Monday, February 17, 2020

10 Tips For a More Focused Writing Workshop

Out of everything I teach, I find writing to be the most challenging.  That sounds funny because I'm a children's author and I LOVE to write.  I seriously could write with my kids all day long!  But it's tough isn't it?  Getting all the kids to focus, generate topics, apply all the strategies your teaching and have them be able to produce a variety of genres?  Oh, my!  I've learned some tips and tricks that have worked for me and I hope you can take away a few for yourself. (An IGTV video is posted below if you rather watch it.)

10 Tips for a More Focused Writing Workshop

1. Write for an Audience

Kids are much more engaged and invested during Writing Workshop when they know they're writing for an audience and why they're writing for that person. It can be the class next door.  Their parents.  The principal.  Just like you tweak your teaching when you're getting observed, kids do the same.  I always tell them who we're writing for at the beginning of class and say, "At the end of class, I'll pick three sticks out of the jar who will share/read to the principal, etc."  This give them focus.  They sit up straighter. Their handwriting is a bit better.  Writing is more purposeful.  Editing is more thorough.

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2. Play Instrumental Music

When Spotify starts to play, I can see the kids relax and settle in.  A good playlist is a must!  I used to play nothing but classical music but I've been changing it up a lot but keeping it INSTRUMENTAL music.  No words.  I want my kiddos writing.  No time for boppin' along and singin' a song!  Check out a few Spotify playlists that will set the tone for your class.  My favorite?  Rock Lullabies featuring instrumental music of The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, Queen and more! 

3. Stick to Writing...Schedule Your Coloring Time

Let's face it, most of my kids would spend the whole period (or two!) designing and coloring their covers in my current All About Book unit if I let them.  I need them to quickly sketch/plan and then write.  A lot. So in my classroom, the crayons come out when they're ready to publish the book. We call it Fix (edit) and Fancy (color) It Up Day.  Some kids, after story/book is finished, don't like their sketch anymore or decided they have a better idea for the pictures/cover.  No problem.  They simply cut out paper, draw new picture, and glue on top of the old picture.   Saving the coloring to the end of the book allows them to focus on writing...and finishing their stories.

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4. Kids Must Make a Plan

We plan for our lessons so it makes sense that kids need to plan for their writing.  Each. And. Every. Day.  I start my session off the same each day: Bring folders to the carpet and sit on them.  I then have my mini lesson and guided practice.  Before sending my kids back to write/incorporate the lesson into their writing, they do the same thing every day: Take out their folders, spend a few minutes sifting through stories and then making THEIR PLAN.  Do they decide to start a new story or continue with the one they are working on?  Are they pulling out a past story to revise and ADD the skill taught into it?  EXAMPLE: A child pulls out an old story and announces, "I'm going to go back and make my characters talk in this story."  (Lesson on adding dialogue.)  Before they get off the carpet, they must SHARE the plan with their writing partner.  There is NO GETTING OFF THE CARPET without a plan.  Seriously, this is a game-changer.  Kids are so focused and know what to do once they return to desks. *Often the plan in the beginning of the year is simply picking what to write about and telling the story across their fingers with partner. 

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5. Introduce Magic Words: Because and For Example

Nothing will help your children add destails to their stories faster than teaching them these words.  EARLY in the year.  Check out my earlier post on using BECAUSE.  FOR EXAMPLE is introduced just as early...around October.  We say FOR EXAMPLE in a fancy schmancy voice which the kids, of course, love.  So they enjoy using the words so they can say it all fancy-like as they read their writing.  So a typical story in September in my First Grade writers:  I had a party.  I got so many presents. It was fun. BECOMES: I had a party BECAUSE it was my birthday.  I got so many presents. For example, I got a Barbie, a journal and pencil, pajamas, and books.  It was fun BECAUSE everyone sang to me. So. Much. Better!  And almost effortless!

6. Provide Settle-In Time: Turn YOUR Voice Off

Once when I was observed, my mini-lesson was fine but as soon as they went back to their seats, I spoke non-stop like a voiceover: "Don't forget the date."  "Make sure  you have a sharp pencil."  "Don't forget to start your sentence with a capital letter."  After three minutes, I just felt that I was coming across as annoying and switched gears. After the lesson, I brought it up to her.  Of course she noticed and it made its way into my report.  Her advice:  Give the kids EIGHT minutes to settle in and write BEFORE I even circulate the room or speak.  Yep: She told me to basically shut up and she was spot on.  Eight minutes is a long time and too long for me but I do give them 5-6 minutes and it has made them more focused and and has made me feel less stressed.  It seems more respectful on my part too.  They deserve those minutes to think and get started in peace and quiet!

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7. Notice Good Writing When Reading

You read lots of books to your sure to notice and comment on the techniques the author or illustrator uses.  Record them in a notebook.  For example, I recently read Bootsie Barker Bites. Immediately, I admired the title and repeated it slowly several times.  "Doesn't it make your ears tickle?  That's called alliteration.  What a fun technique to add to your stories."  Then I wrote alliteration in the book.  Some kids tried out the technique in their stories the next day.  A few who didn't, pointed out alliteration in another book we read.  Sometimes the kids will notice a technique used in a book and yell out, "That's good writing!  Put it in the book." to my ears!

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8.  Have Them Show What They Know (QUIETLY!)

Each child has a small plastic trophy in their pencil cup.  Whenever they use a technique that they are proud of OR one I request they use, they simply put the trophy on their desk to alert me.  I love this nonverbal tool!  No more yelling out or getting out of their seats to show me their writing and distract others.  One scan of the room and I can see who has a proud moment and I make sure I make my way to see/read/discuss it.  Example: If you find a perfect spot for an ellipses today, use your trophy." Other times, it is something THEY used without prompting. Administrators love this! NOTE: This idea was adapted from Tammy at Forver in First.  Check out her post that inspired me.

9. Have Daily Editing Time 

I used to have them edit for "everything" everyday.  What was I thinking?  Now I pick ONE challenge to edit a day.  Maybe capitalize all Proper Nouns.  Or using Personal Word Walls to check over sight words.  I leave 2-3 minutes at the end of each session to edit and at this time of the year, several kids may even whip out a "finished" story to edit.

10. Share Prior Classes' Books With Your Class

Instant Mentor Texts FOR your class BY your class!  Winner winner chicken dinner! I simply photocopy them (in color) and read/display them for the kids so they can see expectations and reassure them that  they can do the same thing.  While I still model and create a book each year for them, it's so helpful to have a dozen examples as well.  And the kids LOVE seeing kid books! Check out one of the books I'm saving this year.  (Papers available here.)

If you found this post helpful, let me know or share it with a colleague.  I'd appreciate it! Here is the IGTV Video.  It's part of my 10 Under 10 Series: 10 Classroom Tips Under 10 Minutes.

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