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NYC Helpline: How To: Teach Literacy

Understanding the Writers Workshop Component of Balanced Literacy 
Allison Demas

Compared to the Readers' Workshop, the Writers' Workshop is the same dance - but the music is different. The structure is always the same basic format:

  • mini-lesson

  • independent/small group work

  • share session

In my last article I identified four instructional aspects of the Readers' Workshop. There are four equivalent aspects to the Writers' Workshop and an additional one. The four aspects are:

  1. Modeled Writing (to)

  2. Shared Writing (with)

  3. Guided Writing (with)

  4. Independent Writing (by)

The additional aspect is Interactive Writing (with).

Readers' Workshop Writers' Workshop
Read Aloud Modeled Writing
Shared Reading Shared Writing
Interactive Writing
Guided Reading Guided Writing
Independent Reading Independent Writing

The writing counterpart to the Read Aloud is Modeled Writing. Modeled Writing finds the teacher composing a text and demonstrating the thought process involved in the composition. This is a "think aloud." This aspect provides demonstration of sentence structure, print conventions (i.e. capitalization, punctuation) and spelling strategies. It also allows the demonstration of the structure of different genres and highlights features of the genres.

The counterpart to Shared Reading is Shared Writing. In Shared Writing the teacher and students work together to compose a text. The students help generate ideas and the teacher records them. The teacher acts as the scribe.

Interactive Writing is my favorite part of the Writers' Workshop. In this portion the teacher and students also work together to compose a text; however, they all take turns doing the physical writing. They use a "shared pen" which means that the students and the teacher are actually writing on the paper.

Guided Writing provides the opportunity for individualization of instruction. This part addresses the specific needs of the students. The students are writing their own texts of their own choosing. This is small group work. The groups are flexible and the students have a common need.

Just as Independent Reading provided students with the opportunity to use what they have learned, Independent Writing serves the same purpose. The students choose their purpose and style of writing. It is a chance for experimentation with the written word and exploration of genres and formats. This should be a daily occurrence. It is during this time that the students will go through the writers' process of drafting, revising, editing and publishing. Through this process they hone the skills they learned via Modeled, Shared and Interactive Writing.

Modeled Writing, Shared Writing and Interactive Writing occur during the mini-lesson portion of the model. This is whole group and the students sit facing the teacher. Independent Writing takes place during the independent/small group work time. Guided Writing groups would also meet at this time. The share session is a wrap-up. Students can sit facing an "Author's Chair" or they can sit in a circle facing each other. The students share their work and receive feedback from their classmates. Students generate critical questions for the "Authors." This final session provides closure to the day's writing activities and it provides possible topics for future mini-lessons.


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