5 Ways Teachers Can Support Effective Writing Partnerships
Let's be honest allowing students to work with each other to discuss writing can be just a tad frustrating, or maybe more than a tad...You know it could be an amazing way to ease the workload, because there are 34 of them and only 1 of you. But...every time you've tried students are off task, finish way too quickly, give really cruddy feedback or a host of other problems occur. Or maybe you've never tried it, because, well, you don't think it works. In this article you'll learn five simple strategies for how to make writing partners more effective in your classroom...
Admit Writing is Tough
It is a completely unproductive use of time when conferences with the teacher or other students focus on all the mistakes. Teachers need to support students with lots of positivity and honesty about the challenges of writing. When teachers do this they are not teaching the writing, they are teaching the writer, which is what is most important. When you model this attitude in the classroom, state explicitly, "When we help each other, we are not pointing out all the mistakes! We focus on what is going well. Then we probe the writer with questions such as, 'what struggles are you encountering?' or 'how can I help you?'."
Provide Sentence stems
Charts around the room such as the one to the right can be so helpful to students! Often students aren't sure what to talk about in writing conferences. It can feel a little overwhelming. Providing them with sentence stems and charts that list how writing partners should interact is a great way to scaffold instruction for students who many need that extra support.
It is so helpful for partners to practice interacting with each other and to get feedback about their interactions. The best way I've found to do this is through a fishbowl. Have two brave students sit face to face and have a peer conference in front of the class while they take notes. Provide feedback and allow students to reflect on the experience afterward. Below is a great video you can share with students about how a fishbowl works!
Students need to know your expectations when it comes to writing partner interactions. Providing a checklist like the one to the right can be so helpful! If you'd like an editable copy of this checklist click here.
Allowing students to interact with each other is so key! You can designate 5-10 minutes each week as "writing partner" time or you can designate a space in your room that students can go to meet with partners. I like to use both of these strategies in my class. I let students know that the partner area is limited to 3-4 partner pairs and the noise level is whispering. Other areas are silent writing areas. If you don't have a large enough space, then designate specific days for partners to meet.
About the Author
Amanda Werner is a full time 8th grade 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. She also writes curriculum for Teach Box, a monthly subscription service for creative English teachers. 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.