My class participates in Writers’ Workshop once a week. Writers’ Workshop has huge benefit for young writers. It boosts their self esteem and their phonemic awareness. It enables them to work at their own speed and, more importantly, to write about something that is meaningful to them. It also leads to improved fluency in reading and writing.

The children are engaged in some form of writing every day, but we dedicate one block of time per week to Writers’ Workshop.

Writers’ Workshop consists of a mini lesson lasting about 15 minutes, 20-25 minutes of independent writing, and 10 to 15 minutes of sharing of writing at the end. Each week I use a mini lesson to concentrate on a particular writing skill or strategy.

Mini lessons that I have demonstrated previously include:

  • Reading a picture book to exemplify a certain methodology
  • Finding a story-brainstorming all the different things we can write stories about
  • A story having a beginning, middle and an end
  • Making a story out of a minor event, e.g going to the shop, riding on the bus
  • Spelling unknown words-I tell children to imagine the word is an elastic band and to stretch it out, hear all the different sounds and try to spell it
  • Poetry Writing
  • Writing a letter
  • Writing a list
  • What to do when they are finished
  • Storing materials in the writing centre
  • Using ‘and then…’
  • How to end a story without writing ‘The End’
  • Using a story map
  • Using a word bank
  • Writing non-fiction
  • Punctuation-capital letters, full stops
  • Using the word wall

In the beginning the children use a page divided into four squares to tell a story in four parts. Many of them are still telling picture stories at this stage without words and so this layout ensures that everyone can tell a story with a beginning, middle and end. After a couple of months many children move on from the four squared layout to a lined A4 sheet with space for one picture at the top.

For my first mini lesson I model how to tell a story using four squares drawn on the whiteboard. I start off by saying something like: “Oh, what could I write a story about, oh I know, something that just happened me yesterday.” I make the story something very simple and begin to draw the different parts on the board all the while telling the story to the children.

Here is what my board looks like as I give the first mini lesson:

1. I divide the whiteboard into four squares.

2. I draw a picture in the first square, telling the story to the children at the same time.

3. I label some of the images on the picture, asking the children to help with spelling.

4. I ask the children for suggestions of a sentence and write it using their ideas.

5. I continue onto the next square, labelling other parts of the picture and writing the next sentence. I make sure and keep the children involved the entire time, asking them to help with spellings, to suggest words, etc.

6. I continue modelling the story, all the while keeping the children involved.

7. When the story is finished I review what we have done then the children go and begin their stories.

We partake in Writers’ Workshop as part of our learning centres one day a week. This means that I am able to conference with each group when it is their turn to write. I never tell them what to write but may and I don’t spell words for them. I encourage them to use the word wall, to look around the room for words and to attempt to spell the words themselves. I explain to them many times that mistakes do not matter and in this way they become more confident and fluent writers.

I’ve had some really great results using Writers’ Workshop in my class. The children really enjoy it and they get to learn and practice a new writing skill or strategy each week.

Below are some of the children’s work, showing a progression from through the first term:

A girl who has made huge improvement in literacy since the beginning of the year

September 2011-The child labels some of the pictures by looking at my modelled story on the board. However some of the words are spelled backwards.

November 2011-The child has begun to write short sentences and her words are no longer spelled backwards.

January 2012-The Child's writing has become more structured; sentences are longer and, spaced out and easy to read.

 

An ELL child who began the year in September with absolutely no English

September 2011-The child is not writing any English words yet. My Arabic-speaking TA helped transcribe his story.

November 2011-The child is beginning to label some of his pictures and is attempting to write a sentence.

The child is now writing full sentences. Even though the words are not spelled correctly, they are easy to read.

A little girl with a great imagination who will soon be able to portray this in her own writing.

September 2011-Transcribing this girl's stories was a treat as she has such a vivid imagination. She is not writing her own words as of yet.

November 2011-This child is now writing sentences and labelling her pictures. Her writing remains phonetic but is becoming more transitional.

January 2012-This child has now moved on from the four square layout and her writing has become much clearer and more structured. She is writing the words the way they sound and has most syllables are represented.

At the end of writers’ workshop the children share their stories with each other. They love doing this and every week I pick an ‘Author of the Week.’ This is usually the child who followed the strategy from that day’s mini lesson most effectively and all children will win at some stage.