73: Writing Workshops





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Main components of writing workshops
  • students write during workshops that occur during class
  • teachers observe and give individual feedback
  • teach writing skills in a step-by-step manner
Reasons to Run Writing Workshops
  • ensures that students get writing done
  • diagnostic – learn what students are succeeding at and not
  • individualize instruction
  • can be more efficient than whole group instruction
  • model discipline specific thinking patterns and writing styles
Play by Play:
  • Building engagement, choice & individual goal setting:
    • students list possible writing topics they’d like to explore
    • teachers assign topics based on their interests and to ensure class-wide variety in topics
    • students conduct preliminary research to narrow down writing topic
    • student complete individual goal setting sheets that list specific content and writing goals they’d like to achieve in the project
  • Students working independently:
    • students conduct more research on color-coded notecards that categorize types of information and that record summaries and resources
    • students create outlines and draft pieces while waiting for conferences
    • set norms for independent work so that conferences can occur simultanously
      • write need-to-knows on sticky notes and place them on designated board
      • if you finish writing early, work on editing and revising
      • use low voices and sit close to thought partners
      • go to writing resource area for more ideas if you get stuck
  • Brief, Focused Teaching & Modeling:
    • assign a thinking sheet that outlines how to think / draft a small section of writing piece
    • conduct a mini-lesson on contents of thinking sheet
    • also support mini-lesson with modeling
    • can assign thinking sheets, teach mini-lessons, and model other key features of the writing pieces
    • could use tree diagrams and other graphic organizers to represent and outline arguments
  • Teacher Student Conferences and observations:
    • doesn’t instruct on right and wrong – instead asks questions that get students to make connections, justify arguments, etc.
    • can be short – 2-3 minutes and focused
      • commit to a learning target (writing or content) and focus feedback and inquiries on that focus to keep meetings targeted and short
    • could address any idea that students need help
    • possible prompts –
      • what are you working on?
      • how is it going?
      • what help do you need to move forward?
      • tell me more about why you …
      • what else do you know about …
      • how are you achieving your goals?
    • incorporate individual goal sheets – lists skills students want to master in current project
    • incorporate rubric
      • highlight rubric together or go over student highlighted rubric
      • give feedback specific to the rubric
      • use a rubric reflection sheet with columns: rubric criteria, successful or not, evidence, next steps
    • another way to share feedback
      • take notes on post-its while working the room
      • place on student work during work time or during conference times
    • storing conference notes
      • write on sticky notes that start on clipboard
      • move to student work
      • after it is used by student, move to a notebook that has pages for each student
  • Writing Folders:
    • keep work organized in writing folders – contain note cards, drafts, outlines, brainstorm ideas, individual goal sheets, peer review sheets, etc 
  • Share the Results:
    • conclude with oral presentations to share findings
Making time:
  • focus writing assignments on topics that involve big subtle ideas that are need to be taught over time
  • use writing workshop format for other types of problem solving – e.g. solving real world math problems, writing lab reports, etc


See Reasons for running writing workshops above.


Teaching students how to write within discipline-specific genres is tricky.  The elements of the writing workshop can be used to scaffold key features of writing pieces, guide students during work time and give specific formative feedback on work.  Incorporating student goals and student choice into the work builds student engagement, agency, and ownership of the work.


Preparation Steps
  • Develop thinking sheets and mini lessons and gather models to scaffold key features of the writing piece
  • Develop overarching topic or essential question that can be used to stimulate and focus student-geneterated topics and questions
  • Develop assessment sheets – could have columns for rubric criteria, successful or not?, related evidence, next steps
  • Plan logistics and gather resources – writing folders (physical or online), sticky notes
    • Tech Note: Google keep might be a good substitute for conference sticky notes because they can be shared with students and organized by tags and students can check off items in the list as they complete them.  Google keep may be good for storing student goals for similar reasons.
Early Implementation Steps
  • Run writing workshop that focuses on 1 to 2 elements of writing piece.  See elements listed above for details:
    • build engagement though some student choice
    • conduct mini-lessons, provide thinking sheets and model each feature (1 at a time)
    • facilitate independent work time – focus work time goals and communicate norms
    • meet with students in conferences and record feedback
    • organize work in writing folders
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Make writing workshops part of work time routine in multiple projects
  • Track writing samples over several projects and use these to help students reflect and set progressive writing goals



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