Hi everyone! Thank you so much for joining me for my first post in this series of blogs about the Writing Workshop. I am so excited that you have taken the time to read this post because the writing workshop is a HUGE passion of mine! I have written about it in passing and brought you some tips and tricks that I have picked up over the years but have been wanting to write about launching the writing workshop for a while now. As teachers prepare to go back to school in the next few weeks I thought that this would be the perfect time to bring you some of the lessons I have learned along the way in hopes of helping other teachers get started on the right foot!
Before I begin I would like to give you a little background of my experience with the writing workshop. Let me preface by saying that as much as I would LOVE to be associated with Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project, I am not affiliated with the organization. I am merely a fifth (oh that’s exciting to type!) year first grade teacher who has come to appreciate and practice Lucy Calkin’s workshop model and have found it to be the most effective model of teaching for my students. It has not been an easy road, however, and I am CONSTANTLY learning along the way. I will be teaching for a second year a first grade inclusion class so I have a wide range of students. One of the biggest reasons that I have come to love writing workshop and the workshop model of teaching in general, is because it truly lets me differentiate for my students and meet the needs of all my learners.
Through the years I have been to many trainings at Columbia University through TCRWP and this year was lucky enough to be a part of a Lead Teacher Group with a staff developer from the project. I attended the summer writing institute last August and will be attending the advanced sessions in the next few weeks. I can’t wait to learn even more than I have already and plan to come back here and share my newfound knowledge and experiences!
Going off of that, my school uses Lucy Calkin’s Units of Study in Opinion, Information, and Narrative Writing. However, this is not the only writing workshop curriculum to be found. There are so many wonderful resources out there, including those on Teachers Pay Teachers. However, I find that this is the curriculum and model that works best for my students. That’s not to say, I don’t supplement and I will get to that a little later.
With that being said, what can you expect from this series of blogs? I’m hoping to shed some light on all aspects of “the launch,” of the writing workshop to help you get started at the beginning of the year.
This is a tentative list of topics that will be discussed across several blog posts. My hope is that after this series you will be more comfortable getting writing workshop off the ground for you and your students. I don’t want to JUST write about this list though, if you have ANY questions about the writing workshop or thoughts you’d like to add, PLEASE feel free to post in the comments section so I can *try and answer your questions! I can only speak from my own experiences but I hope you’ll find some useful tips and tricks!
One thing that I know most teachers struggle with when it comes to writing workshop is FITTING IT ALL IN! Most teachers at my school and myself even struggled with this challenge in the beginning of adopting writing workshop because it is a COMPLETELY different way of teaching. Over the last year, we have tried to tailor our reading units to fit with our writing units. I have posted our tentative literacy calendar for you so you can see how we structure our units. It’s been very helpful that our realistic fiction reading unit will match with our small moment writing this year. I love the opportunity to use picture books and mentor texts that we introduce in reading to carry over with our writing. BUT, before I get ahead of myself the first topic I wanted to write about with the launch of writing workshop is: THE WRITING CENTER.
There are SO many beautiful pictures of writing centers on Pinterest these days that I want to have them all! I don’t know about you but I can get overwhelmed with seeing all of those pictures, I want every single writing center that I see! A big mistake I was making was putting things in my writing center because…gulp…Pinterest told me to. I want to start this series by sharing some Do’s and Don’ts of the writing center so you can get this part of your classroom organized and set for the first day of school! Because believe it or not, I launch writing workshop on the first, yes the first day with my students.
The writing center is at the heart of your writing workshop. The thing I love most about this area is that it’s ever changing and student run. There is no wrong thing to set it up on as long as you have the essentials. You can use a bookshelf, a desk, or a rolling cart, or a table it doesn’t matter as long as it works for you and your students. So let’s get down to the nitty gritty and the Do’s and Don’ts of your writing center!
-Keep student folders easily and readily available. I like to section them by table because my table captains will be the ones passing out the folders to their groups. It is easier for them to locate the folders if they’re all together. (I’ll be writing another post ALL about the writing folder and what should be included in it)
-Put out SEVERAL kinds of different writing paper. This was a HUGE lightbulb moment for me. If you have incoming first or second graders, you are bound to have students with varying writing abilities. You differentiate your activities based off student’s abilities why not differentiate paper choice? In my writing center you will ALWAYS find horizontal paper with 2-3 lines, paper with just a picture box and one line for a sentence, vertical paper with 3 lines, and then vertical paper with more than 3 lines. By differentiating paper choice you allow students to use the paper that will help them become the best writer they can be at that time. How exciting for them when they realize, “Wow! I can write more than 3 sentences on a page today!”
-Place your writing center near your word wall or have a traveling word wall or student word wall to keep inside of folders. You want students to become independent during writing time so give them the resources to become independent!
-This one is difficult for some teachers to wrap their heads around. My students use PENS during writing workshop. How much nicer and more fluid do you write with a pen rather than pencil? It slides gracefully across your paper and looks much cleaner. That’s the same feeling a first grader has too. Not to mention that it’s so important to teach students to EEEK…cross off their words rather than erase them. My student’s writing drafts are SLOPPY COPIES so they can easily see the edits they have made. Put out blue or black pens for students to write with.
-Set out colorful pens for students to edit or revise with. Purple for punctuation, green for spelling, and orange for adding words and sentences are some ideas I’ve used in the past. Writing should be fun and revising can be daunting so this is a way to make it more exciting!
-Keep half sheets of blank and lined paper in the writing center for students to glue onto their writing. If they want to add an additional sentence they can add a “flap,” onto the bottom. This is all part of the revising and editing process.
-Put out scissors, tape, and/or glue in the writing center for all of the flap making to happen!
-Also set out post-its to add new introduction to pieces.
-Do NOT let students keep their writing folders in their desks. It is my experience that if you keep writing folders inside student desks they start to become a catch-all place for unfinished work, notes home, and recess activities. Keep them separate to show the importance.
-Don’t set out on one kind of paper for all students. See above (please!)
-Don’t put the writing center in an obscure place in the classroom. It should be easily accessible for students and near writing charts and the classroom word wall.
-Don’t just set out pencils for students to write with. Students can be VERY hard on themselves and want things to look perfect. Writing workshop gives students the opportunity to learn from their mistakes if they don’t have the option to erase. You can give pencils as an option but make sure you offer pens too.
-Don’t keep the same supplies out all year. This is a huge no-no! Change out paper choices as students become more confident writers, change out and use different colored pens and colored paper for adding to their writing. Variety is the spice of life!
-Don’t have the teacher in charge of the writing center supplies. Teach students the procedures from the start to get folders, pass them out to students with their pens, and to care for the writing supplies. This is an incredibly valuable part of the writing workshop!
Thank you so much for stopping by and reading through my first blog post about launching the writing workshop in your classroom. I hope you gained some valuable tips for what to include in your writing center and what not to include! I have created a forever freebie to help organize your writing center with these writing center labels.
If you’re interested in checking them out you can grab them in my TpT store here! I hope you’ll follow along to check out my next post in this blog series!
You can check out a previous post about setting up your Writing Workshop Teacher Toolkit here! That’s another great project to tackle over the summer!
I hope you all have a wonderful day! Keep calm and write on!