|Planning Mini-Lessons for Writing Workshops
Selecting topics for mini-lessons can be puzzling.
It can be especially overwhelming with children in the early
grades who are just beginning to write. As in reading, they
seem to need so many different skills at the same time. How
does a teacher decide on topics for mini-lessons that would
be most beneficial to students? How does a teacher assess student
needs and gear instruction to meet those needs?
For starters, teachers need to know the curriculum for their
grade. Knowledge of the standards will inform teachers of what
is age-appropriate for their students and what is expected of
them. This knowledge is the foundation for mini-lessons geared
to student needs.
I find it helpful to think of the standards as the final destination
of a long journey. As in any long trip, I decide what I need
for my journey. I assess what I already have and what I need
to obtain for a successful journey. As I go along I look at
my short and long term needs. I re-evaluate my plan and make
necessary revisions to help me reach my final destination.
Writing workshop is a time for teachers to zero in on the writing
curriculum and standards. The typical format is as follows:
- The teacher begins the workshop with a mini-lesson (15-20
- the children practice writing (20 minutes);
- the children share their writing and assess each other's
work (20 minutes).
How to Plan Successful Mini-Lessons
- Assess student work: Informal assessment of student work
can take place when children are writing. You can circle the
room looking at works-in-progress. I frequently take notes
on a clipboard to use as a guide for future planning. Conferences
with students about their work will help you determine skills
that many of the students need. The information gathered in
these sessions are used to plan your mini-lessons.
- Plan mini-lesson: Choose a topic based on your informal
assessment. Some topics might include
- Quotation marks
- Using the word wall and charts on display
- Using word lists
- Word study
- Copying words accurately
- Using a spelling "try sheet"
- Thinking of a topic
- Sequencing your ideas
- Illustrating your story
- Working with a partner
- Collecting and using interesting words
- Finding interesting adjectives and adverbs
- Collecting favorite phrases
I like to vary my mini-lessons and choose from a menu of
many topics. I might intersperse lessons on capitalization
with one on using interesting words. A favorite of mine
is "Instead of Said" or "Said is Dead"
in which children collect words from authors which convey
the meaning of "said" in a more interesting way.
We have an on-going list of such words posted in the room
to refer to.
- Provide instruction: Once you have selected a topic for
a mini-lesson, gather the children in front of an easel and
model the skill you want them to learn. For example, demonstrate
how you not only stretch out words, but sometimes you copy
a word from a printed text. Ask the children where they have
seen the word in print. Ask them to locate it on the word
wall, a word list, chart, or published text and demonstrate
how you check to see if you copied it correctly. At the end
of your mini-lesson, before the children go off to write on
their own, tell them you will be looking for evidence that
they are practicing the skill taught in the lesson.
- Student practice: Use this time to circulate about the room
and confer with students. Prepare a list of students who are
practicing the skills you are teaching so that you might ask
them to share their work at the end of the session. In this
way you are reinforcing the skills you are teaching and praising
those who are applying their learning to their writing.
- Re-assess: Gather the children in a circle so that they
have eye contact with each other. Ask for volunteers to share
and call on those who you have noted are successful at practicing
the skills you presented earlier. Be sure that you and your
students provide both positive feedback and constructive criticism
to all of the students who are sharing.
Careful assessment, planning, implementation, re-assessment
and revision on the part of the teacher, and practice by the
student will contribute greatly to the success of your writing
For more ideas on writing workshop
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