I was super excited when I decided to do my first Writing Workshop four years ago. A teacher at my previous school had used the format for the entire year, and it had gone so smoothly that I couldn’t wait to try it at my new school for third quarter.
One thing I wasn’t ready for was the amount of prep work that goes into starting a Writing Workshop. I decided to implement mine during third quarter, and I honestly spent the majority of my winter break prepping.
What took the most time was figuring out what exactly I would need in order for each day to run smoothly. Remember, a good Writing Workshop is a well-oiled machine that runs itself (check out my other post in this series for a description of what a writing workshop is). To make it easier for those of you looking to add this to your teaching, I detailed specific things to plan for that will make prepping for your Writing Workshop a breeze.
Before You Introduce Your Writing Workshop To Your Students…
…Determine what writing assignment you want students to complete, and create any overviews and rubrics that are needed.
The beauty of a Writing Workshop is the freedom that students have in choosing when to work on which assignments. Therefore, if you only tell your students about one assignment at a time, or end up throwing in extra writing assignments, you are defeating the purpose. It is also unfair to give students a list of assignments but not give them any rubrics or grading criteria. While it can be time-consuming at first, it will pay off.
How many assignments to assign?
This all depends on your class. During the course of one quarter, my students complete 4 Short Writing assignments (typically one page typed), 1 book review (typically 1 page typed) and 1 short story (typically 5 pages typed). I find that it is easier to have all of your expectations set at the beginning, and if worse comes to worse and you run out of time, you can cut an assignment.
…Create a chart of all of your students names to keep track of daily progress.
For the past few years, I would print out copies of this chart and keep them in a binder that I used to store all of my Writing Workshop materials. However, this year my district has “gone Google” so I experimented with trying to facilitate as much of my Writing Workshop electronically as I could. One easy thing to digitize was my daily tracking sheet. I simply made a Google Sheet, a code that worked for me, and voila! Each day I would do a quick glance around the room to see what people were working on. Having a daily tracking sheet helped me notice trends in student work habits.
…Create a chart to keep track of student writing progress
One component of a beneficial writing workshop is the conference. I meet with each of my students once a week for a minimum 5-minute conference. If students want to meet more, I would have them fill out a “Conference Request Form” (for a free sample download the checklist at the bottom of this post). After each conference I would write notes that told me:
- What the student was currently working on
- One area of their writing that could use improvement
- One strength of their writing
- One tip or suggestion I advised them to follow
Like the Daily Tracker sheet, having these conference notes allowed me to notice trends in student writing and, more often, helped me build a student’s confidence by showing the improvement in their writing skills.
…Choose a novel to read simultaneously, and divide it into manageable reading chunks.
Ask any author and they will tell you that it is impossible to become a good writer if you don’t read. Therefore, I always read a novel in conjunction with my Writing Workshop. Choose a novel that students will be able to read independently, that has room for discussion, and that has overarching ideas the students can relate to. I like to combine the reading and writing portions of my workshop by requiring my students to write their final short story based on a theme from the novel.
I have used The Outsiders, Freak the Mighty, and Kids at Work (non-fiction) as corresponding texts, but The Outsiders is the overwhelming best pick. The students enjoy reading it, and they relate to the characters. Throughout the novel I talk a lot about “growing up,” and so in their final stories they show their own interpretation of a character “growing up.”
…Create a calendar with all dates (due dates, reading dates, discussion dates)
If you are giving students independence to choose what assignments to work on and insisting they take responsibility for their assignments, then it is only fair that you equip them with enough information to make a mature decision about what to work on each day.
…Put all of this information into one document, an Overview, for the students.
In the past I have made copies of this and told students not to lose it, but this year I simply posted it onto our Google Classroom page. Some students printed it out so they had hard copies, others just saved it onto their Google Drive.
Below is a screenshot of my 12-page overview. Yes. 12 pages. It can be very overwhelming for students to comprehend what a Writing Workshop is and to swallow those 12 pages of instructions, which is why my next post will be all about implementing it into your classroom during that first week. Stay tuned!
Click to Here download a checklist of your writing workshop needs, along with a sample of my Teacher Conference Request Form.