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. Third Grade students learn to write daily through varied activities. In Writer's Workshop, Third Grade students are exposed to the organization and thought required to create a story or write about a favorite topic and develop it into an understandable narrative with a voice and focus. Third Grade students shift from writing for the activity itself and presenting material to classmates, as in Second Grade, to paying more attention to writing correctly and mechanics. Because they are allowed to choose the topic, students are motivated to create and complete works, however correct completion may be at the price of creative expression. As in Second Grade, peer conferencing can become a central part to the creative process. The Writer's Workshop format includes story planning (possibly with peer conferencing), revision, teacher editing, and direct instruction in the mechanics of grammar. For the Third Grade student this teaching technique allows students the opportunity to develop expression, revision strategy, and skill in writing, and encourages them to try a few new things during the revision process.
Third Grade students differ from K-2 students in that they may not be as willing to take a chance in their writing. They would rather 'get it right.' Teachers will notice that students can write independently and fluently, but a student may become more concerned about the correctness of the final product rather than the actual process and content. In the Third Grade classroom the goals are to challenge the students to expand their ideas in the revision process, not simply 'correct' the previous ones This helps students become aware of writing for different audiences, create focus within a topic, and try to see the piece of writing from a distance. Because the student is naturally more aware of correct spelling and punctuation, more computer time may be appropriate. Story mapping and first drafts may done on the computer, and revisions can certainly be done effectively on a computer. Skills will still vary and progress at different rates, but most Third Grade students who are familiar with Writer's Workshop will continue to enjoy the activity of independent writing, the power of their words to express thoughts, and the opportunity to describe experiences to classmates.
Writer's Workshop can be paired with reading activities to create a powerful motivating tool when teaching literacy. In Third Grade literature can become an essential source to model good writing, and a wise teacher will carefully choose the books used as sources. In Writer's Workshop a teacher can quickly see a student's vocabulary level; organizational skills; their ability to learn, retain and apply information in new situations; attention span; and how a student's abilities grow through the year.
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 may work within a set curriculum by using Writer's Workshop as an occasional extension activity for specific curriculum units. In Third Grade the main components of the Writer's Workshop include a Mini-lesson, Status of the class, Writing & Conferencing, and Peer 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, or how revision codes are used. An example is to lay out a favorite story's events in beginning, middle, and end form, create an idea web featuring a book's plot, or formally present the use of 'mechanics' such as more complicated 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 vocabulary and spelling words, or even to recognize story plots and genres.
In Third Grade it is appropriate to model 'interviewing' so students can observe questioning techniques to use in their peer conferences. Two very useful mini-lessons for Third Grade are story mapping and having an adult guest writer, or yourself, model the process of revision to illustrate it as a process of discovery. This is a direct teaching opportunity for teachers to formally present the information to a class, and to reinforce expectations. Some teachers require students to use the mini-lesson information immediately; other teachers will gently re-introduce information to students at the teacher conference sessions and make note of how students are applying what they are learning in whole group activities.
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. In Third Grade Classrooms it can be done with a quick handing out of the folders and a quick response from the students such as Conferencing, First Draft, Work in progress, Revision, Illustrating, Final Editing, Publishing, or it may be posted 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. Third Grade students should be able to use the full 40 minutes if they have been carefully introduced to the Writer's Workshop framework and they have a clear understanding of the expectations. For the Third Grade student, "what to write about" remains a great concern. Brainstorming sessions can eliminate some of this anxiety. Peer conferencing is useful to the teacher; and often a discussion with another student can be enough to break through 'writer's block.' This is a good time to introduce the use of 'lead' sentences for beginning paragraphs. This strategy can help a writer structure the plot of the story. A good peer conference may inspire students to include additional details in their writing, and brainstorming sessions may provide many topics for the student's future use.
The Third Grade student can write on regular note paper and skip lines for revision and editing notes. First drafts are very important, and initial corrections of standard spelling and punctuation may be overlooked at this time in order to allow students to focus on fluency of story telling and to build confidence in their topic choice. At the teacher conference a teacher reviews the writing with the student. Editing is not the focus of this conference, expanding ideas and trying to find a 'voice' for the student writer is. This is why Third Grade is an ideal time for an increase in computer use for writing. All the corrections are done quickly, and the emphasis is on fluency of ideas, logical story ordering, and the connection of thoughts from page to page and how this relates to the plot development. Revision is a necessary skill for writers. Students who expect to revise their work will develop the habit of expanding ideas and proofreading.
In the Final Draft teachers should expect correct use of basic grammar, spelling and punctuation with guidance. Teachers may use the editing process to individually encourage students to revise further, attempt more challenging writing, and to guide students to develop alternative plots and details of the story. Teachers may keep a list of words that are being misspelled and use those as weekly spelling words. Dictionaries are appropriate references and thesauruses may be introduced.
It remains important not to let mechanics compete with content in the First Draft. Experience and editing will help the student strive for publishable quality material in the Final Draft. Students love to have their writing "published" on the computer, and teachers can require student text be correctly spelled and punctuated before it can be considered suitable for publication. In the Third Grade classroom publishing can expand to become a class web page, individual books, newsletters, or a class anthology. In some classrooms students can order copies of other classmates' books. Publishing is a great motivating tool for all students, but teachers should stress the importance of first drafts and revisions. This is where the true growth of writing ability takes place and a student's appreciation for good writing and life long skills are developed.
Sharing and Author's Chair usually take 10 minutes and can be done either by having the students read to the class a 'published book,' by children sharing their work in pairs, or by allowing students to read published works to themselves. 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. In Third Grade students may want to share a 'Work in Progress' or 'Revision' to get many different opinions for inspiration. Peer Sharing or allowing students to read classmates works individually and write TAG comments may be preferred by Third Grade Students over the Author's chair used in K-2.
Student Assessment is done by keeping a portfolio of revisions and copies of completed work.
Alternatives to Writer's Workshop
For an alternative to Writer's Workshop, try Morning Message.
Third Grade is also a great time to introduce regular book report writing, book reports will allow students to write and use their grammar, spelling, and punctuation skills with out having to 'create.' Everyone can appreciate simply feeling good about completing a task that is comfortable. Small class writing assignments will fill this need for the Third Grade student. Larger activities like Writer's Workshop are designed to help them develop skill and strategies that they will use in their future writing projects.