March 29, 2018

Writing Workshop in Middle School

Writing is a skill that will serve all students as they navigate life.  There is really not many professions where writing doesn't come into play at some point in time.  From my experience, writing is also something that students show the most resistance to in my classroom.  It seems even my most reluctant of students will build their reading stamina across the year, but writing stamina is a whole other ball of wax.  It's time to reflect and share what I have come to know about using Writing Workshop in the middle school classroom.  Here it goes...

When students are in Writing Workshop in my classroom, we are all working on the same genre and type of writing.  For example, a 7th grade crew I am currently working with is doing persuasive writing and specifically a persuasive letter to a stakeholder to convince them of their viewpoint on an issue that's important to them.  Regardless of the genre and type of writing, we go through the same writing process.  That process goes like this:

  1.  Exposure: We start the writing process through reading as many examples of mentor texts in the genre we are about to write in.  Students read and notice, read and notice, read and notice.  I passionately feel students need to understand the genre, purpose, and what authors who write in this genre do as a beginning step.  At this point, the only writing I would ask students to do is to write down noticings about the mentor texts they are reading.  The mentor texts can be from published authors or even examples of students' writing from the previous school year.
  2. Pre-Writing: Now that students understand the genre, it's time to start exploring ideas they have about the topic they want to write about within that genre.  Having students complete pre-writing for several possible topics is important because students may surprise themselves with what they know/don't know about a topic.  They need to hash that out before proceeding in the writing process so that the topic they choose is one they will feel good about all the way through.  For narrative writing, pre-writing might be giving students some prompts that will get them to explore their ideas, experiment with sensory language, etc.  For persuasive writing, pre-writing might be asking students to think about topics they're passionate about and free writing about why they're passionate about them.  For informational writing, pre-writing could be doing some preliminary research on several topics and writing down what they find to see what topics they will find the best information about.  A final step of pre-writing is getting students to select the topic they want to move forward with.
  3. Outline: I'm a big believer in graphic organizers to help students sequence and build ideas before writing out a draft.  The type of outline students would use for this step completely depends on the genre.  For narrative writing, outlining might be a quick step to jot out a plot triangle.  For informational or persuasive writing that involves research, outlining may take longer if you want students to include research on their outlines.
  4. Draft: The next step after outlining is drafting.  This is the point in the writing process where I just let my students go, using their outlines to guide the draft they create.  For writers that need more support, sentence starters are a great scaffold during this step so that students are able to get their ideas out as quickly and naturally as possible.
  5. Revising: This is where I think about what is most important about the ideas, organization, and voice of the genre we're writing in and select 3-4 minilessons where students will go back into their drafts and revise with the focus revision minilessons in mind.
  6. Editing: Now that students have their draft finalized with the ideas they want in the order they want, it's time to focus in on a few minilessons geared toward editing.  Once again, I think it's important to consider the genre.  If students are doing a narrative piece, a minilesson on dialogue conventions would make sense.
  7. Publish and Share: This is not a step in the writing process to skip over.  The ultimate goal of writing workshop is for students to see themselves and have an identity as a writer.  It's also a time to create a community of writers in your classroom through sharing and thinking outside the box to share student writing with an authentic audience.  For example, with the persuasive letters I shared above, students will actually send their idea to the stakeholder they're writing their letter to.

The writing process listed above gives the big picture of writing workshop.  The teacher guides students through the writing process with different genres and types of writing within the genres multiple times across the school year.  I personally aim to bring students through six writing pieces using the writing process (two narrative, two persuasive, and two informational).  Below zooms in on what writing workshop looks like on a daily basis.  Here is what an average writing workshop day looks like in my classroom:

Author Talk: Begin Writing Workshop with an Author Talk.  So many famous authors have blogs and video clips of them sharing tidbits about their writing process.  Students react well when they see that "real authors" go through a writing process and have struggles, too.  An Author Talk doesn't have to be from a published author, it could be from a student, another teacher, or even yourself.  If you notice a student has done something great in their writing that you'd like to highlight to the class, share it (with their permission of course)!  Even better, record a quick video clip of them talking about something they did as a writer to share.  The author talk should be short and sweet (think 2-3 minutes) and relate in some way to the focus of the minilesson you will be doing that day. 

Minilesson Statement: Each day of Writing Workshop should contain a specific focus that pertains to the point students are at in the writing process and the genre they are writing in.  For example, if students are in the pre-writing phase of an informational writing project where they are researching an inquiry question of their choice, the minilesson statement could be, "Writers explore what they wonder about to see what answers interest them the most."

Modeling: The best way to illustrate to students what you're asking them to do as writers each day is to model the exact step in the writing process.  I have found that this works best for me if I go through the writing process as a writer alongside students.  It has helped me anticipate needs and teach writing from a vulnerable place where I can share tips that helped make me successful as well as places that tripped me up.  If students are pre-writing, I share my pre-writing.  If students are outlining, I share my outline.  I even have my own Writer's Notebook.

Using mentor texts from past students, current students, and published authors writing in the same genre is a great option as well.  Bringing back mentor texts from the exposure stage is a great strategy because students are already familiar with the piece of writing.  I also love to get mentor texts and modeling examples into students' hands as often as possible so that they can refer to the modeling during the application of the daily lesson.

Have-a-go: This is the point in the minilesson where students get a chance to get ready to be successful with the application.  I like using this step of the minilesson to have students orally share with a partner or a small group what they plan to do as a writer that day.  Getting to verbalize their writing ideas and hear others' ideas gets students ready to accomplish the application on their own.  This is also where I am trying to get as much information as possible about what students are going to need extra support from me during the application.

Application: Students apply the minilesson focus of the day to their independent writing as they move their writing piece through the writing process.  Expectations of student behavior need to be crystal clear during the application portion as many students need a quiet atmosphere to do their best writing.  I meet with guided writing groups or individual students for writing conferences during this time.  There is also a space available in my classroom where students can set a two minute timer and "work it out with a partner."  Clipboards are available so students can spread out across the room, too.

Share: At the end of the class period, we come back together to share out our progress as writers for the day.  I like to mix this up and do partner, small group, and whole class shares.  One of my favorite ways to share is with a "symphony share" where we form a circle and all share our favorite sentence we wrote that day.

There is a recap of all things writing workshop.  What works well with your writing workshop?  What are you still wondering about writing workshop?  Let me know in the comments below.


  1. I have been following you for a couple years and love reading your posts! I have implemented a lot of different ideas and strategies that you use in my classroom, and it has had a huge impact! Thanks so much! Please keep posting! - Ellen

  2. This is such a great post! I always come back to your blog as a definite go to! I hope that you will keep posting as I see there was a definite break. Your ideas have really inspired my teaching!

  3. thanks for sharing nice article.... pdf sharing sites


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