Writing is hard for many kids! If you run a writing workshop, you know how important it is to have kids writing independently. Yet, there are many challenges kids can have during this time that can lead to frustration and less-than-ideal work!
Teachers face a huge challenge when kids aren’t able to work independently during writing workshop, too. If you are constantly getting interrupted by kids who need help or have to stop to get kids back on task, it’s almost impossible to conduct writing conferences effectively.
How to help kids write independently
When kids learn strategies for specific writing challenges, they’re much more likely to overcome them independently. This leaves you free to conference with students and monitor the class (so no one is crawling under tables or eating crayons)!
One awesome way to teach kids independence during writing workshop is to make a “Writing Challenges” anchor chart. Together, make a list of hard things about writing. Then, brainstorm what kids can do if they encounter this challenge!
It helps to have a list of things you already know kids struggle with:
- writing idea
- run out of room
- pencil broke
- being “finished”
On chart paper, make a T-chart and label one side “Hard parts of writing” or “Obstacles” and the other “What we can do” or “Strategies.”
Go through each writing obstacle, eliciting solutions from them. That’s very important! If you give them all the solutions, it’s not going to be as meaningful to them. But, if they are the ones that come up with the solutions, you can remind them, “Remember everything that you all came up with to solve your problems! You can do this on your own, without my help. You even came up with great solutions I never would have thought of! From now on, you don’t need me!”
If you’re like me, you’ll remember some challenges you wanted to include after you create the chart. This is why it’s helpful to have a list of ideas handy while you guide them to come up with their own! Keep this list nearby to help them come up with ideas. If you’d like a list of challenges students might have, I do have a free list, along with some footnotes, you can download below.
Using your writing anchor chart
Once you create this chart, display it where all students can view it access it independently during writing workshop. You can even take a picture of it and make mini-copies to place in their folders.
Review it when you send kids off to write independently. Ask them about a challenge every so often: “What do you do if you don’t have a pencil?” “Where can you get a story idea?” Hearing the solutions often will help them know exactly what to do the next time they have that problem.
If a student comes up to you with a problem during writing, instead of answering them, refer them to the chart so they learn to problem-solve themselves. If they have a problem that’s not on the chart, take time at the end of that workshop time to discuss this with the class, asking them for possible solutions, then add it to the chart!
More tips for independent writing
- Have Materials Accessible– Have all of the tools students need in an easily accessible place. Maybe you have plastic drawers that are placed on each table during writing time, or maybe you have a writing center with bins of paper, caddies for writing tools, rubrics, staplers, and post-it notes. Whatever materials you use, make sure you teach kids how to use them correctly, and review as necessary.
- Writing Partners– Pair students up strategically (you know which kids work together well and which would wreak havoc together!). Teach them to help each other when they have questions- sharing work and providing help when necessary.
- Make Mentor Texts Accessible- Mentor texts are fantastic for showing students concrete examples of great writing! If you have used mentor texts in the writing unit, display charts you’ve made with examples from the text, as well as the texts themselves in an accessible place for kids to refer to. Model how to refer to the text as a mini-lesson to help you make your own writing better. For example, maybe you want to use “show, not tell” in your writing just like Julie Brinckoe did in her book Fireflies. Read an example from the book aloud, then model the strategy with your story! Click here for an example of using a mentor text.
More Writing Resources
If you are looking for more ways to help with writing, you’ll find the following posts and resources helpful:
Teaching Emergent Writers to Stretch out Words
Adding Dialogue and Onomatopoeia
Writing can be daunting for many students, especially if they’re just beginning to write. Learning to use strategies independently is key to a successful writing workshop time and will make your students’ writing time (and yours) much more enjoyable and effective!
Let me know below how you teach your writers to become more independent! Will you try a “Writing Challenges” solution chart?