Writer's Workshop is a teaching technique that invites students to write by making the process a meaningful part of the classroom curriculum. Ideally students are introduced to the process of writing in the early elementary grades and write daily through varied activities.
In Writer's Workshop, Upper Elementary students organize thoughts to create a story or write about a given topic and develop it into an understandable narrative with a voice and focus that present information to the reader. Upper Elementary students are able to use writing mechanics comfortably and the shift in their cognitive abilities to higher order thinking allows them to develop a more sophisticated sense of what makes good writing. While it is still important to allow students to choose a topic, students are now ready to learn about other types of writing such as persuasive arguments and compare and contrast assignments.
One big difference in Upper Elementary students is an ability to think through their options before starting the first draft. Peer conferencing is still useful to students, but it may not be as crucial in the overall process because older students begins to ask themselves the same questions a reader might ask. The Writer's Workshop format includes story planning (possibly with peer conferencing), revision, teacher editing, and direct instruction in the mechanics of grammar. As in the Third Grade classroom, 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. The Upper Elementary classroom Writer's Workshop format may also expect the student to work on a large assigned task from another area of the curriculum.
Teachers will notice that students in the Upper Elementary grades can write independently and fluently, ask themselves questions before writing and even shift from rewriting to rereading to revising on their own. A teacher may not see many first drafts because much of the work is being done simultaneously. Some students will require more supervision than other as skills are fully learned. Students can trust that the correctness of the final product is easy to achieve in the final edit.
The writing goals for the Upper Elementary student are the same as for the Third Grade student: to challenge the students to expand their ideas in the revision process not simply 'correct' the previous ones, to help students become aware of writing for different audiences, create focus within a topic and try to see the piece of writing from a distance. One very important additional goal is for teachers to be sure revision strategies are well developed so students may use them comfortably in middle and high school. Computers continue to be the writer's most important tool for editing, correct spelling, and punctuation. Instruction in formal outlines, story mapping and first drafts may done on the computer, and revisions certainly can be done effectively on a computer. Skills will still vary and progress at different rates, but students who are familiar with Writer's Workshop will have a regular opportunity to practice independent writing. They will benefit from seeing the power of their words to express thoughts and from the repeated activities of writing for a specific purpose.
Writer's Workshop can be paired with reading and research activities to create a powerful motivating tool when teaching literacy. In Upper Grades literature becomes an essential source to model good writing; a wise teacher will carefully choose the books used as sources. The opportunities across the curriculum for writing practice are endless and can be part of the daily Writer's workshop. 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 the Upper Elementary Grades the main components of the Writer's Workshop is the same as the earlier grades, however, it will not seem as formal as it once did. The students will work much more independently. The format includes 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 grammar parts and punctuation. Modeling good interviewing techniques is still appropriate because students will need to use them in their peer conferences.
Useful mini-lessons for the Upper Grades are story mapping, having an adult guest writer, or yourself, model the process of revision to illustrate it as a process of discovery, and modeling note taking for gathering information. 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; others 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 the Upper Elementary Grade Classrooms it can be done quickest by having students write their name on the board under the appropriate category: Conferencing, First Draft, Work in progress, Revision, Illustrating, Final Editing, Publishing, A written work must have the following format:
Writing & Conferring is ideally a 20 - 40 minute session. Upper Elementary students will easily use 40 minutes if they have been carefully introduced to the Writer's Workshop framework and they have a clear understanding of the expectations. Brainstorming sessions may still be the best way to come up with topics and ideas, and peer conferencing is still useful to the student. 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 different paragraphs, this 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.
Upper Grade students can write on regular note paper and skip lines for revision and editing notes or simply compose drafts on the computer. First drafts are very important and initial corrections of standard spelling and punctuation may be overlooked at this time in order to allow student to focus on fluency of story telling and to build confidence in their topic choice. The teacher reviews the writing with the student at the teacher conference. Editing is not the focus of this conference, expanding ideas and trying to find a 'voice' for the student writer is. On the computer all the corrections are quickly done and the emphasis is on fluency of ideas, logical story ordering, and the connection of thought 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. Remember the final goal is for students to develop the ability to do much of the thinking in advance of the actual writing.
In the Final Draft teachers should expect correct use of basic grammar, spelling and punctuation with guidance. Many students will be able to do this independently, however 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 and thesauruses are appropriate references.
It remains important not to place mechanics in competition 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. Teachers can require student text be correctly spelled and punctuated before it can be considered suitable for publication. Upper Elementary 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 and even publish reviews. 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 true growth of writing ability takes place and a student's appreciation for good writing and life long skills are developed. Large activities like Writer's Workshop are designed to help students develop skill and strategies that will be used in their future writing projects.
Sharing and Author's Chair usually take 10 minutes and 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. Upper Elementary 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 Upper Grade Elementary students over the Author's chair used in K-3.
Student Assessment is done by keeping a portfolio of revisions and copies of completed work.