It’s hard to teach your child to write, if you don’t know where to start. There are many writing products out there, but the best way to teach writing is through the writers’ workshop method.
In the first part of this post I’ll give a brief description of writer’s workshop, and in the second part I’ll share why it’s the best way to teach writing.
What is Writers’ Workshop? A Brief Description
Writers’ Workshop is an approach to teaching writing that focuses on taking children through the writing process. The workshop consists of four main parts that are included each day: Mini-lesson, Writing Time, Conferring, and Sharing.
Writers’ workshop begins with a mini-lesson where you explicitly teach a skill that you want your child to learn and practice. This is not meant to be a long lesson. It’s called a mini-lesson because it should only take 5-10 minutes. Teachers use real books, referred to as “mentor texts,” to show how real authors use the skill in their own writing. You can also teach a writing skill through a sample of your own writing or that of another child.
What it Might Look Like
A mini-lesson on how to decide how to start your story involves looking at the opening lines of three different books that your child knows well. You talk about what strategy the author used. Did he start with a description, a question, an interjection? Why do you think he chose to start the story like that? How did it affect you as a reader?
After a mini-lesson, children start writing on their own. This is an extended period of time where they write on a topic of their choice. They keep a writers’ notebook, or a writing folder, and can pick up from where they left off the previous day. They are encouraged to use what the skill they learned in the mini-lesson and apply it to their own writing.
What it Might Look Like
Children go back and reread their own story beginnings and reflect on whether what they wrote works for the effect they are trying to create. They choose to revise their story beginning before picking up where they left off in their story.
While children are writing independently during the writers’ workshop, the teacher takes time to have individual conferences with each child. She asks questions about their work and can use that time to give additional support to problems they may be having.
What it Might Look Like
Since the mini-lesson was on story starters, the teacher may ask the child how she feels about her story beginning and provide support if she needs to processes her ideas out loud.
At the end of writers’ workshop, everyone gets together to share. Sometimes children share the portion of writing they worked on that day, or they share a piece of writing they’ve completed. It’s a time for active listening, asking questions, and giving positive feedback.
What it Might Look Like
A child decided to change her story beginning during writing time, and chooses to read it aloud to get feedback from others.
Why is Writers’ Workshop the best way to teach writing?
Writing is taught as a process.
Children learn to work through all the different phases of writing that every writer goes through. Sometimes young kids have the misconception that writers just sit down and write a story from start to finish and then they’re done.
In writers’ workshop kids learn that writing is a process that includes prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing. Each person moves through the process at different rates and the process is not always linear. They may go back to prewriting after they’ve been drafting a story that seems to be going nowhere. Or they may revise several times once they start editing.
I used writers’ workshop for my only daughter and although she didn’t have other children to talk to about her writing, it worked. I was her sounding board and also the one to nudge her to try new things.
Parent is role model and coach
As a homeschooling parent I can imagine you’ve had days when you just want to be mom, not teacher. Writers’ workshop is the perfect opportunity to do just that.
I absolutely love this point. When you spend time writing with your child, modeling what good writers do and coach them in their own writing, your role is a very positive one. Writers’ workshop is a wonderful means to strengthen your relationship with your child.
Opportunity for authentic audience
Children are given the chance to read their work to others and get feedback. When they have an audience it emphasizes that writing is all about communication with real people.
An authentic audience helps them construct future stories and other writing pieces because they will be thinking about their audience. Will the reader (or listener) understand what they wrote? Will they get their point across?
Allows for collaboration
When you have multiple children, or you are using writers’ workshop with other families in a homeschool co-op, children can encourage each other, provide support and give ideas.
They learn to actively listen when a sibling or friend is reading a piece so they have something constructive to say in response. They are empowered as peers who have something worthwhile to offer when they’re asked for help. Trust is built. Writers’ workshop becomes a place where they learn to help each other.
Writing is purposeful
During writers’ workshop, children are given free choice about their writing topics. They write about things that are important to them and meaningful. When they can follow their own interests, like real authors do, it helps them develop positive attitudes toward writing. Choosing one’s own topic is more motivating than being told what to write about.
The writing done in writers’ workshop is also meaningful, because skills are not taught in isolation, but within the context of writing itself. Children learn grammar and punctuation in a way that makes sense. They learn how to apply writing rules directly to their writing.
Develops a writing habit
We know children can develop a reading habit. After reading aloud for years and encouraging them to read every day, eventually our kids catch the reading bug. You know it has happened when you see them reading every night before bed or grabbing a book to read in the car.
Similarly, our children can develop a writing habit. When we do writers’ workshop regularly, we encourage a habit of writing. Children get used to working through the writing process in a workshop setting, so things like planning out a story before drafting and revising become second nature.
Writing has become a good habit when you see your children start choosing to write outside of writers’ workshop. You’ll catch them writing notes to friends or writing in their journal in their free time.
Develops self-confidence and independence
Children are in charge of their own writing in writers’ workshop. They are given the tools to evaluate their writing and make decisions about how to improve. By making their own choices throughout the writing process they are learning not to rely on others, but to rely on their own instincts. When children can work through the process of creating a piece of writing from start to finish, they gain self-confidence in their ability.
Some Additional Benefits
Can be used for all grade levels
Writers’ workshop is an approach that works for kindergartners all the way up through high school. I don’t have experience with older grades, but there are secondary teachers using it in classrooms today. It sounds like their main complaint is not having enough time to fit it into their schedules.
Can be used with multiple children or an only child
Homeschoolers can use this technique for teaching writing no matter how many children they have. Everyone can participate in the writers’ workshop because everyone works at their own ability level. Since moms can confer with each child, everyone can get what they need to take their writing to the next step and develop as writers.
Very few materials are needed to implement a writers’ workshop. You’ll need basic supplies, like paper, spiral notebooks, folders, pencils, staplers, a dictionary and thesaurus. When you teach writing using writers’ workshop, it’s one less textbook you need to buy, so you save money too.
How is Writers’ Workshop Different From Traditional Teaching Methods?
I grew up in the 70s and 80s and have no recollection of writers’ workshop in my elementary school or middle school. That’s because writers’ workshop is a relatively new concept. Some of the leading writing experts, like Donald Graves, Nancie Atwell, and Lucy Calkins were conducting their writing research during my childhood and their findings have helped shaped what writers’ workshop is today.
Here’s a chart outlining some of the major differences between teaching writing using writers’ workshop and using traditional teaching methods.
Writers’ Workshop vs. Traditional Methods of Teaching Writing
|Focuses on writer||Focuses on product|
|Self-selected topics||Teacher provides topics|
|Children work at own pace through process||Teacher moves the class through process|
|Skills taught in the context of writing||Skills taught in isolation|
|Children learn to evaluate their work through revising and editing tools||Teacher assesses the work|
I’ve given you an idea of what writers’ workshop looks like in the classroom and why it’s the best way to teach writing.
I hope that you can see how writers’ workshop is applicable to your homeschool setting. In writers’ workshop you really teach to the child and that’s what makes it really special for parents. You know your children better than anyone, so you are just the right person to coach them on their writing journey.
Stick around Homeschool Notes and you’ll be hearing more about writers’ workshop. I want to give you helpful tools for implementing a writers’ workshop in your home.
What do you think is the best way to teach writing? Have you ever used writers’ workshop? What concerns or questions do you have? Please leave a comment. I’d love to hear what you think.
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