Learn How to Differentiate For
ALL Levels of Writers
✔ You have students who are struggling with writing or are completely disinterested, which has you feeling inadequate.
✔ You have students make the same mistakes over and over again, and it's driving you a little mad.
✔ Differentiating your writing lesson sounds amazing, but you don't have the time or resources to pull it off.
Procedures and Classroom Management
Many people are concerned about Writer’s Workshop because of the different type of students they have in their class. Here are things that you may be concerned about, but that Writer’s Workshop will be effective with:
- Large class size (33)
- Needy students that struggled to work independently
- Chatty, off task students
- ELL students and students below grade level
Writer’s Workshop is fantastic with all students with proper procedures and practice. Here are a few things you will need to put into place for a successful writer’s workshop:
- A Writer’s Workshop Time: Set aside a block of time daily or every other day for writer’s workshop. The more you do writer’s workshop, the better your students will become at the task.
- Structure Your Workshop Block: (See more below): Set a schedule for your block and follow it each time. Students work better when they know the schedule and what to expect during the writing block. This also allows for continuation of the successful workshop block if you cannot be in your classroom for any reason.
- Modeling and Rewards: Create a plan for how you will model proper workshop behavior and how you will reward students that do a great job. Here are some ideas I’ve used:
- VIP Supply Bucket or VIP Table for students to use that do a great job during WW.
- Fun supplies for all students to use: I provide lots of colored markers, pens, and highlighters and use color-coding in my lessons.
- Friday recognition: I recognize one student that has done a great job during writer’s workshop this week. I give them a praise pin to wear and a no homework pass. I bought these 4 dozen reward pins for less than $10 on amazon (aff. link).
- Redirect students or move proximity: If you have students that just cannot focus during writer’s workshop, move them to a desk closer to your small group area so that you can easily redirect them without interrupting your small group.
- Give consequences if necessary: I always prefer positive reinforcement, but sometimes you have to go a step further. Give students consequences if they’re purposefully not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, and redirecting isn’t working. I often call and schedule a meeting with parents and the child where we review the writer’s workshop’s purpose and procedures. I stress that they have a very bright child and that this process will prepare them for working independently in school and their future career.
Structuring Your Workshop Block
I’ve read many different books and blog posts on Writer’s Workshop, and this schedule is what has worked well for me. I run my workshop in the following order:
- Mini-lesson (20%): When we first begin writer’s workshop, I teach one part of the writing process each day. Students that get ahead can get the next lesson in small group, or they may be able to go to the bulletin board and complete that step just from the information there. For example, on day 1 I do a mini-lesson using a graphic organizer for brainstorming. I do my own example while the students help give me ideas.
- Independent Work Part 1 (20%): Students work on doing what we learned in the mini-lesson for their essay. They continue on in the writing process if comfortable. I use a few minutes this time to look for 2-3 students with exceptional work to share with the class during our work sharing portion. You can write down the students’ names, or give them something to indicate that they will be sharing their work. The rest of this time I use to pull a small group of students that are struggling.
- Work Sharing (20%): I use some of this time to have the students I chose with exemplary examples share and the rest I use for students to share a piece of their work that they want feedback on with their partner or group. I model active listening and how students can provide helpful feedback because kids really struggle with this.
- Independent Work Part 2 (20%): Students get back to working on their essay. I usually open up small group to students that have questions. Sometimes I hold a small group during this time for my advanced writers that need a challenge.
- Wrap-up (20%): We use the last part of workshop to review any notes we took during workshop and to reflect on the day’s work. We also talk about what the mini-lesson is for the next day, and how they can prepare themselves for it.
Think of the mini-lesson as your whole group writing lesson, just condensed. During mini-lesson time, I have my students come back to the carpet with a rolling whiteboard and anchor chart paper (it’s a bit of a tight fit with 33 students, but it can be done!) with their writing notebook. They take notes, draw organizers, and more during this time.
The most difficult thing is deciding what to do for a mini-lesson. The first time I teach a specific type of essay, I do mini-lessons of the writing process tailored to that essay type. Here’s an example of mini-lesson topics based on opinion writing:
- What is opinion writing and what do we need to have in our opinion essay?
- Brainstorming for an opinion essay
- Organizing your brainstorming ideas for an opinion essay
- Writing an introduction for an opinion essay: Writing great hooks (leads)
- Writing an introduction for an opinion essay: Writing a thesis
- Writing an introduction for an opinion essay: Putting together the introduction using connecting sentences
- Using your organizational notes to write body paragraphs
- Beginning your body paragraph with a transition sentence
- The parts of a conclusion & why a call to action is so important
- Revising your opinion essay
- Editing your opinion essay
- Publishing your opinion essay
Conferencing vs. Small Group
I do a lot of small groups when we first start the writer’s workshop. Once my students get really good at it, or if we’re towards the end of the essay, I also do conferences during their independent work. During conferencing, I have a clipboard that has a printed spreadsheet with student names and the skills they need to learn with the particular type of essay they’re doing at their particular grade level. When I conference, I call students back individually and we look at and discuss their writing to see what they have mastered and what they still need help on. This helps me structure my small groups and also gives me an idea of what we need to review during the mini-lesson time.
I’ve mentioned many times in this post that students may go ahead in the writing process (and may be behind if they’re struggling writers or were absent). I manage this using the Writing Process Bulletin Board that has the different parts of the writing process labeled and described. Having this visual has really helped me cut down on the “helpless hand raisers” that used to really put a wrench in my small group and conferencing time.
I also provide a printable version for each essay so that students can check off each part they have done. This prevents students from skipping a step and being finished early when they’re not really finished.
At the end of your first essay, your students will have come so far. They’ve done what seems like a hundred different things to create and improve upon their essay. It’s time to celebrate their success! Throw a “Publishing Party” where you display their published essays and every student can walk around and read them. I have students hang theirs at eye level somewhere in the classroom. We put on our [literal] party hats, eat treats, and take about 45 minutes to walk around the room and read some of the essays and talk about the process. I buy 40 party hats on Amazon for about $10 (aff. link) and students decorate them for the first party with messages about writing. They put their names on the inside and I store them to reuse for the next publishing party.
I send a letter home about a week before our publishing party asking for donations of healthy treats, party decorations, and family participation. I invite families in to see their student’s work and many are gracious enough to bring the supplies to make the party fabulous. I usually do it the last hour of the day on Friday to make it more convenient for parents to attend.
Lastly, enjoy your students’ success with writer’s workshop and the fact that the next time around will be so easy. Your students are now well trained in the art of writer’s workshop and you can take a step back to admire your new independent writers!