Beginning Writers' Workshop with our Youngest Writers: Trust the Process

By Megan Power on September 17, 2009

Our young students are filled with exciting stories to tell. They walk in your classroom door itching to tell you about their loose tooth and how they fell and got the smallest of cuts on their knee. Giving young children the freedom to write is scary for many teachers. My advice is to give the students the materials and trust the process. Come read a little about starting a writer’s workshop in your classroom!


When I read Katie Wood Ray’s book, About the Authors, several years ago it helped me to understand teaching writing to young students. (I highly recommend reading this book if you are working with young writers.) One of the most memorable and eye opening suggestions from it was to “fold the papers.” So often we give our young writers blank flat papers and even flat journal type pages with lines. Katie Wood Ray questions this and makes you think by talking about students’ experience with reading and writing. Our students are used to seeing and hearing stories in books. If this is the structure of writing they are exposed to, then why do we expect them to know what to do with a flat piece of paper? Why not “fold the papers” and turn it into a familiar object?


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When I first read this book it was my third year teaching 2nd grade. I still remember the first day I tried this with my students in September. I was amazed! The quality of the content and the details, along with the amount of writing, would have made me happy at the end of the year. All because I told them they were authors and were going to write books just like Eric Carle and Laura Numeroff and then handed them blank papers folded like a book. The students that year, and every year since, take the role of an author very seriously. They invest so much in their writing because it is important to them. When something is important to them, they will continue to learn and grow. The results are amazing.


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I start writers’ workshop with my kindergarters the first or second day of school. I tell them they are authors like David Shannon and Dr. Seuss and they are going to write books too. We quickly talk about ideas they want to write about, I hand them a folded piece of paper, and they are off. Every kid gets busy writing, even if their writing is drawing without any letters.


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The most important thing is to trust the process. Allow them to draw or even scribble if that is the level they are at. Treat this as their writing and their message. Resist any temptation to write on their book or spell words for the students. This is the most difficult part.


Remember to share all students writing and make a big deal out of what is done well. This is a major teaching moment. I will do a future blog entry about the power of sharing student writing as well as mini-lessons and conferencing.


Just remember to trust the process. Even if their book is scribbles or has no letters, find the great parts about their writing. For example, look to see if they wrote the authors name on the book or used details and different colors in their drawings. Trust the process because it is okay if that is their level. I promise with experience and exposure to mentor texts, other students writing, teacher conferences, and more their writing will get better. IMG_0350


After you jump into writers’ workshop, you will need to start to teach students your expectations and procedures of your workshop time. Once we start off writers’ workshop and the students are all excited and into their writing we begin to make our workshop procedures. I begin a chart suggested in the book, About the Authors, called "I know I am finished when…" We add to this chart whenever I feel the need to give a little more expectations.

 It begins with:

  • Author’s name
  • Read it to myself

We add things like the following to it as we need:

  • Read it to two friends
  • Details (in pictures)
  • Letters, words, and/or sentences
  • Title
  • Date stamp

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This type of chart helps with the management piece of writers’ workshop. Some other procedures we learn about during mini-lessons are where to put your book when you’re finished, where to get a new book, and where all the materials are. I try to train my students so that they are self sufficient and can run writers’ workshop even if I wasn’t there. After students are trained, this allows me the time to hold individual or small group writing conferences without getting interrupted. 



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I will continue writing about writers’ workshop in future blogs. I have had extensive training in writers’ workshop and the 6 Traits that I am looking forward to sharing with you. I am also looking to grow from your experiences and expertise. Please share with us how you teach writing to your students.

Comments

When I read Katie Wood Ray’s book, About the Authors, several years ago it helped me to understand teaching writing to young students. (I highly recommend reading this book if you are working with young writers.) One of the most memorable and eye opening suggestions from it was to “fold the papers.” So often we give our young writers blank flat papers and even flat journal type pages with lines. Katie Wood Ray questions this and makes you think by talking about students’ experience with reading and writing. Our students are used to seeing and hearing stories in books. If this is the structure of writing they are exposed to, then why do we expect them to know what to do with a flat piece of paper? Why not “fold the papers” and turn it into a familiar object?
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Dear Megan, I have been doing Writing Workshop for a few months now and my children are really excited to learn about the authers we have studied: David Shannon, Eric Carle, and now Leo Lionnie.

The children do not seem very excited about Writers workshop.

They produce excellent stories for 3 and 4 year olds but they hurry through and I don't think some of them understand that they are writing a book. Any suggestions on how to get them excited about books and that they are writing books. Thank you again, John

John, Thank you very much for your comment! I always make sure to overemphasize that my students are authors just like those you are studying. I say that regular people see things one way but authors like them see them as stories. If you constantly tell them they are authors and treat them that way they will start to see themselves in that light. I also recommend an authors chair time where your students share their book they are working on or have finished. Giving the students a chance to tell their stories to an audience is great. You also want to have your audience comment back. What did you like about Mike's story? Displaying their books in your classroom library is another way to connect them with their favorite authors.

I hope these ideas will help you out as you motivate your students to be writers. Please let us know how they work or if you need any other ideas. I hope to hear from you soon! Smiles, Megan

Megan, Thanks for the great ideas! I teach PreK and I love to see my kids try to write. Most of them are doing well at writing by copying from their environment, but I very much like the idea of folding the paper for them to write like authors. I will certainly try that idea.

I would like to share this idea with you. I make "books" for my class to read by cutting up cereal boxes and binding several different brands together with yarn. We have fun discussing the pictures, and identifying the letters in the brand name (they are already familiar with the name.) They also practice writing by copying the letters and words. I do this with boxes that have writing, even those that once contained toys/materials for our centers.

Andra

Andra, Thank you for your comment and sharing your great idea! I start out my kindergarten year with environmental print. In kindergarten so much of what we work on is reading and writing. I love the idea that all kids can already read. They do not agree with you until you start showing them these environmental prints and they can read them. I create a "Hey, I Can Read That" bulletin board and encourage students to bring things in to add to it. I love your idea of the book! Thanks a bunch! Megan

Megan, Where do I get the 6 traits writing rubric? Help!

Check out the book Seeing Through New Eyes. It is all about 6 traits assessment of young writers. It has some great rubrics in there. Smiles, Megan

I feel so encouraged...a kindred spirit! My teaching has been revolutionized by Katie Wood Ray's "About the Authors" and her work with Matt Glover in "Already Ready." I've been using the writer's workshop format in my kindergarten class for three years and I'm continually inspired to see the literary masterpieces that 5-6 year-olds craft. One of my favorite quotes from a student came after craft lessons on personification. When she was sharing her work with me she stopped after a few pages and said, "You know Mrs. Reaves, as the author of this book I think that my readers would really like the dog to have personification like Doreen's cows." We had used "Click-Clack-Moo, Cows that Type" as a mentor text. It doesn't get much better than that!

I love it! It always amazes me the things kids learn about writing and the sophicated way they think of their writing using this teaching method! Thank you so much for sharing!!! Smiles, Megan

Megan, This is great stuff! I teach 1st grade inner-city students and many of them are working on a pre-K/KK level and a few are actually on grade level. I've been so frustrated teaching writing because of the different ability levels of the students. The expectation is for all of the children to be able to write a couple of paragraphs on topic by the end of first! A tall order when some of them can barely write their name! How often do you have a writers workshop? How do you assess? Looking forward to more!

Karen

Karen, A couple of paragraphs??? Wow! That just doesn't seem right. We do writers' workshop about 3-4 times per week. I also mix in some other writing activities on the off days and throughout the day. I use writing conferences to assess my students levels of writing. When I meet with them we discuss their writing piece, what they are working on as a writer, give positive feedback, and then work on something that will help them as a writer. This is important not to work on something just to correct this piece of writing. You want the student to connect that conference lesson to mentor texts and then to all their other writing. For example if a child comes to me and is just drawing pictures. I will have them discuss their writing. I will compliment on the details they have in their pictures. Then I might show them how to label their pictures such as tree, grass, house,... My big focus woulld be writers most of the time use letters and words in their writing. I think your ready to add some letters and words in all of your books from now on just like we did here together... Another way we assess writing is by using 6 traits writing rubrics. These help to show growth on the writing traits. Let me know if you want any more info! Smiles, Megan

Hey Megan, I am a Prek teacher and my students (3 to 5 year olds) are comming to me and saying, "what does that say or how do you write that. This tells me that the children are ready for writing workshop, do you agree? In student teaching I used writing workshop, that was a Kindergarten class. I was going to use books first to get the children excited and then let them create their own books. I am planning to dicate the children's stories. I am aware that i will have to be patient with the writing process becuase of thier age level. What comments or suggestions do you have for starting writing workshop in my classroom?

Thank you John

John, Thank you for your great comment and questions. It really does sound like your students are ready to be authors. It depends on your comfort level with where you start. I love to just fold the paper in half to make it a book and send them off to wirte. Of course we share a mentor text together and talk about how authors write books and stories and that they are going to be authors too. I get them all excited and they share what they are going to write about and then they are off. I love to start off the first days like this to see where they are with this and how they handle it.

(Make sure to explain that they probably won't finish their book that day and that is okay. Writers like Eric Carle take lots of days to write one book.)

Depending on your style this might sound crazy to you. I like to work backwards. I observe difficulties and then address one of them the next day as our minilesson. For example this year I noticed the students got right to work drawing their pictures in their books, but most of them didn't write their name on the book. The next day I used mentor texts to show how the author's name is on the cover. In the next few days we addressed what to do with your book if your finihsed, where to get another book, using more details and colors in our drawings,...

You will want to make sure you have students understand how they will bring their books to you to write their words. You will be surprised at what your young students produce. They have a lot of experience with stories and will be so excited to write their own. I focus a lot in the beginning on choosing topics. They can write about something the like or love or know a lot about, an experience, or even look around the room for creative ideas.

Good luck and let me know how it goes! Smiles, Megan

Hello Megan!

Your post is enlightening. I am so impressed by you starting Reading Workshop in the early grades. It's just wonderful that your students start the year with knowing that they will be writing like familiar authors.

Thank you! I really see that students are ready and excited about this in the early grades. They love that they can be big authors and write just like other authors. We are always connecting back to them and telling students they are doing something just like Eric Carle does. It is so inspirational for students. My students love writing and hate when I tell them its time to clean up! Thanks again for your thoughts! Smiles, Megan

I think this is a great idea for young students. I think it's definitely a great approach to getting young minds engaged in writing. I also liked how you mentioned to just "trust the process" and to find the great parts of each students' writing! It's definitely important to let the student know what they are doing really well on!

Thanks for your comment! I have found it to be very successful with my students. They get so inspired to see their own improvements in their writing. Thanks again! Smiles, Megan

Megan, Just found this blog today and my mind is already on fast forward. After reading about not adding to the students' work, I have a question about student dictation where my preschoolers draw the pictures and then dictate what they want to say. Is this not appropriate or is it done in another facet of writing?

Debbie, I am glad you found our blog. The student dictation is another great way to get students seeing that their stories can be put to print. This is a great kind of modeling for preschoolers and is so inspiring. I also use this with my students. Just during other times make sure to give the students the "pen". That way they get to experiment with their kid writing. So often I see kids coming into kindergarten afraid to write because they do not know how to spell. I always tell my students "I'm not going to tell you so don't ask. Stretch out the word like a rubber band and write what sounds you hear. " I explain that I am an adult so I use adult writing. You are a kid so you use kid writing. The more you write and read the more your writing will look more like adults. This just gives students the understanding that their level is okay for where they are. So, continue with your dictated writing along with interactive and shared writing. Your doing great and you are exposing your students to writing!

Megan Your posts are just amazing. I loved the Writer's Workshop approach for the youngest students. Terrific plan. Your energy and delight in going above and beyond certainly show through in all of your entries! Can't wait to see the movie!

Kate, Thank you for your sweet comment and compliment. Teaching is such an amazing profession with so many passionate teachers. I love my job and all the wonderful kids I get to work with. I am looking forward to sharing our next video with you! I am looking forward to hearing more from you this year! Smiles, Megan

Megan, Great blog! I'm going to tell the Pre-k and K teachers in my school to check it out. We are a Teachers College school and have been doing writing process for some time. I teach 4th grade and it's great to see what the very young writers are doing. I love teaching writing and it looks like you do too!

Thank you so much for your comment. Please do send your PreK and K teachers a link to my blog. I would love to share and learn from them as well! I do love teaching writing and it is always so interesting to hear about the progression of instruction throughout the grades! Again thanks for your comment and please continue to contribute to our blog! Smiles, Megan

Aww, Megan, this is pretty neat. I hope my best friend comes across this post- I am certain she will because she has read a few of your posts before. Four years older, I am focusing on using skills in writing and building from basic stories, so it is interesting seeing how writing evolves over the course of elementary school. - Victoria

Victoria, I always enjoy seeing learning throughout the grades. It is interesting for me to see what you do in 4th grade because my students will be there in a few years! Thanks for your comment! Megan

This very early experience in writing is AWESOME! Your advice to "trust the process" sets foundations for process writing in the upper grades. I can't wait to share this with some K-2 teacher pals I know!

Patty, Thanks so much! I too think getting students writing and loving writing early is so helpful for their future. I am also really into having students write and edit movies which we tie into the writing process. With these kinds of writing experiences, students are fully involved in the process of writing. Thanks for your comment! Smiles, Megan

I will be introducing Writer's Workshop next week to my Kind. class and am completely overwhelmed on how to go about it. I can't wait to 'hear' more!

I do reccomend that you read Katie Wood Ray's About the Authors book. If your school has the Lucy Calkins Units of Study that is great as well. The first day I start my writers' workshop I really try to get them excited about writing. I usually will read them No David by David Shannon because he wrots that book originally when he was 5 years old. I then tell how they are authors too and are going to write books. Then I ask what they are going to write about and hand them a paper as they tell me. You have to keep really positive and upbeat. I do explain to them a rule I have is that I will not spell words for them. They need to stretch it out like a rubber band. By this I mean "happy" as "hhhh (child puts h) aaaa (a) ppppp (p) yyyyyy (child usually puts e) Let the kids go without many rules the first day and see what they do. Then you can add a rule or a procedure each day to get them going int he right direction. Make sure to have the kids share their books and point out things they are doing well. Every child has something they are doing well. I hope this helps you get started. I am looking forward to hearing from you in the furture. I know you will do great this week. Let me know if there is anything specific you need help with. Smiles, Megan

This is just great! Thanks Megan! I am going to add this to our weekly activities. I really appreciate that you ask us not to add to their work. I am a huge advocate to keeping children's art their art. Adults are too eager sometimes to make it "look" like what we want. It's all about the process like you said; just letting children experience learning instead of watching it.

We have science journals that we draw in before and after a science experiment.

Thanks again, Jen

Jen, I love teaching writing this way. I have seen amazing results. I too love allowing kids to keep ownership of their work. I am glad your adding it to your rotations. Kids love making books! Megan

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