Back to School Writing Workshop Ideas for Secondary ELA

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It’s that time of year once again. School is back in session, and it’s time to take a new group of students through writing workshop to produce pieces of writing that target essential skills. Check out these ideas to get your students started with writing workshop this year!

Four Back-to-School Diagnostic Assignments for Secondary ELA

Assessing individual student skills at the beginning of the school year is important for teachers to establish a baseline from which to monitor student growth.  This is especially important at the secondary level where we have an influx of students from diverse educational backgrounds all converging into one larger secondary school.  Some students come from different states or countries; others from private schools; some from homeschooling; and the rest from public schools.  Inevitably, we see a wide range of student abilities and levels in our classes from day one.  Therefore, diagnostic assessments at the beginning of the school year are key to getting to know your students and beginning to learn how to target their needs.

During the first two weeks of the school year, I have my students complete several different diagnostic exercises, and I catalogue their results on a skills checklist that communicates to students what they need to focus on during the school year.  I find that this method helps students to set clear goals at the beginning of the school year because they can identify precise skills standards to target throughout the school year.  Through diagnostic testing, I assess students' reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills in order to gain a complete understanding of how my students will perform, where they will struggle, and what skills lessons I will need to include in reading/ writing workshops. Click here to read more about these four diagnostic assessments.

Several years ago, after summer PD in data driven instruction, I decided to use these back to school writing assessments to build my writing instruction for the year. I sat down the Saturday after these were collected to write my curriculum based on all 160+ writing assignments. My goal was to create specific mini-lessons for each student’s specific needs. I spent days pouring over every piece of writing, looking for all of the possible lessons each and every student would need throughout the entire school year. Then, according to my plan, I would backward design a perfect, and specific, writing curriculum for every one of my 160+ students.

By Sunday night, while still looking at 50 writing assignments that needed feedback and assessing, I realized, with a great deal of frustration and exhaustion, that this was not a sustainable idea. I could not build an individual plan for each child. I had not yet even tackled the idea of how I would combine the data to create a curriculum map. I threw my hands in the air, and declared that data driven instruction was completely impossible.

After I took some time to calm down –and stop crying-  I realized that I was in need of a new plan. A plan that would keep my sanity, help me get to know my students (which helps with the real business of teaching), and provide me the ability collect that much needed data.

Click here to read more…

When English teachers think of their students as writers, we have pretty pictures in our head. (We do, don’t we?)

Teachers want meaningful writing lessons.

We want eager writers, writers who are ready to change the world. We envision students poring over notebooks. Whatever magic Hollywood creates, we want it.

I’ve never created perfection, but I do see improvement in student writing. By the end of the school year, students will share sentiments that “they can do it.” Students enter their writing in contests, and others ask for their writing to be sent to home emails.

I count all of those as wins. As I embark on a new school year, I am reflecting on the start of the year and where I have found success.

With those first writing assignments, I establish trust, ease fear, and give choice. I build relationships while setting high expectations. Click here to read more…

"Uggghhh! We have to write another essay?"

Isn't that the response we all want to hear from our students regarding writing? Of course not. But! How do we change that mindset when students are already convinced they aren't good at it, don't like it, or just plain aren't going to do it? 

Altering negative mindsets is challenging, but not impossible. Sometimes, it takes more than the work of one teacher. It can take an entire school year where every teacher that student has during the day is pouring positivity and encouragement the student's way. Other times, it takes longer than a year. 

Just because we feel we can't single handedly change the attitude of a student or group of students doesn't mean we shouldn't try. Our students deserve more. How can teachers chip away at clouds of negativity that pervade students' thinking when it comes to writing? 

Slowly. Patiently. Creatively. We have to be willing to try different approaches. Think about your least favorite subject in school. Now, try to recall which teacher made that class most engaging and enjoyable for you. What did he or she do differently? Sometimes adjusting our strategies to meet reluctant writers is helpful. Let's explore what some of those adjustments might look like. Click here to read more…

Teachers are busy! The last thing we have time for is writing our own lessons. And it can be really challenging to find the right lesson. In this article you’ll find links to the best places online (that I found after doing some thorough research) for writing mini lessons…


This website is for students in Ms. McClure’s class but I find her page with loads of mini lessons so valuable as a teacher! She has a plethora of writing mini lessons, just click the links and be directed to an entire lesson all about that topic.


This website has been around so long and just gets better and better with time! There are over 60 mini lessons for upper grade teachers here! There are even free handouts to go with the lessons. What could be better than that?!?!

Click here to read more…

Writing can be highly personal. In our writing, we expose our thought processes, our ideas, our memories and perceptions, even our dreams. In a truly powerful writing community, there must be trust and there must be respect.

In graduate school, I once took a creative nonfiction workshop class. As people shared and critiqued stories of their lives through memoir and essays surrounding issues they cared deeply about, the atmosphere sometimes got quite charged. Our professor seemed at sea. Two friends and I decided to take matters into our own hands. We got behind the professor, chipping in with positive comments whenever we could and trying to build her confidence and the feeling of community in the classroom. We invited the whole group over to our cabin (aaah, summer graduate school is the best) and had a cookout. Soon our workshops became happier and more productive. The atmosphere went from charged and tense to friendly and productive.

Building community in your classroom is not a waste of your instructional time. Doing icebreakers, group stories, and fun writing activities alongside your more serious assignments will help your students help each other in the long run.

Here are five ways you can build writing community in your classroom, right from the get-go.

Click here to read more…