If you’ve been here before, you know I LOVE teaching writing. I think there are so many benefits to incorporating a writing workshop into your kindergarten or first-grade classroom!
If you are not familiar with the writing workshop model, it is a method of teaching writing that consists of four main components:
- Mini-Lesson, where you teach and model a strategy
- Independent writing time, when kids put the strategy into practice
- Sharing time
- Conferring, where you get to talk with students about their writing and provide targeted instruction, either 1:1 or in small groups
The goal of the writing workshop model is to expose children to different genres, and teach them how to compose a writing piece in each genre, all while learning about the writing process. Very cool, right?
If you’re new to writing workshop, make sure to read this Beginner’s Guide to Writing Workshops in Kindergarten and First Grade. And, check out How to Plan a Writing Celebration in Your Writing Workshop and How to Get Students Writing Independently During Writing Workshop.
One thing about writing workshops is that the better you introduce them at the beginning of the year, the easier they will be for you and your students throughout the year. In other words, how you launch your writing workshop may determine how successful it is for that school year.
No pressure, no pressure… launching a smooth writing workshop can be fun and easy if you follow a few simple steps at the beginning of the year. And, have no fear, if your writing workshop did not get off on the right foot, you still have time to turn it into a success this school year. Simply follow these steps!
Here are six steps every kindergarten and first-grade teacher will want to follow to launch a smooth writing workshop in their classroom
Step 1: Set up your writing supply center.
Your writing supply center will need to be set up and stocked with a few essentials. Lucky for us, setting up your supply center really won’t take much!
First, you’ll need paper. At the beginning of kindergarten, I like just plain copy paper- no lines, since we start by drawing.
If you teach first grade, I recommend starting with paper that has just a few writing lines and plenty of space for drawing, then introducing new kinds of paper gradually.
Later on, you’ll also add special paper for covers and sticky notes for revisions!
Next, you’ll need writing tools. Think about your students and what needs they might have when it comes to writing tools.
To start, I provide crayons and pencils, but also provide pencil grips for kids who want to try them.
Using gel pens, colored pencils, and markers always make writing fun. BUT, I like to introduce these gradually for a couple of reasons:
- I like to review how to use them first, and
- They make great motivators for revising and editing! There’s nothing like whipping out a fine felt-tip marker and telling kids it’s a special revision tool! Students just can’t wait to get their hands on it and start adding details or revising with it!
So keep those fancy tools in your back pocket for now!
Finally, you’ll need folders, aka ‘writing treasure chests’. You’ll need a folder for each student to keep all of his/her papers together. Try to get folders with 3 prongs so you can add mini-anchor charts throughout the year.
I like to keep writing folders in a separate location so they don’t end up getting filled with other papers. At the beginning of the year, these are empty, but as I introduce tools (ex: an ABC chart, writing ideas), I add them using the prongs.
Once you’ve assembled all of your supplies, determine a location for your supply center.
Step 2: Gather your materials.
Next, you want to gather your lesson materials, mentor texts, and writing ideas. Remember each writing workshop begins with a mini-lesson. The purpose of the mini-lesson is to focus only on one topic, skill, or strategy at a time. The lessons should only take between 5 to 15 minutes. Think about exactly what materials you’ll need for your mini-lessons and gather those.
You’ll also want to assemble a go-to supply of mentor texts. Mentor texts are used to provide students with examples of what they are being asked to produce.
Student work also make powerful mentor texts! Students love to see text examples that are attainable and not always polished. So, definitely scan or copy student examples that you can use in future lessons.
And of course, your own stories will serve as mentor texts to your students. Make sure to keep a running list of topics you can use for your mini-lessons.
Make sure you have an ample amount of mentor texts gathered that will cover the different genres you’ll be exploring with your class. I recommend reading any mentor books ahead of time, and just referencing excerpts in your mini-lesson.
Step 3: Establish your routines and procedures.
Here are some things to consider when establishing your routines and procedures for your classroom writing workshop:
- Where will students sit?
- How will they get supplies and put them away?
- Will they have specific partners to turn and talk to?
- How will you manage noise?
- Will you have signals for things like noise level, coming to your writing meeting area, etc?
- What note-taking system will you use for conferences?
Once you make your decisions around these routines and procedures, take the time to teach and review these routines and procedures with your students.
Step 4: Build excitement.
Before you officially launch your writing workshop, create a buzz in your classroom. You can do this by allowing students to tour the supply center, introducing students to routines and procedures, sharing work done by previous students, and telling them about writing celebrations!
Have some fun with this step! Let your excitement shine through, it will be contagious.
Step 5: Start slow.
The goal of your writing workshop is to have children write independently for 15 to 30 minutes, depending on grade level… but, you can’t jump right in and start there! That would be quite intimidating and overwhelming. That is the goal time, and you’ll have to build up to it. I suggest starting with five minutes of writing time and gradually increasing daily by one minute.
Make it fun by creating a challenge for students each day to beat their time from the previous day! You can use this Goal Tracker System, it includes certificates, too!
I also think, especially in kindergarten, more time should be spent on drawing and oral storytelling. Too often, programs have students writing words on day 1, before students even understand the concept of letters and sounds.
Children can learn to tell stories through pictures, revise their pictures, and use them to tell their stories orally. Oral storytelling practice will help their written storytelling later!
Step 6: Manage expectations.
It is crucial for you to manage your expectations. It’s much easier to do this when you understand the writing stages.
Remember, your students will come to you at all stages in kindergarten and first grade! Some may already be writing and some may have never even held a pencil!
Get to know your students and meet them where they are, whether it’s the scribbling stage, starting to encode words with a few letters, or writing sentences.
Writing is a process. Make sure you share this with your writers, too. We may need to help them manage their own expectations, as well.
Bonus Tip: Be enthusiastic with every lesson.
Writing workshop offers each student an opportunity to share their stories with the world! How exciting is that?!?
Let your students know they are already writers and the writing workshop will help them become even better.
Celebrate successes, no matter how small, and having an author’s celebration at the end of each unit can be a great motivator!
If you’re not sure how to get started, I have an entire writing unit for kindergarten. It has 22 lessons, teacher notes, student material, pacing calendars, conference forms, rubrics, and more.
I also have a labeling for emergent writers yearlong set that would be great for helping to increase writing confidence in your struggling writers!!
I hope these tips help you to launch a smooth writing workshop in your classroom this school year! The main thing to keep in mind is that it doesn’t have to be perfect. Your writing workshop will evolve as the year progresses and your students develop as budding young writers. You may also need to make some tweaks and changes throughout the year to better fit your students’ needs.
If you have any questions about running a successful writing workshop, please leave them below!