A solid Writing Workshop is built around the assignments you choose. As I stated in my earlier post, a Writing Workshop is NOT simply giving students two weeks to do a writing assignment, then moving on. Each assignment should be meaningful and should connect to build a cohesive foundation.
Some things to think about when choosing your assignments:
- Time. While you may be doing your Workshop for an entire quarter, or even a year, that doesn’t mean the students will have 9 full weeks to complete each task. They have 9 weeks to finish ALL of the assignments, plus any additional reading or mini-lessons.
- Content. Are you going to focus on non-fiction? Then choosing a wide variety of creative narrative pieces may not seem applicable to the students. For your students to buy in to the concept, you have to show them how the assignments are meaningful.
- Hierarchy. I like to have smaller assignments that can count as quiz grades and then one large piece that serves as the “test” for my writing workshop. Having some type of hierarchy in the assignments shows students that what they are writing is leading to something.
- Grading. Because students will be completing assignments in an order of their choice, you’ll want to make sure that the point total for each assignment is consistent.
Here are the assignments that I designed for my Writing Workshop:
- Length: One-paragraph
- Occurrence: Once a week
- Description: At the beginning of the workshop I give my students a list of 25 reader response questions. Since we read a novel concurrently, I have my students answer one question per week, using textual evidence to support their answer.
- CCSS: RL.1; WS.10
- Purpose: I use these as formatives to make sure my students are understanding the reading, since they are reading on their own. I also have students choose one of these to build on for a larger assignment.
Short Writings (SW)
- Length: One-page
- Occurrence: Once every two weeks (4 per quarter)
- Description: These are four different writing assignments that count as 4 quiz grades. While each assignment is different and uses a different rubric, all of them are equal to the same amount of points. This way, it really doesn’t matter what order a student chooses to complete them in.
Short Writing 1 – Setting Description
- Description: Students choose either a real setting or a completely fictionalized one and describe it using figurative language and imagery. There does not need to be characters or plot. This isn’t meant to be an entire story, just a “snapshot” of a scene.
- CCSS: WS.3, WS.3D, WS.5, L.1, LS.5
- Purpose: To ensure students understand figurative language enough to apply it to their own writing; to focus on transitions and adding detail to writing
Short Writing 2 – Character Description
- Description: Students choose either a real person or a completely fictionalized one and describe him/her using direct and indirect characterization. There does not need to be a plot. This isn’t meant to be an entire story, just a “sketch” of a character.
- CCSS: WS.3, WS.3A, WS.3B, WS.5, LS.1
- Purpose: To ensure students understand how to use the text to make inferences by describing a character without directly stating every trait
Short Writing 3 – Extended Reader Response
- Description: Students choose one of their short reader responses (see above) and expand on it by creating a claim and using textual evidence to fully support their response.
- CCSS: WS.1, WS.3D, WS.5, WS.9, LS.1
- Purpose: To ensure students understand how to use a piece of literature to support their opinions and inferences.
Short Writing 4 – Non-Fiction Response
- Description: To be honest, I added this one in last minute this year because I wanted to make sure my students had more experience with responding to non-fiction. I had students choose an article of their choice from Newsela and complete the writing response provided by the website. This is one area I would like to focus on for next year.
- CCSS: WS.2, WS.5, L.1
- Purpose: To ensure students have practice with responding to non-fiction texts
- Length: Varies
- Occurrence: Once per quarter
- Description: Publication is a huge part of the writing process. Too often publication means printing something out (or emailing it to a teacher) and then moving on. To get my students accustomed to the publishing process, I have them submit one piece of writing to a contest or publication. They do not need to be published, they only need to submit one piece.
- CCSS: WS.10, WS.5
- Purpose: Students feel so much pride when their pieces get selected. It is a great way to add an element of authenticity to the Writing Workshop.
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- Length: Three Paragraphs
- Occurrence: Once per quarter
- Description: Every quarter my students are required to read one independent book and write a review on it. While this isn’t unique to my Writing Workshop, I do list it in the Overview I pass out to students. I want to remind them of ALL assignments that are due.
- CCSS: WS.10, WS.5, L.1, WS.9, WS.2
- Purpose: I like giving my students encouragement to find an independent book of their own choice each quarter.
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- Length: Minimum 2 pages
- Occurrence: Once per quarter
- Description: This is the culmination of my Writing Workshop. Students can use their Setting and Character descriptions in this final piece of writing or can write something completely different. I like to give my students one requirement – that they echo a theme from the novel we have been reading in their own story.
- CCSS: WS.3, WS.3A, WS.3B, WS.3C, WS.3D, WS.10, WS.5, L.1, L.5
- Purpose: How fulfilling is it to create your very own short story? I love seeing the pride on my students’ faces when they turn in this final draft.
I know this was a lot of info, but hopefully it gave you some inspiration for determining your own assignments. My advice is always to assign the maximum amount you think you’d want students to complete. It’s unfair to assign extra assignments in the middle of the workshop after expectations have been set, but you an always cut out assignments if there are too many.