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Writing Workshop: Instruction & Assessment for Grades K–6

Writing workshop is the place where real writing happens—students spend a good amount of time with pencil/pen to paper crafting pieces. But it’s not just writing for writing’s sake or creative storytelling. The workshop “learning while doing” approach uses the tools and techniques that teach the skills elementary students need to become successful writers across all genres.

Teacher in classroom

What Does K–6 Writing Workshop Instruction Look Like?

Writing workshop instruction uses written pieces such as mentor texts to model good writing practice and covers all elements of the writing process.

Planning, Thinking, Drafting, Editing, Publishing

Writing workshop also teaches K–6 students to be proficient in the different modes of writing

  • Narrative
  • Opinion
  • Informational

and to use writerly techniques and tools.

Finally, writing workshop instruction includes plenty of opportunities for teacher and student assessment.

So…How Do You Actually Go About Teaching With a Writing Workshop Approach?

The following sections help to break writing workshop instruction down and demonstrate that adopting a writing workshop approach for K–6 is not only practical (builds a foundation for good communication skills) but also empowering!

Mentor Texts explores the importance of exemplar text for writing workshop, including how to use mentor texts in your lessons, the role they play in establishing a welcoming classroom community, and why they can help students become risk-takers in their writing.

Grammar and Conventions examines how workshop balances instruction on the “rules” around writing with opportunities to craft original pieces and practice self-expression.

What Are Craft Moves? introduces a writing workshop term for something you already do in your own writing—apply different techniques to enrich and inform writing style.

Assessment covers an extremely important—and sometimes misunderstood—element of writing workshop. Watch a three-part video conversation to learn how efficient and effective writing assessment within workshop can be.

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Live a Writerly Life!

Children in classroom

Mentor Texts in K–6 Writing Workshop

The importance of mentor texts for good writing workshop instruction cannot be understated. You could say that they are the workhorses of workshop!

A good mentor text can be referred to over and over in a workshop classroom. They serve as the foundation for teaching students to first read like writers, then write like readers.

Picture This—Why Picture Books For Mentor Texts?

Picture books often make wonderful mentor texts. They cross different genres and present content and ideas in digestible portions. At first glance, picture books might seem too “young” for students in upper elementary grades, but in fact they provide excellent models for aspiring writers!

  • Shorter stories encourage a focused plot.
  • Fewer words require authors to be conscious of word choice.
  • Many picture books contain striking illustrations that add depth to the text.
Book covers

Selection of mentor texts included in Jump Into Writing! curriculum.

Mentor Texts, SEL, and Building a K–6 Classroom Community

Creating a classroom community where all students feel comfortable expressing their opinions, feelings—and especially their writing!—is integral to the success of writing workshop. It is important for students to feel respected and recognized, and that their experiences and voices are valued and heard.

Mentor texts represent an excellent opportunity to introduce a diverse range of characters, stories, truths, experiences, and realities into the classroom. Students may see themselves reflected in a narrative, or find their interests piqued by an opinion piece or an alphabet book! Increased exposure to different voices doesn’t just help students expand their horizons as writers; it also can help to increase empathy and openness toward others.

Mentor texts can also help teachers set behavioral expectations for different parts of writing workshop lesson.

  • During the minilesson, while teachers read or instruct from the mentor text, students learn to listen quietly and think about applications to their own writing.
  • Peer conferencing can be an opportunity for students to return to texts to talk about a writer’s specific technique and share their thoughts—encouraging good communication skills.
  • Independent writing is time for students to focus on their work and themselves. As they progress through lessons, they will build stamina as writers and develop good concentration and critical-thinking and writing skills. Ultimately, they’re gaining confidence in their abilities to express themselves and establish a unique voice!

You can find more resources around SEL and building a writing workshop community in Establishing Your Writing Community Through Workshop.

Additionally, the assets below provide thoughtful, actionable tips for further exploring the role of mentor texts in writing workshop instruction. Resources include a look at how mentor texts center instruction in Jump Into Writing!—Zaner-Bloser’s writing workshop curriculum for grades 2–5.

Grammar and Conventions in K–6 Writing Workshop

Students don’t just learn to write in writing workshop—with the right instruction they can learn to write well. Many teachers in upper grades find that by the time students arrive, they haven’t learned the fundamentals of grammar or writing conventions. Or, if they do recognize terms such as “noun,” “pronoun,” and “verb,” they’re not quite sure how the rules and mechanics surrounding them—so essential to helping students convey meaning and establish voice in a piece of writing—translate to the actual writing process.

With a well-organized writing workshop approach, teachers can cover the writing process AND the writing particulars, introducing and applying key grammatical concepts and terms.

  • Sentence structure
  • Parts of a speech
  • Punctuation
  • Tense
  • Usage
  • Mechanics

By introducing grammar as part of writing workshop in the early years, schools can establish a strong foundation for the future.

Exposing young students to modes of writing during workshop is also an opportunity to teach them that there are types of writing suitable for different media—and that words have value, meaning, and purpose. What a thumbs up or an emoji communicates in a text won’t translate into an informational piece—especially when research or proof is essential! Students can learn that it’s fun to play with words and take ownership for how they use them.

Can You Use Mentor Texts For Grammar Instruction?

Grammar is a natural fit with writing workshop. Because teachers are constantly modeling good writing with the mentor texts, it’s a great opportunity to show how authors employ rules and conventions seamlessly.

Grammar & Writing Workshop: A Work in Progress

During writing workshop, students focus on just a few written pieces over time. This approach is great for reinforcing grammar concepts and conventions. Students write, rewrite, edit, and return to their pieces often, providing lots of opportunities to try different techniques.

The stepped-out workshop process is also an opportunity to introduce proofreading marks and practice self-editing! You can encourage students to peer edit pieces at different times, too. Remind students that writing is a journey of discovery and development—not just a destination.

The assets below can help you incorporate active, engaging grammar instruction into your writing workshop classroom. Watch, download, share, and read!

Teaching Conventions and Grammar
Teaching Conventions and Grammar

Learn how mechanical correctness is taught, practiced, and reinforced in workshop lessons—and a way to introduce students to proofreading.

Proofreading Marks

Share a visual reminder of commonly used proofreading marks and what they mean to writers.

Editing Checklist page
Editing Checklist

Share a handy list of reminders for students to consider before finishing a piece of writing.

What Are Craft Moves?

Craft moves are the tools and techniques that writers use to improve and enhance their writing. When teachers use mentor texts as exemplars for instruction, students are encouraged to imitate and try different writerly techniques in their day-to-day writing and in the writing process in general.

Writing workshop incorporates the recognized characteristics of good writing.

Check boxes with words next to them. Voice. Ideas. Conventions. Organization. Word Choice. Sentence Fluency. Presentation.

During writing workshop, students learn how to use craft moves to incorporate characteristics of good writing into their pieces.

Craft moves are applicable to fiction AND nonfiction writing. See Power of Craft Moves below for a list of different types of moves and how they work across writing modes.

Craft Moves, Mentor Texts, and Writing Workshop

Not surprisingly, craft move instruction fits perfectly within a writing workshop approach. Just as teachers use mentor texts to illustrate different grammar concepts and conventions, they can use the same texts to introduce craft moves and provide examples of good writing.

During the minilesson (whole-group instruction), teachers can point out how a writer is using a particular craft move to enrich the piece—whether it’s using inner dialogue to create empathy for a fictional character or citing sources to strengthen the power of an argument.

Craft moves are also a great topic for conferencing. When suggesting ways to improve a piece in progress or assist a student who might be stuck on direction, returning to a mentor text to revisit—or introduce—a technique or tool that might have been overlooked can be very helpful. Remind students that it’s okay to borrow moves from an author! As they become more familiar with new moves, they can eventually learn to make them their own.

Learn more about craft moves, how to teach them, and ways to help students achieve the qualities of good writing using the assets below.

Assessment in Writing Workshop

Assessment isn't grading! It's ongoing, it's daily, it's guides instruction to move writers forward. -Stacy Schubitz, Co-Author, Welcome to Writing Workshop

The purpose of writing assessment is to inform instruction that helps students become better writers while providing encouragement and support.

Assessment is built into the writing workshop approach. Because students focus on one or two pieces over a period of time, they are continually assessing their progress. Assessment begins even before the writing process begins with the process of setting measurable goals for the unit!

Child writing on paper

Setting Goals in Writing Workshop

Establishing goals is an important part of workshop. Journaling, brainstorming, and ideation help students set the stage for what they want to accomplish. Keeping a writer’s notebook separate from their writing pieces creates a resource to revisit during conferencing and throughout the editing process to ensure they’re staying on track.

Ongoing Writing Assessment

Over the course of a writing workshop unit, students should be writing, editing, revising/reworking, and refining their main writing piece. All of these steps are types of assessment—both self-directed and performed with the guidance of the teacher!

Using Rubrics and Forms

Checklists, rubrics, and forms can help students stay on track and provide more formal records of progress. Written teacher notes are helpful for students to return to as they refine and rework their pieces.

Assessment in Writing Workshop: Three-Part Video Series

It’s time to establish a process for assessment in your writing workshop classroom. Where to begin?

A three-part conversation between Welcome to Writing Workshop authors Lynne Dorfman and Stacey Shubitz explores the different types of assessment, the qualities of good writing, and tips for helping improving writing mechanics in a positive way.

Assessment in Writing Workshop Overview

Understand why and how to implement an assessment program in your writing workshop classroom.

  • What are the different types of assessment?
  • How often and when do I assess in writing workshop?
  • How do you help students with self-assessment throughout writing workshop?

Assessing the Qualities of Good Writing During Writing Workshop

Build and develop a repertoire of strategies and techniques that will help student writing grow and progress over time.

  • What are the qualities of good writing?
  • How do you narrow the focus for assessment in writing workshop?
  • How is progress measured in writing workshop?

Assessing Mechanics and Grammar in Writing Workshop

Learn how to balance assessing a piece of writing’s content and style with the mechanics: the grammar, the spelling, and the punctuation.

  • Why are conventions and mechanics necessary for writing?
  • How do you avoid an overemphasis on grammar and rules when assessing writing?
  • How do you help students with editing and proofing their work during workshop?
Superkids Schools Conference. 2021 Connect and Inspire.

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  • Suggestions for resources to include or cite
  • Topics you’d like to see covered
  • Ideas for upcoming writing workshop webinars
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