Student Writing Conferences Tips and Tricks
After just a few months of writers workshop, you can start to see growth in your kindergarteners’ writing. Student conferences are some of the trickiest part of being writing teachers. In my own classroom, I often felt inadequate when it came to giving feedback to my student writers. Through my own work in the classroom, I hope I can guide you towards confidence when it comes to your individual conferences with your young writers.
What is a student writing conference?
A writing conference usually takes place during your classroom’s independent writing time. It provides the opportunity for you to quickly assess your students’ needs. Then the teacher identifies teaching points and provides writing instruction on one of those teaching points. The goal is to help create better writers. Remember, it is not about changing the writing, it is about changing the writer. In other words, you will not be correcting their writing, but rather supporting the individual student to write better tomorrow.
What is the purpose of a writing conference?
Let me share the words of the great Donald Graves, “purpose of the writing conference is to help children teach you about what they know so that you can help them more effectively with their writing.”
I will repeat this sentiment about 37 times in this blog post.
How many students should I confer with each day?
The first step is to create a schedule of the individual students you will meet with each day. Displaying this schedule is a great tool to help you stay on track. It will also let your students know when theirteacher-student writing conferences will take place.
- I had 20 students and I needed to meet with EACH of them once at least once a week. Therefore, I met with 4-5 students a day. My struggling writers would often get a mid-week check-in.
- Every student is at a different place in their writing development. (SEE the free Continuum at the end of this blog post.) Therefore, I need to have a clear idea of what my students’ next steps for writing are. There is no point in expecting a beginning runner to run a marathon the next week. The same is true with emergent writers.
- Conferences work best when they are predictable and consistent.
What happens at a writing conference?
Remember that the purpose of the conference is to improve the writer… not necessarily the WRITING. This is not the time to correct their work. This is the time to select ONE skill that you think would elevate them as a writer. Now there might be 10 things barking at you, but you should limit your teaching point to one (or two things). Then follow this predictable structure:
- Investigate, “What are you working on?”
- Notice and Name, “I am noticing you are doing ________. That’s great because that is what writers do.” Give the student meaningful feedback. This positive feedback is a great way to make sure the student will continue to the work of a writer.
- Teach, “ Can I show you something else that great writers do? ” They always agree. At this point, you may reteach a mini lesson you previously taught to your whole class. In general, I don’t introduce new concepts during the conference time. Of course, there are always exceptions.
- Confirm, “So what do you think you might do?” You want to be sure the student understood the suggestion and knows how they will apply it.
What Should I Say During a Writing Conference?
As an elementary teacher, there are so many things to balance. The idea is to quickly review a piece of writing, then provide a little gem of knowledge to drop into the student, and magically, you have a better writer, all under 5 minutes. Easy … right? I wish…
If you start with a conversation about the writing versus asking the student to read their piece, you will have a better idea of the writer’s intent. Remember, you will want to help them be a better writer as a result of your writing conference. It is not about correcting their writing (I just can’t help repeating myself.) When you are looking at a student’s writing, let’s see if these words help with your conference.
If you see unfocused writing try:
- What are you trying to tell the reader?
- What do you want the reader to know?
- Are there parts you could add to make your meaning more clear?
- Why is this part important? (if you see something that does not appear to belong. It might actually be wonderful but a little more clarity might be needed.)
- Let’s put this paper to the side and just tell me more about what you are writing about.
You want to have the student tell more in their writing:
- Tell me more about ___________?
- What else happened here?
HERE WAS MY STRUGGLE: I sit down to confer with a student and I get overwhelmed. I know I need to get to 4 students in a 20 minute period, but I am not sure where to begin with my little writer. I listen to them read their story and my mind is racing with various teaching ideas and I’m distracted by the chatter that is happening at the table next to me. When the child is done reading their piece… I mumble… good job and wander away.
What a waste of time! I found that I really needed more time to sit with a student’s body of writing to develop a plan. I came up with a system!!!! It is called…
Deedee’s Practical Guide So You Won’t Lose Your Mind During Student Writing Conferences!
I may be still working on the title, but the important thing for you to know is I have a solution!
Let’s assume it is Monday
Matt, Caleb, Suzi, and Lidia will hand in their folder when writers’ workshop is over. They will just put it on my desk and we move on to the next subject of the day. During my prep (ha! I mean after school), I look over those 4 students’ bodies of work in their writing folders. I think about where they are on the writing continuum and I think about their next steps.
I have finished my writing mini-lesson and excused my students to go write. NOW Matt, Caleb, Suzi, and Lidia will stay on the carpet with me for a few minutes while I hand out writing goals. This takes about 5 minutes tops because I am prepared. I am not teaching anything new… just reminding them of things they should remember in their writing. It might sound like this:
Matt: I am noticing you are doing a great job with your illustrations. Fantastic! I am wondering if you could work on using colors that make sense?
Caleb: I love you are writing sounds that you hear. I am wondering if you could try to write more than one sound for each word?
Get the picture? It is FAST. 5 minutes TOPs for all of them. Once I have handed out my goals (which I put on a sticky note for them), they go off to write and I confer with those who are scheduled to meet with me.
I will confer with Matt, Caleb, Suzi, and Lidia and look for EVIDENCE that they have attempted the goal I set for them the previous day. WOW! Talk about focus! If they did… fantastic! I might have them continue to work on that until I meet them again. If they did not, my conference is a perfect time to reteach this skill. Of course, I always have the opportunity to teach something else instead.
You can grab your own free copy of the system along with a writing continuum. You’ll find that information at the end of this blog post.
Take Quick Notes During Writing Workshop
I can not tell you how important this is. My conferring notebook is simple. At the beginning of the year, I make t a spiral notebook and add a tab for each student. I write their names on the tabs after the first few days of school. I use the 3M tabs and give each student 3-4 pages for the year.
In my opinion, you don’t need a special conferencing sheet or conferencing form. The conference notes will be a way to reference back to see which writing skill you asked your student to work on. Simple. Here is a peek at my own writing notes.
Here is the deal… your notes are for YOU. They help YOU keep track of this particular writer. Don’t panic… write it down in a way that makes sense to you.
- I usually put the title or subject of their writing. Example: Park with brother
- If I set a goal for them, I put a “G.” Example: G: Colors that make sense
- If I taught them something, I put a “T.” Example: T: Add beg. and ending sounds
- Then I can add other noticings. Example: Needs more help with ideas (this will help me for future goal setting).
Sharing During Writing Time
Sharing is such an important part of writing. In kindergarten, THEY all want to share every day. However, if the entire class shared every day it would take forever and we don’t have that type of class time. Instead, we have a very focused share time. The students that I conferred with that day (4-5 students) share their writing pieces with the whole class.
I do this because I can be on hand to support them and remind them of the new learning they practiced during our conference. It makes the whole group share time focused and efficient. It is also a sort of BONUS mini lesson! Students can hear again how spaces are important in their own writing or how they can tell more on a page by adding simple sentences to go with their illustration.
THEN the rest of the class shares with their own writing partners.
Soon, when you set up your whole group writing share time this way, you will hear students give specific feedback to their writing partners like, “I like how you used colors that make sense, because now I can tell that it is you.”
Kindergarten Student Writing Samples
Let’s take a closer look at some student writing samples from mid-October. I want to keep a few things in mind. At this stage of the writing process and student development we are working on personal narratives. We are also working on telling the story across pages.
(please excuse the red line through the middle of the scanned images… tech fail!)
We talked about creating a cover that grabs the reader’s attention… Love the roller coaster!
Great details in her writing!
Here is another example from a different student.
We also talked about keeping our titles short! Atta girl!
She told about the various things she did there!
I am excited that her story clearly has a beginning, middle, and end. She also included her favorite parts!
Learn More About Writing
I’ve written a blog post or two in my time.
You can learn more about writer’s workshop by reading these articles.
Writing Through the Years – Writers Workshop Print and Teach Writing Curriculum
Are you looking for easy to implement writing with daily lesson plans? We have the perfect solution. Our writing units have been used by thousands of teachers since they were first written back in 2011.
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.
FREE Writers Workshop Conferring and Continuum
Simply add your email to the box below to grab your free file!
Excellent post. We have a long ways to go yet. Be each day our stamina is building. More and more kiddos are trying to stretch their words. Thanks for sharing your students' progress.
great post and not too long! 🙂 I like the way you organized conferring with them. You make it seem easy but I know it's all about organizing it! Thanks!
Oh my word! Your kinders are FANTASTIC writers. I have so many babies that struggle with letter sounds (ie they don't know any or very few)…how do you encourage those kiddos in your classroom?
The Fabulous First Grade
Sometimes it helps to show them that they know them in other areas of your instruction… Like in guided reading and you have them write a sentence with you. Maybe you read a predictable text (level B or C). Then you can take that sentence and turn it into their own sentence. We did that today. We read a text that has "I can run. I can jump…" So my student wrote their own. I asked them to start it. They used the book for support. I reminded them that "can" was also on our word wall. One wrote, "I can ride my bike." but it looked like. "I can r m b." We had a little celebration. You just start them where they are. Does that make sense?
You also have to make them less dependent on you. I must say 100 times a day, "Just write the sounds you hear. Does it have to be perfect? No, just do your best."
I really like the anchor charts. I have Unit 1 but have really struggled with being successful with Writer's Workshop. I definitely need to attend one of your presentations. Thank you so much for all the amazing resources you share.
We are smack dab in the middle of Unit 2! My kinders will be adding their 2nd and 3rd pages this week. 🙂
Where did you get your Anchor Charts from? I have the 1st Writing Through the Year Unit and I don't remember seeing those! If you made them do you have a link?
Where do you find the larger pieces for the anchor charts? I like the ones pictured here. I have the ones from the unit that are 8 1/2 by 11 but would love them big enough to use on my chart paper. Thanks so much!
We don’t offer them anymore. I’m sorry! When we revised the units, we went to the easy prep single pages. If you email me, I will see what I can do!
This post is just what I needed! I have been hesitant to start conferring because I didn't have a clear picture of it in my mind. You've given me encouragement and a way to organize it. Thanks so much! You are my "go to gal" for PD so please keep sharing!
You are welcome! My kinders were so excited when I shared this page with them today. They all wanted to know when it would be their turn. I hope to have more examples to share in the following weeks!
How do I get the writing continuum??
You enter your email in at the bottom of the blog post. File will be sent to your email inbox.
I love this post and it came just at the right time for me. We are getting ready to start Unit 2 next week! I was a little worried my students would struggle with writing a book, but I have 100% faith they can do it now. I am also excited to start the conferring. I am a little worried though, I have 24 kids, so I will have 6 groups. Do you meet with only 3 groups a day? Would you recommend meeting with the lower level groups every other day and the higher groups every 3rd day? That is where I find my frustration. 🙁 I am not sure how often I should be meeting with each of my groups.
Hi Ashley, No… I just do a quick check in with a groups of 4 students (no more than 5 minutes total) and I confer with 4 others. The rest of the students will rotate in. Yes, it looks like you will need 6 groups. That is okay. It is better to have quality over quantity conferences.
I started using a version of your conferring schedule after learning about it in Vegas and I have to say THANK YOU! It has helped keep me accountable for actually conferring with my students! I am loving it!
The Land of I Can
Oh Yay! Heather!!!! I am so happy to hear it is working for you!
We have to use Lucy Calkins Reading and Writing Workshop and we have a schedule we must stick to. So I don't think I can add anything to supplement at this point. However, my conferring is severely lacking. I really appreciate you explaining your system to me. I need to be more strict about my conferencing. I get so wrapped up in roaming around that I forget to sit down and call them over!
Happy to help friend! HINT: If you post it… they will hold you accountable to sticking to it! Ha!
Okay, so your conferring strategy questions were genius! I bought a cheap, but pretty composition book and wrote those questions at the top of the page and then called them over. I did it individually. I zipped through the kids and loved how much I learned in such a short period of time. How do you manage it in a small group? Do you have similar questions for reading conferring? How often do you progress monitor? Sorry to ask so much, but you really have me thinking!
I love your writing units! We are in the middle of narrative writing. Some days I am overwhelmed with the great divide of skills though. I have some students building meaningful stories with readable sentences and other students scribbling and writing random letters if anything. Are the stories too much for these littles??
I know if feels like it at this point of the year… but I remind myself that they already know how to tell stories. They tell them to us all the time. We need to convince them that writing is just telling on paper. For those who do not have letter/sound relationships yet, they can tell their stories with scribbles and random letters. What I watch for is this: Do their random letters and scribbles have meaning for them? What I mean is … If I ask them today about their writing and they tell me it is about going to the park with their sister, do they tell me the same thing tomorrow? Or do the random scribbles mean nothing to them. If they are mindlessly scribbling, there will be little meaning. My job for these little guys is to teach them that pictures carry meaning, and as a writer they have the power to tell a story. Some come to this sooner than later. However at this point in my year (Day 51 of school) all of my students have it. NOW our job is to make our meaning clear to the READER! We will work on that for the rest of our lives… right?
Through pushes and nudges we will guide them towards clarity. That is where the power of mini-lessons and conferences come in.
Here are my little posts about writer's workshop. 🙂
That looks amazing! At first I about had a stroke when I saw their writing because I thought it was from this time of the year. Ha! I about hung up my writing hat!
Isn't it so fun to see the progression!!!
I don't see the large version of the Reading Like a Writer poster in Unit 1 or 2 like the one you showed here, is that in a different unit?
Can you email me? [email protected]
Do you have a list of the standards each unit covers? Thanks!
If you look on my side bar you will see a document that shows the CCSS correlations. You can grab it (It is right above my posting history)
Also, does this follow the lucy caulkins books at all?
We did not have the LC books when this was created. Ours was completed by May, her grade level books came out in June (I believe). That being said, it is a workshop model so many of the ideas and practices are going to be compatible I think.
Can you please explain the Story Hand? We are beginning Writer's Workshop tomorrow and have only had one training session so far. We (there are 10 K teachers in my school) are suffering from information overload. We also begin a new reading program tomorrow. Thank you so much.
Your information is great! Do you have any posts on Unit 1 and the setting up writer's workshop. I am trying to be the best for my students in their writing. It is first year I am doing correctly hopefully Writer's Workshop.
I will do a post next week on writer's workshop!
This is an amazing post with a lot of great ideas. I did a google search for kindergarten how to writing, and this popped up. So glad to find it!
Thank you Cindy! I love teaching writing! It is probably my MOST favorite thing!!!!
Do you have a copy of the board you use to show which students are handing in their folder, goal setting, etc.? I have all of the writing through the year units but did not see that resource in any of them. I LOVE the way it is organized and wondered if you could share that resource. My email is [email protected] if you are able to share. Thanks for sharing your ideas and expertise!
Hi there! I offer that as part of my on-line training on Writers Workshop. This is simple… it is a series of 5 emails that trickle out over a 2 week period (roughly). So simply, put your email in the box below in this post and you will be on your way 😉
Can I purchase the writing conference cards (on the ring) ? If so, where?
Yes! The conferring cards are part of the Writing Through the Years units. You can find those units in the link below:
Writing Through the Year: Complete Writing Curriculum
Great post! I would love a copy of your conferring schedule. Your writing units are amazing!!!!
You can find the box at the end of the post to grab it 🙂
Your system for conferring is so clear and organized and is the first way I’ve seen conferring done in a way that makes sense to me and makes me think I can do it! I am interested in your online training on Writer’s Workshop.
Thank you so much for being willing to share your expertise and inspiration!
You are so welcome! I hope this helps!!!
I am using your curriculum for the first time and have questions. I am trying to understand the timing. If we are trying to build stamina, is the timer’s purpose to have kids work longer until the timer goes off and give a goal for kids to stretch themselves to? Or is it just to keep the lesson to a certain time? There are some kids in my class who can go for a long time! The drawing can actually take a while with some of them. Do we tell them to try to add words to their writing at a certain point? When they are not finished by the timer and put their work in the Green side of the folder,will they remember what they were writing about the next time we write? Do you find five days a week is too much?
Hi there! Let’s see if I can answer these questions for you.
Timer: At the beginning of the year, the timer serves as a goal to help build stamina. As the year progresses, my students could write for a huge amount of time, so the timer worked more as a way to keep us from spending the entire day writing (ha!).
Writing/Drawing: At the beginning of the year, students spend 95% of their time drawing in kindergarten. Around mid-September, I start to nudge them to add sounds, but they are still spending a significant time of their illustrations. Slowly but surely, they progress towards letters and words, but they need prompting and modeling. Our lessons help guide you towards moving students towards transcription.
Not finished work: I have not had a problem with students forgetting what they wrote. Again, our lessons help students pick a topic they feel strongly about, so they don’t tend to forget what they are working on. Five days is not too much because SO MANY skills are practiced during this time. Reading and writing are such reciprocal skills that it is a great use of our instructional time.
WhAat do you with the kids that will just sit and not write or draw if you are not working with them?
We have mini-lessons that address working long and strong. I also am conferring about the room, so I can tell who is working and who is not and gently prompt them. When I confer with them, I look at the body of the work they had finished since the last time I met with me, so there is no surprise. This was never an issue for me, I guess because through the lessons I taught, my students were excited and engaged and they were writing for their own enjoyment, not because I assigned writing. The mini-lessons and modeling are KING! I hope that helps.
What do you use to teach the letter sounds? I’m looking for something that has a visual and action and I’d rather not reinvent it.
Our Engaging Readers has the letter instruction in them 🙂
The way that you organize conferences is different than methods I’ve seen before, but I like the 3 step approach that you take. I think that our kinders definitely benefit from having a goal put in place, and giving them a day to work on that goal before conferencing is a great idea. Thank you for sharing!
You are so welcome! Let me know how it goes!
i love the schedule for conferring with each different group. Could i get a copy of that template?? Thanks so much for all the helpful information…
Yes, you just need to put your email in the box at the bottom of the blog post. Then you will get an email from me with the download link.
Could I please have a copy of the writing conference stuff? Thank you sooo much!!
You bet! You just need to follow the directions at the end of the blog post. You will see a box where you will put your email. Then the file will be sent to you. Thanks.
DeeDee I am trying to use this bog post for a class. I need the publish date. Can you help Please? Thanks. This has some great info.
Hi there! Here is the publishing information:
Published on: Oct 29, 2013