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Launching the Writing Workshop Do’s and Don’ts: The First Few Days

August 13, 2015 2 Comments
Hi everyone!  Well, it’s just about that time.  There’s fresh paper on the bulletin boards, the borders are secured, the names are almost all written on new labels, and the books are leveled in their bins.  Back to school season is officially upon us!  If you’re like me, you still have a few more weeks before your new kiddos come.  But, for those of you who are already back to business, I hope your first few days have been fantastic!
I’m so grateful that you’ve been joining me for my blog series; The Do’s and Don’ts of Launching the Writing Workshop.  So far, we’ve talked about setting up your writing center, the philosophy of the writing workshop, the mini-lesson, and essential routines of the writing workshop.  I’ve also touched upon materials to include in your writing toolkit and my top ten takeaways from the TC summer institute that I had the privilege of attending last week.  I hope you have learned some valuable tips and tricks and have been inspired to launch your writing workshop with a renewed sense of excitement.
Today, I want to focus on those absolutely essential first few days back in school.  How should you launch writing workshop?  How should you create an intimate environment where your students feel safe and excited to share out their ideas?  I hope I can answer some of your questions and provide you with some fresh tips and tricks to start your year off right!  Here are my top do’s and don’ts for the first few days of your writing workshop!  Enjoy!

  • Start your year by administering on-demand assessments.  If you follow Lucy Calkins’ units of study, then you are familiar with what an on-demand is.  If you are not familiar, an on-demand is a a piece of writing done in one period to show what students already know about a genre of writing.  An on-demand gives teachers an idea of what needs to be taught for a pre-assessment and can also be used at the end of a unit for a post-assessment.  Some experts recommend having older students complete an on-demand assessment for narrative, information, and opinion writing all at the very start of the year.  For K and first grade, I would suggest doing an on-demand assessment before each new genre that you teach.
  • State your first on-demand as something like, ” Writers!  I’m so excited to see what you already know about writing small moment stories.  Do you think you can write about one time when something happened to you?  Off you go!”  Just give them a three page booklet and see what they come back with.  
    • You can tell them that they should include:
      • a beginning for your story
      • show what happened, in order
      • use pictures and words to write your story
      • make an ending
  • Designate a meeting area for all of your mini-lessons.  From day one, teach students how to come to your meeting area.  Model, model, model, and then model some more!
  • Immerse your writers in mentor texts and stories that showcase the writing process and how writers write!  Here are some of my favorite titles to use when first launching writing workshop, Ralph Tells A Story is a personal favorite of mine!
  • Start on Day 1!  If you create an environment from the start where students are encouraged to share their thoughts and are made to feel like they have a story to tell; they’ll believe you.  
  • Give students a three page booklet (a page for a beginning, a page for a middle, and a page for an ending) to get them started.  Giving students these booklets allows them to easily manipulate the booklet while planning for their stories.  
  • Teach children the steps they should take to write their stories from the beginning.  Even if your students have never had writing workshop before, one of the first mini-lessons should be about the writing process.  For kindergarten and first grade students this should be as simple as: 
    • writers create true stories by first thinking of an idea, planning it across their fingers, and then drawing and writing their stories.  
  • During the first few days, use your mini-lessons as time to teach routines and describe the structure of writing workshop.  Why not teach your kids one day all about what a conference is?  Show them what you’re looking for as the teacher, what their responses should sound like, and why you do them.  This will make them MUCH more comfortable when you sit down next to them during independent writing time.  It will also cut down on the “deer in headlights” look when you ask, “What are you working on today as a writer Johnny?” You know it happens!
  • PRAISE, PRAISE, AND PRAISE SOME MORE!  Throughout your ENTIRE first week and beyond, constantly stop your writers and point out the smart choices that students are making.  “Oh Bobby, I love the way you capped your pen after you finished writing today.”  “Susie, great job sketching your picture first.”  “Writers!  Jeff wrote about a time when he caught a fish and had to have his dad pull it out of the water!  Wow!”  Constant praise and support will only encourage your writers to keep going.
  • Have fun!  Writing workshop is a time to truly listen to your students and encourage their individuality while still meeting standards and learning valuable life skills.  Celebrate their hard work, perseverance, and great ideas!  They will learn to love it.
  • Assume that every one of your incoming students are at the starting gate for writing.  By using an on-demand assessment you will see where your writers are.  You can judge this by using a learning progression or rubric to see what skills your students have and what they need.  This will give you an idea of how to conduct your unit.  Maybe your writers are much more competent than you expected.  This will give you the chance to modify your mini-lessons to lift their level of writing instead of continuing to go over the basics if they don’t need it.  
  • Give them an on-demand assessment with no guidelines at all.  You’re NOT out to get them. Use this pre-assessment as baseline data to show how much they have grown as writers as the year continues.  On-demands are great tools to have during conferences!
  • Don’t panic if you don’t have a large carpet or classroom library to hold mini-lessons in.  As long as you have a place in your classroom where students can gather comfortably and you can either write on an interactive white board or chart, you’re good to go!
  • Don’t feel like you only need to read mentor texts during writing workshop.  Share these titles to help launch writing workshop during read aloud, snack, or reading workshop.  Show your kids that all areas of literacy work together!
  • Don’t say, there’s no possible way to start on the first day!  Students should be made to feel like writing workshop is an important part of their routine.  They should know that it needs to be practiced and modeled just like lining up for lunch, packing up to go home, and taking turns.  If you practice from the start, it will become second nature for them.  
  • Don’t just set out one type of paper for booklets.  Allow students to decide whether they’re ready for a paper with lines or just a picture box.  If you give students the power to choose, they will feel more in charge of their own learning and motivated to do their best work. 
  • Don’t forget to reiterate that every writer first has to think of an idea, plan it out, and then write it.  If you stress this process from the start, writers will be more inclined to do in naturally.  
  • Don’t give up! Please don’t!  It may not feel like your students are becoming as independent as quickly as you want them to be.  Don’t give up on them.  If you continue to model and remain consistent and supportive, your writing workshop will run smoothly.  Like anything else that’s worth the effort, it just takes time.
Wow!  I hope you have found these do’s and don’ts helpful and feel more confident to launch your writing workshop successfully from the start.    Please feel free to ask questions in the comments below!  I will be back throughout the year to show you my writing folders and bring new ideas to implement in your writing workshop!
But wait, I’m not done just yet!
In order to make your transition back to school easier, I have also created a workshop teacher planner to help keep all of your lessons in one place.  As a workshop teacher, there are so many elements to our literacy block that I want to make sure I’m teaching.  I haven’t yet found a lesson planner that had all of the components I was looking for.  So, I made one myself!  
Inside my workshop teacher planner,  you will find planning templates for reading workshop, writing workshop, and word study.  I have included templates to plan weekly lessons for shared reading, interactive read-alouds, reading workshop mini-lessons, conference notes, and small group plans.  For writing workshop, you will find templates for shared writing plans, interactive writing plans, conference notes, writing workshop mini-lesson templates, and small group plans.  

I’m so excited about this new product that I’m going to be giving one away to a lucky reader! All you have to do is enter your name in the rafflecopter below!  This giveaway will run until Thursday, August 14th at midnight.  If you want to check it out before then, you can visit my TpT store here!
I hope you find it useful!  As always, thank you SO much for stopping by and reading through my series.   I hope you’ll remember to keep calm and write on!

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  • D and K August 13, 2015 at 3:06 pm

    Love this! I think I may have entered twice 😬 Thank you so much for the tips!

  • Susan K. August 13, 2015 at 6:02 pm

    Thank you for all this useful information!

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    Hi! I’m Jayme! A former elementary teacher turned stay at home mom sharing toddler activities, mom tips, and educational resources to help you learn and play with your children. I believe in the power of PLAY and creating meaningful activities for you and your little ones to enjoy together.

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