Writing workshop in kindergarten, first, and second grade can be HARD. There’s no denying that. Our young learners want to communicate and tell stories, but they need a lot of guidance getting their ideas on paper.
If you are headed into a new year of school and looking for some new tips or guidance, I wanted to spend a little time going over my top 3 tips for launching Writer’s Workshop in the primary grades.
First and foremost, each tip I am going to share is a gentle reminder to take it slow. Our students are young and our job is to teach them to LOVE learning! So let’s go at their speed, slow down a bit, and help them become the best writers they can be.
Tip 1: We are all writers
Many times our young students come into the writing block with the mindset that writing is a difficult task. They look at published books and think, “how can I create that?!” Out students may compare their work (scribbles, letters, sketches) to a published piece of writing and think they aren’t good enough, but the truth of the matter is our primary writers are hungry to communicate! They want to tell us stories and share with us. We just have to help them channel their thoughts onto paper!
One way I like to illustrate this tip is through the book, No, David! by David Shannon. Your students may already be familiar with this book, but they may not know the backstory. David Shannon actually wrote this book when he was only 5 years old. As an adult, he found his work in his mom’s closet and decided to publish it!
My students love this because they, too, are 5, 6, and 7 years old and it shows that we really all are authors! When reading this book during my launching writer’s workshop unit, I like to emphasize the following two points:
- David doesn’t use too many words to tell his story. His illustrations do a great job of that. This is an important reminder that our illustrations can help us tell our story.
- I also point out that David writes about what happens to him in his life. We all have stories and events that happen to us each day that we can share, even if they may seem little at the moment.
Tip 2: Model Everything
Yes… I mean everything.Often we rush ourselves and rush our students with the end game in our heads. We know students need to be writing informative, opinion and narrative pieces, so we want to get straight to work, but really we need to slow down and model, model, model so we can establish our procedures first. This saves SO much time in the long run.
I take a full two weeks to launch Writing Workshop in my first grade classroom and we go over everything. This poster below is one I made in 2014 for my class based on what it looked like in my room that year:
Based on your own classroom and mindset, this may look different in your room, but there are things you’ll want to consider:
- Where will students meet for the mini lesson? rug, tables, etc.
- Will they sit in a circle? Rows? Assigned spots?
- Where will students sit during independent writing?
- Where will their materials be stored? I always kept our writing folders in our desks or chair pockets because I hated wasting time with students in line to retreive their items.
- What will the teacher be doing? Set and follow your own expectations.
- What does independent writing SOUND like? Music, whispers, etc.
- What should “good writing” look like?
Also when talking about modeling, I am not just talking about procedures, but also about what good writing looks like and we can do that through mentor texts and modeled and shared writing. When teaching each unit, I create my very own piece of writing which I add to throughout the unit. When teaching a mini lesson on adding details, revising, or using a question to begin your review like shown below, I model it with the class.
Tip 3: Let it go!
Sometimes this can be the biggest mindset shift when it comes to teaching writing to primary students. I hear teachers say so often, “how can they write when they can’t even read?!?” and if you already have that expectation and pre-judgement in your head, it will make your job so much more difficult.
So just let those expectations of PERFECTLY EDITED DETAILED writing GO!
Now, this does not mean don’t hold your students to high expectations…. And certainly don’t underestimate them, but please remember they are only 5, 6, 7 years old. It is all about setting the groundwork and building their confidence as writers. Here are two examples of first grade writing (a review and a realistic fiction book):
These students are between the ages of 5-7 and both are ELLs. If I wanted to, I could go through their writing with a big red pen, circle everything wrong with it, have them “publish it” with my edits and Boom! Their writing would be so much better… But is that their work?! No, it’s mine and I’m a 30-something year old teacher with a degree. That’s just silly. What I need to look at are the conventions, the voice, the details. Listen to how each of theses students’ work sounds like them. I love how my student writing the realistic fiction book played around with quotation marks. She wrote so much that she made an entire chapter book which we stored in decorated cereal boxes. Would David Shannon be proud?! I certainly think so, because I was!
When we look at the standards, use them as a guideline and an end goal, everything else is a work in progress. Something for them to build upon and improve upon year after year!
Pin to remember: