My Top Tips for Kindergarten Writers Workshop
I’ve been teaching the writing workshop model to kindergarten students for a long time now. I have also spent a considerable amount of time teaching teachers how to manage and find success with their writers’ workshop time.
I can’t wait to share my top tips for teaching writing to young students. Regardless of the writing program you use, I hope these tips help to spark joy during your students’ independent writing time.
What is the Writer’s Workshop Model?
The writer’s workshop model is when you set aside a block of time each day to teach writing to the whole class. Throughout the year, various units of study are taught and practiced by the students. The workshop is comprised of three major parts: mini lesson, independent practice, and share time.
- The Mini Lesson This is when the teacher gives explicit instruction of the craft of writing. The teacher may use a modeled writing lesson or interactive writing
- Independent Practice – Students then build their writing stamina as they write independently. The teacher confers with students and guides them towards their next step as a writer.
- Share Time – A few will students share with the whole class from the share chair, then each student will share with their writing partner. TIP: This is a great time to help build oral language.
Kindergarten Writers Workshop Tip #1
Student Choice is EVERYTHING!
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 their 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, in her book, No More “I’m Done!” discusses practices that foster student independence.
“Prompts = Dependence If you have been providing your kindergarten class 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).”
Remember, generating their own ideas is part of the writing process.
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. Cue tip #2
Kindergarten Writers Workshop Tip #2
You Need Great Mentor Texts
As a kindergarten teacher, I am a natural hoarder. So I have a few books!
There are many types of mentor texts. There are those that spark writing ideas such asThe Best Story Ever by Eileen Spinneli. This book reinforces the idea that writers should write about things they are interested in.
Books like Good Dog Carl by Alexandria Day and Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie DePaola reminds us that we can tell a fantastic story… even without words!
One of my latest favorites for near-wordless books to use as a writing mentor text is the book, Dude! by Aaron Reynolds. The illustrations are fantastic and your emerging writers will love it!
If you’d like some additional mentor text suggestions you can find a list on my blog:
Kindergarten Writers Workshop Tip #3
The Writer Should Determine When They are Done
I spend my time training teachers on emergent writing instruction. Without fail, questions about the length of the student writing is on the top of the list!
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. They are not married to a certain number of pages. Some books are 4 pages long. Some are 7 pages long. The writer decides when they are done.
Again… writing 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.
Kindergarten Writers Workshop Tip #4
Be Fearless and Model Your Own Writing in Front of Your Students
Out of a week’s worth of writing mini-lessons, 4 out of the 5 days, I’m writing in full view of my students. During this time, I am thinking out loud to review what writers do. I am modeling the writing behaviors I want to see my students incorporate in their own writing. Skills such as:
- Rereading to know what I have written and what I need to add.
- Planning books across pages
- Being a fearless speller and putting the sounds I hear down.
- Be thoughtful in my illustrations
- Walking in the footsteps of other authors and illustrators
- And a million other mini-lessons
Sometimes I ask students to share the pen with me, sometimes I do all of the writing myself. This photo was taken while I was working with a district on launching writers workshop.
This was during the first 20 days of writers workshop so we are still doing a single page. By the end of the year, I am modeling writing pieces that include 10-15 sentences because that is my expectation.
Kindergarten Writers Workshop Tip #5
Let. Them. Draw.
If we only define writing as transcription, the authors like are Aaron Reynolds, Tomie DePaola, and Tomie DePaola not writers?
You see, your students have been writers long before they entered kindergarten. That circle (that looks like a tick) is their mom making cookies. The squiggle lines are how fast they ran.
For young children at the beginning of the school year, those random strings of letters carry meaning. These approximations are a fantastic resource to help guide your writing workshop time.
It tells you EXACTLY what your students can do and what your next teaching points should be.
We don’t want to wait. Continue to nurture the writer they are. Celebrate their ability to tell a story. Transcription skills will come in time. When they are ready to add letters and words, they will already see themselves as a writer.
Remember to do a lot of model drawing and directed drawing to help students strengthen their muscle memory and gain confidence.
Kindergarten Writers Workshop Tip #6
Do. Not. Spell. For. Them.
Seriously, don’t do it. We need to reflect on the purpose of writers workshop. Is it to improve the writing or is it to improve the writer? HINT: It is to improve the writer. Here is what spelling for a student says to them, “You still need me.” We all want writers that are independent.
We want writers who consider word choice over the words they know how to spell. Writer’s workshop time is when individual students get to explore with language.
Don’t worry, you will have plenty of time to help them with their spelling during your phonics and Science of Reading lessons.
Boy! Oh! Boy! Your students will initially fuss at you for not spelling for them. There may even be tears. These tears come from wanting to be right! Here is what you should do instead.
- Create lots of mini-lessons where you model stretching out words.
- Create lots of mini-lessons where you assure them that approximation is embraced.
- Model how you are conflicted between using words that you know how to spell vs words that are more descriptive and interesting.
- Create mini-lessons where you use school tools like your word wall or sound wall to help you discover the sounds in words.
- When you confer with students, reinforce or reteach these mini-lessons.
- Know your students. There is no point in asking a student to encode a word or phonics chunk if they are incapable of decoding that same sound. Meaning, if a student knows 12 letters, there is no point in trying to explain digraphs.
Kindergarten Writers Workshop Tip #7
Do Not Correct Their Writing
This tip loops back to tip #5 and #6. Correcting a student’s writing (or writing on their paper) tells the student, “Nope, not good enough.” Remember, our goal is to improve the writer, not the writing. We use their past writing efforts to know what we need to teach them next.
When you confer with a student, do this instead:
- Notice and name something they are doing well. “I am noticing that you are really making smart color choices. That is amazing because writers and illustrators do this too. They want to be sure their meaning is clear. You have done that beautifully.”
- Teach them something new. “Can I show you something else writers do? Writers also use letters to help make their meaning clear. [Points to the page with their dog, Scooby]. I’m wondering if you could do what other writers do and put some sounds down?”
- Invite them to try it out. If the student puts down the write letter… WOOT! If they put down the wrong letter, that is okay too. Students will only be able to put down the sounds they hear IF they have letter/sound knowledge.
You can learn more about how I run my writing conferences by clicking:
Kindergarten Writers Workshop Tip #8
Investigate, Not Interrogate
My school was probably no different than most. I had students who had zero kindergarten experience. They had a hard time sitting still or knowing 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.
I start every student writing conference this way, “Tell me what you are working on.” At first, they will look at you and say, “Um… writing?” In time, they will quickly shift and you will hear your language repeated back to them. “I am working on spaces in my writing.”
But sometimes when you sit down to confer with a student, you might be thinking that their writing looks like scribbles!
But check this out!
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.
Kindergarten Writers Workshop Tip #9
You know the expression, “Fake it until you make it.” This is true about our behavior around writing instruction. Your students like what you like. They pick up on subtle and not so subtle cues that we give off.
I will be honest with you. During the first few weeks of school, when I start writers workshop it is HARD. It feels a little like wading through mud and you think you never get to the other side… and then you do!
As a reflect, every beginning of the year feels this way…right? Your inner voice wonders, “Who is in charge here?” because it does not feel like you are the leader of the band. Everyone is doing playing drums (loudly) to their own beat. Then… it all comes together and you have moments of harmony.
This is the same with teaching writers workshop. You will tell your kiddos, “This is going to be amazing!” and after a few weeks, it really is!
Students love what you love.
As you can tell, I love to teach writing. If you’d like more information on kindergarten writers workshop, here is a great place to start:
Writing Through the Years – Writers Workshop Print and Teach Writing Curriculum
We know you are busy and having one more thing to plan may feel overwhelming. Don’t worry… we’ve got you covered.
Our writing units are so easy to follow and will save you so much time. We have taken the guesswork out of planning with a lesson sequence that will take you from the first unit to the last.
These are written for primary grades by teachers with detailed, scripted grade level appropriate lesson plans at are quick and effective. We have multiple grade levels to meet your needs.
- Writing Writers Workshop: Writing Through the Year for Kindergarten and First Grade
- Writing Writers Workshop: Writing Through the Year for Second Grade
What is the best book to purchase, as a Kindergarten teacher, for getting started with writers workshop in K?
In my opinion, I would start with the Matt Glover book for kindergarten. Then Katie Wood Ray! Lucy is a MASSIVE book! Like Anna Karenina-MASSIVE!
Thanks so much. I will look into those two on Amazon.
Thank you for validating how I do Writer’s workshop! Thank you also for sharing and encouraging us!
You are welcome! Thank you for commenting! I appreciate it!
I like the series of books that start with “Journey” by Aaron Becker. He has some of the most engaging illustrations and wordless storytelling I have ever encountered. I use the series to have children tell me what the words for the story should be. The process reinforces that stories can be read or even told solely through pictures. And it also bridges the gap of simply illustrating stories into illustrating and then writing words. Thank you for your work and resources in this area. Our district didn’t address writing in Kindergarten in their curriculum, even though they expect children to be well versed in writing once the year is over. Thanks to your work I have been ahead of the game and been using workshop for 3 years. Now that district is rolling out something similar, it is a very easy transition.
Thank you so much! I certainly love talking about writing! AND I love JOURNEY!!! LOVE it!!!!
Are you using F.A.S.T in this picture above? I just see the alphabet on your wall and we use it at our school, but I feel it is too slow for K. How did you adapt to using it along with your guided readers phonics? Is there any sort of alignment?
Hi there! The photos of me in the classroom was a room that I was visiting for writers workshop.
So I am not really sure how her phonics were used in her classroom.
I do honestly like the speed of introduction for our Guiding Readers phonics.
I know I LOVE your guided readers, i have used it the past 3 years or however long you all have had it out! My school uses FAST which is based out of CO, so I just noticed this, but I find it to be SO slow for K. They don’t teach the letters with the sounds, and they don’t introduce the silent e until April/May and that is the only rule they get into and barely touch on it.
I was just curious, so I will stick to your program!!
Hi Mrs. Wills ??♀️ You are amazing!! Just curious… do you have your Kinders write on lined paper – similar to First Grade? Thank you for ALL you so much for caring ?
Kay Senn from Wisconsin ?
Oops. Thank you for caring so much ?
Yes, we use lined paper, but we don’t use paper with the mid-line.
Would you mind sharing the reason you don’t use mid-line? What are you thoughts about blank paper to write on, in kindergarten?
Mid-line paper is great when you are working on letter formation. So I use them when we learn the path of motion and handwriting. When we are working on composing messages, our focus should be on forming our ideas, so a mid-line is not included for those tasks. Does that help?
Thank you! My oldest this method but my youngest won’t brave spell. Everything has to be perfect. With school out for covid, I’m going to develop our own writers workshop. Thank you for the great ideas.
Hey there! You used to have a resource that said “Author at Work” at the top that was a letter to parents about inventive spelling, but I can’t find it! Do you still have that resource that you can share? I think now more than ever (with kids at home with parents all day) it is so important to send home!! Thank you!
YES! You will find that letter in each of our writing units. 🙂
I have a question about filing. Do you send papers home when they are done or file them for the year?
I actually sent home papers at the end of unit of study. We held onto 1 sample each month to add to their portfolio, but the rest went home with the parent letter from that unit of study that explained what their child was working on. We displayed their published work for the month. It was wonderful to see them grow.