May 11, 2014

Mimicking Author's Techniques in Writing Workshop

Minilessons.  I teach one, sometimes two every day.  After teaching a lesson I've found I usually have one of three gut reactions:

1.  That lesson rocked.  It's really going to make a difference in who my students are as readers/writers.
2.  The lesson was okay.  I will change how I did that for next year, but overall I think my students got the point and will benefit from it.
3.  That did not turn out how I pictured.

Obviously as teachers we have ups and downs.  I'm always amazed at how sometimes the lessons I put my heart and soul into are the very lessons that flop, while sometimes I throw a lesson together last minute and hit it out of the park.  I've come to realize that so much of whether a minilesson is going to soar or sink is dependent upon the students in my classroom.  Knowing who my students are as readers and writers and how they best learn guides how I go about planning and sequencing minilessons.

A couple of weeks ago, I did a minilesson in Writing Workshop that my students responded really well to.  Check it out below:

The focus of the lesson was having students notice what the authors of their independent reading books do to interest them as readers.  After noticing techniques they liked, I wanted students to ask themselves if they would be able to try that technique out in their own writing.  Examples of techniques could be: punctuation, vocabulary, dialogue tags, language used by characters in dialogue, point of view, organizational structure, plot structure, how the author described the setting and characters, etc.

To model this concept, I used the Interactive Read Aloud our class is currently reading which is Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.  One thing I noticed about Gruen's writing style is her detailed dialogue tags and the use of ellipses, dashes, etc. to make the dialogue come to life.  I then modeled an example I found of how Gruen does this in her writing and gave an example of how I could see incorporating this technique into a piece of writing I am currently working on.

For the "have-a-go" of the lesson, students talked with their accountability buddies about how they were going to incorporate a technique that they noticed from the author of their independent reading book in their own writing.

Students then gave it a try by taking free write time to write about a topic of their choice while incorporating a writing technique.

After free write time, I had my class sit in a large circle and share what they did as writers for the day, including how they incorporated their author's technique.  Additionally, some students also commented on the benefits of mimicking author's techniques in their own writing.

Here is the handout I had my students use the previous day during Reading Workshop to notice the techniques and brainstorm how they could use the techniques in their own writing.

This was a great minilesson because I saw my students really take chances in their writing, stepping outside of their norm to try out something really neat that their mentor author did in his or her writing.  It also complemented their reading as it encouraged them to look with a critical eye to analyze and recognize techniques that the authors of their independent reading books were using.  I can see this minilesson being successful at any level in middle school.  So for any middle school English teachers out there reading this, ENJOY! :)


  1. Very cool!! Thanks for sharing :-)

    1. You're welcome, Jamie! Thanks for the comment.

  2. I was very surprised at your use of Water For Elephants as an interactive read aloud in Middle School. There are some very explicit sex scenes in this book, and I would not consider it to be "Young Adult"! Do you read the entire book?

    1. I'm so glad you asked about this. I was going to mention in my blog post about Water for Elephants as an IRA. The nice thing about IRA is that you are the one with the book reading it to students. I didn't read a couple carefully selected scenes to them, and the story still makes perfect sense without them. I really tossed and turned with the idea of using the book, but it just fit so perfectly with the minilessons I wanted to do surrounding authentic details in historical fiction. Also, Sara Gruen's writing style and vocabulary use played so perfectly into my Word Study. The way she chose to narrate the text, the rich words she selected, the realistic dialogue, complex characters, the plot structure with the epilogue and the flashes of chapters of Jacob in the nursing's just a text that gave us so many places to go filtering in to our workshops, so I didn't want to pass it up. My 8th graders are loving it, but I am definitely skipping selected scenes and they still get the benefits of a very neat story while learning about the Great Depression Era and traveling circuses.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful lesson. I love all of your innovative ideas. I just purchased a bunch of your lessons off of teacherspayteachers and I'm so excited to implement them. Thanks again for all of your hard work!

    1. Hi Katie,

      Thank you so much for the kind words. I'm so glad you like the minilesson I shared in this blog post. I hope you love the TpT products you purchased from my store as well. Keep in touch to let me know how they work out in your classroom!



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