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NYC Helpline: How To: Teach Literacy

How to Make Your Writers’ Workshop Work by Allison Demas

The first step to making a writers’ workshop work is setting up procedures and routines. Your students should know what to expect and what is expected of them. There shouldn’t be any surprises. Consistency is the key. Once you have set your procedures and routines you should adhere to them. There should be a rhythm and pattern to your writers’ workshop.

Next, students must be afforded the opportunity to write on a daily basis. By writing I am referring to expository writing. This does not mean copying text, writing short answers to questions or responding to readings (response to literature). It means writing about a topic of their choosing to the best of their abilities. Writing experiences should not be few and far between.

Is it feasible to say ‘write every day?’ We all know that things happen and plans change. There are special assemblies, field trips, fire drills and transit strikes, all of which can derail the best laid plans and can push writing time off the schedule. But these events should be few and far between, and a diligent effort to have writing time once a day should be made.

In addition to being afforded the opportunity to write every day, students should be afforded the opportunity to write poorly. They should be given ample time to practice what they have learned, to fail as they practice, and to try again as they hone their skills. They should be allowed to explore the beauty of literary expression and the poetry of thoughts unspoken, even if they are flawed once spoken. They should not be expected to complete a perfect piece each time they take pencil to paper. That is why we have erasers, correction tape, revision and editing lessons, and editors.

If students worry about proper grammar every time they write, or how each word is spelled, then they are worried about the components and not the meaning. This can stifle creativity and the work can end up choppy, boring and rote. It is like worrying about each step you take as you dance instead, of feeling the music. Let them feel the rhythm of the music and you may well be pleasantly surprised by the outcome.

Make sure you read Allison's article, How to Set Up a Writing Center, for advice on the logistics of setting up a writing center in your classroom.

Questions or comments? E-mail Allison.


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