Posted by: writersworkshophelp | November 11, 2007

Using Writer’s Notebooks

Ok, so what’s all this talk about notebooks in Writer’s Workshop? Well, actually, the use of notebooks follows along the line of what real writer’s do. They make entries into a notebook so they don’t forget the small stories happening in their lives and around them daily. Writer’s workshop uses this approach with students.

Students (in grades 3-5) all have a composition book to use as their Writer’s Notebook. In the beginning of the year, they decorate the cover with photos and anything else to personalize it to them. The notebook is used to make “entries”, the name used for the writing they do on a daily basis during independent writing time. The notebook is mostly used during the first two weeks of a unit of study. The last two weeks of the unit have the child working on notebook paper while drafting, revising, editing and publishing their one piece.

Notebooks are used to keep all sorts of entries written in all sorts of genre. A student might choose to write a poem, start a report of factual information, free-write on a touching moment or a special memory. Notebooks are also used to collect lists of special moments the child could write about. The students list moments related to a feeling. They might list 3 happy moments, 3 sad moments, 3 exciting moments, 5 things I cannot live without or 3 honest moments.

Notebooks can and should contain a full range of a student’s thinking. Special memories, things the student has an opinion on and things the student actively thinks and wonders about are all appropriately written about in the notebook. The notebook is the place for students to try out different kinds of writing and thinking.

Mini-lessons can be done to increase the student’s strategies for getting started in their notebook. You might create a list on chart paper that gets posted in the classroom. Students could even copy the list of strategies in their notebooks to refer to. Ideas can include writing about a special object, person, place, event, opinion, etc. Teach students to free write to increase their fluency in getting their thoughts and ideas down on paper.

Just as your students keep a notebook, you too should be keeping your own writer’s notebook. Develop your own writing along with your students. Most of us were never really taught well how to be a good writer. As you teach the craft of writing to your students, practice what you preach in your own notebook. Your students will love knowing you are a writer too and you will be inspiring to them.

I have read where it is a good idea to have the students write only on the right hand page in the notebook, leaving the back of the page (left side when notebook is open) empty. This allows some empty space for going back and expanding sections or applying a craft learned in a mini-lesson to excerpts from the notebook writing. You also will want to encourage your students to write in pen. This allows you to see editing and revising that they do. Teach them to cross out and write new words in the space above and also to use the “carat” to insert new thoughts.

Your students will most likely go through two notebooks in the course of a year. The writer’s notebook is a treasure of ideas, thoughts, opinions, memories. It will be something your students will want to save and keep forever.

Posted by: writersworkshophelp | November 10, 2007

Teacher Talk – What’s working, what isn’t?

We devoted a staff meeting on October 24, 2007 to discussing the launch of Lucy Calkin’s in our building. We separated into two groups, K-2 and 3-5. Each group discussed and answered three questions about the initial launch of Lucy Calkins…

  • What is working?
  • What isn’t working?
  • What do you need more help with?

I conveyed to the staff that the last question would help me in developing future staff development for them. I also would have information to bring back to the Literacy Leader district level meetings.

Here are the key ideas from each group for each question:

What is working?

The K-2 group…

  • mini-lessons
  • pulling sticks for sharing
  • high frequency words around the room
  • CD templates are very helpful
  • posters for classroom

The 3-5 group…

  • 4 days Lucy Calkins, 1 day writing to the prompt
  • portfolios
  • mini-lesson follow up and writing in notebooks
  • process writing
  • sketching, then writing is working very well
  • take one paragraph and elaborate; create a picture

What isn’t working?

The K-2 group…

  • staple work in corners not on bottom of paper
  • Kdgn. not ready for red dot, green dot at the beginning of the year; will fit in by end of unit)

The 3-5 group…

  • concerns about Lucy Calkins conflicting with writing from prompts
  • students need more motivation to get started and elaborate on more detail

What do you need more help with?

The K-2 group…

  • in-service on conferencing with students
  • Lucy Calkins training for parent volunteers
  • books that go with mini-lessons

The 3-5 group…

  • determining grades for marking period
  • what is the best rubric to judge daily performance?
  • assessment is a major concern
Posted by: writersworkshophelp | November 10, 2007

Provisioning a Room for Writer’s Workshop

Once you decide to implement the writer’s workshop approach, you need to give some consideration to provisioning your room.

Here are some of the basic things to get in order to implement writer’s workshop more effectively in your room:

  • Writer’s Notebooks – All students in grades 3, 4 and 5 will need a writer’s notebook to write their daily entries in.
  • Folders – Students in Grades K-5 will need a pocket folder. Grades K-2 use this to keep their daily entries in. Grades 3-5 will use the folder for their drafts, charts, rubrics, and published pieces.
  • Chart Paper- Lucy has many charts that are created by the teacher. You will need large chart paper on hand to create these charts and also for modeling many of the mini-lessons.
  • Markers/Pens/Pencils – Lucy says in her K-2 book, “The Nuts and Bolts of Writer’s Workshop”, that the use of fine line markers for kids to write with can be very motivating. For Grades 3-5 she mentions using colored pens such as green ink ones. Pencils can also be used.
  • Paper – Get ready to have lots of paper used. For the lower grades, you will use lots of ditto paper as you run off and prepare the writing templates included on the Resource CD in the Units of Study. Notebook paper is used for drafting and publishing in Grades 3-5.
  • Writing Center – Consider creating a writing center in one area of the room. Provision it with paper, pens, staplers, scissors, markers, and anything else students may need as they write.
  • Word Walls – to help increase the number of sight words children are able to write fast and fluently.

The basics listed above will help you launch writer’s workshop effectively. Make sure your students understand how and when all items are to be used. If you are using Units of Study, the use of the items is taught throughout the mini-lessons in the Launching Writer’s Workshop units.

Posted by: writersworkshophelp | November 9, 2007

Lucy believes…

What are some of Lucy’s strong beliefs about Writer’s Workshop?

Stamina and Rigor

Lucy believes that the writing program needs to be rigorous. When she speaks of stamina, she means that children need to build up their ability to write fluently and for long periods of time. It is the teacher’s job to work toward building the stamina of her/his children. You may need to start by having the independent writing time be 5-10 minutes if your kids are younger and have not been required to write for extended periods of time before. You should, however, work quickly toward increasing the time expected of them to write fluently. Your job is to get them writing and writing fluently for increasingly longer periods of time.

Promote independence in children

Children are taught and expected to be independent in writer’s workshop. Once independent writing time starts, they need to know what they are expected to do and get going doing it. This means they need to know where all supplies are. They also need to know that it is not okay to interrupt the teacher if she is conferencing. They should be busy writing for this period of time. Children actually thrive with this independence and it frees you up to get some serious conferencing done with students.

Keep workshops simple and predictable

The writer’s workshop has a set format to it. It always starts with a mini-lesson with the large group gathered on the floor in front of the teacher. It continues on to independent writing time and closes with the large group back together again for sharing. There is an ebb and flow to it. Large group, small group….large group. The children learn the routine and without question, should know what is expected of them. They should be able to get busy without direction from the teacher once the routine is taught and established.

All lessons are multi-level

A great benefit of the Units of Study is the fact that the lessons are all multi-level. They are very open ended. Since the students are choosing their own topics and writing at their own level, the lessons are truly differentiated for all the different levels in your classrooms. Finally! With all of the mainstreaming and the wide range of levels common in classrooms, this is truly a curriculum that will fit all.

Writing is the ONLY option during writing time

This is a biggie! Students are taught that they are never finished in writer’s workshop. This is a paradigm shift from the traditional way many teachers have taught writing. In the past, you may have given a prompt and instructed the kids that this was the day for them to write their rough drafts. You know how it went from there. Johnny finished in 10 minutes and Suzie was still writing an hour later. The kids that finished early needed something to do to fill in the time waiting for others to finish. This is the beauty of the workshop way. During workshop time, children keep writing the entire time. They are all at different levels and stages of writing. Some may be publishing, others are working on rough drafts and still others are conferencing with the teacher. Children are taught early on that they are never done. Teachers will repeatedly say to them, “When you’re done, you’ve just begun”. They are directed to go back to their writing and either add to the pictures, add more detail, or perhaps start another piece. The main issue is they must get busy doing something with writing and only writing.

Posted by: writersworkshophelp | November 9, 2007

Conferencing during Independent Writing Time

Conferencing occurs during the independent writing time. Conferencing can take different forms. Students often seek out their partners or another student to conference with for opinions, suggestions, etc. Teachers actively conference with either individual students or small groups during this time also.

Conference questions to help a teacher “lead in” to a conference:

  • How’s your writing project going?
  • Tell me what you are writing about.
  • What can I help you with?
  • Read what you’ve written so far.

Questions asked to focus instruction during a conference:

  • Why are you writing this?
  • I do not understand…
  • What can you do to help your reader see, (hear, feel, etc.)…?
  • How can we slow this down?
  • What are you planning to happen next?
Posted by: writersworkshophelp | November 8, 2007

Structure of a Mini-Lesson

There are four parts to the Mini-Lesson if you follow Lucy Calkin’s way from the Units of Study. They are Connection, Teaching, Active Involvment and Link. Following is a brief synopsis of each part:


Students access prior knowledge and hear the teaching point.

Teacher talk sounds like:

Yesterday we…
Today I’m going to …


We teach one skill, strategy, method, etc. during this time. There are four types of mini-lessons:

  • Procedures and Organizations (routines)
  • Strategies and Processes
  • Skills
  • Craft and Techniques

Teacher talk sounds like:

I want to show you…
Watch and notice how I…

Active Involvement

The teacher gives all students a quick opportunity to try out the new skill or strategy. Students practice the strategy and often turn and talk with their partner.

Teacher talk sounds like:

I invite you to try it in your writing.
Turn and talk to your partner how you can…


To bring closure to the mini-lesson, you link to what the class has previously learned.

Teacher talk sounds like:

So today and everyday…
Now, you know that writers…
As you continue your writing you may want to…

Posted by: writersworkshophelp | November 8, 2007

Power Point An Introduction to Writer’s Workshop

Here is the Powerpoint I presented to staff at our first inservice back to school in August, 2007.

SlideShare View Upload your own

Posted by: writersworkshophelp | November 8, 2007

Structure of Writer’s Workshop

I began to inservice the teachers on writer’s workshop on the first day back to school in August, 2007. I shared a powerpoint I created on An Introduction to Writer’s Workshop. Following are the key highlights from it on the structure of writer’s workshop.

Writer’s Workshop follows a predictable pattern of:

Mini-lessons (5-10 minutes)
Independent Writing (20-30 minutes)
Conferencing (during independent writing)
Sharing (5-10 minutes)

Total Writer’s Workshop Time: 30-50 minutes

Let’s take a closer look at each of the above parts of writer’s workshop.

Mini-lessons are conducted with the whole group. Ideally you have created an area of your room where the whole class can be seated on the floor gathered closely to you. A mini-lesson is explicit instruction in a specific writing technique taught in a short 5-10 minute period at the start of the workshop.

There are 4 types of writing mini-lessons:

  • Procedures and Organization – routines
  • Strategies and Processes
  • Skills
  • Craft and Techniques

Independent Writing occurs back at student tables/desks following the mini-lesson.

  • Students write daily.
  • Students determine the topics they will write about.
  • Students use a writer’s notebook and/or folder for organizing writing.
  • Students are at different stages of writing.
  • Teacher’s role is facilitator…circulating the room, monitoring, encouraging, conferencing, and providing help as needed.
  • “When you’re done, you’ve just begun.”

Conferencing is done during the independent writing time.

  • Students seek responses from their partners.
  • Teachers conference with individual students and/or small groups.

Sharing is done with the whole group to end the Writer’s Workshop.

  • This is an integral part to the writer’s workshop.
  • Students are given opportunities to share their writing piece, expose strategies they found helpful, share literature that inspired a piece of writing, and/or share a seed idea from their writer’s notebook.
  • This time allows writers to learn from each other and to see/hear good examples of writing.
  • This time also allows for students to practice speaking orally.
Posted by: writersworkshophelp | November 7, 2007

Summer vacation and the background work continues…

The end of the school year 2006-2007 came quickly. A few teachers had asked me if they would be able to take home a Units of Study kit over the summer to get familiar with it before the start of the new school year. I welcomed this idea. The kits came in from Heinemann and I got them all stamped with our school name, numbered and inventoried. As it turned out, only two teachers ended up requesting kits for the summer break.

I took a kit home myself so I could continue my orientation with the Units and start to prepare for inservicing the teachers in the fall. I also knew I would be attending the full day workshop prior to school starting at our local Intermediate School District.

About mid-way through summer, an e-mail came out alerting teachers to the sales local stores were having on composition books. The composition books are needed by each student in grades 3-5 to be used as their writer’s notebooks. Normally, they cost one to two dollars each, however, with the summer school supply sales they were on sale for twenty-five cents. A real bargain…especially considering our tight budget at school. Many of the teachers made the sales and stocked up on notebooks with the principal promising reimbursement upon our return to school in the fall.

Posted by: writersworkshophelp | November 7, 2007

Our school gets ready for Writer’s Workshop

Once the decision was made to move into a writer’s workshop framework, we had some background work to do to get ready. I contacted a Heinemann sales rep to discuss ordering the Lucy Calkins’ Units of Study kits for our teachers. Using funds from our NCA budget, we ordered Units of Study for 6 of our teachers. The Kindergarten teacher was invited to a district inservice and they supplied her with a primary level Units of Study. That eliminated one kit that we would have to pay for out of our school funds. I should say that we are on a very tight budget in my building. We are not a Title or Reading First school and therefore receive no funding for special projects and such. We are left mostly with our small NCA budget to appropriate for special projects we’d like to implement. Our district offers Foundation Grants in the amount of $750.00 to teachers who apply and have a compelling cause. Our third grade teacher applied and was awarded $750.00 which we used to purchase additional Units of Study for our teachers. The final Units of Study were acquired by the principal and myself when we attended a summer workshop on Launching Writer’s Workshop. We now had enough kits ordered to ensure that each teacher would have their own.

While I was e-mailing back and forth with the Heinemann rep and placing the order, I continued to read everything I could get my hands on about the Writer’s Workshop framework so that I could prepare an initial inservice for the staff in my building. As a Literacy Leader, I had been receiving training on the method periodically during the year. I pulled together the basics, not wanting to overwhelm the staff initially, and prepared for a brief introduction to writer’s workshop. This inservice took place in April, 2007. I was able to convey the need for moving toward this model and also give the staff a vision of moving into it.

The writing scores from our building clearly showed the need to move into a stronger, more supportive writing program. I explained that Writer’s Workshop was a framework within which we could incorporate Six Traits and many of the other models we had tried in the past. The principal and I stressed the fact that for the school year 2007-2008, each teacher would need to build in a 30-60 minute block of time daily dedicated to Writer’s Workshop. Obviously, the shorter time period applied to Kindergarten with more time added to each grade level as we moved up to fifth grade.

I explained to our staff that the first year of implementation would be a learning year and we would take it slowly, learning and helping each other as we went along. Both the principal and I felt that a three year timeframe was a realistic vision of having Writer’s Workshop really taking a firm hold on our students and making a difference in raising the scores. This is not to say that we don’t expect improved scores the first year. We just believe that by the third year of implementation, children will be pretty firm in their control of the model as will the teachers.

The staff was enthusiastic and received the news well. Our staff is composed of highly professional, experienced teachers. The majority of the staff have taught twenty years or more. The great thing about our staff is their willingness to adapt to changing teaching techniques and to implement new programs. This always involves a lot of work and effort and they always are willing and work tirelessly toward the goal. We are blessed and fortunate to have a staff of such dedicated, professional expertise.

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