Setting up your Writer's Workshop for the first time takes plenty of patience and reflection, don't you think? Some of you have taught using Writer's Workshop for years and I'd love for you to share your most important tip. Others are just getting going and trying to set up and teach Writer's Workshop because you heard it was a great and effective way to teach writing. Either way, welcome to my 2nd in a series of Writer's Workshop posts designed to be a step-by-step guide to helping you to run a Writer's Workshop in your classroom. Today we are going to talk about 3 important things you need to consider as you set up your Writer's Workshop.
ROOM ENVIRONMENTThere are some important things to consider when setting up your Writer's Workshop.
(While I usually don't write about political things here, I must say that our teachers in BC are currently on strike so I am having to share pictures again from my last year's Writing center. Fingers are crossed we will be back in the classroom soon so my apologies to those of you that have seen these pictures before.)
I like to have a big space for my writing center as I want kids to see it as a hub of activity. In my classroom, after I have established routines and expectations for the first month of school, students may choose to write in other places in the room other than their tables. Here is a shot of my writing center at the very beginning of the year when I hadn't put my word wall up fully yet.
You can find the kid-friendly poster sets in Safari theme here and my new theme this year :Nautical
TOOLS AND SUPPLIES
Students will need things to help them along in the Writing process. Some of these things are just for fun and to motivate and other things are necessary for the successful teaching of Writer's Workshop. You will need to decide ahead of time what tools and supplies you will need to teach your program. The purpose of Writer's Workshop is to design writing lessons that teach a set of skills that students will use to write, self assess, set goals and improve in their writing skills as time goes on. The environment in which this goes on is the workshop part. Here, I provide lots of different types of paper and writing tools and also a folder full of useful lists of words that students might need as they write. I don't want word choice or spelling to hamper their writing efforts. Students take the folder for privacy too as some like to really focus on what they are writing. The printables for this folder are available in my Ultimate Writer's Workshop Binder or as a separate set here.
The next thing to decide is how many different types of vehicles you would like to use with your students to practice their writing. In my classroom we have a mindful journal that we use to write about things like "always be kind to others". The kids seem to really like that and I always love to read their thoughts. I have journal prompts for them and/or we write about life's little events as they happen. I have used Writing folders such as the ones below. These are made using the largest construction paper or poster board cut up and folded "hamburger" style and "hotdog" style. They are laminated and students can put their on-going work inside as they go through the writing process.
Last year, I was in a brand new school so binders were part of the already created list of school supplies. This year, I don't think they are on the list. However, I will say I particularly loved using binders with my 2's as long as they are organized. I created some divider pages for the 3 main types of writing and used some flags to separate the pages. You can grab your divider pages for free here if you decide to use binders. Or, you may click on the binder. Whether it be a folder or a binder, you will need a place to store student writing as it is an ongoing process throughout the year.
One of my favorite things to do is teach kids about Writer's Notebooks. There are whole lessons (which I will blog about later) on why and how to use interactive notebooks during Writing instruction. Some notebooks are for language and vocabularly, some are for spelling and conventions, I use them to teach the traits. Think of notebooks as a fun way to practice skills and that can be a resource for students throughout the year.
As you may have seen last week, my writing instruction schedule allows me to teach writing in a variety of different ways and using a variety of different materials, processes and strategies. I try to gage my teaching based on the needs of my classroom. Of course at this time of year, I must outline my routines and expectations with my students first. Over the years, I realized that students can be focussed and engaged even while laying around the room with a partner doing some writing as long as expectations are CLEARLY set out at the beginning of the year. Do you allow your students to write in other areas of the classroom and not necessarily in their desks?
I always start the year with the expectation that students write in their own desks. I always give lots of opportunity to talk out the writing assignment or ideas first with the person beside them or even as part of a partner walk and talk. Once we have brainstormed and/or discussed the lesson fully, I expect students to be writing on their own. But, that doesn't mean they can't talk! I want them to be able to continue to discuss spelling, ideas etc. I just don't want them to see writing time as a time to sit around and chat. After our lesson or mini lesson and discussions, I usually say something like: "Okay, you've had your chance to talk and share ideas, now it's time to start your writing."
If you know me by now, you know that I spend a great deal of time teaching mindfulness and self awareness. I do this for many reasons (class management, social skills to name a couple) but I also love the "spill over" effect during writing time. Students begin to assess themselves as their awareness of their learning grows. They know whether they need peace and quiet or a little chatter and the ability to bounce ideas off of one another. That is why I tell my students early on that if they need some "privacy" they can either get themselves a "privacy folder" or they may move to another part of the room like the writing center to write. Keep in mind that I usually say this on the down low so that only students that need to go there. Then, when I am ready to open up and let students choose places to write around the room and partners they can work with, they already know that you go there to work quietly. When I say quietly, I mean a nice writing mumble is going on through the room.
What am I doing while students are writing? I am facilitating the process, spending time with individual students in an impromptu conference so that I can get to know students and assess where they need to go next in their writing development. That will be the topic of my blog post next Sunday: What is the teacher doing while the students are writing?
I hope to see you next week!