Setting up writer’s workshop need not be complicated.
Make the process easier by implementing the following key components.
Related: For engaging activities that your elementary students will love, see our page of high-interest teaching strategies!
Key components of writer’s workshop:
- Independent Writing/Conferencing
The exact time given to each component is approximate and will vary based on the needs of your writers.
Part 1: Mini-Lesson
Writer’s workshop begins with the mini-lesson.
A mini-lesson is a short introductory lesson that introduces the skill or strategy that you want students to be able to apply during independent writing.
It’s a whole group activity, so all learners gather on the carpet. Having students remain at their desks is perfectly fine, too.
A short list of possible writing mini-lessons…
- Procedures for writer’s workshop (taught at the beginning of the school year and as needed)
- The elements of (insert any writing genre)
- Read aloud book with examples that show targeted writing skill
- Brainstorming using writing graphic organizers
- How to use a editing checklist
- Effectively using a revising checklist
- Strong verbs
- Adding vivid details that “show and not tell”
- Organizing a writing piece with a beginning, middle, and end
- Grammar skills (e.g. semicolons, dashes, etc.)
- Writing an effective lead
- Writing a good conclusion
- Generating ideas
- Any trait from the Six Traits of Writing framework
And the list goes on…
Before you begin the mini-lesson, hook students by grabbing their attention.
What will you do to peak their interest in the lesson?
Read-aloud books are great for this as well as showing authentic student samples that demonstrate the targeted skill.
Part 2: Independent Writing/Conferencing
The second element in the components of writer’s workshop is independent writing/conferencing.
After the mini-lesson, the young authors go to their table groups or individual writing spaces and begin writing dependently.
It’s time to put those skills and strategies into practice.
Students continue drafting a previously-started piece or begin a new one.
Within independent writing, students follow the writing process:
Writer’s workshop is an ongoing, differentiated writing process, so each learner will be at a different stage.
As they publish one piece, they start another.
Some students may abandon a piece of writing before publishing, and that’s okay if the writing is not a required piece that will be formally assessed.
For details on how to manage this component of writer’s workshop well, take a look at these practical tips for conferencing during writer’s workshop.
What is the teacher doing while students write?
You’ll conference with students either one-on-one or in small groups.
During individual meetings, target the specific writing needs of each student.
Target specific elements, skills, or strategies that present a weakness for that particular student.
Praise application of skills, observe signs of understanding plus offer feedback.
Devote about 5-8 minutes of conference time to each student.
Try to conference with everyone at least once during the week.
On the other hand…
Small group conferences are strategically organized based on all the writers in the group sharing a similar writing need.
Determine these groups beforehand when lesson planning for the week. Groups of no more than 4 are ideal.
Sample One-on-One Student Conference Dialogue
Teacher: Hi Johnny. What are you working on today?
Johnny: I’m wrapping up my personal narrative piece. I peer-edited with two classmates yesterday – Raúl and Samantha. I think I’m ready to publish.
Teacher: (after looking over piece) Wow Johnny! Your lead is so engaging and really grabs the reader’s attention.
I also like how well you used transitions throughout. Great work!
I see you’ve applied the feedback from our last meeting. What I’d like for you to do is take this piece of writing, or another piece that you’ve been working on, and change at least three verbs to make them stronger.
Johnny: Like we did in our mini-lesson today?!
Teacher: Yes! Exactly! Let’s take a look at your paper. Take your colored pencil and circle three verbs you think could be stronger.
Johnny: There. Done. Now I’ll go back to my writing space and brainstorm synonyms for these verbs. I’ll use my thesaurus.
Teacher: Absolutely. Keep up the good work, Johnny.
When we meet again, I think you’ll be ready to publish or maybe already in the process of doing so.
During this strategic conversation such as this, take mental notes and/or jot down important information about the student’s progress.
Maintain these notes for use during progress and report card writing time.
Quick Tip: At the end of the week, while reviewing student notes, if you notice a recurring skill or strategy that a significant number of students are struggling with, make it a mini-lesson in the coming days of writer’s workshop.
What questions are good for prompting discussion during a writing conference?
The questions you ask students during conferencing will vary, again based on the needs of each student.
- How well are you moving through the stages of the writing process with this piece?
- Is there a skill/strategy you need help implementing?
- Have you found any good writing strategies from mentor texts that you’d like to use in your own writing?
- How can I help you today?
- What success have you had with a writing piece this week?
- Any thing particular you’d like to focus on during our conference today?
Part 3: Sharing/Author’s Chair
Once independent writing and conferences are complete for the day, everyone meets once again on the carpet for sharing.
For a detailed guide on writer’s workshop sharing, read about author’s chair expectations.
The sharing component is time for students to share their writing and receive constructive feedback from peers.
Student volunteers share, or you can use a sharing schedule where each student shares at least once before there’s a repeat.
Sharing is ideally done from a chair that you’ve designated as “author’s chair”.
The other children remain on the carpet as active listeners.
After the student shares, consider using the TAG method.
Three separate classmates offer the following…
T= Tell one thing you liked about the writing.
A= Ask one relevant, thoughtful question about the piece.
G= Give a suggestion that will help to improve the writing (or give a compliment).
While the student shares, take anecdotal notes for reading fluency or any other targeted writing skill that you can informally assess while they read.
After T.A.G, one or two more students share if time permits.
As you prepare to launch writer’s workshop, be sure to include these 3 key components.
There’s no need to over complicate things.
The most important aspect is the content that you bring to students plus how well they implement the writing skills and strategies within that content.
Happy teaching and learning