The Basics of Writing Workshop

A writing workshop is a structure for teaching writing in which students are provided with time to write on topics of their own choice.

Creating a writer’s workshop in your classroom can feel overwhelming at first, but after careful organization and management, your classroom will practically run itself during writing time. A workshop can help a writer to become a pro essay writer and succeed in doing all school or college tasks. There is much to learn about teaching young writers, but implementing the basics of a writing workshop is a great place to start.

Creating a Topic List 

The purpose of a writing workshop is to teach your students to become independent writers and have them write for real authentic purposes. Begin by having students create a running list of topics that they are interested in or things they know a lot about. In her book, Units of Study for Primary Writing [Heinemann, 2003], Lucy Calkins suggests that for primary age students, it’s easiest to start with small moments, or things that have happened to them, such as a trip to grandma’s, or the bumpy bus ride home, or catching fireflies in the evening.

Writing workshop is a different format than what most students are used to.
In a classroom where a writing workshop isn’t being utilized, the teacher usually supplies the topic, and then students write on that topic until finished. In the writing workshop, students will be provided with a block of time in which to write on topics of their choice. When they complete one piece, they will begin work on another. Because of this, you will want your students to have several topics on their list and encourage them to continue to add more ideas as the school year goes on.

Mini-Lessons: 10-15 Minutes

Students need to be taught the process of how a writer’s workshop will work daily. The start of workshop will begin with a mini-lesson. You will essentially be teaching the students strategies and skills for becoming writers. They can be used to teach such things as Where Writers Get Ideas, how to Use Dialogue in a Story, or simply to teach editing skills like When to Add an Exclamation Point! Mini-lessons can also be used to teach about a specific genre of writing like personal narrative or nonfiction. Most importantly the mini-lessons should be taught based on the needs of your students.

Materials and Time: 20-40 minutes

After the mini-lesson students will engage in writing for an extended amount of time. Using a two-pocket folder works well for students to keep completed work on one side and work in progress on the other. According to the paper helper, blank sheets of lined and unlined paper will need to be available for students to use to create their books. Procedures for getting and using materials will need to be established at the beginning of the year.

During this block of writing time, you will want to confer with your students. This simply means meeting with them one on one and discussing what they are working on. After listening, give them “two gifts and a wish.” Start by telling them two things that you like about the piece.

Then only offer one suggestion to them for improving their piece.

Sharing Time

After having students write, gather them on the carpet and allow them to share a completed piece of writing by sitting in the author’s chair. By providing a real audience, students will have an authentic reason for writing.

Allowing students, the gift of choice and time during writing workshops are two key motivators for inspiring students to love writing. Don’t allow yourself to become overwhelmed with all the details of implementing this structure. Start simple and slow with these basics and gradually learn as you go. You’ll find that the benefits of the writing workshop will be worth it.

Maria Colombo
Maria Colombo
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