, and capitalization. Peer editing can serve as the second level of editing after students edit their own work.

Group Share Sessions

Many teachers end their workshop time for the day by having some form of group sharing. A few students can share a significant piece or excerpt of a story that they are working on. For example, if the focus of the day's mini lesson is leads, you should encourage students to share their favorite leads of stories they have written.

Publishing and Publication Celebrations

It's important for writers to bring works to a formal conclusion by publishing their pieces. Stories can be published and added to the classroom or school library or submitted to a Web site that features student writing. In addition, a letter concerning a community issue can be sent to the local newspaper. Inviting other classes, faculty, parents, and/or community members to a celebration of students' writing validates the students as authors.

How Can You Measure Success?

Overall success of the writing workshop can be measured by the depth and quality of your students' writing as they progress through the year. As you confer with individual students, take note of their progress and challenges; this will give you a clear idea of what next steps they need as developing writers. Portfolios can also help to document students' progress in writing throughout the year. The portfolio should include a student's final published pieces as well as various drafts of some pieces to show the evolution of their work.

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