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Management Ideas for

 Writer's Workshop

Updated 6/06

          Here are a few questions that I had when I began teaching Writer's Workshop and how I solved them.  If you have any better ideas or any other ideas please email me below.  I will give you credit!  If you have any questions that are not answered below, please let me know and I will try to answer them. 

Are kids really writing at all different points in the writing workshop?

What materials does the teacher need?

What materials do the students need?

How do I conference with a students and what do I say?

How do I keep track of who I conference with  and what I said?

How often do I conference with students?

How do I know what mini-lessons to do and what do mini-lessons look like?

Where do I get ideas for mini-lessons?

How do I keep a SIMPLE writing portfolio?

Are kids really writing at all different points in the writing workshop??

According to the Institute I attended students are supposed to be working at all different speeds, at all different places in the writing process.  However, I personally find this very difficult to manage and I have yet to find a way to comfortably do this.   Instead I assign a date when a final draft is due and let students work at their own pace within the given time frame.  Usually I give students about two weeks to take a piece (any piece they choose) all the way through the writing process.  During this time I give students hints on where they should be ("Today you should be finishing your drafting and beginning your revising.") and give a daily mini-lesson about the writing process that reflects where I think the student should be.

To make it easier on myself, instead of writing  what part of the writing process they "should" be on and what they should be doing I  use these magnetic signs.  I simply made and printed these pages and then stuck on tiny magnets on the back.  I store them on my storage cabinet and refer to them frequently.

Here is an example of how a first grade teacher tracks students during the writing process and what students are doing during each stage.

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What materials does the teacher need?

I like to have an easel with chart paper to record lists and activities that we might do in a mini-lesson.  I can also post large samples of writings for students to use as examples. 

A clip board to records where students are when you conference with them and what you ask them to work on.  I use a clipboard with several note cards taped in a stair step.  On this index card I record the student's names on the bottom of the card where it sticks out on the clipboard.  Click here to see an example.  When I conference with students I can jot down the date, what we talked about and one thing I asked the student to work on.

A good book full of mini-lesson!  I usually refer to the WONDERFUL book called Craft Lessons by Ralph Fletcher.  The book is full of mini-lesson ideas and children's books to use when teaching the lesson.  I highly recommend this book!  Click here to read about this book.

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What materials do the students need?

I have a bookshelf where students can find most materials that they need.  On the book shelf I have:

  • red pens for editing (small white basket on top shelf)

  • blue pens for revising (small white basket on top shelf)

  • highlighters (we have different uses for these)-(small white basket on top shelf)

  • extra pencils

  • rulers (yellow box on top shelf)

  • story maps that have been laminated so kids can write on them with a vis-a-vi marker (inside the paper organizer)

  • a paper organizers with blank computer paper for final drafts, lined paper for final drafts, legal pads for draft, the story maps mentioned above,  editing checklists (inside the paper organizer)

  • notebook paper (in the blue bucket on the second shelf)

  • boxes of stencils, markers, colored pencils, crayons, scissors, glue, scrapbook scissors, etc (used when publishing)- clear buckets on second shelf

  • construction paper- black crate for scraps on the bottom shelf and full sheets in blue bucket on the third shelf

  • Stamps and stamp pads for publishing- double blue basket on bottom shelf

Students will also need a composition notebook to use as the Writer's Notebook (better than a spiral because it is more difficult for pages to rip out!) and a folder to contain information from the workshop.

I have reorganized my writing area (somewhat).  When I moved into my new classroom I got rid of the nasty, old shelves I was using for my writing center.  They were pretty gross.  Here is a picture of my new writing area.

It is similar to my old writing center.  I simply got rid of the construction paper scraps since kids never really used these.

 Check out this awesomely organized writing center from Mrs. Newingham's site.

 

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How do I conference with a students and what do I say?

To conference with a child means simply to sit down with each child and talk about what they are writing.  There is a wonderful book called How's it Going by Carl Anderson that is all about conferencing.  Click here to read about this book.

 When I conference I DO NOT read all of what the child has written- it would take to long!  Instead I simply have the child tell me and ask how is it going?  This will take some modeling.  Students may not naturally know what they are struggling with!   If I am not sure what they are struggling with I ask how they are applying the mini-lesson.  For example, I might ask "What kind of lead do you have?" and try to have a kid explain the lead.  From there I can give tips.  Or I can ask "What the story is going to be about?"  It often helps students to talk a story out.   Or "Whose point of view is the story from?  Is there any other point of view we could write it from to make it more interesting?"   Sometimes I use conferences as a time to give individual mini-lessons.  For example, using a dictionary or a Spellex or electronic spell checker.

Always leave a conference asking a child to try something, whether it be reworking the lead, adding stronger more vivid verbs or use a thesaurus, make sure they have something that they need to be working on!

In the book How's it Going there is a list of things to say to students and get them to "open up."

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How do I keep track of who I conference with  and what I said?

This is what I have done in the past:

This is where the clip board I mentioned earlier comes into play.  On this clipboard with all the index cards taped to it I jot down when I met with the student, what was said and what task I left them with.  Next time I conference I can ask them if they did the task and how it went.  I have also kept up with a conferencing record sheet that looks like this on a clipboard. 

 

I have also done this:

 I bought a small spiral notepad for each child at the beginning of the school year.  They are the pocket size ones (I think they are 3" by 5" ).  Each student has one.  Whenever I conference with a child in reading or writing my notes go in this pad.  This way ALL their anecdotal notes are all together.  I keep all the notepads in a basket by my desk.

 

I just figured out that our computer grading program will print class lists with a large area next to it (similar to this).  To keep things easy, I print one of these off my computer, date the top and clip it to a clipboard.  I walk around and conference with students, paying attention to which areas are blank as a guide for who I need to conference with.  Then after I fill in the entire page and meet with all students, I three hole punch it and file it in my assessment binder!  Very easy! 

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How often do I conference with students?

There are several ways to effectively meet with all your writers.  Here are just a few ways to keep track:

Magnetized list:

On my storage cabinet I have a list of students I will conference with for the day.  They students know to look at the list to know when it is their turn.  I simply wrote each child's name on a piece of sentence strip, laminated it and stuck magnets on the back.  I only post 4-5 names per day.  All the other students names are on the inside of the storage cabinet door.

 

I have created these as printable labels.  You can download the labels, add your own student's names, print and add magnets and you are done!  Click here to see these printable labels.

 

In the past I have:

I try to make things as easy as possible on myself as possible.  My students sit in groups.  I have 5 tables or groups so I have a Monday table, Tuesday table, and so on.  On Monday I conference with everyone at the Monday table and continue until I have conferenced with everyone once a week.   This makes it much easier!  If I have extra time I try to conference with my weakest writers.

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How do I know what mini-lessons to do and what do a mini-lessons look like?

A mini-lesson is a short lesson that targets a specific skill in writing.  A mini-lesson for me usually lasts 10-15 minutes.  The notes on index cards that I take during conferences can help guide what I need to do in mini-lessons.  if I notice several students have difficulty using quotation marks, I would do mini-lessons on this.

For example a week of mini-lessons for strong verbs could be:

Monday: Review what a verb is!

Tuesday: Read aloud a story and list strong verbs in that story (John Henry by Julius Lester is GREAT for this one) as a whole group

Wednesday: Put a selection on the overhead and have pairs identify strong verbs together.

Thursday: Put a selection on chart paper that has weak verbs (usually I try to write this myself) and have the class identify the verbs and brainstorm strong verbs to replace the weak ones.

Friday:  Have students choose one section in their Writer's Notebook and highlight weak verbs.  Work with a partner to replace with strong verbs.

A good book full of mini-lessons is called Craft Lessons by Ralph Fletcher.  The book is full of mini-lesson ideas and children's books to use when teaching the lesson.  I highly recommend this book!  Click here to read about this book.  Fletcher also has a nonfiction version of this book called Nonfiction Craft Lessons.

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Where do I get ideas for mini-lessons?

These notes on index cards can also help guided what I need to do in mini-lessons.  If I notice several students have difficulty using quotation marks, I would do mini-lessons on this.

I also choose really big ones that can instantly improve writing.  For example I always try to cover leads, strong verbs, using specific nouns, developing a character, and using dialogue.  Here is a copy of my writing plan that I tried to follow last year.

I usually choose one of these topics or another topic and do a different mini-lesson about that related to the topic for an entire week or more.

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How do I keep a SIMPLE writing portfolio?

I have a new plan for keeping track of students growth this year.  I have always kept a portfolio of student work. This year I will have a file folder in which I put examples of final drafts students complete.  Once I have finished an index cards of conference notes I will tear it off the clipboard and staple it in the student's file folder so I have a series of anecdotal records on what the student has been doing and is working on.  I can show this at conferences.  Since I don't use the index cards any longer, now I refer to my writing conference sheet in my assessment binder.  I do not keep this information in the writing portfolio ( It would be nice, but I think it easier to have everyone's together).

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This is the crate.  Each student has a hanging folder.  I put all parent communication in the red folders.  The green folder will hold all final drafts not sent home and will have index cards stapled on the inside.  Since I team teach with another teacher,  I teach another class writing during the day.  The other class has a green folder in the hanging folder.  Basically, students "share" a file with a student in the other class with the matching number.

Click on the flower below to go home.

 

 

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