So… to be honest… there are WAY more than 5 things you need to know about writers workshop. But I hope this will get you started!
I have been reflecting on the questions I get asked most frequently when I do presentations on writers workshop. Here are the some of the biggies!
I will start right off by saying writing prompts for writers workshop are not considered best practices.
Don’t take my word for it… let’s hear from the experts.
Matt Glover writes in his book, Engaging Young Writers:
Topic choice is perhaps the most important source of energy for writing… If we want children to become passionate about thier writing, then allowing (and encouraging) them to choose topics that matter becomes crucial. p 42-43
Lucy Calkins writes in the Art of Teaching Writing:
Writing allows us to hold our life in our hands and make something of it.
She goes on to say:
This is how I write. I take a moment, and image, a memory, a phrase, an idea – and hold it in my hands and declare it a treasure.
And finally, Jennifer Jacobson states in her book, No More “I’m Done!” discusses practices that foster student independence. Prompts = Dependence:
If you have been providing your students with prompts each day, then they are likely to have difficulty at first. This is because choosing a topic takes practice (and all the more reason to for offering choice).
So yes, I do not give my students prompts to write about during writers workshop. Yes, I do think it is important for a student to think about a prompt and respond to it. THIS is done as a reflection of reading, not writers workshop.
“WAIT,” you may say, “I have all of these PROMPTS!” Fantastic! Put them in your student writing center. Your class can work on them during center time.
Naturally, student choice requires many mini-lessons on how writers get ideas. Perfect Segway…
The Best Story ever is a great book about writing about what is most important to you.
Good Dog Carl reminds us that we can tell a fantastic story… even without words!
Red Rubber Boot Day shows various illustrative techniques. Perfect for our little friends who convey meaning through pictures!
Ralph Writes a Story is about a boy who has trouble finding his story!
Open Ended Pieces
I get asked, “Do they do one page a day?” “Do you all finish at one time?”
My students write in books. This means that after we have completed the first 20 days of writers workshop, we move into writing books. Students are given a book that has a cover and 3-4 pages attached to it.
Students add or delete pages as needed. These are mini-lessons that I teach throughout the year. When they are finished with one book, they start another. Again… mini-lessons surround knowing when you are done with a piece… but students are able to manage this on their own.
Some students might finish a book in 3 days, some need longer.
Teacher is the spell checker
Don’t DO IT! You will foster dependence. I simply say, “What sounds do you hear?” This is a hard habit to break. You can’t spell any words for them. Sincerely! You might say, “Can you check your word list/word wall.” BUT if you spell one word… you are doomed.
Like I said, at the beginning of the year, they will fuss at you… especially the most capable students. They want to be RIGHT! Let them struggle through it. It is in the struggle that independence happens!
Not too long ago I was working with a kindergarten classroom. They did not know me from the man on the moon. I was there to talk to them about setting writing goals. This was their very first time hearing about goal setting. Look at their faces. You would have thought I was telling them that we were headed to Disneyworld! I was excited about it… THEY were excited about it.
Big Question: How do you teach students to write, when they don’t know letters or sounds? (So there are 6, but this one is important!)
My school was probably no different that most. I had students who had zero kindergarten experience. Didn’t know their colors… didn’t know English. I get it! BUT they can tell a story! They tell their story with pictures. Let’s look at this piece of writing from early in the year.
You might say… “Hey… that is not what it says!” Katie Wood Ray tells us in her book, In Pictures and in Words, that we want to help students tell their stories. At first, they tell their stories in pictures. Over time, when their transcription skills develop, they will add words to their stories.
Oh! My! MERCY! This is a long post. I hope you can tell how much I LOVE writing. I have SO much more to say. I would like to invite you to join me in some follow-up discussions. This will be an on-line series (FREE). If you are interested, please sign up below. I even have a little gift for you in there!