Depending on your class situation and available time, Writer's Workshop activities can be a useful and meaningful extension to TeachersFirst's online instructional units. Writer's Workshop is a teaching technique that invites students to write by making the process a meaningful part of the classroom curriculum. In the First Grade classroom, students learn to write daily through varied activities. Writer's Workshop exposes First grade students to the organization and thought required to create a story or write about a favorite topic. Because they choose the topic, students are motivated to create and complete works to read to classmates. The Writer's Workshop format includes story planning, revision, teacher editing, and direct instruction in the mechanics of grammar. In the First Grade, this teaching technique allows teachers to observe the learning progress of both reading and writing.
First Grade students' skills vary and progress at different rates. The goal, therefore, is to move emergent/ early fluency readers into the writing process by guiding them to use phonetics to sound out words, copy and use sight words in meaningful ways, create an awareness of punctuation, and refer to outside resources for spelling corrections. First Graders enjoy the independence of early independent writing, the power of their words to express thoughts, and the opportunity to describe experiences to classmates.
Writer's Workshop can also be paired with reading activities to create a powerful motivating tool when teaching literacy. A teacher can quickly see which words a student 'owns' by what they write; a teacher can see how a child approaches organization of thought by how a student presents ideas in a story and a teacher can see how a student's abilities grow through the year by the progression of plot and text in their writing.
The Writer's Workshop is typically a part of each day. However, for teachers with a schedule problem it can be a 3 day a week activity. Teachers with curriculum set by Districts may use Writer's Workshop as an occasional extension activity for specific curriculum units. The main components of the Writer's Workshop include a Mini-lesson, Status of the class, Writing & Conferencing, and Sharing & Author's Chair. Some of these components may already be a part of your classroom routine.
A Mini- Lesson is usually a 5-10 minute whole class activity and may be as simple as doing guided writing from a story. An example is to lay out a favorite story's events in beginning, middle, and end form, create an idea web about the student's reactions to the story, or bring attention to basic use of punctuation. A group reading activity such as a big book, or song or poem written on chart paper can introduce patterns in language and rhyming words, it could be used to search for phonetic sounds, or even to recognize beginning sight words. This is a direct teaching opportunity for teachers to present the information a class is ready to learn. Some teachers require students to use the mini-lesson information immediately; other teachers will gently re-introduce information to students at the conferring sessions according to their individual readiness.
The Status of the Class takes about 2-3 minutes and provides the student and teacher with information about how the student's work is progressing. It can be done with a quick handing out of the folders and a quick response from the students such as Illustrating, Work in progress, Publishing, or it may be a bulletin board that has color-coded cards. A written work must have the following format:
Writing & Conferring is ideally a 20 - 40 minute session. In the beginning of the First Grade year however, shorter sessions may work better. First Grade students who are at the emergent literacy level will begin by dictating, with the teacher taking down the student's words with a yellow highlighter after they finish an illustration. The student is then asked to write over the words with pencils or markers to make them all their own. This process provides small motor development, handwriting practice, and brings meaning to the written word. Students with good small motor skills and an awareness of phonetics can be encouraged to write on their own. Initially, teachers may want to overlook corrections of standard spelling to allow students to focus on fluency of story telling and to build confidence in their efforts.
The child receives a new page after they have illustrated, traced or written, and reread the previous page to the teacher. This is called the conference; a teacher reviews the writing with the student. In the beginning of First Grade editing is not the focus of the conference. Instead, the emphasis is on fluency of ideas, logical story ordering, and the connection of thoughts from page to page. This helps foster self- esteem. By the middle of First Grade teachers may begin to expect correct use of sight words and teachers can begin to guide students who are ready for punctuation. Depending upon the curriculum guidelines, spelling may be corrected, or inventive spelling may be respected as the developmental effort of the student. Many teachers will only very lightly pencil underneath if a child has created their own first attempts at writing marks on the page telling the child, "This is so I can remember these important words you've written."
By the end of First Grade most students understand the need for correct spelling and that punctuation will make their thoughts clear to the reader. All students should be aware of the importance of their ideas. Teachers may use the editing process to encourage individual students to attempt more and more challenging writing. Teachers may keep a list of words that are being misspelled and use those as weekly spelling words. Some classrooms have word banks or picture dictionaries as references, it is important not to place spelling in competition with content in the early grades. Experience and editing will help the child strive for "publishable" quality material. Students love to have their writing typeset and "published" on the computer to illustrate, teachers can require student text be correctly spelled and punctuated before it can be considered suitable for publication. Publishing is a great motivating tool for all students, but great value needs to be placed on the process of first drafts and revisions. This is where the real business of literacy takes place and life long skills are developed.
Sharing and Author's Chair usually take ten minutes and be done either by having the students read to the class a "published book" or by children sharing their work in pairs. If peer editing is to be part of your classroom structure, careful introduction to a process such as TAG will be required. TAG stands for - tell one thing you liked about the story, ask one question, and give one suggestion.
Student Assessment is done by keeping a portfolio of revisions and copies of completed work.