Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Introducing Writer's Workshop in the 6th Grade Classroom

Today I'm linking up with Jivey for Workshop Wednesday.

I started Writer's Workshop last year in my classroom. I work at a small private school that isn't under the mandates of the state, so we kind of do our own thing. I wish we had a little more accountability, but I do appreciate the freedom I have to try what works best for us rather than feeling pressure from the state. (This is not to say I'm against state guidance. I'm all for it as long as the lawmakers are making informed decisions.)

Anyways, I'm pretty sure I'm the only teacher at my school doing any sort of workshop format so I'm kind of winging it. :)

Last year I went through some online videos that really helped me get the whole Writer's Workshop thing figured out. I also read Aimee Buckner's Notebook Know-How and Ralph Fletcher's Writer's Notebook to help me get started.

Buckner suggests starting Writer's Workshop with a activity focusing on one's name. She suggested reading the book Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes since it's all about names. I didn't use it last year, because I was too cheap to buy it, and I ran out of time to go to the library. This summer I was able to find it for super cheap at a thrift store, so I intend to use it to introduce my Writer's Notebook this upcoming school year. Anyways, last year I shared my story about how I got my name. I had previously written it in my Writer's Notebook and read it directly to the class. I then had them briefly write about their names as their very first entry in their Writer's Notebook. Most of them did very well with this, but I had a few stubborn boys who didn't think they had anything to write about. I then had the few who wanted to share their story with the class. It was a lot of fun to hear their stories especially since we had several new students in our class last year.

After this activity, I explained to the class how Writer's Workshop would work and that they were expected to write a daily page every day first thing when they arrived at school. I shared some ideas with them about what they could write about. The daily pages were pretty rough towards the end of the year. They had sort of lost their steam. I think I will provide some more guidance to help them out this year. Some of them were just boring diary entries. For example: "Today I had basketball practice. Then I went to McDonald's. Then I watched Duck Dynasty. Then I did my homework. Then I went to bed." There was then some variation on this theme EVERY SINGLE DAY! ARGH!

One thing I did very poorly was not modelling my own writing enough for the class. Sure, I would write when I needed to give them a specific example for how to do something in Writer's Workshop, but I didn't model DAILY writing for them. I hope to improve upon that this coming year.

One thing I really think helps get students excited about Writer's Workshop is having lots of engaging activities for them from the get-go. They would always get excited when I would tell them to pull out their Writer's Notebooks or when I would pull out the easel to show them an anchor chart. I just need to keep the momentum all year. I slacked off in this regard as the year went on.

I'm planning to implement Reader's Workshop this year. I'm really revamping what I do for Reading instruction because it has been incredibly sub-par in the past. I'll have to share what I'm doing once I'm finished. It's a huge project!


  1. Love this! It's so good you let them hear your writing too- I think that's so important! :)
    ideas by jivey
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  2. You've motivated me to try harder on this too, Melissa. Last year, we started strong, and then, well, you know...
    Good luck on both workshops...

    Finding JOY in 6th Grade

    1. It's so easy to get discouraged with my "failures" as a teacher, but I have to keep reminding myself that as long as I get a little bit better at my teaching each year that's what counts!

  3. I love both of the books you mentioned. Ralph Fletcher's book is one that I got back to every year for a "boost" to keep my Writing Workshop going.

    I started running a Reading Workshop last year and I LOVE it! I can't imagine teaching reading any other way now. It has been well worth the work to make the change. I actually just taught a workshop last week about launching the Reading Workshop. Let me know if you have any questions. I'd be glad to help.

    Hunter's Teaching Tales
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    1. Thanks! I will definitely keep you in mind as I go along!

  4. I met Ralph Fletcher. He's so incredibly nice and tall... If you need a good nonfiction text, Marshfield Dreams is a wonderful memoir by Fletch. My students LOVE it!

    Back to writing, one thing that helped get my kids going with writing and really helped with stamina was having weekly writing marathons in class. Essentially, students all write down a topic or a sentence starter and put it in a bowl. I always model some... My life a doughnut... If snakes ruled the world...If everyday was Saturday... etc. Students then write down suggestions and you draw a suggestion out of a bowl. I make a big deal about ready, set, write. But you can do your own thing. Then the students write nonstop for five minutes. There are no rules about form, spelling, grammar, the only rules is that they must write the entire time. Even if they can't focus on the topic then they need to write about why they can't write about ... it's really great. The first few are a little shaky and I always write with them and model mine. It seems silly but it really loosens up my "I did this. I did this. I did this" writer in other settings of workshop. Later after you've done a few, we have a graffiti day were they can choose a colored pen and go around and write comments to each other on their marathons. Marathons are never graded and they are always something students can finish if they want. Giving about 20 minutes one day a week to let kids just write about a random topic, really gets the creativity going in other areas... I've found it also really brings along the stamina for that kid that can't say more than "I went to school. I like it. The end." Just a thought!

    Good luck with reading workshop! I love it! If you need resources, let me know!

    My Shoe String
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    1. Awesome ideas! That's so cool that you met Ralph Fletcher! For some reason I imagined him to be short. I have no idea why. : ) I'm definitely going to implement writing marathons, and I will have the students give suggestions. Thanks!


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