Setting Up A Writing Workshop

If reading seems to be going out the window due to television and computer time, it follows that writing might be close behind. Here are T2T Contributors’ suggestions for setting up a writing workshop.
With thanks to T2T Contributors: chewie[a], kbeyer[a], mr.frank[a], and Maggie Mendus.

“I teach fourth grade. I have found that as far as writing conferences go, what works best for me is to have the students sign up when they are ready for a conference (on the board.) They are then to either keep working on the story, work on a different story or begin a new one. I cross off their name when I am ready and go to their seat instead of them coming to me. I also have two mentors (students) who field any questions from other students while I am conferencing. The mentors are expected to answer questions if possible and keep a log of who asked and what they needed help with. That way if there is a question that they were unable to answer, I check the log and help those students. It also helps prevent unnecessary questions being asked.

Writing workshop is something that I use in my fourth grade class. Generally, I try to choose very open ended topics that the students can write about, drawing from their own life experiences. I will start by using some kind of pre-writing activity (a brainstorm of scary things, a web, a share time for those students who are more oral, so they can get their ideas). After that, the students do a first draft. The first draft is edited by a peer editor. A guide sheet is a good way for students to check each others work. The sheet could include: Is there a capital at the beginning of each sentence? Are there complete sentences? Did you understand all of the piece, if not, did you discuss it with the author? Any questions that you feel would work in your room?

The author then does a second copy. When they finish, they answer the peer edit questions by themselves and then sign up for a teacher conference. By making them check for capitals and punctuation, usually the teacher conference goes faster. After the teacher conference is completed, a publishable copy is attempted on the computer. When the student feels that his or her work is good enough, they take it home for a parental proof read. One copy stays in school, just in case. If their parents sign off on it, it goes into their portfolio choice folder and may be placed into their portfolio at a later date, if they choose.

You might try starting each session with ten minutes of solid writing: everyone in the room writes, adults included, with absolutely no interruptions — no talking, no going to the bathroom, no sharpening pencils, etc.

I start by giving writing journal assignments geared toward the genre of the next writing assignment. Then on the first day of the workshop for that assignment, they will have several pieces in that genre from which to choose. I also take their writing home with me and take a little time to read each one and type up some sort of comment which includes what I really like about it, what can use improvement, and words of encouragement. They love receiving a personally-typed comment each day, and it gives them guidance right away while I help the students who I know need help having looked at their work the night before. It takes a little extra time at home (perhaps 40 minutes), but the payoff in class is tremendous. I have found that when I ask students to do a peer edit, they model after the comments I write to them. They write encouraging words and suggest ways the piece can be improved. I love it! Good luck!

Here’s the resource that helped me begin Writers’ Workshop: “In the Middle” by Nancie Atwell. It is a fantastic book with the “nuts and bolts” of setting up Writing Workshop, theories, and all sorts of practical ideas. I wouldn’t be without it! Actually, anything by Nancie Atwell or Lucy Calkins would be great. Others to read are Donald Graves, Peter Elbow, Tom Romano, Don Murray.