Student Collaboration Strategies for Writing Workshop
I can clearly remember my first year teaching! I was so excited to teach writing. I had my engaging lessons written, writing posters made, and beautifully decorated writer’s notebooks organized all ready for the kids to dive into writing each day. Somehow, very little writing took place that year and I ended up with the dreaded mile-long line of students wanting to confer with me each day instead of actually writing. Not exactly how I pictured it. What went wrong? Why weren’t students interested in writing? Why were their writing pieces so rushed? I wanted my students to be proud of their writing, invested, and excited to let their author’s voice shine through their words. Something was missing from our writing block that year. That something was collaboration.
When the classroom expectation is that students will be collaborating about their writing and sharing what they have written with others, they begin to take ownership of their written pieces. Learning how to effectively collaborate is a skill that must be explicitly taught, practiced, and then practiced some more! We spend a great deal of time at the beginning of the school year completing lessons and practicing how good writers collaborate. This time is well spent to help the students understand how to work together to discuss and improve their writing. Collaboration goes beyond just editing and revising a written piece for spelling and grammatical errors. The focus of writing collaboration in my classroom is on improving the clarity and meaning of each piece my students write, so that their author’s voice can be heard. To help students understand how to collaborate as they analyze written pieces, we use this STARS acronym to remember each step. STARS-students learn how to sit together to focus on writing, tell a compliment about the writing piece, ask a meaningful question to clarify any confusing parts, reflect together on a powerful part of the piece that the author will share with the teacher or class, and share a suggestion (strategy from previous mini-lesson) to help improve the writing piece. Each step is taught in isolation and practiced over and over during the first few weeks of school. At the beginning of the year, students practice with modeled writing, mentor texts and their own beginning writing pieces to master each step. The key to making writing collaboration effective in your classroom is to spend the time at the beginning of the year to teach your students how to work together during writing.
In addition to teaching students how to collaborate, you also have to give your young writers many opportunities to collaborate! I give my students three different opportunities throughout our writing block to collaborate with different partners, in different settings, with different writing pieces, but each time students consistently use the STARS strategy. Here are the opportunities my students are given each day to team up about writing.
Collaborate within Heterogeneous Pairing-Mini Lesson
During our writing mini-lesson students are paired up with a partner of different writing abilities. This gives students at different levels an opportunity to discuss and practice the strategy we are learning two different times. The more advanced writer practices the strategy in their own writing, and then shares the steps with their partner. This allows them to not only practice the newly taught strategy, but also gives them the chance to explain the strategy, step by step to their partner. At the same time, the second partner who might not be as advanced as the first partner, also practices the skill and strategy taught. When they share their work with their partner, they also get a chance to share their writing and the steps they took. This gives them a chance to get support from their writing partner to understand the strategy more deeply before heading off to write independently. Each time the students share their writing during a mini-lesson, they follow the STARS steps
Collaborate within Homogeneous Pairing-Mid-Workshop Break
My students’ favorite part of our writing workshop block is our mid-workshop break. It is a time to get up and stretch, meet with your like-ability partner and collaborate! This collaboration time is much longer than when students collaborate during the mini-lesson. Students work sitting face to face, writing in hand, and take turns analyzing each other’s pieces. Discussions are focused on effective use of strategies taught, clarification of any questions, and ways to improve the piece to help the author’s perspective and voice shine. Though quick spelling and grammar suggestions may come up, it is not the focus of student discourse. The heart of the writing is the focus. Students leave their collaboration time empowered to continue writing.
Collaborate with the Teacher-Teacher Led Conferences
Collaboration with the teacher is another way that the students are able to discuss and improve their writing pieces. I run my writing conferences following the collaborative steps I expect of my students. We sit face to face, I compliment their writing, ask questions, listen to them to share a part of their writing that they are proud of and explain why. At the close of the conference I share a suggestion or teaching point to help their writing improve. Because the students are so familiar with these steps that they use when collaborating with their peers, our writing conferences run smoothly and are highly effective. Though I do not have enough time to meet with every student every day, I do have an opportunity to meet with them a few times a week.
Students love to collaborate! I have seen such growth in my students’ writing abilities, attention to details, willingness to share and public speaking by providing many opportunities for them to collaborate throughout the day. Partnership collaboration also ensures that the students are talking about their writing each and every day, even if they do not have a teacher conference that day. Though partnerships for each writing unit change, students quickly build bonds with their new writing partners and are excited to collaborate with different students. I am happy to say that in my classroom writing no longer means long lines of students waiting at my desk. Instead it is an exciting block of time, where students are actively engaged, buzzing about their writing, and eager to share their writing pieces.
Do you want to try out the STARS strategy to help your students effectively collaborate about their writing through meaningful discourse? Scoop up this freebie from my TPT shop to help you begin using these steps in your classroom today. Anchor chart headers are included to help you display the collaboration expectations in your classroom.
If you are excited to help your students collaborate during writing workshop try out these opinion writing activities. The topics included are engaging, promote meaningful discourse and include a differentiation option you can use to challenge every writer in your classroom.
Jeanine has been teaching elementary students for 16 years, specifically third and fifth graders. When it comes to teaching, Jeanine includes her love of reading and writing into every lesson. She loves teaching writing and having the opportunity to bring out the author in each of her students. Jeanine holds a BA from Western Connecticut State University in American Studies and Elementary Education and an MA from Fairfield University in Educational Technology. In addition to being a certified elementary teacher, she is also a certified Reading Specialist for grades K-12. Living on the north shore of Long Island means that her free time is spent at the beach where she enjoys outdoor activities, reading, and spending time with her husband and three children.