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New Teachers Online: How-To Articles:
Teach Early Childhood Literacy

Getting Started in Writing Workshop
Miriam Bissu

Writing Workshop provides a format for teachers to teach writing, and in addition, for students to practice writing on a daily basis and develop positive attitudes toward writing. Feeling good about writing and one's ability to write well contribute to learning to become a good writer. The Writing Workshop model enables the teacher to provide a supportive environment in which young writers feel safe enough to take risks in the course of applying their learning about writing. An important part of the program is establishing a community of learners who respect their work and the efforts of others.

Writing Workshop sets aside a dedicated large block of time (about 60 minutes) for teachers and students to practice writing for the purpose of becoming better writers. The time is usually broken into three 20-minute segments: a mini-lesson, actual writing by everyone, and a share time.

The teacher's role is to:

  • Establish a warm and nurturing environment for learning to take place;
  • Serve as a model for students;
  • Develop mini-lessons that are curriculum based;
  • Develop mini-lessons based on student needs;
  • Address various student interests and abilities;
  • Provide opportunities to explore various genres and writing styles;
  • Provide opportunities to write in all curriculum areas;
  • Bring in a variety of literature and great authors to serve as models;
  • Reward student achievement whenever possible;
  • Celebrate success.

Shared Writing

One of the most difficult tasks discussed above is the notion of establishing a nurturing environment for children to practice their writing. What do I mean by this and how is it to be accomplished? To begin with, I would suggest a good deal of shared writing  experiences.

  • Model how a good writer thinks of topics, sequences ideas, organizes the text, and practices mechanics of writing while getting their ideas down.
  • Demonstrate how to keep ideas flowing without getting overwhelmed or bogged down with mechanics.
  • Encourage children to participate in formulating the text with you by asking for questions and comments as you are working.
  • Thank children for helping you come up with such a great piece of writing that everyone can share.
  • Encourage them to look at the shared writing pieces on display around the room for ideas to help them write.

"I Don't Know What to Write About"

Frequently children will tell you they don't know what to write about. I would suggest that you provide some mini-lessons to generate a list of topics and post the list in the room for all to see. You could start by brainstorming a list, and as children share their writing about other topics, add the new topics to the list. This will also serve as a reward for the student who thought of the topic. When a child tells you she doesn't know what to write about, refer her to the list or read through the list with her to see if something strikes a chord. You could also suggest a topic that you think the child might relate to just to get her started.

Writing Time

Follow your shared writing or mini-lesson with 20-30 minutes of actual writing time. Use this time to confer with children about their work and help them along with the writing process. Set up a schedule so that you can confer with 2 students at length in each period.

Sharing

The final part of the writing workshop is sharing writing. Time must be provided for sharing at the close of writing workshop. This is the time children reap the rewards of their hard work and allow you to use their samples to teach and reinforce skills. Here are some suggestions to help make it happen:

  1. Seat the children in a circle so they can see each other.
  2. Teach the students to make at least three good comments about the work being presented.
  3. Post a list of good comments:
    "I like the topic.."
    "I like the pictures.."
    "It reminds me of.."
    "I remember when.."
    "(S)He wrote a lot.."
    "I thought it was funny.."
  4. Model positive comments for students and thank them for sharing and being polite.
  5. After you have three positive comments, ask for comments that would help make the student a better writer. Some examples might be:
    "You have too many 'ands' in your sentences."
    "You have too many 'and thens' in your sentences."
    "The sentences were too long. You need to put in more periods."
    "I was confused in the part.."
  6. Lead the students in applauding for each and every child who shared their writing.
  7. Prepare in advance a schedule of 2 to 3 students who are to share the next day.
  8. Thank the children for their hard work and efforts. Let them know you enjoyed their writing and that the other students in the class enjoyed it as well.

I would like to encourage you to follow the format outlined above. Daily practice in writing, with constructive comments from peers in a supportive environment, can yield surprising results and help children overcome their reluctance to write. I hope you will find these suggestions helpful. As always, we welcome your questions and comments via e-mail.

 

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