Teaching writing in the primary grades can be extremely tough. We’re asking students to engage in a writing workshop before they can really write, BUT, we have to start somewhere. I always say the best place to start is by getting your room ready for a writing workshop before you ever introduce it. You can learn more by watching or reading below!
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When do I start a writing workshop?
There are a lot of different opinions on when to begin the writing workshop. I’ve seen many people say to begin on the very first day of school. Full disclosure, I’ve only been able to do that 3 times in my entire teaching career, and two of those times happened to be my second year with a class I looped with.
That said, the best time to start is as soon as possible. That might mean postponing it for a few days or a few weeks. You might have to establish a lot of general routines and procedures and your students may need time to settle into them.
The main thing is that when you start the workshop, you keep it going. You definitely do not want to start it up and then there are 8 days before you can get to it again.
How do I start a writing workshop?
Once you’ve picked when you will begin, how do you get it all started? Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Every time I begin the writing workshop, it’s always a little messy, but we all survive!
There are two things that I am sure to do on the first day………one of them is the starting activity. I gather them to our meeting place at the front of the room, and I let them know that we will meet here just about every day for writing workshop, where we get to put what we know on paper.
I grab a book I’ve chosen to read to them. I try to choose a big book, or if you have a document camera that allows you to project the book, that’s even better.
I choose a book that has a familiar theme, such as activities that they have participated in, animals, and things like that. I make sure that it isn’t long, has lots of awesome photos, and has repetitive text. This way, they can join in on reading the chorus of the book, and they really get into the activity.
I point out how the author shared with us what they know about a topic. For example, this author knows a lot about going to the playground. I then ask them what they know about…..and you’ll receive various answers, from pizza, to the jump park, etc. Allow several children to share what they know.
At this point, I like to have them stand and get the wiggles out. At the beginning of the school year, their stamina for sitting and listening isn’t as high yet, so they need a little bit of help!
When everyone has settled again, I pull out a piece of paper (the same paper that they will use), and I begin to draw a simple scene. I make sure that I talk through what I’m doing, saying that I can draw what I know. Depending upon whether I’m teaching K or 1st grade, and what I’ve noticed about my students, I may or may not write a sentence. In kindergarten I always write my name, draw a picture and label that picture with at least the first initial. In first grade, I write a simple sentence.
Writing workshop time for students
Now it’s time for students to draw and/or write about what they know. I give each child a piece of unlined paper. I’ve learned the hard way that unlined paper is the best choice. A lot of them aren’t ready for the line, it’s in the way, and it really stresses them out. Then I’m stressed out and writing time becomes stressful before we’ve even gotten off to a good start!
Invite your students to write about what they know, about whatever they choose. As they come to me to get paper (only until they learn where the writing materials are), they will share what they are going to write about. I’ve found that it sets a purpose for writing.
What does the teacher do during writing workshop?
You will write along with the students! The first few days I will leave on my document camera so they can see what I’m doing. You will have students who copy your picture, labels, and sentences!
It is totally ok because they have accomplished a major feat: they have produced a piece of writing, and that child believes that they can write. Once we really get into our writing time, I will cut off my document camera, to encourage them to put their own thoughts down.
So back to the first day…….once they get started, I’ll write or draw for 2-3 min, then get up and start walking around the room. I start to encourage every writer, from asking what they are writing about, to complimenting their illustration (Your giraffe is so pretty!), and if it’s something that you’re not sure of, you can simply say “I like the way you used your pencil”, or “I like the way you used your crayon here”.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions! Just a simple “Can you tell me what this is?” is enough. This will also encourage your students who are afraid to try.
As the first day of writing comes to a close, I do not conduct the typical share time. There will be another opportunity to establish that portion of the writing workshop. I do, however, have them share their writing with a neighbor, and then they listen to their neighbor share their writing with them.
Congratulations on your first writing workshop!
So congrats! You have launched your writing workshop, and you have accomplished some important things:
- They know that you have writing time and that they will write every day
- You have modeled writing for them
- They know that they will write about what they know
- They have learned that they will get to share their writing
- They know that you see them as writers
Now that you’ve begun the writing workshop, be sure to check out one of my fave books on writing workshop in the primary grades here.