Our Top 3 Tips for Using Your Summer to Plan Next Year’s Writing Workshop

My summer to-do list is LONG. In addition to around-the-house projects that only get done during the summer, trips to take, friends to see, and books to read, I have planning to do for the upcoming school year. I bet you do, too.

A lot of writing workshop can’t be planned for — we have to meet our students, get  a sense of their needs, find the engaging mentor texts that have just been published this week. But we can accomplish some of the big picture planning — the kind that creates the shape of your year-to come — in advance.

Here are some tips for you as you enter your summer:

Sketch out the writing studies you are hoping to teach Genres

In general terms, I know which writing studies I absolutely want to return to next year, which I want to ditch, new studies I’d like to try.  I also know that I will need to hold fast to the requirements of my curriculum, incorporating narrative, expository, analytical, and digital writing.

In no particular order, I start jotting these down (I do it in my notebook where I keep all of my thinking.)

These might change. I might run out of time. Or my new students might move more quickly than this year’s bunch, so I will need to add a genre or technique study.  But now I have a place to begin my thinking.

As you move throughout your summer vacation, jot down ideas as soon as they hit you. This preliminary list will give you a framework.

Sketch out a calendar of the year

As I think ahead, even though I know things will shift and change, it helps me to begin Yearcalendarthinking about my total amount of teaching time and where studies might fall on a calendar. I begin with a very general sketch of a calendar and start laying my studies against it.

This starting point gives me a visual guide for my thinking as I consider what I’ll be able to squeeze in, what might have to go, and how I can make the very most efficient use of my time.

Start collecting mentor texts

We favor mentor texts that are just-published. They engage our students and connect them to the real world of writing right now. Still, as you are reading this summer (particularly in genres like poetry or narrative that aren’t as immediate as journalism), you can start to file away some mentor texts — whole or mini or even just mentor sentences — for the fall.

Develop a storage system. We like our Google Drive-based Mentor Text Dropbox (which you can always use and contribute to!) But Evernote or Pinterest or Learnist or Diigo also have a lot of potential for helping you stay organized!

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 10.47.01 AMAs soon as you read something that might prove useful in the coming school year, file it away. Make a copy. Take a picture. SAVE IT. This will not only save you time down the road, but it will also help shape your preliminary planning of your individual writing studies.

As I’m reading online and at the pool and on vacation, I will be reading for pleasure but with an eye for what can help my students take their writing to new heights, too.

What are your top 3 tips for summer planning? What would you add to our list? Comment below or find us on Twitter @rebekahodell1 and @allisonmarchett. 


Using Technology for Mentor Text Hunting

We spend a lot of time on this blog talking about all of wonderful things mentor texts can do for writers of all ages and abilities. If you haven’t noticed, we’re mentor text obsessed.

 But,  in the interest of full disclosure, here is undoubtedly the worst aspect of using mentor texts in my classroom: it can take a lot of time.

 In my early days of conscientious writing instruction, I would often look for mentor texts for my students by staring at my bookshelves, randomly choosing books that I remember liking, and flipping through them until I found a passage that might work. Spoiler alert: it didn’t. More often than not, what I got was a passable text that sort of did the job. My approach was lame. The texts were lame. My lessons lacked spark. At best, students didn’t care about mentor texts. At worst, they hated them.

 That was years ago. The blogosphere boom and rampant presence of good writing on the internet has made mentor texts far more available than ever before. And still, until early 2014, my process for finding mentor texts had been largely unchanged. Now, instead of standing in front of a bookshelf, I would sit in front of my computer screen, pull up a website I liked, and randomly search, finally landing on a text that was okay-enough to work.

 Two innovations have completely changed the way I find mentor texts. What used to be drudgery is now a hunt that is fun — something I actually enjoy and look forward to. Continue reading