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Launching the Writing Workshop: Essential Routines

July 31, 2015 7 Comments
Hello everyone!  Thank you SO much for stopping by and continuing to read my series about Launching the Writing Workshop: Do’s and Don’ts!  If you’re here for the first time, welcome!  I’m so honored that you took some time away from your day to read about my favorite subject; the writer’s workshop.  
Over the last week, I have shared a few tips and tricks that I have picked up from being a writing workshop teacher.  I must mention again that as much as I would LOVE to be, I am not associated with Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project.  But, I have been trained in their summer institute and have attended several professional development opportunities.  Ever since beginning my teaching career, I fell in love with Lucy Calkin’s principles and method of teaching.  These posts are based off of my own experiences in the classroom. 
So far, we’ve covered the Do’s and Don’ts of the Writing Center, The Philosophy behind the writing workshop, and the Do’s and Don’ts of the Mini-Lesson.  Today I’d like to share with you the nitty gritty of the ESSENTIAL routines to your writing workshop.  These of course, are NOT the only routines that should/could be used, but I have found that they’re the most important to get your workshop off the ground in the beginning of the year.  Each and every routine must be modeled, modeled, and modeled again before any student will have it mastered!  But, these routines plus modeling will help get your workshop running like a well-oiled machine!

Whether your students sit in individual desks, tables, or groups of desks you should assign a table/area captain.  This captain will be rotated throughout the school year, however, they are the ones COMPLETELY responsible for gathering the materials for students in their area at the start of workshop.  When I say, “It’s time to get set up for workshop!”  My table captains automatically know that means head to the writing center, get their groups writing folders, and pens.  They will return to their tables and calmly pass out folders to each member of their group and set pens on top of each person’s name tag.  THIS IS NOT DONE BY THE TEACHER (sorry for the shouty capitals!)  I want to teach my students independence from the start and this is a great way to do it. 
This routine insures that each student gets the materials that they need BUT in a timely and organized manner.  What you DON’T want to have is each student rushing to the writing center and trying to grab their favorite pen that somehow writes better than the exact same other ones.  You know you’ve heard that before!
After table captains pass out the materials, students need to think of a plan for themselves that day.  Do they need more paper from the writing center?  Are they continuing to work on a piece from the day before?  Before being asked to come to the meeting area, students should have their writing papers or pieces out on their desks ready for the day.  They should also keep their pens on top of their name tags that way when they return to their writing spots from the mini-lesson, they’ll be all ready to get started!
If you take nothing else from this post other than this point, then I have made a difference!  Pair students up with like-ability partners.  This allows for more successful conversations, help with editing and revising, and positive modeled behavior.  Partners are ESSENTIAL to the writing workshop.  Students don’t just use them during the editing stage of their writing but for everything!  Partners should be changed throughout the year but they should still be matched with a friend of like-ability, I promise it makes a difference
.  You can also assign partners names like, Partner 1 and Partner 2, Ketchup and Mustard, or Peanut Butter and Jelly.  That way you can switch on and off during turn and talk or share time without an argument.
I say this is important because what you DON’T want when it’s time for your mini-lesson is a mad dash to the carpet and a fight for who sits where.  By calling students to the meeting area, carpet, or whatever you choose to call it, by groups or tables you cut down on this negative behavior.  This way students can choose where they sit in a more organized way and save a spot for their partner calmly if they don’t sit at the same table.  
Often times during mini-lessons there’s a portion where we ask students to become actively engaged in the lesson.  This means, we want them to either help us with something in our own writing or practice with their own pieces.  At the beginning of my teaching, I wouldn’t always be sure whether I wanted my students to bring their work with them and would have them running back to their spots to get their materials in the middle of a mini-lesson.  Talk about a waste of time!  I started to just leave the guessing game out of it and ask my students to bring their writing folders (or notebooks if you use them) with them to the meeting area for EVERY mini-lesson.  My students know to sit on their folders when they come so they’re not distracted.  Yes, they definitely get a kick out of the fact that they SIT on their folders!
Speaking of active engagement during a mini-lesson, there is NO better way to engage your little writers than by asking them to “turn and talk,” to their partner during a mini-lesson.  You might do this after you ask a question or want them to try something in their own writing.  If students aren’t sitting with their partners it gets VERY difficult to share their thoughts. Especially when you have students crawling over each other to get to their partners in time (yes, I speak from experience!)
I have said this before but it should be mentioned again.  At the end of your mini-lesson have a call to arms and get your writers excited about their work for the day!  I always say, “Off You Go!”  and they really truly are off on their own after that.  Once they leave the carpet they either return to their desks and get started or they take their writing materials and move to their “writing spots.”  Some of my little friends work better around the room like at a larger table or on the floor.  As long as it’s beneficial to them, I don’t make my kids sit in their desks for writing time.  
Here are some of my lovelies in their writing spots with their partners.

I LOVE this routine!  I don’t know about you but when I’m blogging, creating, or lesson planning I need a little background noise.  The same goes for my students!  I like to play Pandora Radio:  Rockabye Baby! for my students.  They get such a kick out of hearing familiar rock and roll tunes set to lullaby.  Not to mention that it’s very soothing.  I always tell them that they can talk but not louder than the music.  Another reason why it’s my favorite time of the day!
Oh my heart goes pitter patter for anchor charts!  Most of writing workshop mini-lessons revolve around an anchor chart that is created with students or before students are introduced to a new concept.  I continue to refer to these anchor charts during independent writing time with a mid-workshop interruption to remind them of their objective or during a writing conference.  

I ALWAYS keep writing charts near the meeting area or on our Writing bulletin board so students can easily refer back to them! Side note: they’re not always pretty but they’re always useful!
This is probably the single most repeated phrase during writing workshop for the entire year!  My students learn from the start that a writer’s job is never done!  We always say, “When I’m done, I’ve just begun!”  This means when a writer THINKS they’re done with a piece they can always 1) add to their words 2) add to their pictures 3) start a new piece!  Gone are the days of, “I’m done! Now what do I do?!”  Nope…everyone say it with me, “When you’re done, you’ve just begun!”
As important as these routines are to your writing workshop, I want to again say that the most ESSENTIAL piece is; YOU!
If you remain consistent, enthusiastic, and curious about your writers they will follow suit!
I hope you have gained some useful information from this post and feel more confident to launch your workshop with your incoming students!  I’ll be back soon with more posts in this series including:
*Do’s and Don’ts of Your First Few Days of Workshop
* Do’s and Don’ts of Using Mentor Texts
*Do’s and Don’ts of Assessment.
If you have ANY questions or would like to see me elaborate on other information please let me know!  I’m thrilled to share that I will be attending the Summer Institute at Teacher’s College NEXT WEEK in an advanced session!  I’ll be in two groups that are being run by authors of the Units of Study and can’t wait to share all of the new tips and tricks that I learn while I’m there!
Until then, keep calm and write on!  
Thanks as always for stopping by!


  • MyDayinK July 31, 2015 at 2:46 am

    Jayme, I love this! You did such a wonderful job laying the foundation and setting up the routines of writing workshop! I also struggled with the idea of having them being their work to the meeting area because I was afraid they would get distracted. I found it was just the opposite, it was a great opportunity to refer back to what they are working on and like you said not waste time. I also love that saying, "if they are done they have just begun!" Brilliant!! I'm definitely going to use that this year. Thanks friend, great job! šŸ™‚

  • Unknown July 31, 2015 at 4:27 am

    Thanks for all the ideas Jayme, I always take something away from your posts! What a great idea having students sit on their folders/notebooks so they aren't distracted, might have to try that. My charts are always horrible looking especially if I'm writing while teaching, I always end up having to redo them (if I have time)! So jealous you're going to the Summer Institute, do you get to meet Lucy Calkins, have you met her? I'm thinking about going to one of her conferences in Oct. in the Bay Area!
    School Days Simplified

  • afirstforeverything July 31, 2015 at 12:47 pm

    I love this blog series! I'd love to hear more about how you use partners during writing workshop. I'm guilty of having it be a quiet time when they are writing and I have never thought about having partners. What does it look like? How often are they "conferring?" What grade level do you do it with? It sounds like a wonderful idea and I'm working the idea around in my head. Just wondering if my first graders can handle it.


  • Unknown July 31, 2015 at 1:26 pm

    This will be my first year using Lucy Calkins. I'm nervous but very excited! Your blog series is just what I needed. I would love to know the do's and don'ts on conferencing with students. Thank you so much!

  • Amber Unger July 31, 2015 at 10:27 pm

    Yay! I'm excited to have found your series of Writers Workshop blog posts. I am switching to first grade this fall (from Kindergarten) and changing school districts. Last year, I tried to do WW on my own with my Kinders and it didn't go too well (long story on that). My new school district follows Lucy Calkins (new to them / us this year), so I am SO excited to join this learning process with district support!

  • Amy August 1, 2015 at 3:36 pm

    Jayme ā€¦ love! Have sooooo much fun at the Writing Institute!!!!!!! Great idea having them sit on their folders. Last year I had them put them in front of them and I felt like I was giving evil eyes to some of my impulsive little friends!!!!!


    Teach! Sparkle! Smile!

  • Mrs. Griffith August 3, 2015 at 4:04 am

    Thank you for your insight! I loved this post. I've tried to teach "when you're done you've just begun in the past" and my kiddos just don't seem to get it. I feel like I am the one to help them find places to go back and add. Any pointers?

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    Hi! Iā€™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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