Planning your Writing Workshop is no easy feat. With a limited amount of time and a wide range of moving parts, having a great game plan is essential to teach writing well. In the past two weeks of the Summer Writing Workshop Series, we have covered how to keep your students engaged and tackled the issue of time in Writing Workshop.
Okay, so you’ve got engagement strategies up your sleeve and you are not going to let time get in your way. So what’s next? What are you teaching? How are you teaching it? When are you teaching it?
Today, we are diving into 5 strategies to plan for Writing workshop. These strategies are the overarching elements that drive everything you do in Writing Workshop. If you are looking for the specifics of each writing unit, including teaching points aligned to the standards, that would be in each of my writing units.
Let’s get started, shall we?
1// Identify your Core Beliefs and Values as a Writing Teacher.
A few years ago, I attended a 3 day summer workshop at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies and Journalism in St. Petersburg, Florida. This workshop was ran by Roy Peter Clark and the amazing ELA department in our school district. The purpose of this institute was to help us implement new-to-us Common Core standards (now Florida standards) without losing all that we already KNOW about teaching Reading and Writing. At the very beginning of this workshop, we collectively created a list of what we knew needed to be happening in our classrooms to teach writing. I am sharing this list with you below because standards may change, assessments may change, administration may change, curriculum may change, and ,of course, our students may change. However, it is essential that we have sound and steadfast philosophies about teaching writing. When we are faced with any of these changes, we can always make decisions based on our core beliefs about teaching writing. Therefore, we can always do what is best for our students.
Core Beliefs & Values
These core beliefs are the foundation of my classroom and basis for every writing unit.
- Students should read & write everyday.
- Students should see you writing.
- Drafting & revising helps us grow.
- We talk about our writing.
- Writing is connected to reading.
- We help students recognize the value of their own experiences. (reading is a source, their life experiences are a source for writing)
- Read like a writer. How does the author do what they do?
- We should know our audience and purpose for writing.
- Keep students OFF teacher welfare. (Donald Graves)
- Help students see the world as a storehouse for writing ideas.
- Share writing with peers and other audiences- PUBLISH the work of every student writer.
- Students should know what they are doing well.
- Students need to see us get excited!
- Conferring/Talking about reading and writing one-on-one or in a small group.
Why does this matter?
I think it is really important that we identify our core values and beliefs as teachers. We need to know what we stand for and value in our teaching. We have to remember that WE are teaching our students. Not anything or anyone else. I invite you to be empowered by that and remember how much power you do have in your classroom. When we identify our core values and beliefs, we can use this to guide our instruction and daily decision-making.
2// Identify Writing Goals for Your Students
Before setting out to think about how you plan your year in writing (OR maybe your district tells you exactly what you are going to do), think about what goals you want for your students by the end of the year. What matters most to you? What results do you think are really important in terms of your students’ writing?
For me, it has never been based on numbers. Sure, I want my students to write well and achieve a fantastic score on our state assessment. But that number is NOT going to drive my passion and enthusiasm during my daily writing lessons. Moreover, I cannot let that number determine my worth as a writing teacher or my students as writers. We are more than a number.
So when I ask, “What goals do you want for your students?”- I don’t mean just numbers. I mean how do you want them to feel about writing? Personally, this is what matters most. I want my students to feel confident about writing, to enjoy the process, and eager to learn new things about writing.
Of course I know that we also need to be setting tangible goals based on specific skills. You know the deficits that come into your classroom every year that make teaching writing difficult for your particular grade level. Let’s identify what goals YOU have for YOUR classroom. I could write all day about what I think is important, but this isn’t about me, it’s about YOU and YOUR students.
Let’s try this out by answering the questions below.
- List 3 (or more) Core Beliefs you have about writing. You can also choose your top 3 from my list.
- What do you want your students to feel, think, or believe about writing?
- Do you think you have achieved this goal in the past?
- What writing skills do you think are the most important for your grade level?
- Based on classroom, district, or state assessments, what goals do you have for your students?
- What type of mindset do most of your writing students have? (i.e. enthusiastic about writing, lack confidence in their writing, indifferent about writing, do not seem to enjoy writing)
- What prerequisite writing skills seem to be lacking when students get to your grade level?
To make this even more fun and interactive, I’ve created a Google form for these questions. Don’t worry, I am the only one that will see your responses. What you share will only be used to create more content and resources to meet your needs.
Answer using a Google Form:
Now, you might be thinking, “Whoa, Jessica! That’s way too personal.” I feel you. I am a pretty private introvert myself. Just get out a notebook and your favorite Flair pen to jot down your responses to the questions.
Either way, just take the time to think about what is most important to you and your students when it comes to writing.
3// Begin with End in Mind
This is one of my favorites habits from Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
Anytime we are trying to make a plan to do something, we can begin with the end in mind. So what does that look like in writing?
If we consider our core values/beliefs and writing goals, then we can use this to guide our planning throughout the year. Your core values and beliefs guide your day-to-day lessons and conversations with your students. It’s like your moral compass when teaching writing.
What does that look like for each unit? Think about what end goal you have for your students at the end of each unit. What is the endgame? Most likely, it is some form of published writing. Maybe it’s an opinion essay, a personal narrative story, or an informational article. Whatever type of writing that you want your students to do, provide a model at the beginning of the unit to study the structure and characteristics of that type of writing.
This is where mentor texts come in. Nothing gets students more excited about a certain type of writing than by sharing a picture book as a mentor text. To do this, choose a mentor text that is an exemplar of the type of writing you will teach. This text will be used throughout the unit to teach specific writing skills.
For example, when I am teaching Opinion Writing, I use A Pig Parade is a Terrible Idea by Michael Ian Black. Not only is it hilarious, but it is a perfect model of the opinion essay structure. He gives his opinion and supports it with reasons and evidence.
Studying a mentor text is typically the first lesson in the unit. Below I have identified the steps I use when introducing a mentor text.
Reading a Mentor Text Steps:
1// Read once for the gist. (Let students simply enjoy the book, but tell them this is a specific example of the type of writing they will do.)
2// Read a second time with purpose. Before reading, tell your students that they will be reading the text a second time to look specifically for characteristics of [insert genre].
3// Create a Chart. You can create this chart as you have students take notes in their notebook, or use a pre-made chart. (see below)
Narrative Nonfiction (3rd Grade)
This chart was created after a discussion to highlight the certain skills. We had to move VERY quickly through this unit, so I made a chart specific to the needs of my classroom. This went along with the text Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts.
4// Yearly Planning
This next section truly depends on where you teach. I’ve taught in some places where the teacher has a lot of control and flexibility over the yearly scope and sequence of their writing. I’ve taught in other places where you are expected to follow the district scope and sequence. So, I am going to address this area of planning your Writing Workshop by what I would do in an ideal world.
Begin with Personal Narrative
Ideally, you want to start off with Personal Narrative.
Narration is the art of storytelling. Besides the fact that half our Reading Standards are based on literature (STORIES), storytelling is part of the human experience. The art of storytelling is found in social, academic, and career situations. I’ve got a whole blog post planned and entitled The Importance of Teaching Narrative. I feel compelled to share these thoughts and points because I teach 4th Grade in Florida. This is the first year students take the Writing Florida State Assessment.
It’s a big deal.
However, the Informational and Opinion Writing Standards are the only standards assessed. So, guess what is all too often not taught? You guessed it- Narrative.
Personal narrative is a way to not only build community, but it gets students engaged and excited about writing right from the start. They care about what they are writing because it is about them.
It is a natural human instinct to want to be heard, to share your story. Look at the world of social media. People are all over Instagram stories, IGTV, Facebook stories, and YouTube. No matter where our technology goes, most developments are made to deepen the human experience. People want to share their stories. You know who else wants to share their stories? Your students. (Whether they know it or not.)
The first unit of the year would be Launching Writing Workshop. (coming soon to a shop near you!) The purpose of this short, 10 day unit is to establish routines, procedures, and build community. Throughout this unit, students will complete their first personal narrative so that they can get the overall writing process and understand how writing workshop goes. As the teacher, you can also see what students are able to produce. This will also help you go deeper with craft in the second unit: Personal Narrative. (NOTE: This unit is being updated on August 1st.)
While teaching Narrative, I also like to align the writing standards to the reading standards. This helps to make connections across Reading and Writing. It doesn’t always fit perfectly, but when I can make it work, I go for it! Below you can see two examples of how you might plan out your year trying as best as possible to align the Reading and Writing standards.
Whether you get to plan your writing or it is handed to you, make sure you know where you are headed across the year. This is really helpful when you’re trying to find pockets of time to integrate writing into other places in your curriculum.
5// Step by Step
Last week we learned a writing lesson from Ant-Man. This week our writing teacher comes from New Kids on the Block.
This song always gets in my head when I teach my students this lesson. As writers, we go STEP by STEP in the process. No matter what genre of writing I am teaching, we follow the same process.
STEP by STEP
- Get Ideas/Unpack a Prompt/Set a Purpose (if writing in response to text)
- Make a Plan
- Write a Lead/Introduction
- Draft (Use Transition Words, Craft Moves, Organized into Paragraphs)
- Write an Ending
- Revise (Does my writing make sense? Is this my best work?)
- Edit (Spelling, Punctuation, Capitalization)
For each of these parts, I would absolutely have different teaching points on the genre and we go into depth on how to use various writing techniques. However, this is the very basic process we follow in writing. Having a clear vision and structure helps students see the parts of their writing and make decisions about their next steps.
(Sidebar: Last year, I played the beginning of this song for my class to teach this lesson. One of my girls knew exactly who this was. Other guesses included Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake, and the Beatles.)
6// Your Writing Notebook
Setting up YOUR model notebook before you begin any writing unit will help you establish clarity and confidence in your own teaching, which will lead to your students’ success. In reality, you might not have time to set the whole unit up at once inside your notebook. Honestly, I don’t have that much creative brain capacity to sit and do it all at once. Plus, I find things along the way that I want to add in, change or make even better. Instead, I sit down a few times throughout the unit to reflect on what I’ve taught, the students sitting in front of me, and where I need to go next. A huge benefit of setting up your notebook with examples of your own writing is that you can continue to use the notebook year after year. Sure you may have multiple notebooks with new writing, but that just means more material to teach from! 🙂
Using your Notebook as a Mentor Text
One of the best ways that I learned how to teach writing was by going through the process myself. If there was something I was having specific difficulty with teaching, I knew I needed to go through that process so that I could understand the struggles my student would go through, but also how to push through the struggle.
We don’t have to be the most amazing expert writers in the world. We just have to be a step ahead of our students. In fact, the struggles we go through make us better teachers. They need to see us make mistakes, play with words, and the thought struggle that goes with creating quality writing. That’s part of the process and they need to see it. Be okay with not knowing answers. Your writing doesn’t need to be perfect. In fact, it shouldn’t be. What a great way to model revision work!
To help myself (and my students) stay organized, I try to title what I am teaching on a specific page or on the page to the left so that I can go back to that again and again.
I hope you have found some great value in these planning strategies for Writing Workshop. At the very least, I hope you enjoyed listening to some NKOTB!
If you are looking for more specific support in teaching writing, be sure to get on the waitlist for our Writing Membership site coming August 2018.
You can also check out the following Writing Units in my shop. Click any of the images below to view the units on Teachers Pay Teachers.
I’ll see you next week when we dive into one of my FAVORITE topics: How to Integrate Writing into Content Areas
Until then, you can find me on Instagram and Facebook.
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Let me know in the comments:
What other planning obstacles get in your way?