During my travels and presenting at conferences around the country there is one question that I'm most often asked, "HOW can I teach my kids to write ?" Many teachers are intimidated by the thought of teaching writing, and they often ask, "Where do I begin?" The answers to these questions are really quite simple. Model what writing looks and sounds like and provide your students with opportunities to write each and every day. Each session of Writer's Workshop begins with a whole class mini-lesson that typically lasts about 10 minutes. The units are broken down into units of study so that we are zooming in and focusing on one type of writing at a time.
When you take it one step at a time, you will soon see that writing isn't intimidating at all. Your students will love writers workshop time and so will you.
Step 1 Start Writer’s Workshop From DAY ONE
Students learn to write by writing. Little ones see themselves as writers long before they are even able to put letters and words on a page because they understand that the meaning comes from their pictures. Embrace that first step in writing and celebrate the success of your students as you encourage them to add more details to their pictures to help them "write" their stories.
In the picture above you will notice that the student drew a picture of a scarecrow and then labeled some of the parts. The meaning comes from the picture. When I asked her to tell me about her story she said, "This is a scarecrow. She stands in the field to scare the birds away from the corn."
Can you find the meaning of the picture above? I'll give you a minute to look closely at the details and see if you can figure out what this little writer was trying to let the reader know.
Did you figure it out? Do you see the Spider-Man t-shirt that this little one is so proud of?
"I got a Spider- Man t-shirt." He even attempted to use some words in his writing by using the word wall as a resource.
Step 2 Be Consistent
Students need time to write EVERY day. Writer's Workshop at the beginning of the year may only last for three minutes, and it might be a hot mess. :) Each day through consistent routines you are helping your kids build their writing stamina. "Boys and girls yesterday we were able to exercise our writing muscles for three whole minutes!!! WOW! I'm so proud of you. Do you think today we can exercise our writing muscles and build four minutes of stamina?" You will be amazed in a few months when your students can sustain their writing for 30-40 minutes.
Step 3 Have HIGH Expectations
During Writers Workshop time we write. Every.one.of.us. The expectations are clear. We learn to write by writing and we:
1. Work on stamina and write the whole time.
2. We use tools to help us write.
3. We add details to our writing.
If a student is finished before writing time is over, we have them go back and add more details to their writing. We are building the expectation that writers do their best work, add details and sustain their writing. Otherwise, you may get a few scribbles on a page and see lots of paper wasted. In later units, we will allow them to start a new piece.
Step 4 Allow Your Writers to Choose Their Own Topics
Katie Wood Ray says it best, “By definition, writing is about having something to say, and it is the writer's right to decide what this will be, to decide what she wants to say. At the very heart of writing well is personal topic selection. Topic selection in writing is also rigorous curriculum; it's what writers out in the world really have to do.”
AMEN, Katie! I could not agree more!
If you want kids to be passionate writers, then you simply have to let them write about what they are passionate about. How excited would you be if someone gave you a paper that told you to write about how to wash a car or a journal prompt that you told you to write about riding a school bus? Not.very.exciting.at.all! and let's be honest, when you give students writing prompts they will write for about five minutes, and they are d-o-n-e! Writer's Workshop is not writing to a prompt. It is about becoming real authentic writers who write for a purpose.
Think about how excited your students are when they get to school in the morning and have something to tell you. It's the same for Writers Workshop. Students can't wait to write about learning how to ride a bike or about getting a new Spiderman t-shirt.
Step 5 Please Don’t Spell For Your Students or Write On Their Work
Students will need an environment where their efforts and approximations will be encouraged and applauded. They must feel safe to take risks as they embark on their writing journey. If you start out spelling words for your students, they will use you as a crutch, and they may never become independent writers. Just tell them from the very beginning to try their best.
Jennifer Jacobson, the author of No More “I’m Done!” states, “… in writing, participation and risk-taking are more important than being right.” You will want your students to see you treat writing as a fun and exciting time of the day, where it is okay to make mistakes and the only expectation is that they “try their best.”
Writing on their work- the principal of this goes right along with not spelling for them. We want our students to see themselves as writers. If you write on their work, you are telling them that their approximations aren’t good enough.
Let me give you an example, my six-year-old granddaughter, Madison wanted to do some “work” when she was at my house last summer. So I gave her some writing paper, and she proceeded to write a wonderful book about pigs. She read it to everyone who would listen, and we told her we were so proud of her. Wow! What a great book! However, when her Dad came downstairs he looked at the pages as she read, and he pointed out some of the words that were misspelled. I immediately saw her little shoulders droop and she looked at me and said, “Deedee, I don’t want to write anymore. I don’t know how.” Please do not do this to your little authors. If you want to make notes so that you will remember what their writing says do it in your conferring notebook or write it on a post it note. Hold precious their approximations and celebrate each and every milestone. By the end of the year, you will be AMAZED at their writing growth.
A few pages from Madison's pig book.
I hope this post about Writer's Workshop was helpful to you. If you'd like to have the mini lessons, anchor charts and management pieces all done for you, Deedee and I have Writing units. You can check them out by clicking on the images below. We have them available in individual units as well as a money saving bundle. These units are perfect for K-1 students.
I'd love to hear your thoughts, questions or comments.
Have a great summer!!