Top Ten of ’13-’14: #5

When Even Writing Workshop Doesn’t Work

I am almost obnoxious in my whole-hearted evangelism of writing workshop. (Just ask my colleague who has banned the phrase “mini-lesson” from our future conversations.)  And still, in all my crowing about the successes of writing workshop, I have to admit something to you.

Sometimes it doesn’t work.

“Kevin” nods furiously during our writing conferences. And still he turns in papers written in one, giant paragraph.

“Mary” conferences with me during every class period. We read her work aloud. I highlight places she needs to double check for word choice, grammar, and syntax. We work together to tab the mini-lessons she needs to return to in her writer’s notebook. She turns in a paper unchanged since our conference.

Let’s be honest, when these papers finally land on my desk, I take it a little bit personally. I’m disappointed. I wonder where I went wrong. What mini-lesson could I have offered? What could I have said during our conferences to have made a difference?

The truth is that sometimes our best efforts don’t yield a student’s best work. On occasion, students (particularly our older writers) don’t meet us halfway.

The cornerstone of writing workshop is choice. While this typically translates into the choice of topic, it also means that students are given the freedom and respect to make writerly choices. Sometimes, a writer chooses not to take feedback, chooses not to revise. Now, this makes more sense if you are Hemingway than if you are a 9th grader in my English class, but,nevertheless, if we are truly embracing a workshop model, we have to content ourselves with giving our students all of the choices — including the choice not to conference with us or to ignore the suggestions we helpfully make.

And then there are those students who are just not ready for what we are offering. We all know that even in its purest forms, leveling is a joke. There are as many different levels and abilities in our classrooms as there are faces. There are students in each workshop who have mastered our skills early on and are ready for more. I use conferences to push them to deeper levels of thinking and more advanced writerly techniques.

But there are also students who just aren’t there yet. For whatever reason — cognitive, emotional, social — they can’t accept all that I’m offering.  With these students, I chant a mantra: They aren’t there yet. They aren’t there yet. They probably will get there someday.

And even today, they are doing more than they have been able to do before.

I have taught students whose daily victory was just getting words — any words in any order with no punctuation — on paper. Those successes — however small — need celebrating, too. Some writers are ready to move a mile. Others are ready to move an inch. Both are triumphs in their own right.

And there are days that I’m just not a perfect teacher. Lots of those days, in fact. There are lessons that go awry, explanations that don’t help, conferences that are lackluster. There are days when I don’t feel like pushing Kevin’s understanding and times when I am frustrated with Mary.

Sometimes, it really is on me.

I think it’s important for us to share stories like these — stories of what we consider to be our failures in addition to our successes. Too often in these public forums — our Twitter chats, blogs posts, professional development workshops —  we all come across as experts.  More than experts — we often come across as perfect. I have been discouraged  in the past when, upon asking a teaching guru how something works in her classroom, hearing, “Oh, it just works seamlessly.”

These aren’t perspectives that help.

Share your stories.  Being connected educators is a wonderful thing — transformative and invigorating — but we must connect like human educators.  Sharing not just what works, but also what is really hard. Sharing not just when you feel like the Teacher of the Year, but when you feel like you have utterly failed.
We need to share our success stories to build up the profession, to proclaim that education makes a difference in the lives of kids. But we also need to be vulnerable and share our failures to build one another up, to forge a chain of support, to hear colleagues say, “Man, I’ve been there, too. It’s okay.”


Top Ten of ’13-’14: #6

Mentor Text Wednesday: Creating Writers not Writing Automatons

MentorTextWednesdayCan we agree that we hate the five paragraph essay?

Every time I confer with a student who says, “Well, I have two body paragraphs, but I need one more”, I shudder. FIVE IS NOT A MAGIC NUMBER has become my mantra. I’m thinking about making a poster to hang in the front of my classroom.

A few months ago, Allison and I sat in a meeting in which a teacher bristled at the idea that “teaching the five paragraph essay” might not be the most productive way to substantially improve a student’s writing. In the moment, I wondered, “Why is he so upset?” When I thought about it, I knew why — he wanted a formula into which he could fit his students’ writing. A formula that he felt guaranteed success — or at least sufficiency.

It’s the same reason our students love the five paragraph essay and glom on to any template we offer them. They want a formula into which they can fit their writing with the guarantee that they will be successful — or at least sufficient. Unfortunately, this creates writing automatons not writers.

But this is the exact problem with formulas and templates, right? In offering the easy way out, we are not actually moving writers toward growth and discovery. We are teaching them how to fill in elaborate blanks, not teaching them how to truly write.

Sometimes, in spite of our best intentions, even after we have eschewed the five-paragraph essay, our use of mentor texts becomes one more formula in writing workshop.  When writing an editorial, we give our student one editorial. A brilliant one, mind you. The perfect editorial. We ask them to mark the structures, identify key features, note the tone. Now, go and do, we say.

And we do teach mini-lessons. And we do confer on those editorials. And we organize students to work in writing groups to give and solicit feedback. But, ultimately, we have offered one more template, one more formula. If we have done our job well, we will go home with a class set of editorials that have the exact same structure, the exact same tone. More than likely, we will go home with a class set of editorials that have very similar ideas.

How do we combat this? What do we do to ensure that our mentor texts don’t become one more fill-in-the-blank writing exercise for our students?

One thing Allison has been working on recently is trying to humanize writers by using interviews to guide and inspire students. This takes the focus off of the magical words on the page and reminds all of us that there are people behind these words who have made conscious decisions in the writing that we are reading. After all, we are trying to teach our students to make choices as writers. Real writers. Formulas and one-size-fits-all templates also ignore that real human writers lurk behind each piece. What serves the purpose of one writer doesn’t always work for another; a tone that is authentic to one writer sounds stilted in another.

Another way we can bring our focus back to writerly choices through the use of mentor texts is to give our students multiple mentors to illustrate a genre or technique. In the fall, I did a This I Believe workshop with my ninth graders. I selected six mentor texts that showed variety and were relatable to a teenage audience.

Once we read through (and listened to) all six, we went back and examined all six for the writer’s choice of topic, the writer’s tone (and shifts in tone), the writer’s structure. Students created charts to track these choices in their writer’s notebooks.

Then, since is an easy place to send students to gather their own mentor texts, I asked them to read a few more at home and select another mentor. They shared in small groups and added their insights about topic, tone, and structural choices to their charts.  Through this work, students were able to tangibly see that there are myriad right ways to write this kind of paper.

With lots of inspiration under their belts, most students were able to jump into their own authentic drafts, often combining elements they admired from several mentor texts. Those who needed additional support could still use a model we had studied, but with at least seven available mentor texts in hand, they still had to make a writerly choice of which model to follow.

Mentor texts are a wonderful thing — one of the most powerful tools in our toolbox. But like any good thing, we have to be thoughtful about how we use them. We have to subvert our natural inclinations — and our students’ natural inclinations — to use them as shortcuts and easy, interchangeable models. Emphasizing the authors behind the work and flooding our students with mentors can be a big step toward the development of real writers.


Resource Roundup: Using Evernote for Conferring

Over my years teaching in a writing workshop, I have developed scads of forms and charts in an attempt to track my conversations with students during reading and writing conferences. Binders. Whole-class charts. Individual student charts. You name it, I have spent hours in Excel creating it.

And, every year, by the spring, I have ditched it, relying on my memory and my students’ memory of what we discussed last time.

That sounds irresponsible, I know. And it probably is. While I appreciate putting the onus on my students for remembering where we left off, I should probably be 100% sure of that, too. So, I am spending some time this summer re-thinking the way I gather data on student reading and writing performance.

I’ve toyed with the idea of tracking conferences in Google Docs. Last year, Allison used Confer, which has some strengths and weaknesses. Right now, I am thinking of jumping on the Evernote bandwagon.

Here are some of the interesting things I am reading:

Using Evernote to Confer with Students from Two Writing Teachers

Student Conferences with Evernote and KustomNote from Miss Spink on Tech

Organize your @evernote account with @kustomnote from Purely Paperless

Conferring Tool #2: Evernote from The Together Group (This post talks about importing rubrics into Evernote for conferring and tagging individual students’ strengths and weaknesses!)

Conferring with Kustom Note from Ms. Pana Says


Do you have a favorite digital tool for managing conferences?  Brilliant tips for using Evernote that I should hear about? Leave a comment below or find us on Twitter @RebekahODell1 and @Allisonmarchett. 


Top Ten of ’13-’14: #7


Mentor Text:  “Better With Age” by Chris B. Brown. 30 January 2014.

Writing Technique: Supporting an argument with evidence


Truth be told, I am not a sporty girl. Athletic metaphors in the writing classroom do not come naturally to me. Thus, whenever I see one of my favorite cultural institutions write about sports, I jump on it. Because while I am not athletically-inclined, this is the native tongue of many of my students. Examples of smart sports writing can often be a persuasive mentor for these students — an entry point through which they can connect more deeply with their own writing.

Students need to be able to support an argument with evidence in many different writing genres.  In a traditional literary analysis essay, in an editorial, in a persuasive appeal, even in a memoir, students’ ideas require support. However, they often have trouble understanding what evidence looks like on the page.

So often, our students engage in what I call one-two-skip-a-few writing. Since all of the pieces add up in their heads, they assume their brilliance will automatically convey to the reader. As a result, we see a point here and a point there without the evidence necessary to connect all the dots for the reader.

The thing I adore about this mentor text is that it makes evidence visual by showing moving GIFs of football plays to support its point.


Brown’s argument centers on the factors that he believes contribute to Peyton Manning’s stunning success in his late career. Sure, Brown uses words to describe Manning’s skills on the field, but then he does something even better — he shows us what it looks like by embedding the actual play into his article.

How I Would Use It:

Rather than using this article as a top-to-bottom mentor text, I would instead lift a couple of body paragraphs to use as mini-mentor texts.

I would first provide students with a pared-down, edited version of the article — just the “introductory paragraph” (to give them context) and two of the body paragraphs. We would read it aloud together.

I would ask the students, “Based on these two paragraphs, why is Peyton Manning a great quarterback?” Now, with the exception of a few students who are very attuned to football, the body paragraphs won’t make a lot of sense by themselves. The natural follow-up question would be, “What other information do you need for this to really make sense to you?”

The answer? They need to see it. They need to see the play happen in the game to understand the writer’s argument.

This is exactly what all readers need when we read an argument — we need to actually see the play happen in order to understand it. We bring this back into their writing: when we present an argument in our writing, we have to support it with evidence. Evidence is “showing the play” to help the reader understand.

I would then project Brown’s original article — full of images, charts, and video clips of football games. We would reread the body paragraphs and talk about what the evidence — what showing the play — adds to our understanding.

In an essay of literary analysis, students need to show the play in the text that supports their interpretation. In an editorial, students need to show the plays of expert testimonials, facts, and statistics that boost their opinion. In a persuasive appeal, students need to show the play of why their issue should become important to a reader, too. In a memoir, students need to show the play of a moment’s significance in their broader story. This skill is everywhere.

While this example is striking for our athletes, it’s also a  concrete visual that every student will remember. And this can become a refrain in our classrooms, among our writing groups, in our writing conferences: “Show me the play in your writing.”

Other Possibilities:

  • This is an awesome example of multi-media writing — combining words, images, and videos!

  • Many of my student athletes like to write about games. However, as you know, the “story of the big game” gets tiresome after three, four nearly identical essays. This can be a great mentor for another place to go in sports writing — the profile of a particular player and his or her important contributions to the game.

How would you use this text in your class? What other sports mentor texts have you had success with? 

Comment below OR grab our Mentor Text Wednesday badge at the bottom of our blog, add your own MTW post, and link up with us! Add your link in our comments.

Top Ten of ’13-’14: #8

A Lesson For Tomorrow: Sentence Study

Last week Rebekah blogged about teaching students how to find and use mentor textsto increase their independence and cure their writing blues.

She posted a fantastic chart that uses a problem-solution or if-then approach to guiding students to and through mentor texts.

As her chart indicates, sometimes a mentor text is just a sentence. How many times have you watched students struggle to put their idea into a sentence? To get the first words down? Sometimes individual sentences seem to pose a greater challenge to students than the essay itself.

We can help students get started by directing them to mentor sentences and showing them how to fit their own ideas into a sentence’s framework. This is known as thepastiche technique.

Sentence Study: An Example

Last week I happened upon a great sentence from an old New York Times article written by Anna Quindlen:

Every year about this time I get the urge to buy a copybook. And some of those little rectangular pink erasers that look good enough to eat. And a whole lot of those round reinforcements, which were supposed to be pasted around the holes in your loose-leaf paper but were more often made into designs on the inside cover of your loose leaf binder.

I knew it would make for an excellent mentor sentence because 1) it offers a framework (Every year about this time I…And…And…) and 2) it packs in detail.

When studying sentences, the first thing I do is project the found text onto the board. I read it aloud twice and ask students to jot down anything they notice in their notebooks.

Here are some of the features we noticed:

  • She begins her sentences with “and”

  • The second and third sentences give specific examples of supplies she wants to buy

  • Each sentence becomes longer and more descriptive

  • She uses the second person in the third sentence to draw the reader in

  • She uses a triplet (three sentences) to convey her point

Then, I help students find the framework in the sentence and the creative parts. In this case, the framework is the idea of getting an urge to do something at a specific time of year (Every year about this time I…And…And…) The creative parts are: the specific time of year, and the things you get the urge to do. For this sentence, I asked students to brainstorm other moments or times of year that might elicit imagery and examples. Possibilities include:

  • Every Saturday morning

  • Every first day of spring

  • Every Christmas

  • Every Fourth of July

(Found in Peterson)

  • Every time I put on my basketball sneakers

  • Every time my alarm goes off

(Created by students)

Then you write in front of them, modeling the process of using and adding to the framework. Here are two examples that I wrote with different classes. You can see the edits I made in later periods (in red).

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Screen Shot 2014-03-10 at 1.53.44 PM.png

Finally it’s time to let them go. I give students 5-7 minutes to craft their own sentences. If students need more scaffolding, have them choose one moment and brainstorm, alone or in groups, different details that describe that moment. Then they can play around with placement and rhythm within the template.

Students who finish early can revise to make their sentences a little bit better. Later, invite students to share their sentences in writing groups or pairs. Ask a few volunteers to share out.

Here’s a sentence written by my ninth grade student, Benton. I can still hear the collective gasp of awe and admiration that filled the room when he finished reading his gorgeous sentence.



Peterson, Art. The Writer’s Workout Book: 113 Stretches Toward Better Prose. Portsmouth: Heinemann. 1997.

Quindlen, Anna. “Life in the 30’s.” The New York Times. The New York Times Co., 9 Sept. 1987. Web. 10 March 2014.

What sentences have you stumbled on that will make excellent mentor texts? Please contribute to our dropbox project and add your sentences!


Top Ten of ’13-’14: #9


An Introduction to Mentor Text Wednesday

Welcome to our very first Mentor Text Wednesday!

Mentor texts are powerful in the hands of writers  – they engage our students, they motivate our students, they guide our students, they inspire our students. We know they work.

But finding mentor texts is a time-consuming task for teachers. I have spent hoursskimming and dodging between texts trying to find just the right mentor text for my students — occasionally just to end up picking something simply sufficient rather than stirring.

We believe that by joining forces we can do better. We can find superior mentor texts for ours students that we can guarantee will move their writing forward, and we can save agonizing hours of searching.

To this end, we are doing a few things:

  • Launching the Mentor Text Dropbox Project – You will see a link for our Google dropbox at the top of our site! This is an ever-growing database of mentor texts that have been proven to work, organized by genre. Please feel free to search, borrow, use, share, and add your own! Let’s help one another!
  • Mentor Text Wednesdays — This will be a weekly feature in which we highlight a mentor text, tell you how we used it, provide ideas for additional skills to teach using the text, and invite you to do the same!
  • Participate in Mentor Text Wednesday on your blog! Scroll to the bottom of our page, and you will see a Mentor Text Wednesdays badge that you can post on your own blog and share along with us! Comment on our weekly post with your URL, and we can link to an even broader network of mentor text resources!

(The Inaugural) Mentor Text Wednesday

“Scary New World” by John Green, November 7, 2008, New York Times

Writing Workshop Genre: Critical Book Review

This mentor text doesn’t need much front loading from me because students can immediately access its voice and its topic.

This mentor text first succeeds because it instantly sucks my students into its web of persuasion — first, it is authored by John Green, by far their favorite young adult author. It’s as though their famous buddy, John, wrote a book review, and they are eager to hear what he has to say.

It also immediately engages students because of its subject – The Hunger Games, which they have nearly all read or seen, and, more broadly, dystopian young adult literature, which they are all reading. Another wonderful benefit of using this mentor text has been the interest it generates to read the other text reviewed, Susan Beth Pfeffer’s The Dead and the Gone! It’s a mentor text and book talk in one!

How I Use It: 

I use this as my first mentor text of the unit, paired with a book report of The Hunger Games. Students read the book report and then read Green’s review.  In groups, students make a list of the differences they notice, which we then share out and compile into one class chart: Book Report vs. Book Review.

They pretty much figure out that book reviews have a lot more than just summary.  :)

Then, we go back in with highlighters. With their groups, students highlight plot summary in one color and everything else in another color. I want them to be able to easily see proportions in the text — the balance between the amount of summary and the amount of analysis, connection, and opinion.

Some Other Possibilities: 

  • How to write concise plot summary
  • How to write about theme
  • Giving a balanced opinion
  • Comparing and contrasting similar texts

What else would you teach with this text? Leave a comment with your ideas!

Top Ten of 2013-2014: #10 (with bonus material!)

Allison and I are taking some time away from the blog this summer to work on other writing projects.  We will be popping in and out periodically to share resources and new ideas as we plan for the 2014-2015 school year.

In the meantime, each Monday for the next ten weeks we will share our top 10 posts of the 2013-2014 school year as determined by number of readers! We hope that these little blasts from our blog past will inspire you as you dream about the upcoming school year!

Below is our tenth most popular post, an interview with the incredible Ari. As a bonus, you can now visit her end-of-the-year digital writing portfolio and meet her by watching her video interview!


Continue reading

The Liebster Award


Thank you Dorothy of for your nomination. We are honored!

Official rules for the Liebster award:

  • List 11 random facts about yourself.
  • Answer the questions designated by the blogger(s) who nominated you.
  • Place YOUR nominations for the Liebster Award! Nominate five (or more) other bloggers who have less than 200 followers. Make sure to notify them via comment/email, etc.
  • Make up a set of questions for those nominated bloggers to answer.
  • Display the Liebster award badge on your blog!

11 Random Facts


1. When I was a few months old, the sound of my mom singing “Danny Boy” would bring me to tears, every time.

2. My husband cooks dinner for me every night during the school year. Bless his heart!

Continue reading

Reader Mail, Part 2: How Do You Plan for a Year of Writing Workshop?

We love reader mail! On Monday, we began our answer to Cassie’s brilliant query. Here is the second part of our answer:

How do we build our workshops & the lessons that go in them?

When we first started writing workshop, we religiously referred to a chart on page 13 of Write Beside Them: “Writing: Increasing Skills and Learning the Habits of a Writer”. This chart gives a continuum of skills and products to move students through different types of writing during one school year.

Over the years, we’ve adapted and modified. In fact, every year we adapt and modify the order of our workshops, the genres we study, and our lessons.

In ninth grade, we generally move students through seven to eight workshops beginning with narrative/memoir and ending in literary analysis. With older students, Rebekah has done a whole year of workshops focused only on different kinds of literary analysis.  While every year is different (because we can never stop ourselves from tinkering), here’s how our 2012-2013 school years went:

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By contrast, here is what 2013-2014 looked like:

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While we’ve only begun planning for 2014-2105, some new plans will include:

  • compressing writing workshop into one semester (due to maternity leave)
  • using a continuous portfolio for assessment rather than end-of-the-year portfolios
  • integrating standards-based assessment of writing
  • adding technique-driven, rather than genre-driven, workshops
  • exploring new genres, such as humor writing, writing as gift, writing as forgiveness, etc.

As we’re planning mini-lessons for each workshop, we start with this recipe:

1 grammar/mechanics/usage skill


1 argument skill


4-5 content/organization/style skills


1 stretch skill (for extra credit)

To figure out what to teach, we study dozens of mentor texts and look for patterns across these texts on our own. While we may refer to the Common Core, school curriculum, etc. we feel that the mentors themselves are the most reliable, authentic sources of curriculum.

We don’t always know the traits of the genres we will teach, and this is what makes workshop exciting and real. We learn along with our students and create lists of noticings as we go. We also add mini-lessons based on the needs we see in student writing as we confer with them.

In terms of writing down actual plans, we like to use Google Calendar to plan units of study. It’s easy to tweak and move things around as plans change. Here is an example of the initial planning of a study of infographics:

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We write a simple phrase/trait like “Smart searching online” to help us remember what we need to plan for. Then we keep our actual mini-lessons in Google Drive folders where students can refer to them throughout the workshop. The rubrics we use to assess student writing come directly from the mini-lessons we teach; they are essentially a list of traits/features of that genre, with levels of achievement next to each trait (Mastered, Approaching, Developing, Not Present).

Finally, when thinking about the sequence for the year, we keep a few questions in mind:

1). Which genres are most accessible? These genres are placed at the beginning of the year. (The answer is almost always memoir, although Nancie Atwell has had a lot of success with poetry. This year we began with critical reviews, building on a summer reading assignment).

2). Which genres complement one another and share skills we can build on and from? These genres are placed next to one another in the year-long plan.

3). Which genres will require more practice and stamina? These genres are placed at the end of the year.

Cassie, we wish you and your colleague the best of luck. We have truly leaned on one another and grown in our teaching together over the past few years. The inspiration and strength we’ve drawn from one another, coupled with our passion for writer’s workshop, actually lead us to launching this blog in December. We know that you and your partner will do great work together! Let us know how we can help!


Allison & Rebekah

Reader Mail: How do you begin the writing workshop year?

Below is a recent email we received:

I am a second year ELA teacher with seniors from Ohio and a huge fan of Moving Writers.

After completing my first year of teaching I realized direct instruction, novel unit comprehension questions and crosswords, and assigning writing was not working in my classroom. I spent last summer totally revamping my reading instruction to incorporate more YA high interest texts to promote self-selected and independent reading and worked toward a writer’s workshop. With year two almost under my belt, I look forward with great anticipation and anxiety for once again revamping my curriculum hoping to incorporate a true workshop method in my classroom that prepares my student writers for college and career ready writing and critical thinking skills. Thinking about planning for this is very overwhelming. I’ve converted a professional acquaintance to adopt the workshop method as well, and we’re so very curious as to how you begin your year. What comes first for you and your students as you begin to set them up for success in the workshop model? How do you build the great lessons I find on Moving Writers one from another?  I’m sure so many teachers who are adopting new methods for teaching writing would also be very curious as to how to start and sustain this style of teaching and I’m wondering if it would be a great blog topic or Twitter chat opportunity.

I look forward to your input! I hope you had a wonderful school year and have a relaxing break!

- Cassie



These are wonderful questions — questions that scared us when we first jumped in to full-time writing workshop, questions we revisit every single year as we seek to improve our workshops and build student buy-in.

First, let us say this: you and your colleague are brave. Writing workshop is incredibly powerful, incredibly effective, and incredibly challenging. After four years of full workshop immersion in our classrooms, we still find that this method of teaching pushes us daily.

It’s also a surprisingly tough sell sometimes. Even though we have had writing workshop since the 1970s, and even though all research supports its effectiveness, secondary teachers in particular will still spend a lot of time explaining and justifying to their colleagues, parents, and sometimes even their administration.

It is worth it.

3290869A second thing to mention from the outset: if you have not yet read Write Beside Them by Penny Kittle, go buy this book RIGHT NOW. This is the book that converted us and made our first baby steps into the world of writing workshop seem doable.

Now, there are two big questions in your email:

1.) How do we get started in the fall?

2.) How do we build our workshops & the lessons that go in them?

We’ll tackle question #1 today:

How do we get started in the fall?

Rebekah’s Answer:

On the first day of workshop, I ask students to tell me what comes to mind when I say the word “workshop”. Often, they conjure up images of woodworking in their grandfather’s garage — it’s dusty, it’s messy, there is always at least one project in progress, tools and resources are close at hand, tinkering happens and it happens over the course of time, not all at once.

I explain how this is true in a writing workshop as well. We quickly establish that this will be an English class unlike most they have taken.

After that, in the first week, I:

  • Spend time setting up Google Docs / folders (so that we’re technologically ready to share and give feedback on documents). This post by Catlin Tucker gives a lot of great ideas for how to manage everything through Google Docs.
  • Set up the writer’s (or reader’s/writer’s) notebook and begin notebook routines (like Notebook Time)
  • Introduce reading like a writer (versus reading like a reader) & practice with familiar texts first, then unfamiliar texts. (Here is a chart to get you started!)
  • Start immersing ourselves in mentor texts for the first workshop of the year!

We see our students every day, and it typically takes me at least a week to get routines established and get started on the first workshop.

Allison’s Answer:

I really like Rebekah’s approach of beginning with a discussion about workshop, and I think I will incorporate this into my teaching next year. In the past, I have jumped into writer’s workshop without much of an introduction at all. Sometimes I think less explanation is better. I begin with the keystones of workshop: the writer’s notebook (WN)–a tangible representation of the work they’ll be doing over the course of a year–and mentors, the texts from which all lessons, writing, and discussion flows in our classroom.

To introduce the WN, I show students this homemade video, which was inspired by a video Penny Kittle made for her students. We brainstorm other uses for the notebook, and then spend time setting it up in class. I give them this handout, which details freewriting

guidelines and a way to organize the notebook. I have thought about encouraging them to decorate their notebooks with pictures, quotes, anything that inspires them–but have shied away from this activity because it feels too elementary. In retrospect, I wish I had. I want students to know from the very first class that their writing lives will revolve around this notebook–and that it belongs to them and no one else (we do not collect notebooks from students in our workshop).

The second lesson of the year centers on mentor texts and mentors. We talk about the mentors we’ve had on the field, in the classroom, at home. Then I introduce the concept of writer-as-mentor. We talk about the books we’ve read and loved and envision how we might learn even more from those writers. Finally I piggyback on this conversation and introduce the concept of reading like a reader vs. reading like a writer. Steve Peha’s work has helped me articulate the differences to students. And then we immerse ourselves in mentor texts! Last year we began with book reviews by John Green, Janet Maslin, and David Margolick. I think it’s important to use the first workshop to teach the routines of workshop, rather than introducing the routines as a separate thing. Don’t be afraid to dive in!