Every day we have writer’s workshop. It’s simply time that’s designated for whatever writing projects we have going on at the time. Sometimes this includes specific things that I’ve assigned (like this week my kids have been working on biographies about Abraham Lincoln) and other times it’s just for free writing.
Components of Writer’s Workshop
- Mini-lessons – The #1 rule of a mini-lesson is that it should be MINI!! Writing can’t be taught in a day. It has to be practiced and absorbed, and the best way to learn it is to WRITE rather than to be told HOW TO WRITE. An example of a mini-lesson is taking a minute to show kids how the titles of books should be underlined after you notice that on their last assignment they weren’t doing this. Don’t also cover how poems should be in quotes, and all the other reasons we use underlining and quotes for that matter! Those are lessons for other days. Writing has lots of rules and we should never let the rules take over in place of creativity and fun. A few minutes for rules is quite enough for one day.
- A writer’s notebook – This is a notebook where writers can feel free to write anything and everything. It’s a place to get started, a place to get ideas, and a place where perfect spelling and grammar don’t matter! We spend about 20 minutes every day on writing, and much of that time is spent in our notebooks. Songs, stories, letters, doodles, recipes, anything we want to write can be written in our notebooks. No red pens or corrections allowed in the notebook. It is for the WRITER and no one else! It is a place for complete freedom of expression.
- Edit/Revision time – Once we’ve begun something in our writer’s notebook that strikes interest, that bit gets transferred to the next step – editing and revision. I help my kids both edit and revise their work. It is re-written with suggestions and corrections along the way. Often we do this step on the computer to make additional editing easier (and less painful for emergent writers!). Sometimes they do the typing and other times I do (depending on length). This step is very cooperative. Even famous and well-paid authors have editors and get MANY suggestions before publishing anything. Editing is not exactly the same as revision. Editing is correcting mistakes. Revision doesn’t necessarily involve mistakes, but it is the process of improving upon your former writing.
- Publishing and sharing – The next part of writer’s workshop is the most fun. We take the work we’ve done and make it GREAT! It is turned into a book or other type of polished, finished work. Pictures and artwork are added. Sometimes “about the author” pages are created. The books are read and re-read, praised and doted over. Then they are added to our classroom library to be shared some more in the future.
Just to be clear, these steps don’t all happen in a day, and sometimes they don’t all happen in a week. I teach mini-lessons (usually no more than 1-2 minutes) just about every day. We write in our writer’s notebooks until we have something we want to turn into more. Sometimes this happens spontaneously (like my son’s series of Super Monkey books about a superhero monkey who saves the world from a variety of evil-doers). Sometimes it happens because I assign something; “Okay young authors, your biography is due on Friday. . . no more dawdling!”)
Writer’s Workshop Tips
I’m a big believer in open creativity, but I’m also a believer in providing clear direction. There’s nothing worse than being told to write anything at all when no ideas seem to be coming. Some kids will come up with their own ideas, but you should also have assignments, story starters, fun ideas, and specific directions on hand for those writers who don’t come up with topics and ideas well on their own. You can check out the Layers of Learning Writer’s Workshop page for lots of lessons and ideas.