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NYC Helpline: How To: Teach Literacy

What to Teach in Your Writers' Workshop by Allison Demas

Writing is difficult to teach. It is a craft, an art. Some people have a natural aptitude for it. Others need to work at it and need to be shown the fine points and individual components of the art.

How do you do this? Well, first you need to know your grade’s curriculum. What are your students supposed to be able to do by the end of the school year? If you do not know, then seek out a teacher on the grade above you and ask what the students are expected to know when they enter that grade.

Then you need to determine what your students know and what they need to know. You can learn this by looking at their writing. Analyzing their writing samples will help you determine what lessons to teach. You cannot expect them to do what they have not been shown to do. It may be necessary to teach something that should have been taught in a previous grade. Learning the craft of writing is a process, an individual process. It cannot, and should not, be dictated by a pacing calendar or monthly teaching schedule. You should be looking at your students: what they are doing and what you want them to do. Administrators need to understand this as well (some do and, unfortunately, some don’t).

If you are employing mini-lessons, they should be short and to the point. There should be only one focus per lesson - you do not want to overwhelm your students (or yourself). Your lessons should be systematic and scaffold. If your objective is to show students how to write a paragraph, this must be prefaced by other lessons. In order to write a coherent paragraph, one needs to know what information goes together, what information is important and what is superfluous.

When you examine your students work, you might find that only a few students need assistance with one particular aspect. This is the perfect opportunity for small group guided writing instruction. If only three students need the lesson, then teach the lesson to only those three students.

Just because you have taught a lesson, do not assume that they have learned it. If you find, via perusal of their work, that your students did not understand a lesson, then review your lesson. You should address the topic again, but do not teach it the same way. If they did not understand it the first time, chances are they won’t understand it the second. You may need to break it down into more than one lesson.

As they acquire knowledge and confidence, the process will become easier and the quality of their work will improve. As their ability improves, do not let yourself fall into complacency. Continue to look at your students and their work. They will continue to show you what to teach in your writers’ workshop.

Questions or comments? E-mail Allison.


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