Expanding Writer’s Workshop in First and Second Grade!

July 17, 2015

After teaching writing to my first graders for 5 years, I have a sad secret to share with you:
I totally underestimated my young students.


Bleck. That pains me to say, but it is true. My first year in a classroom I thought writer’s workshop was going to be an absolute trainwreck in 1st grade. I would look at exemplar writing pieces from 1st grade students and thought to myself, “who are these genius little children?!” Clearly I didn’t think they really existed… and if they did I thought for sure they wouldn’t be found in my room.


I knew writing was an area I needed to work on and build confidence in, so I began to tackle it. Slowly, but surely I took each Common Core writing standard and broke it down in a way that I thought I could handle. I still had my doubts, but my students had NO problem proving me wrong.


I started with personal narratives. We picked our small moments, learned the difference between a watermelon and a seed moment, and used Froggy books to add capital letters, sound effects and more. It was fun and it was eye-opening! My students could do a lot more than I gave them credit for.Then, in the winter, we researched and published our own all about books. Talk about FUN! My students were gaining more and more independence as they became better writers (and readers).


Come springtime, we would learn how to express our opinions. We had fun respectfully arguing with one another and providing reasons for our opinions. By the end of the year we all felt successful and I could see tremendous growth in their writing!


Now, each of these units took about a month, give or take, so what we were doing the rest of the year?! Prompts! Lots of prompts. Now… there is NOTHING wrong with writing prompts… in fact, we love them in room 102 and still use them from time to time (especially at the beginning of the year to build confidence – see post HERE). However, with all that extra time in the year, I felt like I might be able to push my students a little further through more writer’s workshop. So the past two years I have made it a personal goal to expand my writer’s workshop!

I took a look at my yearly writing scope and sequence that my team had come up with and decided that room 102 was going to dive in head first and see what happens. Well, the last two years I have been THRILLED with my students’ ability to take what they have learned in each writing genre and push it one step further.


My year overall looked like this:

August- September: Gaining confidence and building stamina in Writer’s Workshop
October-November: Personal Narratives
December: Seasonal prompts
January-February: All About Books
Early March: How to Unit
March – May: Opinion & Reviews

May- June: Realistic Fiction

We took what we learned from writing personal narratives at the beginning of the year and shifted our focus writing realistic fiction at the end of the year. Then, we took our informative writing and expanded upon it through a writing how-to mini unit. We also took what we knew about writing our opinions and wrote reviews of local restaurants and movies. We dug deeper and I raised the bar in each of the Common Core writing genres and I am so happy I did!


Immediately after we finish our informative, All About Books, we took just a week or two to publish our own “How-to” booklet. Since non-fiction was still fresh in my students’ minds, they were able to quickly identify things they knew how to do and teach others:

Since they could do most of this unit independently, I was really able to pull smaller groups to focus on specific skills (punctuation, sentence variation, leads, details, closings, etc). You can read more about what is in my how to unit {here}.


Right after we learn how to express our opinions in the spring, we take it one step further and write reviews! My kids seriously love this and I totally play up the whole “critic” concept.

There must be something to giving your students the ownership and pride to be an expert, or  teacher, or a critic. Let them take that leadership and empower them they will soar, I tell you! To read more about my reviews unit, head {here}.


Lastly, at the end of the year is our “toughest” unit, When we write realistic fiction it is when we bring everything full circle. We take all we have learned the whole year and create our very own story books!


My higher students really push the envelope here and write their own chapter books or series and create their own “boxed set” by decorating a cereal box. I can tell you that before these last 2 years in my classroom, my students NEVER would’ve written chapter books! And that’s on ME, not them.


All of these extended units are available in my writer’s workshop bundle below:

So if you are working towards polishing up your writer’s workshop blocks this year, maybe these ideas will work for your kids! Expand their thinking and their writing and I think you will all be impressed with what your students turn out!


Looking for research-based lessons and guidance on the most effective ways to teach writing to primary
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Happy writing 🙂

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  • I LOVE LOVE LOVE writers workshop! I will admit I thought the same thing when I first started. I didn't believe 1st graders could write like that. After doing writers workshop I now know that they can write like that. It is pretty impressive! My first graders love sharing their work with older grades. I am pretty sure they impress a lot of older students and motivate the older students to try to write better. Thanks for sharing your student's work and congrats on getting them to be such amazing writers.

  • Your layout sounds so perfect of how it flows! You know I adore how you teach writing, but do your students ever have time to choose what they want to write, kind of like a free write time? Maybe in a center or something??

    • Hiiiiii!! First, I wish I got to meet you in Las Vegas – next year you HAVE to come!!!

      Yes, good question! I will say that I have been spoiled with an extra long school day the past 2 years, so we have PLENTY of time to "fit it all in." My students get to free-write in their journals during the morning after morning meeting, during morning indoor recess, and later in the afternoon we have a 20 minute block after snack that many of my students choose to write in their journals! During that time they are able to write whatever to whomever they'd like… I let them know that their journal is their space – no guidelines at all!

      Also, I sometimes can tell that my students are hitting a wall or seem stuck in a genre, so from time-to-time, I will still teach my mini-lesson, but then just let them free-write. I feel like it gets them "rejuvenated" and ready to write in the days to come!

      I hope that helps!

  • Do you use the Lucy Calkin mini lessons, or do you just make up your own? Our district has no writing curriculum at all so I am having to come up with my own. I was just wondering where you get your mini lesson ideas. I have bought your first bundle of mini units and can't wait to work them in next year!


    • I am wondering the same thing to about Lucy Calkin mini lessons… we have started this year, and finding it a bit overwhelming, so looking for someone who has taken and simplified it.

  • I absolutely agree with the fact that 1st graders are capable of amazing writing! It happens when you dedicate enough time to it, and when you invest in it all year long! It's such a breath of fresh air to see other teachers challenging their students and raising that bar! Thanks so much for sharing 🙂

  • I also struggle with teaching writing to fitst graders. I am super excited now to start writers workshop in September and will be using your mini units!