The Ultimate Writing Workshop Routines Guide
Every teacher on the planet knows that the first weeks of school are all about routines, routines, routines and more routines. There are the super obvious routines to discuss like what to do when you have to go to the bathroom or get water, what to do when you want to speak, how to turn work in and the list goes on and on and on. There are so many routines in our classrooms that some very important ones go overlooked. This guide discusses five incredibly important components of the workshop schedule and the routines you need to teach if you are planning to run a workshop class this year. These are routines that often go overlooked because they are a bit obvious to us but may not be to our students, especially students who have never done the workshop model before.
1. Meeting Area Routines
Materials: Students need to know what materials to bring to the meeting area and you should stay consistent with what you want students to bring every time. In my class students always know they need to bring their notebook and a pencil or pen.
Where to Sit: You can choose to let students sit where they want or create a seating arrangement. It is up to you and what you think your class can handle. Either way you'll want students sitting next to their peer conference partner so you can direct them to support each other when you need to.
How to Act: Students should be silent during your mini lesson and not raising their hand to interject with questions or comments. Mini lessons are super short (ten minutes or less). So, it is imperative students know they need to listen carefully and save questions and comments for after the mini lesson so that you can get through it quickly and be as concise as possible so students have lots of time to practice the skill(s) you are teaching.
How to Exit: Students need to know where their work area is and what to do as soon as the mini lesson and meeting is over. It is not a time to socialize, it is a time to get right to work. Social cueing (using student names and explicitly stating what they are doing right) is a very powerful way to get students on task immediately. A chart such as the one below can also help students with deciding what they will work on. You can also have students state what their plan is to their partner before leaving the meeting area.
2. Work Time Routines
Where to Work: Students need to know your expectations during work time. Are they allowed to work any where in the room or will you require them to stay put in desks? I allow students to sit where they are comfortable and focused. I explain that if I observe they aren't focused in their chosen spot then I will choose their spot for them that day.
How to Work: Students should see what work looks like. It may seem very obvious to you but it is important to actually show students what it looks like when someone is reading or writing.
Noise Levels During Work: You need to be very clear about what the noise level is during work time. Are students expected to write for a full ten minutes without talking and then another ten minutes they can whisper and get help or can they work and whisper the entire time? You could also designate certain areas of your classroom as peer conferring areas and other areas as quiet places. This can work depending on the class you have. If you have a super chatty class they may need you to carve out absolute silent time and use a timer so students know exactly how long they need to be silent.
3. Roadblock Routines
What to Do When I Don't Know What to Write: Teaching students strategies for what to do when they don't know what to write usually takes up an entire week or more of writing workshop mini lessons. You should definitely create a chart like the one to the right that students can always refer to throughout the year.
What to Do When I Think I'm Done: Teaching students next steps for when they think they are done writing is super important and also involves many, many mini lessons throughout the year! Students need a chart like this one to refer to when they think they are done.
What to Do When I Get Stuck: Students need strategies when they are stuck on a piece. Lists help tremendously with this. If a student is stuck they can refer to their list and pick a new topic to write about. Again, charts like the one below help tremendously!
4. Conferencing Routines
Who is My Partner: Announcing partners can be stressful for students and the teacher. I cringe when I hear negative sounds or comments from students about who their partner is. This is why I always preface partner announcements by saying, "It is important to remember to be positive about whoever your partner is. I realize sometimes people don't get along, even adults don't get along! But we keep our negative thoughts and comments to ourselves, it is the mature course of action. If you have any negative opinions please keep them to yourself. I should not hear any noises or comments when I make the announcements. Also, remember your partners change each month. If you are unhappy about who your partner is, try your best to have an open mind, you never know what you might learn and who you might meet because of this opportunity to get to know someone new!"
When Can I Meet with My Partner: Partners should have the opportunity to meet at the end of each mini lesson to discuss what they will be working on during work time. You can also designate areas of the room for partners to meet or designate specific times for partners to meet. It is really up to you and what you think would work best for your students.
What Do We Talk About: If you require students to meet with their partners each day or twice a week you need to explain and show exactly what you expect. One of the best ways I've found to do this is through a fishbowl activities. Pick two prearranged students to discuss their writing.
When Do I Have Conferences with the Teacher: I try to confer with students in an organized, strategic way and I let students know exactly how the conferences will go. Some days I meet with individuals and other days I meet with groups, I always let students know what type of conferring day it is too. A chart like this once can help students prepare for their conference with you too.
5. Sharing Writing Routines
Do I Have to Share My Work? You need to decide how and when students will share their writing with each other. All students should be allowed and expected to share some of their work with others. But...some super shy students may be incredibly uncomfortable reading their writing aloud to the entire class. This is why it is important to provide opportunities to share in smaller groups or in pairs as well as with the entire class. Shy students need to be given prior notice, support and practice sharing in smaller group settings before requiring them to share in front of the entire class.
When Do I Get to Share My Work? Yes! All students should have the opportunity to share their writing if they'd like. However, having every student read their entire piece everyday is just not possible. There are many ways you can allow for sharing but expedite the process too. You'll find multiple ways students can share their work with the class...
How Do I Share My Work? There are many ways to share work: popcorn read best sentence aloud to the class, read your best paragraph to your partner, read your first & last sentence to a group, read another student's paragraph aloud to the class, read your entire piece to your partner, go to four corners of the room, number off and then the teacher will call a number and that student will get to read their piece to the corner group.
To Sum Up...
Routines are incredibly important for a smooth running workshop! Mini lessons should not only be about skills, they should also be about routines and behavior. Charts, fishbowls, explicit mini lessons and lots and lots of practice can definitely support you in establishing these all important routines.
About the Author
Amanda Werner is a full time middle school English teacher in the Bay Area. She has been teaching for ten years and still feels like a novice. Every year is a unique and exciting challenge to inspire a new group of students in becoming avid readers and writers. Amanda reads educational literature voraciously and writes about the teaching of writing on her website amandawritenow.com. Amanda received her B.A. in English Literature with an emphasis in Humanities at Western Washington University. She has both an elementary and secondary teaching license and a mathematics credential. In her free time, Amanda loves being outdoors with her humorous husband and sweet and spunky three year old daughter.