If you’ve decided to teach writing using the workshop method, you probably have some questions. Here are seven questions and answers to help you get started.
1. What exactly is a workshop class?
Remember the story of the elves and the shoemaker? I think of that story when I think of a workshop class. The heart of the story revolves around the elves who help the shoemaker — but really the story revolves about crafting beautiful shoes. Okay…how is that like a classroom? Well, we want our students to practice and perfect their craft — either in writing or reading. And how do they do that? By either writing, reading or both.
Neither the elves nor the shoemaker learned to make shoes by listening to someone tell them how to do it. They learned by actually cutting the leather and stitching the shoes together.
The same thing happens (figuratively, of course!) in a writing or reading workshop-style class. Students have time to work on their craft. Work being the operative word here – they’ve got to do the work. So during workshop time, they are actively working.
2. What does it look like?
There is more than one way to structure writing workshop!
I’ve taught workshop-style classes in multiple ways — and I’ve tried many variations and varieties — so I can say with confidence, there is more than one way to structure your class. Experiment and be flexible. Don’t lock yourself into something that may not work for you or your students.
Here is a basic format you can follow:
- teach a mini lesson
- model an activity you want students to do during workshop
- provide students with a clear task of what they are to do during workshop
- provide time for students to work (that’s the workshop part)
3. What to Teach?
For me, the easiest way to start is to decide what product I want students to produce. So, if students are working on an expository writing assignment – whether they are all using the same prompt or not — I sketch out the writing skills I want students to work on. Big ideas (thesis), organization, introductions and conclusions are always right up at the top, but there are other skills I want them to work on as well like word choice, sentence structure, or voice.
Use your standards to help you determine what you want to teach in workshop.
4. What is the rest of the class doing while I conference?
There are many ways to manage your class during workshop. You don’t need to feel like you do the same thing every day. You can add variety — just be sure your students know what to do and can do it independently.
- choice boards
- mini lesson writing task
- literacy centers
- any aspect of the writing process such as prewriting, drafting, or revising
5. How do I keep track of everything?
Use a writing scheduler or checklists to plan out ahead of time what you want students to do.
6. What are the advantages?
Writing workshop helps students feel independent and creates writing confidence. By putting responsibility back onto the student, you are helping them grow as writers. Looking for more reasons to implement writer’s workshop? This post lists 11!
7. How do I keep the students on task?
Keep students accountable by requiring them to turn in something to you at the end of every class — even if it just means an exit card. You may need to conference with students who are off task more often. They may be off task simply because they don’t know what to do or how to move forward with their writing.
Provide meaningful writing activities for students to work on, but that doesn’t have to mean they’re boring! Fun journal prompts or illustrations often appeal to students who need to be motivated.
As you begin to use writing workshop, you’ll adapt it to meet your style and the needs of your students. I imagine that those elves made plenty of mistakes as they crafted shoes for humans — wasted leather, made two left shoes perhaps, had irregular stitches. But those little elves persevered at their craft.
Your own workshop of writers can work on their craft without feeling like they have to be perfect — they will get better with practice, feedback, and guidance!!