As a mother of four, I’ve learned to have a few non-negotiables when it comes to our bedtime routine. In a nutshell, the non-negotiables in our house are brushing teeth, taking baths, books, and bed. If we don’t stick to these non-negotiables, bedtime routine turns into hours of pandemonium.
Even though there are an unlimited number of bedtime routines, we’ve selected a handful of non-negotiable procedures to close our days. Routines have power, and the most powerful routines are those that allow choice and flexibility.
The same is true for writing workshop. There are unlimited possibilities of routines for a productive, calm, and joyful workshop, but I find spots, space, supplies, and structure are the non-negotiables in workshop routines.
Writers are as effective as they are organized. An important routine to establish is one that allows spots for different essentials. Where will students keep these things?
Ideas: Writers collect ideas for future writing projects. Writing notebooks are ideal for most third-grade and older writers. Sometimes writers keep an idea sheet. Idea sheets are powerful when families help students fill them out. Two possibilities are the One-Time Idea Sheet and Possible Book Covers. The One-Time Idea Sheet leads students to thinking about stories from their lives. Possible Book Covers invites students to sketch an idea in the form of a book cover of possible writing projects. It is important for students to become the kinds of writers who collect ideas throughout time.
Drafts: Katie Wood Ray says, “Writers make stuff!” This is true, and they need a spot to keep their stuff! Folders are the typical place to keep drafts (or booklets for younger writers). Consider the kind or color of folder you want to use. Two-pocket or hanging? Students bring their own or specify a color? Also consider the spot where students will keep their folders. Some teachers organize folders in book boxes according to table groups. Others have students keep their folders in their desks. For older students, some teachers have them keep all their drafts on a legal pad or in a spiral notebook. Instead of slipping everything into a folder, these young writers keep a drafting notebook. It doesn’t matter what toothpaste my kids use for their bedtime brushing routine, but it does matter that they brush. The same is true for draft storage. It doesn’t matter where they keep their drafts, as long as they have a spot to store them.
Summative Feedback: It is essential to collect the summative assessments students receive throughout the year. This is usually in the form of rubrics, checklists, or writing samples. Finding a way to archive this information is important so that at the end of the school year you will be able to analyze each writer’s growth. One possible system is to use a folder to collect information from each student. If you are using an electronic conferring note system, like Evernote, you may consider including summative feedback in this system.
No matter the age or experience of the writer, they need space to work. Where will there be space for these things in your classroom?
Meeting Area: The best writing workshops hinge on creating a community of writers. One of the easiest ways to create this community is by using a meeting area to set the tone of each minilesson. When we come together in a meeting area, it is like a coach calling his team into a huddle. We’re here for some important instruction, and then we’re going to “break” and head off to work hard. When creating (or judging) a meeting area, consider the following:
- Can the entire class sit comfortably together?
- Will everyone sit on the floor or will there be chairs or benches for some students?
- Will there be assigned seats in the meeting area?
- Where will you store materials necessary to deliver minilessons? (You’ll need chart paper and markers, a way to display text, tape or glue sticks [for mini-charts] and pencils for student use.)
Charts: Consider where you will hang anchor charts. Lots of blank wall space is necessary to have space to display anchor charts. Some teachers add a clothesline to their classroom on which to clip charts. Older students can store mini-charts in their notebooks or draft folders. Even when creating a chart on a Smartboard, consider where you will print and hang an anchor chart of the information.
Peer Conferring: One way to encourage students to talk with one another as writers is to have space in your classroom for peer conferring. There are several systems, but one I’ve found useful is to establish peer conference stations. Designate three places in the classroom where peer conferring could occur. This provides the opportunity for only three peer conferences to happen at a given time. If all the spaces are filled and a pair wants to have a conference, they wait until a space opens.
Sometimes I write just because I like the supplies. This is true for students too. Where will you keep these supplies?
Draft Paper or Booklets: Students enjoy having choices of draft paper or booklets. Consider how to store the different possibilities. Stacked baskets, mailbox centers, and folders stapled to bulletin boards are a few creative possibilities.
Pencils: Plan to have loads of pencils ready to share with students when they’ve lost or forgotten a pencil. Rather than spend energy asking why a student doesn’t have a pencil, create a system for lending. I found when I added flags or flowers to the tops of my pencils, they were returned more often. It’s not hard to create a flag using masking tape, and it's the perfect reminder for students to return your pencils so others can use them.
Other Supplies: You probably have many other supplies: sticky notes, highlighters, colored pencils—the list could go on and on. Consider putting together a writing center in a corner of your classroom.
Writing workshop requires 45–60 minutes per session, four to five times per week. If you don’t have this much time, then don’t try to squeeze it in and expect positive results. What will you do with your time?
Minilessons: Keep your lessons focused and offer examples from mentor texts. Minilessons typically last less than 15 minutes.
Practice/Conferring: The bulk of workshop is dedicated to practice and conferring time. Students get better at writing by writing. Plan to help students develop 30–50 minutes of writing stamina.
Share Session: Sharing makes a strong community of writers. When students share their writing, they are able to teach others as well as receive feedback and affirmation for their own work. Plan to allow 5–15 minutes for the share session.
By focusing on spots, space, supplies, and structure, you will have a sound set of writing workshop routines.