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Writer's Workshop

What Is a Writer’s Workshop?

Writer’s Workshop is a highly effective format for process writing instruction that incorporates authentic practices within a consistent structure. As students write within the Workshop model, they have an array of choices that may include (but are not limited to) topic, genre, ideas, organization, and tone. Students then move freely and at a comfortable pace through the writing process. Some students might move through the steps sequentially. Others might forge their own path, skipping or repeating steps in a unique progression. In the Writer’s Workshop classroom, this is normal, natural, and encouraged.

In such an environment, it is common for one student to be prewriting while another is drafting (and yet another may be revising). The Writer’s Workshop helps teachers oversee and support each student’s writing process while also facilitating sharing and feedback in a variety of groups, such as peer-to-peer, peer-groups, and teacher-led conferences. How is this extraordinary combination of authenticity, flexibility, and oversight possible? The secret to Writer’s Workshop lies in its unique structure and routines.

Common Elements of a Writer’s Workshop
 

Time

The craft of writing takes time, so students should be allowed to work at predictable times and for predictable durations so that they can practice and internalize the steps of the writing process. A successful Writer’s Workshop is far more processoriented than product-oriented, so it is expected that students will take varying amounts of time to complete writing projects. When students can’t complete an assignment by a deadline, they typically put their unfinished work into a folder to revisit and complete at a later time. Students who finish early may return to previously unfinished pieces from their writing folders, or they may choose to begin the writing process anew with a fresh topic. The Writer’s Workshop provides ample time for all writers. Space

Effective arrangement of space within the Workshop classroom is essential. Desks, chairs, and other furniture should be arranged for comfort, safety, and access to materials (paper, pencils, and writing folders). It’s also important to plan for students’ frequent movement around the classroom as they group for sharing and conferencing. In a Writer’s Workshop, even wall-space is carefully planned, featuring a variety of student work samples, and helpful reference materials (like charts and signs featuring workshop routines, the writing process, the six traits, or writing strategies).

Mini-lessons and Focus Lessons

Mini-lessons are short (about 10 minutes) and focus upon a specific writing skill. In a typical mini-lesson, the teacher will:

  • Activate students’ prior knowledge
  • Directly instruct a skill
  • Model the skill
  • Engage the students in discussing or practicing the skill
  • Connect the skill to other learned writing skills

Focus lessons are similar but are used to introduce larger, more complex topics. For example, a focus lesson may be used to introduce students to a new mode, genre, or trait of writing.

Models

As students learn to write, it is critical that they view, analyze, discuss, and emulate a variety of writing models. One type of modeling occurs as the teacher becomes a writer in full view of the class by composing and thinking aloud. This is perhaps the most important and indispensible form of modeling. Other kinds of models include mentor text— quality literature and student writing models—which may be used to teach how specific traits, genres, strategies, or steps of the writing process function in published text.

Choice

In a Writer’s Workshop, teachers may gently guide students’ choices, but topics are not “assigned.” Depending upon the nature of the task and the mini-lessons provided, students may also choose how to manage a wide range of writing variables such as genre, main idea, supporting details, theme, organizational structure, and tone. Choice is encouraged and supported in the Writer’s Workshop model.

Conferences

In a Writer’s Workshop, students will confer frequently with a variety of readers. Conferencing supports the writer with authentic responses that may help shape and develop the composition. When writers conference, they learn to listen to the wants and needs of the reader—an important skill that leads to excellent ideation, precise word choice, and appropriate organization and voice. A few common types of conferences that take place during a Writer’s Workshop include:

Teacher-led conferences typically occur during independent writing time. During this conference, the teacher meets individually with students for approximately two-to-three minutes each. One main goal of teacher-led conferences is to help students reflect upon their work and consider revisions to make the writing more effective.

Peer-group conferences take place throughout the writing process. While groups may vary in size, three-to-five students is considered ideal.

Peer-to-peer conferences may also occur throughout the writing process. During these conferences, students share their work with individual classmates and receive authentic feedback.

Whole-Group Sharing

While conferencing certainly incorporates an element of sharing, it is important to also provide an opportunity for writing to be celebrated. (Some teachers use an “Author’s Chair” for whole-class sharing.) While it is perfectly acceptable for members of the student audience to comment and ask questions, the main purpose of this type of sharing is to validate and praise the author’s accomplishments.

A Typical Schedule

A Writer’s Workshop lesson unfolds in three parts:

Mini-lesson and Status of the Class (10 -- 15 minutes)

Following the mini-lesson (described above), the teacher and students take a moment to note where students are in their individual writing processes and to determine what students will work on.

Independent Writing Time (30 -- 40 minutes)

Students work independently. Teacher conferences also take place during this time.

Sharing (5 -- 10 minutes)

Students participate in peer-to-peer or peer-group conferences. Whole-group sharing may also take place.

Strategies for Writers Supports Writer’s Workshop

Time

Students can work at their own pace in Strategies for Writers. Student Writing Partners are introduced at the beginning of each unit and speak directly to your students in a friendly, first-person voice, guiding them through the steps of the writing process.

Space

Classroom poster set includes useful reference material to display in your Writer’s Workshop classroom, including rubrics, steps of the writing process, and the six traits of effective writers.

Mini-lessons and Focus Lessons

Each lesson features:

  • Explicit instruction for all steps of the writing process and for each of the six traits
  • A clear, trait-specific writing goal supported by a clearly explained writing strategy
  • Trait-specific revising and editing strategies for targeted mini-lessons, including multiple mini-lessons for conventions
Models

Accessible student writing models are provided and annotated for genrespecific composition strategies. Each lesson rubric helps student identify the trait-specific strengths in the writing models. Mentor text exemplars for each mode and genre are listed in the Teacher Edition.

Choice

Flexible lesson prompts allow students to choose their own topics. Authentic purposes for writing are established to increase student engagement with the writing task. “Apply” sections encourage students to use what they’ve learned as they continue to work on their own compositions.

Conferences

Students develop a common writing language for conferences as they work with the student-friendly rubrics before they start writing. “Reflect” sections provide questions that students can ask and answer during peer-to-peer and peer-group conferences. Suggestions for peer-to-peer, peer-group, and teacher-led conferences are included in the Teacher Edition.

Whole Group

A variety of publishing and presentation suggestions promote creative options for students to share their work with the class or other audiences.

Test Prep in a Writer’s Workshop

In Strategies for Writers, even test preparation writing lessons support the Writer’s Workshop model. Test writing lessons use the same workshopsupporting features described above. They also contain direct instruction to help students analyze writing prompts and scoring guides like the ones on high-stake assessments. Each test-writing lesson contains full writing process instruction and results in an authentic composition.

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