February 14, 2016

Guided Writing

To get started with guided writing in your classroom today, click here for a free resource.

John Hattie, the author of Visible Learning, is a New Zealand researcher who wrote his book analyzing the instructional strategies that will give teachers the most “bang for their buck.”  The number one instructional strategy was feedback.  This got me to thinking about how I give feedback to my students as writers.  I feel a mistake teachers often make is that they teach throughout a writing piece, let students go through the writing process, and then give feedback in the form of a final grade after all of the learning has taken place.

The feedback used in my classroom throughout the writing process is not just the feedback I give to students, it’s about the feedback students give back to me, and the feedback students give to each other.  The opportunities students have to receive feedback in our Writing Workshop classroom include the following:
·      Writing conferences where students meet one-on-one with me.  Students begin talking in the conference, and we look at their writing before I choose a line of thinking to follow and pursue for the remainder of the conference.  To see past blog posts I have written about writing conferences click here.
·      Share time is a daily part of our Writing Workshop.  Students take the last five minutes of class on Writing Workshop days and share out what they have done and learned as writers that day through whole group, small group, and partner shares.  While sharing, I will often put up focus questions for students to self-reflect on or give feedback to each other on.
·      Giving feedback on Discovery Drafts.  When I teach a genre of writing, I will have students begin by studying mentor texts and getting background on the genre and then begin to draft a Discovery Draft.  Reading the Discovery Drafts is what drives my instruction for the minilessons to follow.  After students write their Discovery Drafts, I also find it very helpful to ask them to give me feedback on what they feel they have control over as writers for this genre and what they’d like to continue to work on as writers through this genre.  This is a great way to get feedback from students about what they perceive they need to know.  They’re usually right on and give me ideas I hadn’t even thought of.
·      Guided Writing is one of my most favorite ways to give feedback to student writers and get feedback from student writers.  The rest of my blog post is going to focus in on this teaching practice.  I’m so excited to share more information about how I use guided writing in my classroom.

So what exactly is guided writing?

Guided writing is when you are working with a small group of two to six writers on a specific focus lesson. Guided writing is not for the “low” writers.  The groups are made from heterogeneous groups of students and are always changing and flexible depending on need.  Guided writing can happen at ANY point of the writing process.  Guided writing adds another layer onto whole class instruction and takes a small group of students deeper into writing while other students are applying the whole class minilesson to their own independent writing.  The goal of a guided writing group is to improve one specific thing in student writing.  The goal is not to fix and revise every little piece of each student’s piece of writing.  Students should walk away with a very specific writing skill that he or she can apply not only to the current piece of writing but his or her writing in the future.

When does guided writing happen?

Guided writing happens while the rest of the students in your class are engaged in independent writing based on the minilesson you taught that day.  During Writing Workshop, I use the writing application time to work with students one-on-one in writing conferences or meet with guided writing groups.  As stated previously, guided writing does not replace whole group instruction.  It’s not meant to be used as a writing intervention.  It’s for all students and should be provided during core instruction as a means of differentiating instruction to all students based on the guided writing topic.

Why use guided writing?
-Small groups allow for more hands-on instruction.
-Guided writing is based on evidence from students' writing and what students perceive they need as writers.
-Less intimidating than a one-on-one writing conference
-The teacher is able to reach more students rather than just using writing conferences alone.
-Students walk away with tools to keep in their writing toolbox, not just fix one piece of writing.

How do I form guided writing groups?
There are several ways that I’ve used to form guided writing groups.  The most common way is by reading Discovery Drafts, recording what I notice certain groups of students need as writers, and planning guided writing groups based on what I notice from their writing.  Another avenue I’ve explored for guided writing groups is by breaking the rubric apart and having students sign up for the guided writing group they would like to participate in.  For example, based on my rubric for the literary essays my students are currently writing, I could offer separate groups for thesis statement, topic sentences, expanding details in body paragraphs, concluding sentences, sentence fluency, using complete sentences, transitions, or conventions.  Students could select the guided writing topic that they feel will most help them improve their writing.

Below is a framework for a guided writing lesson along with how this would look in a sample lesson.
The example lesson is based on a guided writing lesson with my students who ended the body paragraphs in their literary essays abruptly without any sort of a concluding sentence.

Part of Lesson
Example Lesson
Principle/Focus Lesson
Clearly articulate to students what the focus of the guided writing lesson will be.  It should be one, explicit topic that can be applied directly to student writing.
Writers end body paragraphs with a concluding sentence to summarize their thinking for their readers. (Genre: Literary Essay)
Model the writing concept to students in a piece of your own writing, in a mentor text, or in an exemplar piece of student writing.  Take time with students to have them notice and discuss what the author of the piece is doing correctly.
Use my literary essay and have students examine and talk about the concluding sentences in my body paragraphs.
Give students a piece of writing and have them apply the concept of the focus lesson together as a group through discussion.
Give students a body paragraph from a student’s literary essay without the concluding sentence and talk as a group what a good concluding sentence for that paragraph would look like.
Have students apply the focus lesson to their independent writing.
Have students go to their literary essays and add in concluding sentences for their three body paragraphs.
Share out what they have learned about the guided writing principle.  Have students share changes they have made to their writing as a result of the guided reading lesson.
Have students share out how their body paragraphs have improved as a result of adding concluding sentences and/or have students share one of their concluding sentences that they added in.

For this guided writing lesson on concluding sentences in body paragraphs, I printed off the mentor text that I wrote on the book Walk Two Moons and highlighted the concluding sentences that are at the end of each body paragraph.  This is what I used for the "modeling" portion of the guided writing lesson above.  I also used this for the "have-a-go" portion of the lesson because I left the concluding sentence off at the end of the second body paragraph, and we talked about what a good concluding sentence would look like.

I then gave students the "application" time to add concluding sentences onto the end of their body paragraphs from their own literary essays.  After each student got a chance to add the concluding sentences on to their body paragraphs, each student shared out one of their sentences and/or why adding concluding sentences is important for writers to do.  I was extremely pleased with the results of this guided writing lesson as each student left the table knowing why to add concluding sentences to the end of body paragraphs and how to do it.

To see this guided writing lesson in action, follow the link below to my YouTube page.


  1. You are so talented Kasey. Thank you yet again for offering inspiration.

    1. Thank you, Katie! Guided writing is a piece that has the potential to really help students improve as readers and writers!

  2. Could you tell me more about structure? Does guided writing happen every day or does it occur after you've introduced a new writing focus to the class and they've had a chance to get started? Are the students who are working independently all working on the same assignment or might they may be working on different writing pieces during that time? Last question! My fifth graders often get stuck and need help on how to continue, how do you help resolve that without your group being interrupted? Thanks!!!

    1. Hi Stacey,

      These are all such great questions! The way that I've done guided writing at the middle school level is putting it strategically into the writing process. My students write what we call a Discovery Draft (also known as a rough draft) after we have done pre-writing and outlining. I read the Discovery Drafts over and determine topics and groups of students based on what I notice in the Discovery Drafts. I then hold guided writing for a week or so immediately after that and do one group a day. As I'm holding guided writing groups, the minilessons are generally focused on revising since that's the stage we're in in the writing process after Discovery Drafts. My students generally are working on the same piece. However, if you're doing a free choice Writing Workshop where students are all working on different pieces and are at different places in the writing process, you could pick more general topics from what you're noticing about student writing and form groups from there. As far as students getting stuck that aren't in the group who need your help, a great strategy I have found is to have a place on the board where students who have a question can write their name, and I promise to touch base with them before the class period is over. Another strategy would be to have a peer conferencing corner where students who are stuck can grab a classmate and troubleshoot in a particular place in the classroom where there are clear guidelines (a time limit, expectations about what is to be discussed, etc.) Students do know that guided writing groups are not supposed to be interrupted and that's part of our routine with them.

      I hope this helps answer your questions and that if you try guided writing in your classroom this year that it goes awesome!



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