The question I’m most often asked about writing workshop is “How long?” How long does it take to revise, how long is writing workshop, how long is a minilesson? Here is a collection of numbers in an effort to quantify the unquantifiable art of teaching writers.
How long is writing workshop?
To learn a skill, you have to spend time. Writing workshop is 45-60 minutes, three to four times per week. We find the time for the things that are most important. If building strong writers is important, then find the time. Begin with three consecutive days. I’m sure you’ll be so impressed by the work your students are doing as writers that you will be able to find a fourth day each week.
How long is a unit?
I think the ideal unit length is four weeks, or 15-20 writing workshop sessions. Anything more and it’s tough to keep students engaged. I think it’s wise to end a unit while energy for writing is still high rather than risk losing interest. It is always easier to come back to a genre or a strategy than it is to reclaim engagement.
How long does it take to transition from minilessons to writing time?
I try to find a two-minute song to play after the minilessons. Students learn to collect their supplies and settle into their writing spot before the end of the song.
How long does it take to clean up?
That short two-minute song after the minilessons? Use it again (or a different song) at the end of writing time for students to find a place to stop, clean up their supplies, and get ready for the share.
How long is a minilesson?
I shoot for less than 10 minutes and am sometimes successful. I’m a firm believer in minilessons lasting less than 15 minutes. Otherwise it becomes a lecture. The secret to a minilesson is to select a specific teaching point and make sure each explanation and example relates to that point. When I wanted to shrink my minilessons time, I asked my students to time me. When the timer went off, I cut off my lesson to ensure students had time to work as writers.
How long is a conference?
Most of my conferences with individual students are four to seven minutes long. In the interest of full disclosure, they did not start off this way. To begin, my conferences lasted about 30 seconds. As I learned more about conferring, my conferences stretched well past 10 minutes. As I practiced more and years added experience, I found a comfortable pace in conferences. This pace allows me to see about four writers each workshop and meet with every writer in the class in 7-10 workshop sessions.
How long is the share?
Share sessions last 2 to 10 minutes. Partner shares or leave-a-note shares are quick. Whip shares or author chairs are a little longer.
How long does it take to establish writing notebooks?
Ten workshop sessions and students are in love with their notebooks and notebooks are filled with rich fodder for topic ideas. Don’t be afraid to linger in notebooks for several days. You are building excitement for writing projects, confidence in writers, and procedures for workshop. This is time well spent.
How long does it take to draft?
This one always makes me smile: anywhere from three seconds to three weeks! All joking aside, I think most intermediate writers can craft a draft of three to five sections in a couple of days. Our younger writers usually draft faster. Instead of worrying about how long it takes kids to draft, I’ve shifted to encouraging students to draft multiple stories (or poems or articles or reviews) in five to seven workshop sessions. This encourages stamina and practice, as well as leads to more worthwhile revision and editing when the time comes.
How long does it take to revise?
Primary writers revise quickly. One session and they have revised their illustrations and words. Older writers also revise quickly and need lots of encouragement to stretch the revision process. I like to allow a handful of workshop sessions (two to four), depending on students’ stamina for revision.
How long does it take to edit?
I tend to allow two to three workshop sessions for convention lessons. During this time students are revising or editing. I encourage students to peer-edit during writing workshop, which usually takes one to two sessions.
How long does it take to publish?
I like to set a “publishing deadline” for students. This is the day they have selected a draft and have completed all revision and editing. The writing is ready to “fancy up” and share with the world. This “fancy-up” stage is publishing. I usually allow one workshop session and also offer lunch, recess, and after-school work time for those who need more time with the publishing supplies. Sometimes publishing takes two sessions in primary grades.
How often should we have a formal celebration?
The end of each unit is an ideal time for a formal celebration. It’s important to help student writing go beyond the walls of a classroom. I encourage teachers to consider inviting parents to a celebration twice a year. It’s a worthy goal to have a grade-level or schoolwide celebration once a year.
Helping students learn to write takes time. Think of these numbers as “-ish”—they offer a place to begin. You can click here to download a table summary of these numbers. The best way to figure out how long something takes is to try it and make your own list of How long . . .