Launching Writing Workshop in the Primary Grades: A Guest Blog Post by Mary Brothers

A single page of paper is used at the beginning of the school year. This page provides a large amount of drawing room, which will accompany a few lines of text.

Mary Brothers is starting her tenth year of teaching with Dublin City Schools where she has taught first, second, and fourth grades. Last year she was a Technology Support Teacher for the district and started her blogging journey. She blogs about her learning, as well as that of her students’, at Teaching in the Tech Frontier.

Starting the journey into Writing Workshop every year with my students is like jumping into a deep pool of water without knowing if I (or the students!) will swim or sink. However, I trust my gut instinct and jump right in thanks to the wonderful words of colleagues and teaching writing professionals like Lucy Calkins, Katie Wood Ray and Ann Marie Corgill. Somehow, and in some way, it always turns out to be a wonderful swim! In this blog post I will address how I start laying the foundation for Writing Workshop in first grade.

CHOICE: Choice is important in the workshop model. I like to have a variety of different types of paper and pre-made books for the students to use to create in. At the beginning, I have a few choices out for them, mostly pages with a large area for drawings and two or three lines on the bottom. As the year grows and we discover new genres of writing (e.g., letters, comics) so new paper choices are added. Also, more lines are added to the pages as the expectation for the amount they are writing increases. It seems that students embrace the idea of having a voice in what topic they choose to write about.

At the beginning of the year we brainstorm and chart ideas to write about and students create a heart map of what is important to them that could spur a writing idea. Throughout the year we use mentor texts to help us generate additional topic, style and genre ideas. Having choice in the Writing Workshop is empowering to students when writing.

MODEL: Showing students how to write, as opposed to telling them how to write, is so powerful. I write in front of my students to help them understand the process of creating ideas, forming words, having pictures to support my words when necessary and so on. Not only do I model through my writing, but I utilize mentor texts by published authors as well. When students are subjected to rich literature it inspires them to emulate authors.

AUDIENCE: When students are writing for an audience like their peers, their parents or older/younger students it gives them a sense of purpose behind their writing. By having that audience it drives the students to be at the top of their game since they know their writing is going to be enjoyed by others.

TIME: Students need to know that each and every day at school they will have time devoted to their writing through Writing Workshop. It helps convey the importance of writing and how writing is a part of our everyday lives. At the beginning of the year we start with a small amount of time (as little as five to ten minutes). As students gain stamina in their writing skills, the length of time devoted to Writing Workshop increases to around 45 minutes of work time.

Writing Workshop is an integral part of the primary literacy experience and I couldn’t imagine my classroom without it!

Here's an example of a pre-made book being filled in by a student. Also, supplies are kept close at-hand for ease of use.

Students' Writing Workshop folders are placed in holders around the room for easy access. Throughout the year we'll fill in this word wall with high-frequency and interesting words.

Here's a portion of our classroom library. This portion contains favorite authors/mentor texts. to us.