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Four Best Practices for a Writing Workshop

November 4, 2019

By: Kendall Hunt RPD with contributions from the writing team of Pathways 2.0

In the Pathways 2.0 program, the Writing Workshop process is divided into four components: mini-lesson, independent writing time, conferencing, and sharing. Generally, the mini-lesson and conferencing stages should each take a quarter of the time, and independent writing should take half of the time. Here are four important things to remember, one for each stage of the process.  

During the mini-lesson: practice active modeling

To encourage the connection between what students learn in the lesson and what they write during independent writing, teachers can showcase exemplary student writing samples that successfully handle the topic of the mini-lesson. For example, when students are just beginning a writing project, you might share examples of great first lines that hook reader interest—whether through humor, mystery, or the element of surprise.

To take this modeling process one step further, encourage students to discuss the “why.” Why is this sample a great example of a strong conclusion? How does this paragraph pique interest and persuade the reader to keep reading? Naming and explaining give students power. If they can use academic vocabulary to articulate what a strong writer does, they will be better able to incorporate those skills into their own writing.

 During independent writing time: allow student choice

When they do begin writing independently, allowing students to explore topics of interest promotes authenticity. Students are more motivated to persevere in tasks that are meaningful to them, and they devote more effort to writing that has personal relevance. Many students who struggle with or complain about school writing assignments will, in fact, voluntarily create their own “books” at home, if the topic interests them. Children are natural storytellers, and if teachers allow them to tell the stories that are already in their heads, the process is more rewarding.

During conferencing: encourage a growth mind-set

When given constructive feedback, it’s easy for students to either become defensive of their work or lose self-confidence in their writing abilities. By allowing students to both provide and accept feedback, conferencing shows students that constructive feedback isn’t meant to wound or discourage but, rather, to support improvement. After several revisions, students will have concrete proof (through a stronger draft) that the feedback process is beneficial for their written work in the long run.

However, teachers must also encourage students to make their own decisions about their work, including whether or not to make a revision based on peer feedback. During the conferencing stage, it is crucial that teachers promote the benefits of feedback and motivate students to “buy in” to the process, but teachers must also remind them that their work is their own, and they have the right to accept, alter, or refuse any suggested revisions. This boosts student accountability and ownership of written work.

During sharing time: add an element of fun

When students are given a chance to showcase their work in a professional or unconventional manner, their enthusiasm soars. For example, consider allowing students to write postcards describing a recent “visit” to the setting of the class Anchor Text, or compile a class “textbook” of student research reports and display it in the school library.

As fifth graders, my classmates and I were tasked with writing a how-to essay on the topic of how to make an ice cream sundae. After final drafts were completed, the teacher made each of us an ice cream sundae by following the directions in our essays. How carefully we had written and how explicit we had been in our directions determined whether, for example, we received a squirt of chocolate syrup or just the physical bottle, plopped in the middle of the bowl. Not only did this lead to hilarious results, but it encouraged us to write carefully and heightened our enthusiasm for the process.

Writing Workshops provide flexibility within a structured format—teachers can tailor content and instruction while allowing students to apply their grammar and writing skills in an authentic context. As you plan your writing and language arts curriculum, consider Pathways 2.0’s simple, effective Writing Workshops and the benefits they offer for your students!

How can you use Writing Workshops to enrich your students’ learning?