One of the biggest issues I hear teachers struggling with is meeting all of their students’ needs with such a wide range of ability levels. I hear you! You probably already know that conferring and working in small groups is the most organic and effective way to differentiate your instruction AND meet your students’ needs. However, that requires YOU to be present.
What about when you’re not present? How can you have your students work on skill-specific strategies to strengthen their writing skills? Not only that, what about when you have your class at all different places in the writing process. Or all different places in your unit. Maybe 1/4 of your class is ready for some next step instruction, but 3/4 of your class still needs some major support in something foundational such as planning? Or you have some high flyers that want to keep writing, but you don’t want to just give them busy work. You want meaningful, rigorous writing opportunities that have them work on specific skills.
These exact questions and my experience teaching test prep writing in 4th grade led me to this resource I want to share with you – writing centers.
In the past when I’ve thought about writing centers, I’ve thought that meant that my students would write about their summer vacation or they would write a letter to a pen pal or something else unrelated to what I was teaching. But that’s not what writing centers have to look like. Writing centers can be directly related to what I am teaching. They can be a skill-specific, standards-based practice that will help them be better writers. And they can be connected to other content areas! And they can be fun!
I want to give you a deep dive into these writing centers so that you can really see how they work, what all is included, and some ideas for how you can organize and implement them in your classroom. I also have a sample writing center to share with you. For the past year, these writing centers have only been available inside the TLL Membership, but will eventually be added to my shop. One of my goals behind creating these writing centers is that I wanted to integrate Science and Social Studies. Currently, there are two volumes of writing centers.The first volume of writing centers is focused on informational and opinion writing based on science topics. (Social Studies – we’re coming for you soon!) The second volume of writing centers is focused on Narrative writing.
Each set of writing centers includes 5 types of writing centers. They come in both color and black and white. They are color-coded if you choose to use them this way. For each of the 5 types of writing centers, there are 5 of each writing center. That means you’ve got 25 writing centers to help your students grow! Each writing center also includes an Answer Key so that students can self-check or you can use as a grade when appropriate.
So let’s break down each of these writing centers.
Fix it Up! Editing
This is a simple editing center in which students edit a paragraph. The number of mistakes is located at the bottom, so students know when they have found them all OR they need to keep looking. An answer key is included so students can self-check. The writing centers are also available in black and white so students can write directly on the half-sheet.
I also recommend having students use colored pencils or pens because a) hey can see their own corrections and b) it makes it more engaging.
The goal of this writing center is not just to have students find errors and edit mistakes, but you want them to transfer this critical proofreading over to their own writing. You could use one of these writing centers as part of your writing mini lesson during the active engagement and then have students edit their own writing during independent writing. As you think about using and introducing each center, remember that the goal is for students to transfer the skill from the center to their own writing.
- Cool Critters! (Ants)
- Sluggish Situation (African Land Snail)
- Poison Dart Frog
When it comes to transitions, there are three major issues that your students will run into.
- Not using them at all.
- Using too many or the same ones over and over
- Not using them appropriately
This center gives students the opportunity to practice adding transition words in a more scaffolded way. Each paragraph is a cloze activity. A transitional words and phrases chart is included to provide options for students to choose from. An answer key is included so students can self-check.
You can also laminate and have students use an Expo marker. This way you can use over and over again. Again, this is also a great resource to use as part of your mini-lesson or in a small group writing lesson.
After students have completed the writing center, they can then use the chart to add transitional words and phrases to their own writing. I also recommend having students edit their writing with a colored pen or pencil. You might even keep the color coding going and use orange for transition words. This is a lesson in my writing units as well, so this writing center is very complementary to the writing units.
- Crocs & Gators
- Animals Impact Their Environment
- Oil Spills
- Endangered Species
Oh boy! If I had a
penny quarter for every time I heard teachers say their students had difficulty elaborating or adding more detail, I could buy that house on the lake I’ve been dreaming about. Elaboration is quite the art. I have a whole blog post about it where I go into even more detail. (Link at the end of this post.)
You probably know from experience that you can’t just tell students to elaborate, you have to give them specific strategies. One of the most simple ways to teach students to elaborate is to think…
- Who cares?
- Why does it matter?
- Why should anyone care about this piece of information?
This center includes a student notebook chart with some effective elaboration strategies and examples. The center includes a few sentences with facts and information about the topic. After the facts/evidences, students use elaboration strategies to add on to the paragraph. Sample responses are included.
Notebook charts with elaboration strategies are included to help support student response.
- Volcanoes (Informative)
- Grizzly Bears (Informative)
- Drought (Informative)
- College Athletes (Opinion)
- Physical Education (Opinion)
Another tough cookie when it comes to writing is paraphrasing. One of the biggest changes with writing in upper elementary over the past few years is the requirement to analyze, synthesize, and accurately use text evidence. This can be really difficult for our little 8-10 year old babies! Um, it can be really difficult for US!
Each center has a paragraph. Students practice paraphrasing the paragraph. A chart for the STP (Stop! Think. Paraphrase) strategy is provided. This is a great reading strategy that you can also use in guided reading, whole group lessons, science, and social studies lessons. I first began using the STP strategy with guided reading. Students use this to talk about the nonfiction text they just read. It is SUCH a great reading strategy that it just makes sense to transfer it on over to writing.
- Indicator Species
- Tracking Twisters
- Invasive Species
- Animals in Zoos
Sort + Write
This might be my favorite writing center! This writing center could easily be integrated into your science block. Or you can bring science into your writing workshop. Either way, ANYTIME you can integrate subject areas – YOU ARE WINNING! ?
This center includes a total of 5 sorts that can double duty as a science center. Students have directions for each sort. They are given words and phrases to sort for a specific purpose (i.e. The 3 Types of Rocks).
After they have sorted, they write a multi-paragraph essay using the details and the sort to organize and write their essay. The sort helps students organize into groups, which then become the body paragraph. The actual writing comes from the students. A sample teacher essay is also included.
Students may also need/want to use their science text to support their sort.
After they sort, they write.
- Writing Rocks! (Classifying Rocks)
- Life Cycles (Complete + Incomplete)
- Heat Energy (3 Types)
- Writing Matters! (Solid, Liquid, Gas)
- People & Their Environment: Helpful or Harmful?
How can I implement the Writing Centers?
The writing centers can be used in so many ways.
- Early Finishers
- Small Group (these are perfect for skill-specific small group lessons)
- Whole Group (active engagement)
- Sub Plans
- Writing Rotations
- Test Prep
- Give to parents who want extra support for their students
- Use them as routine practice throughout the year and have students glue them in their writing notebook.
- Quick-checks or exit slips throughout the school year.
How do I organize the Writing Centers?
Option #1 Folders + Sheet Protectors
Option #2 Craft Keeper Storage Bins
Step 1: Print in color or black and white and laminate to be reused. Students use a fine tip Expo marker to write on the two centers that have write on. (Fix it Up! Editing and Transition Mission
Step 2: Place each center on a binder ring. Keep answer keys on a separate binder ring so that students can self-check. Or skip the binder ring. This card-keeper is perfect for storing the centers. You can find it at Michaels and on Amazon. This brand is Recollections. I found these at Michaels’, but you can sometimes get them cheaper on Amazon. So I’d definitely compare prices between the two.
These can also be stored easily on a binder ring.
Individual Student Packets or Copies
You can also print individual student copies. These are printed on half sheets in black and white, so you could print each center as a packet for students if you want to focus on a skill as a whole group.
So there you have it! If you’re all set to get writing centers implemented in your classroom today, you can grab them using any of the links below. If you’d like to give it a try for free, click here to grab the writing center freebie.
This particular writing center is called Sort + Write. Students are given details about a science topic (i.e. The 3 Types of Rocks). They sort the details, and then use the details to write a multi-paragraph essay. The sort helps students organize into groups, which then become the body paragraph. The actual writing comes from the students. A sample teacher essay is also included.