Whether you’re focusing on journal writing or teaching kids about short stories and poetry, your class can benefit immensely from the structured environment of a writers workshop.
What is a writers workshop? We’re glad you asked! It’s a dedicated framework used in the classroom specifically to highlight the various needs students have in the writing process.
Typically, a classroom writers workshop will focus on a few key things
- Lessons that guide students in various writing techniques or schools of thought
- Writing time that gives students the opportunity to explore their work privately
- Review and discussion time in which students can give one another feedback and receive tips from the instructor
Ultimately, the most important point of the writers workshop is to make sure that students have enough time to write—and that they are given enough space to feel like their writing is treated as a valued craft.
To achieve this goal, most teachers set their writers workshops up with a few key components: lesson time, writing time, and sharing time. Read on to explore these facets of the workshop in more detail.
The Elementary Classroom Writers Workshop in Practice
For young students, it’s especially important to give students ownership over their writing in order to keep them engaged with the process.
By giving students a significant amount of time to write and maintaining a structured workshop environment, teachers empower students to see themselves as “writers”—and to give their writing the effort it deserves.
With that in mind, it’s particularly helpful to structure the workshop so that students may work at their own pace. Though the lesson time and sharing time components of the workshop should be done together as a class, students should be free to work independently during writing time.
If you hold several writers workshop sessions throughout the week, some students will naturally progress more quickly than others, and that’s okay. Just do a quick status check each day to make sure your students are all generally staying on track, but don’t worry if some move on to the editing stage more quickly than others.
It’s natural for some writers to spend more time getting their first drafts right, while others pop out an early draft quickly and then invest more time in multiple rounds of revisions. Either way, they will all catch up eventually—and giving them the chance to work on their own teaches students that all writing processes are valid.
Similarly, the individual components of the workshop itself can be flexible and attuned to the needs of each student.
For instance, you may choose to incorporate lesson time and sharing time into each workshop session—or you may hold them on a weekly basis. Anything you choose is fine as long as students have the opportunity to get in plenty of writing time!
Writers Workshop Components
Next, let’s take a look at what the individual components should look like in practice.
1. Lesson Time
Lesson time is your opportunity as the teacher to offer writing advice and help your students learn more about crafting their work. Many teachers give small lectures during lesson time, while others will review example materials with the class.
Here are a few lesson ideas you may want to consider:
- Read the class a story and then discuss what the author did well—and what details the author didn’t include that you would have liked to know more about.
- Prepare a small lecture on a writing tactic such as crafting relevant metaphors, writing realistic dialogue, or the concept of the hero’s journey.
- Hold a class discussion and brainstorm ideas of places where students might find inspiration for their work.
- Give students the opportunity to ask questions about their work or to share their experiences in writing with the class.
For best results, switch up the types of lessons you incorporate on a regular basis and try to present the class with as many fresh ideas as possible. Young students, in particular, will learn best from a varied set of lessons and from the flexibility of a workshop format that actively works to maintain their interest.
2. Writing Time
Of course, the bulk of the writers workshop session should be focused exclusively on writing time, as this is the most important aspect of the entire exercise.
Writing time is so essential because it provides students with a special, dedicated time exclusively for their writing.
This space is incredibly valuable on a practical level, in that it gives all students enough time to finish their work regardless of their speed or writing abilities.
Most importantly, writing time also resonates on an emotional level as it validates writing to students and shows them that it is worth investing in.
Writing time should generally be pretty quiet, as it’s important for kids to be able to focus on what they’re doing. However, you may consider letting your students get up and move around the classroom so that they can get comfortable and find their own favorite places to write. Some teachers even set up a more relaxing writing environment by playing music or taking the class outside for some fresh air!
During writing time, you may wish to model the value of writing by working on a piece of your own, or you might want to take the chance to meet with individual students about their work. Because writing time is largely completed privately, you need to stay aware of each student’s progress.
When you meet with students, maintain an open and supportive attitude so that the conversation feels more like a “friendly check-in” than a “meeting with the teacher.” Find out what students are working on, how their work is going, and if there’s anything that they’re struggling with.
You should also ask what they plan to do next with their writing. This will give you a sense of the student’s progress—but more importantly, it also helps to refocus the student on what they’re doing and makes sure that they keep their goals in mind as they work.
3. Sharing Time
Finally, each writers workshop should conclude with sharing time. Though it may sound optional, this is actually one of the most integral parts of the entire process and is what truly turns the exercise into a “workshop”!
When students share their work with one another and get feedback from their peers, they will encounter new ideas and ways of looking at their writing that they wouldn’t have seen before.
Furthermore, this process helps students become more confident in their work and empowers them to see themselves as true “writers” who are supported by a larger community.
Here are a few ways to facilitate sharing time in your classroom’s writers workshop:
- Have students take turns sharing their work with the whole class, with one to three students reading aloud per workshop session. If students are working on longer pieces, ask them to read their favorite part or a part they would like help with.
- Ask students to share in pairs and give one another feedback.
- Have students take their classmates’ work home to read and then write down several comments or pieces of constructive feedback. Then, during the next classroom sharing session, they can share their thoughts with the author as a group.
Though a writers workshop might sound like a lot of work to set up in your classroom, it’s actually a very simple and elegant way to help your students become better writers.
The workshop format shows students the value of writing and gives them plenty of time to write—along with valuable feedback from their teacher and their peers.
Most of all, a writers workshop is an engaging way to help young students take their work more seriously—and to hopefully show them just how fun and inspiring writing can be!
Until next time, write on…
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