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Launching the Writing Workshop Do’s and Don’ts: The Mini-Lesson

July 27, 2015 17 Comments
Hi all and welcome back!  Thank you so much for stopping by and continuing to check in with my Launching the Writing Workshop Do’s and Don’ts series of posts!  So far, I’ve shared some tips and tricks to use with setting up your writing center, as well as the background and philosophy of the writing workshop.  If you’re just tuning in, make sure to scroll back through my older posts to check them out.
Throughout the rest of the series, my hope is that you will learn more about ways to launch writing workshop, routines to use throughout the year to make your workshop more effective, and some other do’s and don’ts to carry with you!  This is just a tentative list, I’ve already steered off of it in fact and I would love to continue to answer more questions that you have!  I promise to try my best to share my own experiences and things that I have learned with all of you!

Today I’m really excited to share with you an essential part of writing workshop.   I want to delve a little deeper into the brains of the w.w.; the mini-lesson.  If the writing center is the heart of workshop, then the mini-lesson is definitely the brain.  The mini-lesson is an incredibly important part of your workshop and one that the rest can not function without.  

Below I have included a little image that I created to show the parts of what your writing workshop should be.  It’s clear that the BULK of your workshop is NOT the mini-lesson. What???!!!  I know, but it’s true.  Something that has been difficult to learn about workshop teaching is the importance of TALKING LESS and LISTENING MORE! As important and essential as your mini-lessons are, they are not the largest part of your workshop time.  
The bulk of your writing workshop SHOULD be independent writing time for you students. How else are they going to practice what you preach?!   I’ll get into what YOU should be during while they’re writing in another post.  The mini-lesson although short is essential.  Each mini-lesson has 5 very specific parts included in it.
Components of a mini-lesson include:
-Teaching Point (objective)
-Active Engagement (get students involved)
-Link (closing)
There are different kinds of mini-lessons as well:
Teacher demonstration/model: Where a teacher is sharing a new skill and modeling from their own writing or an example from a mentor text.
The inquiry lesson:  This kind of mini-lesson has the teacher presenting the students with materials to investigate author’s craft and guiding them towards the lesson objective.
Shared writing/interactive writing:  Shared writing is where the teacher holds onto the pen and demonstrates the process of writing in front of the students.  Interactive writing is where the students are allowed to use the pen and interactively create the texts.
Even though your mini-lesson is indeed mini, these 5 parts work together in a way to best engage and support your writers.  So, let’s get into those handy Do’s and Don’ts!
  • Call your students to the meeting area in an organized way.  Use a hand signal, a saying, or a non-verbal cue by tables to have your students meet you on the carpet.  Practice this routine!(more in another post)
  • Mini-lessons should be just that: MINI!  Set a timer or an alarm for yourself before beginning. The mini-lesson should be between 8-10 minutes.  Once that alarm goes off, end it!  
  • Start your mini-lesson with a connection.  Whether that be a reminder of what you taught the previous day, something your students would have done last year, or a personal short story of something you experienced.  Let your connection be a 2 minute start to your mini-lesson.
  • Clearly state your objective THROUGHOUT the mini-lesson.  Repeat, repeat, repeat.  If your goal for the mini-lesson is for the students to recognize that all stories have a beginning, middle, or end, say it multiple times. 
  • Model, model, model.  Practice what you preach.  If you’re teaching students to add an introduction, model it on your own writing or show it in a mentor text.  
  • Have your students actively engaged.  Ask them to bring their writing folders, an example of their own work, or a white board to the carpet with you.  During your mini-lesson ask them to practice the skill after you model it and share it with their partner.
  • Have a call to arms!  End your mini-lesson with a link to their own writing before sending them to their writing spots, “Okay writers, if you’re going to try to add a question in your introduction during writing today give me a thumbs up.”  “Great!  Now remember today and every day, writers can use questions in their introductions to get their reader’s attention!  Off you go!” 
  • Create your OWN mini-lessons!  As long as you have the 5 parts of a mini-lesson you can create your own to fit the needs of your learners!
  • Just expect your students to remember how to gather for a mini-lesson.  Practice it throughout the entire year!
  • Make your mini-lesson into a maxi lesson.  After that 10 minute mark you will lose the attention of your students and cut down on their independent writing time.  Big NO NO!
  • Skip the connection.  It’s important to get the attention of your students by connecting to them personally or activating prior knowledge.  
  • Say the objective once. You want your writers to understand what their goal is during workshop time and remember the strategies that you’re teaching them.
  • Read a mentor text example during your mini-lesson.  Try not to at least as difficult as that may sound.  Share the picture book or informational text during shared reading or read aloud to not take up too much time in your mini-lesson.  Then, during your mini-lesson re-read a specific part that helps highlight your mini-lesson objective.  
  • End your mini-lessons without restating the teaching point.
  • Just use the mini-lessons provided in your teacher manuals. You know BEST what your students need to practice.
  • Expect students to only work on that particular objective during writing time.  THIS IS TOUGH!   The writing workshop is a process so some students may be at different points in their writing.  As long as your students are using skills taught in mini-lessons throughout the unit, they’re on the right track.   

Wow, that was a lot longer of a post than I expected.  I want to leave you with one of my favorite quotes I heard abut the writing workshop and that was,  “You are what your workshop needs.”

I can’t remember the specific staff developer at the Reading and Writing Project that shared this nugget but I just LOVE it.  

I’m sure you have questions and I would LOVE to answer them.  Please feel free to leave them in the comments below or email me.  Please keep in mind, I’m no expert but I will try my absolute best to help you!
Make sure to stayed tuned for my next two posts, Do’s and Don’ts of Essential Routines and Do’s and Don’ts of Activities to Launch the Workshop (including mentor text suggestions).  
I hope you are all enjoying your last few weeks of summer!
As always, thank you SO much for stopping by!


  • afirstforeverything July 27, 2015 at 11:50 am

    This is a great post with a lot of great info and reminders. Can I share it on my blog?

    • Jayme July 27, 2015 at 3:27 pm

      I would be honored Julie, thank you so much! I'm so glad you find it helpful!

  • Unknown July 27, 2015 at 5:48 pm

    Love the timer idea for making sure mini lessons do not become maxi! You should do a periscope about all this, just sayin:)

  • Unknown July 27, 2015 at 5:49 pm

    Love the timer idea for making sure mini lessons do not become maxi! You should do a periscope about all this, just sayin:)

    • Jayme July 29, 2015 at 9:00 pm

      Thanks so much Amanda! I am considering doing a periscope video about some of my writing workshop tips but I have to get up the nerve. Thank you for stopping by and continuing to read the series!

  • The Busy Class July 27, 2015 at 8:03 pm

    Saw this on Instagram and rushed over to catch up on these WW posts! I teach 4th grade and am looking forward to incorporating your Do's and Don'ts. Keeping my lessons "mini" and allowing time to share at the end will be the hardest part. Can't wait for the next post!

    • Jayme July 29, 2015 at 9:01 pm

      Thank you so much for stopping by and reading my series! You don't know how happy it makes me that you find these tips helpful. I hope you continue to learn more from these posts!

  • Aimee July 27, 2015 at 11:25 pm

    I am loving these posts! I am always looking to improve my workshop instruction. Thank you! I love the timer idea and will probably need to do that because that 10 minute mark is soooo easy to go past.

    I don't know if you plan on addressing this in a future post, but how do you grade your students' writing? We are required to take two grades per week in each subject area. As you can imagine, this is stressful when it comes to writing. I'm sure your school has different grading requirements than mine, but I'd love to know how you approach grading your students work in a workshop setting. When do you grade a piece? How often do you do this? Do they publish first? I'm looking forward to your next post in the series!

    Primarily Speaking

    • Jayme July 29, 2015 at 9:15 pm

      Hi Aimee! Thank you so much for stopping by and reading my post. I'm honored that you find it helpful! The timer is definitely a great tool, I suggest it! I will definitely address grading in a post, that's a great idea. My district isn't required to submit grades as often as yours but we use the learning progressions in the Lucy Calkins Writing Pathways book. We give "on-demand," assessments which are writing prompts throughout different times in a unit. That helps us see where our writers are and who needs extra support. Most likely we grade a pre-test on-demand, an on-demand in the middle of a unit, and an on-demand at the end of a unit. We use the learning progressions (rubrics) from the book to help us grade their pieces. I'll blog more about this but I hope that answers some of your questions!

  • alwayskindergarten July 28, 2015 at 5:02 am

    Love, love, love this! Such a great reminder to keep the mini lesson MINI! Loving this series. Keep it coming!
    Always Kindergarten

    • Jayme July 29, 2015 at 9:19 pm

      Thank you Andrea for all of your support and kind words! I'm so glad you're loving the series, I'm having so much fun with it!

  • Erin Murphy July 29, 2015 at 3:42 am

    These posts are great, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge of Writer's Workshop with us! You are definitely helping me realize where I need to start! Thanks again!!

    Kindergarten Dragons

    • Jayme July 29, 2015 at 9:20 pm

      Thank you so much Erin for all of your support and kind words! I'm so glad this is helping get you organized for the beginning of the school year. Please let me know if you have other questions!

  • Unknown July 29, 2015 at 7:06 pm

    I can't wait to read about how you launch the worship. I remember you saying you started in day 1, which makes me nervous!!! :) Also, where do you fit in grammar?

    • Jayme July 29, 2015 at 9:21 pm

      Don't be nervous!!! It will be great and your students are going to love it! I will be talking about grammar in a later post but it's always sprinkled in to mini-lessons, conferencing, and also my morning message in morning meeting. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  • Unknown July 29, 2015 at 7:06 pm


  • Unknown August 3, 2015 at 11:10 pm

    Thank you!!! I just discovered your blog today and it's amazing….how you have everything I believe and know to be true about teaching—all in one place! I went to TCRWP this summer and enjoyed every second. Anyways…do you have a similar pie chart like the one above for reading workshop? Or know where I can find one? Thank you!

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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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