You’re ready to get started with writing workshop, but you have one nagging question looming in the back of your mind: What is the rest of the class doing while you’re holding student conferences? Fear not! Here are some ideas for how to manage your class during writing workshop.
Students should understand completely the routines and protocol of your classroom. Make sure your students know what to do if:
- they need to use the rest room
- they have a question about what they are doing
- what to do when they have finished a task
Just like at the start of the school year, you’ll want to teach routines. Spend a few days with workshop running prior to even conferencing with students. This will assure they will have you available to redirect them.
Do they know what to do?
Make sure your students are clear on what they are required to do each day you have workshop.
Generally, I find it easiest to start with a mini lesson and quick task that students can complete to practice a particular writing skill or strategy. That’s the first activity of the workshop. Then, I list a series of writing tasks that they should be working on. You can use a hierarchy of tasks — so the most pressing items will be at the top of the list.
For example, your mini lesson might be about sentence variety. The task of the day is for your students to revise a piece of their own writing to show sentence variety. What’s next? Provide a list on your white board.
It might look like this:
- complete the mini lesson task for today
- work on/ complete the first draft of your narrative
- choose one paragraph of your narrative and review the sentence variety. Can you improve it? Add your revisions to your draft.
- choose three vocabulary words from this week’s word study. Create a three panel cartoon strip using those words.
You’ll notice that the items at the top of the list are more important in having students move toward a completed writing assignment (in this case a narrative). I think of the last item in the list of tasks as a “dessert.” If students had their way, they’d go for the cartoon — since drawing is such fun! If students work their way through the list, they will make progress on their writing tasks, apply the new skill learned, and gain writing confidence.
You can use choice boards, journal prompts, mentor sentences or other writing activities as options.
You can leave the same list up for several days, just making sure that you are monitoring progress.
An important note:
Be sure that the work your students complete during workshop is meaningful and important! Students know when they are simply given busy work.
This is key! We know that our students can “work” diligently with their heads down, looking like they are working like dogs — yet — not!
Using an exit card at the end of each workshop class helps you keep tabs on what students are doing — and lets them know that you will be checking on their progress.
You don’t have to use exit cards, though. Students can provide you with their mini lesson task of the day, a draft of a paper, a piece of revision, or just an index card with a “workshop report” jotted down on it.
Student accountability is also improved with timelines. Hold your students to due dates. This helps them stay focused, and it will help writing assignments get finished. (Haven’t we all be stuck in the writing assignment that never ends?!) Depending on your class, it can be helpful for the timeline to be on the short side — it will put a little energy behind their work!
If you don’t already know, I am a huge proponent for checklists! They are fabulous time savers and a wonderful way for you to keep track of your students’ progress on any number of things.
Checklists are a perfect addition to writing workshop. Use them to:
- check when and how often you conference with students
- monitor student progress on project
- on-demand formative assessments
- behavior notations
I especially love them for keeping track on how often you conference with students. It’s easy to spend lots of time with a handful of students and barely any with others. By keeping track on a checklist, you’ll be sure to meet with all of your students.
When your students notice that you’re making notations on your clipboard (even if you just pretend to!), they will pay attention to their work in class! Plus, you are gathering data on your students’ work habits, which means you’ll be able to help them adjust how they spend their time in class.
The primary activity that your students should be engaged in during writing workshop should be, of course, writing. If you place a priority on writing, honor the time your students are working, encourage and engage them in the very difficult and very real process of writing, your students will value the time in workshop as well and grow as writers.
What other ideas do you have for student activity during workshop time?