Grade: Elementary

#681. How to start a Writer's Workshop

Reading/Writing, level: Elementary
Posted Sun Nov 1 08:39:09 PST 1998 by Jeanne Morris (
Maple Elementary, Fontana, CA
Materials Required: Folders , paper, pencils....
Activity Time: 25-50 min.
Concepts Taught: Independent writing

~Writer's Workshop Help Ideas~

Hi, my name is Jeanne Morris. I actually teach second grade but I am a Literacy trainer for my district. I teach other teahers K-3 during staff development inservices. I teach in a year round school so this year has already started for me in July. I don't plan on starting Writer's workshop until after the first month of school. Many of the kids don't even know that they can write. I also need to get to know the kids and their ability better. I'm beginning the year with a lot of work on a "ME" unit. I want them to have a lot of background knowledge of themselves and their family before we begin. Almost all of the stories are about themselves at these ages. I am hoping this will give them a plentiful amount of topics until they get the idea of writer's workshop.

I am also doing a lot of shared writing and guided writing. I am conducting many mini lessons on spacing, capitals and such now even before I begin WW. To do WW with a finished edited product is difficult with beginning first graders but it is worth the rewards.

You may want to begin by doing less editing and more of the getting them started with mini lessons and ending with finished pieces. Perhaps a month or so later then you can get into editing with them. By then the mini lessons may have caught up with the process of ww. This may help if you have many kids who think they can't write.

The outline of the writers workshop likes like this;

1. Mini-Lesson (5-10 min.)

2. Status of the Class (2-3 min.)

3. Writing (20-40 min.) & Conferencing

4. Sharing (10 min.)

You will want to take the low end of this schedule if you are teachinf K-1st

Writer's Workshop

This is how I run my writer's workshop in my class-

I have a poster with library pockets for each student. In each pocket I have 3 cards, red=Work in progress, Yellow=Illustrating, Green= Publishing. Each student may have any of these 3 colors in their pocket depending what they are working on. I begin the workshop on the rug in front of a whiteboard easel.

On the board I begin writing about something to the class. I model how to think of an idea, punctuation, or anything that will help my students on their stories. Modeling is very important in primary writer's workshop! I do this for about 5 min. The mini lesson can be a whole group or a small group if only a few students need the lesson.

Then I do status of the class. I look at the pocket chart to see who is publishing (An edited,word processed piece ready to be illustrated.) I excuse those students to get their writing folder and sit down at their desks. I then excused the illustrators (Those who have been hired by someone who is publishing to help and/or do it for them. Illustrators receive full credit on the published work.)

That leaves just a few students who need to work on stories. The students write about experiences they have had. Also revisions or continuations of their favorite books are popular. The students get their folders so we can review what they are working on and if they need to finish anything. I am able to conference with each child to brainstorm on writing ideas, and to help them to organize their thoughts to continue a previous stories. Students can have 5-6 stories in their folder before we pick one to publish. I stress just as in real life not everything we write needs to be published.

After I send all of the students off to do their job I continue to write. This models for them how to complete the story. (They also tend to bother you less if you are busy. They tend to try themselves rather than bother you.) After 2-3 min. I begin to individually conference with the students. Working on anything from helping them with ideas to write about or motivation. When needed I will help the students revise and final edit their story. I do this for about 20-30 minutes, depending on how well the students are working. We then take time to share completed work on the rug and even hear works in progress. Peer editing is a very important tool for good writing.

Now here's something, that really helped me, that I had to learn the hard way. I like to introduce Writers workshop by reading THE HUNGRY GIANT, and THE HUNGRY GIANTS SOUP by Joy Cowley. I read these books during shared reading. (This takes about 2 weeks. They need a lot of experience with the books.) Then I set them up with the idea about extending the story to part 3. I have all of them write their stories.I pick about 1/3 of the class to publish. I type them up and we assign illustrators to help illustrate. The finished product is the word typed on the bottom of a regular ditto page they color right on the ditto paper. I then have 1/3 Publishing, 1/3 Illustrating, and 1/3 with work in progress. That means I will be conferencing with only a few students. This helps me to get comfortable with the entire process. I am not stressed to do everything at once. You will find time to really work individually with students.

Here's the other hint. I make sure students who are illustrators must publish a book before they can help illustrate another book this makes sure those artistic students get to publish also.

Our favorite part is the author chair reading the final bound product. The are so incredibly proud. They are the favorite books in the class.....

Teachers Role in the Writing Process


The teacher:

Provides background experiences so students will have the prerequisite knowledge to write about the topic.

Allows students to participate in decisions about topic, function, audience, and form

Defines the writing project clearly and specifies how it will be assessed

Teaches information about writing form

Provides opportunities for students to participate in idea gathering and organizing activities

Writes a class collaboration with students


The teacher:

Provides support, encouragement, and feedback

Emphasizes content over mechanics

Teaches students how to draft

Encourages students to cycle back to prewriting to gather more ideas or ahead to revise when needed


The teacher:

Organizes writing groups Teaches students how to function in writing groups

Participates in a writing group as any listener and reactor would

Provides feedback about the content of the writing and makes suggestions for revision

Insists that students make some revisions

Encourages students to cycle back to prewriting or drafting when necessary


The teacher:

Teaches students how to edit with partners

Prepares editing checklists for students

Assists students in locating and correcting mechanical errors

Diagnoses students errors and provides appropriate instruction

Corrects and remaining errors that students cannot correct


The teacher:

Arranges for genuine audiences for student writing

Does not serve only as a judge when receiving student writing

The Students Role in the Writing Process


Students write on topics based on their own experiences.

Students engage in reversal activities before writing.

Students identify the audience to whom they will write.

Students identify the purpose of the writing activity.

Students choose an appropriate form for their compositions based on audience and purpose.


Students write a rough draft.

Students emphasize content rather than mechanics


Students share their writing in writing groups.

Students participate constructively in discussions about classmates writing.

Students make changes in their compositions to reflect the reactions and comments of both teacher and classmates.

Between the first and final drafts, students make substantive rather that only minor changes.


Students proofread their own compositions.

Students help proofread classmates compositions.

Students increasingly identify and correct their own mechanical errors.


Students publish their writing in an appropriate form.

Students share their finished writing with an appropriate audience.

~Info on the Four Categories of Mini-Lessons~

Mini-lessons in K-3 should be mainly modeled in 4-5th they can be mostly conversational

Can be as simple as a talk and only a few minutes or can be much more involved.

Can be a lesson for only a few students that need it or can be whole group.

It seems the k-1-2 tends to be more whole group.

1.Procedural: dealing with the operation/management of the workshop

behavior during mini lesson and Writers Workshop

where to get materials.

how to use pocket chart

what to do when you are done with the story.

sharing rules

status of the class

how to use folder

2.Skills: conventions of the language










stretching a word to hear the sounds

concept of story- beginning, middle, and end

problem and its resolution

use correct spelling

use temporary spelling in draft if word is unknown

3.Qualities of Good Writing; examining models

Author studies-Reading and discussing good literature and how we can use what we discover in our writing. Here are some book totles and what they can be used to teach during the mini lesson.

Beginning, middle and end-

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett

Sun up, Sun down by Gail Gibbons

The Great Escape By Eileen Christelow

Rosies Walk by Pat Hutchins

Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey

Aladdin and the Magic Lamp By Deborah Hantzia

Problem and Solution-

Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

The Fourth Pig Escape By Teresa Celsi

Martha Speaks By Susan Meddaugh

Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus

Elmer By David McKee

The Spider and the King by Carol Kruger

The Schoolyard Mystery By Elizabeth Levy

The Birthday Present by Virginia King

Frog and Toad Together Chapter Spring by Arnold Lobel

Spark student writing-

When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant

Begin at the Beginning by Amy Schwartz

Joy Cowley Writes by Joy Cowley

The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown

Extension to books-

Sun up, Sun down by Gail Gibbons

The Wind Blew by Pat Hutchins

Surprise information-

I like Music by Leah Komaiko

Recalling Memories-

Aunt Flossies Hats by Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard

My Grandmothers Cookie Jar by Montzalee Miller

The Button Box by Margaret Reids

The Front Hall Carpet by Ruth Heller

Beautiful language-

My Island by Kathryn Lasky

I Wish I Were a Butterfly


The Uproar by Doris Orgel

Classroom scenes-

Autumn Street by Louis Lowry

Muggie Maggie by Beverely Cleary

The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes

Staying Nine by Pam Conrad

Pageant by Kathryn Laskey

Childtimes by Eloise Greenfield

Writing new endings-

Jack and the Beanstalk

Brown Bear, Brown Bear , What Do You See? by Bill Martin

Polar Bear, Polar Bear , What Do You See? by Bill Martin

Authors page-

Stringbeans Trip to the Shining Sea by Vera B. Williams

Author notes-

Catherdral Mouse by Kay Chorao

Book Jackets-

Fish Eyes by Lois Ehlert

4.Strategies: lessons in key strategies used by writers

topic selection

what to do when your stuck

adding descriptions

staying on focus

peer editing

peer revising




story sequence


beautiful language

quality illustrations during publishing

expanding vocabulary to sharpen descriptions

visual details

describing with accuracy

condense story

expand story or part of story

linking sounds and actions






describing ordinary objects



reread previous days work

get a picture in your mind


Writing using different genre

In the beginning of first grade. (and second) I feel that too much editing a child's story ruins that child's self-esteem. How many times have you seen a child come up to show you their story with a smile on his/her face, only to go back to their seat with a paper full of red marks that they are expected to recopy. Without making even more mistakes, than when they started! Resulting in feeling like they dont know how to write. I feel that many times over editing does more harm, than good, in the early writing process.

When I edit I dont over do the editing. Im going to be retyping them later anyway. I address the major punctuation mistakes, misspelled words found on the word wall, and anything we have learned during our mini lessons. But I leave much of it alone. This helps that kid who is struggling just to get a few sentences out, time to feel like he/she is a writer. Mid-year in second grade I address more editing, during my individual conferences.

I use something called legs when doing my conferences. Many times a child will seem to have 2 or 3 different stories going on inside their original story. I use these legs to help the child expound on the best one. It's the easiest way to teach revising. I take a piece of paper and cut it in half horizontally and I tape it to the original paper. I have the student expound on the good idea. We together add each leg as needed. It begins to look like a spider, sometimes with very long legs! We draw arrows to show where to connect each leg. I edit the rest later if needed, and follow the legs when I type up the story later that day.

The children enjoy writing more to their story becausethe "Legs" seem to make writing fun. They are excited to add more. Once they have created a wonderful story that makes more sense it is easy to talk them into removing the part of the story that doesn't make sence anymore. The children often ask for the other stuff to be crossed off, because they understand its really not part of their great story. By using the legs I dont get those sad faces after you tell them to go back and work on it some more.

Many times they just dont understand how to make it better or even what to add. I have found that once the students have added legs onto their paper fixing the parts that need more details, thier stories are much better and they are proud of their hard work. The results are now mid-year in second grade I am having to use legs, less and less, because they are now understanding how to write a story without jumping around from idea to idea. I m getting wonderful stories so I can spend more time on editing and less on keeping the story line going.

Try buying the book Let's Write Its a Scholastic book you can buy it at any teacher store or thought the professional catalog. It does a good job with the basic hands on how to's If you want to get into something more in the theory side try Lucy Calkins The Art of Writing .

I hope this helps,

Jeanne Morris @-->---