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Writer's Workshop: Five Steps to Get Your Little Ones Writing

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 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.  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 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?!  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!!


  1. Thanks so much for sharing! I am planning to use these units with my son in our homeschool this year and am so excited to get started! I know you say not to correct spelling during this workshop but is it okay to correct things such as beginning a sentence with a capital letter, using spaces, and ending with a period? Thanks!

    1. Absolutely! You will model this and talk about during your mini lesson by thinking aloud about what good writers do. Also, when you do the conferring part you would first notice and name something that he is doing a great job at and then you can choose one teach! So you might say, "Wow, I love how you are adding so many details to your pictures. Could I show you something else that great writers do?" "Great writers always leave spaces between their words so that it is easier to read. Let me show you what I mean." Then, you could model it for him on your paper and say, "Let me see you try that." Thanks so much for your comment and question! I hope that helps. :)

  2. Thanks for this post! I love writing workshop (my school uses Lucy Calkins) but struggle to have students working hard and working quietly the whole time. Next year, I think I'll structure it like building stamina for Daily 5 - starting off slow and letting it naturally grow.

    1. Liz, Going slow is the key! In the beginning, when you see the first child start to get off task end Writer's Workshop time. The goal is to try to add one or two more minutes of stamina each day.

  3. I have used these "Writing Through the Year" units since they came out and I LOVE them! :) They are based on "best practices" and are set in a very "do-able" format and are very easy to understand and implement. As a former literacy coach, I would sometimes struggle to find appropriate resources which helped my teachers "bridge the gap" between theory/research and classroom implementation....but these units truly do exactly that! If you are considering switching to a workshop model of writing instruction, these units are a MUST HAVE! :)

    1. Holly, You are THE sweetest! Thank you so much for your kind words. We are so happy that you love the Writing units! Have a great summer!!!

  4. Thanks for sharing! I just went to a Lucy Calkins workshop this week, and writing has been on my mind! I have 2 questions...when students write, do you specify a certain genre they should use? Second, I love giving students a chance for free writing, but I also like to do structured writing about topics we are learning about (for example...writing about the presidents or telling how a pumpkin grows). When do you fit in this kind of writing? Thanks!

  5. Love all your ideas, but what ideas can you give me to begin writing in prek? how early should I begin and how?

  6. Great tips. I love the workshop model.
    Grade School Giggles

  7. I am changing grade levels in the coming year. We had poor writing curriculum for our old standards when I started teaching 9 years ago. Now, since the adoption of CCSS, we have NOTHING. Everyone is scraping by to figure out what to teach (did we go backwards in time?). I am looking forward to finally having a resource that is tried and truly works!

  8. I agree with you that students must write EVERY DAY-and also across content areas! On the other hand, I have the toughest time with allowing them to choose their own topics. I used to do a lot better with that, actually! I also like your idea to build stamina, just like we do in reading. Thanks for the post. It's got me thinking! -Stephanie Applelight Moments By Stephanie

  9. I begin my first year teaching this August and the school I am working at used the readers and writers workshop model. I have never used it so I am a bit nervous. I am so grateful that you and other experienced educators are willing to share their knowledge and wisdom. This post has been very helpful and answered a lot of questions I have been coming up with as my summer months dwindle away and my first year teaching draws near. Thank you so much for your help!

  10. Mini Lessons are just great. Only a few sentences with a focus. I use them everyday before we do the rest of our writing. We use the middle of our writing book and fold back the page to a point. We use the most wonderful book on writing by Sheena Cameron called The Writing Book. It has many different writing ideas for mini lessons and inspiration for other writing. It also explains the process of writing. We also use apps for writing such as pic collage, Create a book, Life cards and others. We publish this on our blog. We don't write in genres but use them to write about what is happening in the children's lives and at our school. We call all our writers authors. I teach 8 and 9 year old children. I teach in New Zealand and Sheena is a New Zealander.

  11. Thank you for the wonderful information! I can't wait to check out the units! I use writer's workshop in my classroom and I do write on the pages when I send them home for parents to see. Normally I write things like "Great use of detail! Don't forget your periods." This is a way for me to communicate with both the students and parents about the student's writing (in addition to conferences with the child). The last thing I want to do is deter them from writing. Should I stop writing on the paper? One idea I had is to make a form to go home with the journals celebrating the successes and making note of an area of improvement. What do you think? Any suggestions? Thank you :)

  12. Thank-you for the reminder to NOT spell words for students! My mantra from day one is, "I don't spell words for first graders." It doesn't take too long for them to stop asking, but as soon as a substitute comes in and spells for them, I'm inundated with requests! Great post!
    Not very fancy in 1st

  13. Hi Deanna!
    I love your new blog!

  14. Hi Deanna!
    First let me say thanks so much for all the hard work that you do to help us kindergarten teachers out. You are truly a blessing and have really changed the way that I teach!
    I have been a faithful follower for many years now. I have almost all of your units! Your nonfiction units are my favorite! They are how I teach most of my science and social studies. I really like the writing pieces that come with them. Do you still use those? If so, how do you fit it all in?
    I do have the bundle of writers workshop units and have used them some, but have not been as faithful as I should be. I know my kids would be better writers if I more consistent with those! Can you help me figure out how to get it all in?
    Thanks again for all that you do!
    PS I am in love with the Guided Math units by you and DeeDee Wills!!!

  15. Thanks for a wonderful inspirational blog! Love the advice never to write an the student's work or to spell words for them.



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