Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Basics of Writer's Workshop

I've had a number of people find my organization of the Writer's Notebook to be very helpful; hooray!  However, many need more information on how to actually implement the Writer's Workshop (also called Writers' Workshop & Writing Workshop).  When I found this visual today (and repinned it on Pinterest-  Stephanie Madison) I knew I had to get it up here.  It didn't have the creator, but the original graphic can be found at:  It's a perfect visual for the basic breakdown of Writer's Workshop:
 That pretty much sums it up!  You start with a mini-lesson about whatever you are working on in writing.  This can be guided by the standards that you're working through and the curriculum you have.  We don't really have a writing curriculum in our district, so I mostly make stuff up based on the standards and what I see the kids need.  See my post on dictation ( ) for more on how to focus in on what your kids need practice with on writing.  You can use this 5-15 minutes for any mini-lesson your students need.  Your students can take notes on what you taught them/copy down information from your mini lesson, draw the graphic organizer you used, etc, in the Writing Notes of their Writer's Notebooks, like this:

Then, students have time to do independent writing in the My Writing section of their Writer's Notebooks.  In a beautiful world that did not have high-stakes, standardized testing, you could always let your students "free write" during this time, which is to say they can write about any topic in any form, and never complete an edited or published copy of anything ever.  However, since we're teaching in the real world, this independent writing time is a balance between free writing and writing to a prompt/general theme.  For me, it is probably about 30% free writing and 70% writing with some sort of guidelines, although even they can be very loose.  It is my understanding that the "official" Writer's Workshop model does not ever "make" a student write about a prompt, but rather offers prompts for them to write about.  In Oregon, we have a district assessment (which for 4th grade is reported to the state as well) for all of our students in which they must write to a prompt in essay form and take their writing all the way through the writing process.  This is why I make sure that my students practice what they will be graded on (and what I will be judged on) so that they are successful.  I try to do fun & flexible prompts so they are always interested; I'm planning a post on our personal narrative unit and our scary story/fall story unit, so check back for those soon!
While your students are writing independently, you get to pull small groups (for advancement or for interventions) or conference with individual students.  I look for students who have writing skills that are above and beyond fourth grade, and I'll pull that small group of students to work with so I can help them take their writing further.  For every writing worksample we do (I try and do one about every other month but I'm constantly scanning their classwork, dictados, etc) I also form intervention groups.  Some examples include students who are still struggling to capitalize the starts of their sentences, trouble identifying misspelled words, breaking writing into coherent paragraphs, staying on topic, adding sensory & descriptive words, capitalizing "I," etc.  While the rest of the class is silently and independently writing, I pull these intervention students and do a mini-lesson/activity with them to help them develop the writing skills their missing. 

I also conference with every one of my students about every other month.  After each work sample they do (as in a formal writing piece to a prompt or theme that they have not had outside help with), I grade them according to the 6 writing traits.  Then, I meet with each student individually and discuss all the greatness in their writing.  Next, I tell them a few things that they can work on, and they choose one of them to be their writing goal, and they record it in their Writing Goals section of their Writer's Notebook.  They take a tiny sticky note and write their name on the front of it.  On the back, they write their new writing goal.  Then, they stick that goal to the writing trait that it falls under (like, "split writing into paragraphs with one main idea" would go under Organization).  Until next month when we meet again, they will work on that goal.  I usually have them tell someone else their goal, write it on a slip of paper to take home, read it to themselves with a whisper phone, etc about once a week to keep it fresh in their minds.  The next time we meet, we see how they're doing with that goal; if they've got that one, we set a new one.  Here are some examples of writing goals:
 Next, students share their work with others.  This can be broken into two separate sections, as suggested in the top visual, with the first being time for students to share with a partner and then the whole class.  I usually just leave 5-10 minutes for them to share, and I mix it up.  Some days they share to a partner, some days to their table group, some days a few students share to the whole class, some days everyone shares to the whole class.  I think this helps in keeping things interesting and helping them stay motivated; sometimes I tell them who they'll be sharing to, and other times I don't, so they always have to be doing their best work, and it makes it more exciting to share.  Note: this is the easiest part to leave out of the Writer's Workshop process, but LET THEM SHARE!  This is a great motivator for some students and what makes it fun too.  This gives them an audience and a chance to get feedback from peers and you on a daily basis. Based on your findings from what you saw in students' writing that day, you can plan for tomorrow's/next week's mini-lesson and go from there. 

All that being said, I usually don't have a full hour of Writer's Workshop every day.  Because I incorporate writing throughout the subject areas and do dictado, I simply don't have enough hours in the school day to fit in a full 60 minute Writer's Workshop time too.  My writing time is usually about 30-40 minutes.  I do a 5-10 minute lesson, 20-30 minute independent writing/conferencing time, and then a 5-10 minute share time.  I don't think workshops, writing, math, reading, or otherwise, should be inflexible molds that are followed to a T.  You know your students and what they need.  You get to decide how to best meet their needs.  Writer's Workshop is just an awesome way to organize your writing time, to help your students become better writers, and to ENJOY writing!  That's why I've been using it ever since I found out about it around six years ago.  My students love it, and I do too.

Questions?  What isn't working in your writing time?  What's going well?  Leave a comment to let me know what future blogs you'd like to see too.  Happy Writing!


  1. Thank you so much for your posts on writer's workshop! I am a 4th grade writing teacher in Texas..this is my second year teaching writing. I have two brand new writing teachers with me this year, so I feel like the lind is leading the blind! I have not been sure how to implement writer's workshop!

  2. I'm so glad that you found this helpful! I love teaching writing and I'm always looking for fun new ways to share writing. Keep checking back for more teaching goodness, and good luck in your implementation of writer's workshop!

  3. Hi Steph, I'm the teacher that created/drew and pinned the Writer's Workshop poster. Glad to see it here! Thanks for sharing your Writer's Workshop tips...what a great resource this is!

  4. Hi Steph and Donna, thanks for sharing your great ideas! I came across this post via Pinterest, and have included it in my weekly round-up of great pins on my blog. If you'd like to check it out, you will find it here:

    Kelly at Little Green