Well-structured writing workshops with diverse texts can help teachers inspire their young writers in the classroom.
On episode 19 of The Teacher’s Toolkit for Literacy, literacy experts Phil and Sharon Callen talked about the power of writing workshops to help students engage and experiment with their writing.
Similar to the reading workshop, Sharon said the writing workshop will have three main components: the mini lesson, independent writing, and reflection / share.
Sharon emphasised that the mini lesson is really about ‘opening up the doors’ and exploring the different types of texts that students can write.
“I’ve heard enough teachers say to me, ‘yes, I do narrative and I do persuasive’. For our writers’ sake, we’ve just got to blow that right open and talk about all the ways in which we can write,” she said.
“Why have we got kids writing? That’s the big question. To communicate with others, to tell a story, to record history, to imagine a place that we’d love to explore, to help someone understand how something works too. There’s a whole lot of reasons why we do that. So, we want them to have many, many, many different ways that they can go about writing that.
“There are a variety of text types that we can get kids working with and they are imaginative texts, poetry, then there’s informative texts. So when we think about what’s the purpose of this text, so informative text might take the form of a letter, or it might take the form of a list or a how-to, or it might be a recipe, or it might be in the form of an information report … so we want to explore how writers do that, to see all the possibilities for how we can present information.”
The mini lesson is also key for delving into the entire writing process, from crafting to publishing.
“If I’ve got a writing mini lesson, it’s always going to be connected to text in some way. We’re either looking at what a writer is doing, or we’re demonstrating either through modelled writing or shared writing or interactive writing, we’re creating texts together. And I can demonstrate the thinking processes of what a good writer’s doing as they’re doing that,” she said.
“We also want to open up doors on crafting. How does the author craft, and by craft, we mean, how do they create a beginning? How do they know how to create an ending? How do they know to organise their ideas? So all those crafting elements, that’d be something else I’d bring to open the door on conventions. So how do I use punctuation? How do I use my spelling knowledge as I’m writing? How do I use grammar as I’m writing? Who’s my audience? How do I edit and proofread? And how do I publish?”
Sharon and Phil explained that the mini lesson can be more flexible to the needs of the learners and focus more on smaller groups, as opposed to the whole class.
“There’s the ones that just need to have more of that modelling and then the other ones that are independent, ready to go,” Phil said.
Sharon added: “There may also be a group that needs to come back because of the phase they’re in with their writing, or where they are in the writing process. They might be the ones that you say ‘right, let me pull you back together’ towards the end of the lesson, and let’s do a little bit of what are we are doing next with something like editing or revising.
“And in fact, I might have a few flexible groups that I pull in that day, so that it might not be a mini lesson I begin with, but I might have some little focus groups going during that time with sharing going on as well. So the important part is of course with these things is what the purpose of each of these components are.”
Sharon said the independent reading and reflection will naturally flow on from the mini lesson, and can be further supported by the teacher.
“So then that independent learning time, that’s when kids are going off to do their writing. They’re continuing, they’re working on bigger pieces … but it’s always that time to be doing it for themselves. And I’m on the floor, I’m roving and I’m there to support as they need. I’m watching out, answering questions, one-on-one conferring if a child’s ready for something that they want to take further and need to address a part of the process, especially if it’s something like editing or proofreading,” Sharon said.
“And reflections / share can be happening at any time of this. I might say, ‘I see you’ve done this, this is what someone else was trying to do. Just share out that great sentence that you’ve written there’. Or, if we’ve been looking at beginnings, we can share lots of those out. So we can share out the things that are working and getting kids reflecting on, ‘what did I do today?'”
Finally, all three of these components depend on one crucial element – the type of literature students are exposed to.
“A writing workshop can only be as good as the literature that you surround your students with and is being read aloud to students, because when we read aloud to our students, that language sits on the children’s ear,” she said.
“So being able to also access a lot of really great literature and texts to read will also enable young writers to learn, to read like a writer, to notice what writers are doing.”