If you’re thinking about structuring your class to include writing workshop, you might be wondering what the writing workshop format looks like.

What does writing workshop look like in a middle school classroom?

What does writing workshop look like?

The most important part of writing workshop is to make it YOURS.  There isn’t a “one size fits all” method.  Adapt and adopt ideas that work for you and your students.

I’ve had success with writing workshop by following this method:

  1. teach a mini lesson
  2. ask students to apply the concept of the mini lesson
  3. conference with students (either as a group or individually)
  4. regularly provide time in class for students to write independently
  5. debrief at the end of class with a full-class discussion, exit card, “ticket out of class,” or other formative assessment
  6. use the end-of-class assessments to plan future mini lessons and student conferences
  7. rinse & repeat

The Mini Lesson

When you’re ready to start a writing unit, list the mini lessons you’ll want to teach.  Use this list to plan your unit.

Start each workshop with a mini lesson.

At the start of each day of workshop (you don’t have to have workshop every day), teach the mini lesson.  Keep it short!  It can be helpful to use a timer to keep you on track.  You want the mini lesson to last 10 – 15 minutes.  You want to explain, model, and then turn your students free to practice.

For example, you may want your mini lesson to focus on sentence variety.  Teaching four types of sentences (simple, compound, complex, compound complex) would be too big a topic to cover in 10 – 15 minutes, so you may want your students to focus on a smaller aspect of sentence variety:  incorporating short, powerful sentences in their writing.

Your mini lesson might look like this:

  1. A sample paragraph with sentences of all the same length.
  2. Same paragraph with one short sentence that packs a punch.
  3. Ask students to compare/contrast the sentences — noticing the difference between the two and how the shorter sentences pack a “punch.”  Additionally, students may notice that a paragraph with varying sentence lengths are more “interesting.”  Short sentences can help the reader notice important aspects or create a stronger writing voice.  This is a good time for students to write the mini lesson in their notebooks — and record (or tape/glue in) examples you provide.
  4. Model what you want students to do.  For this example, you can provide students with a sample paragraph, show them how to choose a sentence or two to revise (make shorter) to provide emphasis and voice.  If you want students to underline the sentence they are going to revise and rewrite it, do that as well when you model.
  5. Ask students to give it a try.  Depending on the concept, you may want students to practice with a partner (I do, we do, you do method).  Make sure you keep track of how much time you allow students to work on this — remember that you want to keep your mini lesson short.  As students are giving this a try, walk around the room for a quick assessment of who is getting in and who may need more help.
  6. Independent work begins.  You can ask your students to apply what they learned to their own writing.  They can use a paragraph from an essay they are currently working on, another sample piece of writing, or they can respond to a prompt.  This product is great to use as a formative assessment.  Students can provide this to you at the end of class as their “ticket out.”
  7. Conference time/ workshop activities.  Now your students will either conference with you or work on whatever writing tasks are on tap.  You can use choice boards, a list on your white board, or use another method to provide students with “what comes next.”  I think of the list like a meal — and dessert comes last.  Provide a fun activity like vocabulary cartoons or illustrating a scene from their writing.  That often provides motivation for students to complete tasks (kind of like eating lima beans in order to have cake!!).
  8. Debrief.  This is critical.  Stop workshop at least 5 minutes before the bell or change of class to allow students to debrief.  Again, this is a great exit card activity, but you can always allow students to just “turn and talk” to a classmate about what they accomplished in workshop.  This is an important aspect for writing workshop for a few reasons:
  • students are held accountable.  When they use an exit card or turn in a product, they take responsibility for what they learned and accomplished in class.
  • you’ll build relationships with students.  Shy and quiet students who might not tell you about successes or challenges in class will tell you on a exit card.  And, allowing students a bit of time to talk and share is a reward for time spent working hard.  Talkative students know they’ll have a chance to share at the end of class.
  • you are acknowledging that your students worked hard during workshop!  Allow them to take a breather and share.
  • provides transition time to the next class.

Rinse & Repeat

What does writing workshop look like?

Use any collected “ticket out of class” or exit cards to determine who you’ll see in conferences the next day.  You can also use those assessment to determine whether or not you need to reteach a concept.

For the example above, you may collect from your students a sample paragraph that shows short sentences in action.  As you review them, you can sort them into piles:  those who you need to meet with, those who are ready to move on.  Then determine your next mini lesson.

You might decide you want to have students look at the paragraphs they wrote in class (the ones with the short sentence) and revise to include a compound sentence.  There’s your mini lesson for your next workshop.

Mini lessons build on each other — and also should build on whatever your ultimate writing product for the unit will be.  If you’re working on an argument essay, keep in mind that your students should be progressing toward working on those projects.  It’s often best to have them apply mini lesson concepts to their current writing project.

Adopt & Adapt

Remember that what works for another teacher or class might not work for your or your students.  For me, the key elements of the workshop are mini lessons and conferences.

A Word about Notebooks

Be sure to provide your students with notes, rules, or a handout for your mini lessons.  This means they’ll be creating their own writing notebook as your class progresses.  Your notes don’t have to be fancy.  They can simply be the concept and example.  By providing students with notes, they can refer back to them, and you can direct students back to their notes as the year progresses.  Use a table of contents on the first few pages of the notebook to provide a true writing resource for your students.

I hope you’re excited to try this great way to teach writing!

With gratitude,

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