Teaching Writing: Is There a Right Way?

Delve into CCSS by implementing a writer's workshop model complete with mini-lessons, shared writing experiences, and author celebrations.

By Christen Amico

students writing at their desks

There is a very fine, yet incredibly necessary distinction between teaching children how to write and teaching children how to become writers. After many years and many different writing programs, I realized that I had always focused my teaching on the end product. I spoke to my young writers about all the important components to a great piece of writing: capitalization, punctuation, finger spacing, neatness, etc. But after attending Lucy Calkins' workshops and reading her book, The Art of Teaching Writing, I realized that my teaching is more powerful when it is directed at developing my students as writers, rather than just teaching them how to write. At the end of the day, the process of writing is far more important than the actual piece. In honor of Encourage a Young Writer Day, April 10th, consider implementing the ideas below into your curriculum.

Theory Behind Calkins' Writer's Workshop

Putting theory into practice is always easier said than done. But understanding the theory and reasoning behind a writer's workshop model is key to making it successful in the classroom. One of the most difficult premises of writer's workshop is allowing children the freedom to make their own choices regarding their writing. Calkins argues that when a child's writing is completely organic, it is most meaningful to the child. When children are allowed to choose their writing topics, paper, utensils, and even a special writing place, they are more able to enjoy the writing process and thus, more apt to hone their own writing skills. Writer's workshop is a safe and personal learning experience in which children are taught how to write rather than what to write.

What Exactly is a Writer's Workshop Session?

A workshop session runs very differently than a typical writing lesson. It always begins with a real-life connection or some type of meaningful introduction. The teacher then gives a quick, ten-minute lesson. This lesson is focused on a very specific writing skill based on the needs of the students in the classroom. For example, if the teacher notices that students are overusing the word and in their writing, a good mini-lesson might be, "Good writers use a variety of words." The class would then generate an anchor chart to visually explain and reinforce how writers would use word choice to make their writing better. The anchor chart remains posted to keep the students focused during the independent writing portion of the workshop. The children are then dismissed to go write. This is the majority of the workshop. During the writing time, the teacher has two choices: private conference with students, or pull a small guided writing group. Ideally, both of these would be utilized daily. Conferring with individual writers allows the teacher to focus on the specific needs of each child, while running a small group helps to target multiple children with similar needs. After substantial writing time has passed, the children are always given an opportunity to share their work, and the workshop is concluded.

Other Ways to Work on Writing

In addition to the workshop, children should be exposed to a variety of other writing opportunities. Here are some other great ways to teach and model writing throughout the day:

  • Daily message
  • Shared writing (Each person writes one part of a class piece)
  • Writing projects
  • Journal prompts
  • Mentor texts (Children imitate the writing style of a famous author)

The above writing activities allow time for teaching grammar and style, while also allowing for assessment.

Celebrating Writing

One of the most unique aspects to Lucy Calkins' approach to writing is that she puts tremendous value on celebrating each child's writing. She emphasizes the notion that every piece should have a purpose and a reader. When children know that their writing matters to someone, it carries meaning. There are endless ways to make children feel accomplished as a writer, here are just a few ways to highlight student writing:

  • Author's chair (children sit in a specially decorated chair to read their best work).
  • Record individual authors reading their stories and compile into a class book using an app like My Story or iMovie.
  • Create an art project to illustrate one piece.
  • Hang students' writing in a prominent place around school or in a local library, hospital, or museum.
  • Share writing with another class.

Additional Writing Resources:

Staying Organized During Writer's Workshop

Read this great article to find out more detailed strategies on how to stay organized during writing lessons.

Starting Up

Here is another great resource for teachers just beginning the writer's workshop process.

Creating a Writer's Notebook

Staying organized, focused, and motivated is an integral part of developing one's writing skills. This article outlines specific ways to create and utilize a writer's notebook.

4th Grade Poetry Unit

Teachers can incorporate the study of poetry into their writer's workshop lessons by using this very detailed unit plan, which includes lesson plans, notes, assessments and graphic organizers.