Pure Literacy

Back to School Series: Launching Writing Workshop Part 1

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Hi Everyone and Welcome Back!

This month I’m hosting my second workshop series! This time it's a Back To School series full of tips to help jump-start writing workshop in your new school year!!!


Seriously is it almost time to go back? Those of you who have been following me for a while know I am a huge admirer of Lucy Calkins. Lucy and her esteemed colleagues at Teachers College Reading Writing Project are right up there on my literacy leader pedestal with others like Marie Clay, Debbie Miller, Fountas and Pinnell, Linda Dorn, Ellin Keene, Goudvis and Harvey, and the list goes on, and on, and on... So this month I’ll be sharing some tips that I’ve gathered from studying, and in some cases training with, these literacy leaders. 

Now I’ll be sharing tips that have supported me not only as a teacher, but as a literacy coach and consultant using the Writing Workshop Model. For the last sixteen years, I’ve taught and coached grades K-6, using the workshop model which proved to be a powerful approach to teaching writing, consistently yielding simply miraculous results no matter what grade level I was teaching. 

Looking back, there were three things that really were the change agents responsible for undergirding a successful writing workshop no matter what grade level I was teaching. These big 3 are: time, tone and talk.

Time Tone Talk

So across this Back to School series I will be addressing each of these three areas. Hopefully during this series some of the suggestions I share will help you create a happy, supportive, creative community of writers and learners this school year. 

Today’s post will focus on….


One thing I know for sure, teachers never have enough time, especially with an over-crowded curriculum, and we struggle with fitting it all in. But trust me, students deserve time to practice writing! Think about it, the more you do something the better you get at it whether it’s playing the piano, learning to speak a foreign language, playing a sport, or learning to read and write. So what does that mean for us as writing teachers? We need to create a consistent uninterrupted chunk of time in our daily schedule for students to practice writing! I am suggesting you carve out a 45-60 minute chunk of uninterrupted time to devote to Writing Workshop. If you can fit it in daily, then do it a minimum of 4 days a week. Most teachers, including me, struggled with this in the beginning of adopting the writing workshop model. I know it’s nearly impossible to fit it into your over-crowded schedule, but like Nike I am challenging you to... JUST DO IT! 

Why? Because workshop teaching is a completely different way of teaching. Here writing instruction shifts from assigned topics to modeling and studying what a writer thinks and does when writing. Believe me this approach to writing takes time, but it is SO worth the time invested. I promise you, you will see miraculous results in your students’ writing abilities if you build in a daily, uninterrupted, protected writing time to your schedule!

Once you find time for writing workshop in your schedule, use it wisely! The workshop model (seen below) includes the mini-lesson (whole group), independent writing time, and reflection time or the share. Each component of the workshop model are integral to living a writerly life, which is teaching children to live and behave like writers, and provides a structure for students to cycle through the stages of the writing process.

While there are predictable components of the workshop model, it’s important to keep the mini-lesson component brief and explicit. By doing so, you allow time for students to practice writing and to try out applying the skills and strategies you’ve taught.

Pie chart

Today I’m excited to share with you an essential part of writing workshop, the mini-lesson and some tips to keeping it mini!


Above, I’ve included a graphic showing the parts of writing workshop. It’s clear from that image that the bulk of writing workshop is NOT the mini-lesson. Gasp, WHAT??!! As important and essential as your mini-lessons are, they are NOT the largest part of your workshop time. I know it’s hard to grasp, but it’s true. The bulk of your writing workshop time should be time for your writers to practice. The mini-lesson is kept brief intentionally to give your students time to apply the skills you’ve taught. Mini-lessons follow a predictable structure. Each mini-lesson has five very specific parts:

  1. Connection (builds prior knowledge and links to previous learning)
  2. Teaching Point (objective)
  3. Teach (demonstration, model, inquiry)
  4. Active engagement (applied practice)
  5. Link (closing-links back to teaching point)

Keeping in mind, the goal of a mini-lesson is to keep it from becoming a maxi-lesson. The aim is to accomplish all of the five parts listed above in 10 short minutes.


7 Tips for Managing Time in the Mini-Lesson

Use the following 7 tips to keep your mini-lesson brief and explicit:

  1. Set a timer. Seriously, set a timer for 10 minutes and keep it nearby within your view.
  2. If you have a smartphone or watch, set the alarm for ten minutes and keep it nearby.
  3. Teach signals that informs students when to transition to and from the rug so you don’t waste time allocated for the mini-lesson.
  4. Assign students partnerships and places to sit at the carpet or gathering spot where you conduct the mini-lesson.
  5. When studying writer’s craft, just use snippets from the book. Don’t spend the mini-lesson time reading the entire book.
  6. Have a coach, colleague, or even a reliable student, be your timekeeper during the mini-lesson.
  7. Keep student interruptions and questions to a minimum by establishing turn and talk opportunities. 

3 Tips for Managing Independent Writing Time

Use the following 3 tips to keep independent writing time productive:

  1. Status of the Class: before sending writers off to write do a quick check at the carpet or gathering place to make sure students have selected a topic to write about or have a writing plan for the day. One way to do this is by using the status of the class technique. Establish a signal or gesture, and a way for students to indicate to you that they know what they will be doing when they go back to their seats to write independently.
  2. After conducting status of the class, those students who are having difficulty articulating what they will be doing during writing time will remain with you at the rug for some quick guidance and support before you begin conferring.
  3. During independent writing time if students are losing focus do a mid-workshop interruption. This entails establishing a signal that you will use consistently to call students to order. They remain in their seats for a very brief but targeted refocus or reminder of the mini-lesson’s teaching point that day.

3 Tips for Managing Transition Time

  1. Practice, practice, practice rituals and routines of students coming to and from the carpet and review your expectations of student behaviors when gathered for a mini-lesson throughout the year. Spotlight students who are demonstrating the behaviors you are wanting others to adopt.
  2. Practice routines of turn and talk. Encourage students to do this quickly and efficiently. One way I like to do this is by making it more of a game and encouraging students to practice turning and talking quickly by timing ourselves and trying to beat our established time using a timer.
  3. Another way I do this is to establish a signal, chime, or hand gesture and practice upping our time using the signal, chime or gesture.

An Effective Tip for Managing End of Workshop Share Time

The end of workshop share is a powerful time for students to reflect on their learning and get feedback. I urge you not to lob it off because of your time restraints. End of workshop share time is where students really begin to understand what it means to write for an audience and the importance of reflection. Here they also begin to recognize if they are meeting and achieving their writing goals, making progress and take pride in their work. It’s during the share, where we can solidify the day’s learning and spiral back to our teaching point and set goals for the days ahead. Trust me, It matters!

The most effective method for managing the share time is by controlling it and making it a teacher-directed share. This can be done by spotlighting a student’s piece, or accomplished transference of strategy or modeled behavior, or by asking partnerships to take responsibility for sharing with one another. Both are efficient, effective and targeted methods. No more author’s chair for us!


So there you have it, my first post in the Back to School series!

As always I’d love to hear from you! What did you think of this week’s post? Do you have questions about the writing workshop model or mini-lessons? I’d love to help so please comment below! 

And I’ve got a question for you all, are there other topics you’d like to see covered about writing workshop instruction?!?! Please drop me a line below, I’d love to hear from you!

Enjoy these last few weeks of summer! Thanks so much for stopping by, here’s to a great launch of writing workshop in your classroom this fall!



Next Week...

Make sure to stay tuned for my next two posts in the Back to School series all about jump-starting writing workshop in your new school year! 

Next time, we’ll be chatting about the importance of tone in writing workshop (including writing center suggestions) and the final post in our series we’ll chat about the  importance of talk.