Writer's Workshop, The Basics
The Writer's Workshop is a teaching tool to teach writing through continuous, repeated exposure to the writing process. It creates a structured environment in which the teacher takes the child through the entire writing process from topic selection through to publication on a regular basis. This can be begun as early as Kindergarten and is a useful means of teaching writing through high school. The structure allows the teacher to work with multiple ages and ability levels simultaneously.

For the homeschool environment, the Writer's Workshop has five basic components: the mini-lesson, writing, conferencing, the author's chair and publication. The process normally takes one week from start to finish.

The Mini-Lesson

I actually tend to teach all subjects following this basic format: give a brief but focused lesson that contains the heart of what I want my child to learn, have her apply that in some manner and record for assessment. The mini-lesson is a brief but focused lesson on writing, geared specifically toward the children you are working with. It should be about five to ten minutes long and involves giving explicit direction and modeling. In the beginning, the mini-lesson really only outlines what the child will be doing with the next part of the Writer's Workshop, ie., "Today we are going to select a topic to write about. When we select a topic, we..." Later, this is where you will address specific features of good writing, focusing only on ONE skill at a time. The skill you focus on is usually something the child has not yet mastered, but is also something that he will be able to grasp. You will give a mini-lesson each day as you focus your children on writing.


This portion ranges from 20-40 minutes, depending on age and attention span. Pre-emergent and emergent writers will dictate their work to the teacher and then illustrate the work for this time. (Or illustrate and dictate later, if you have multiple children to work with.) More developed writers will write on their own. The child should try to take the concepts from the mini-lesson to their work. The beginning of the week should focus on topic selection and narrowing that topic so that the child can write successfully. Most young children (and even many adults) will choose a topic like "bears" even though it is a topic large enough to fill several shelves at the library. They will need considerable guidance to narrow the topic to something manageable within the length they will be writing. Consider these two fictitious examples (loosely based on examples I remember from teaching first grade):

topic: bears
Bears are big. They eat fish and berries and clams and bulbs. They hibernate. The mother protects her cubs from their father. She has her cubs in the winter while she is hibernating. Polar bears live way up north and eat seals.

topic: what bears eat...clams
Bears are not picky eaters. One thing they like to eat is clams. They look on the side of the river bed and find where clams are hiding in the mud. They use poweful paws to dig the clams out faster than the clams can bury themselves. They use their claws to pry open the shell and eat the clams. Clams provide a good source of energy for the bear to prepare for winter.

Once a topic is selected and sufficiently narrowed, the child will begin writing about the topic...usually the second day of the workshop.


In the classroom, I did this by appointment. That probably is not necessary in most homeschool environments, but is a possibility if you deem it necessary or beneficial in any way. This is the time that the student and teacher sit down together and review the work. The child reads the work to the teacher and the teacher provides feedback. Especially in the early years, editing is not the goal. The main things to look for are: fluency of ideas, logical ordering and the overall connection of thoughts. If your child is younger, more inexperienced or generally timid about writing, this is the time to pull out all the good things about the work. It is a time to build confidence in writing. I generally give two or three things I like about the work, give one suggestion for improvement and then end with another positve comment. I never give a child more than one thing to improve on at a time. There is no sense going on to higher skills until the basics are mastered, no matter the age. Conferencing can also occur daily to assess where the children are at with their work. With multiple children, you simply call one to you, work with him for five minutes or so, send him back to independent writing and call the next child. Public schools often add another facet to this process through peer review. In fact, this has become such an important part of the teaching of writing in public schools that allowances are being made for it in state assessments. I have tried peer review in the classroom and generally found that it made for worse writing examples. Children who do not know how to write do not give good advice. If, however, you have a skilled writer in your home, you can begin working with him on how to give good feedback.

Author's Chair

This is the child's chance to share their work "publicly." You can designate a special spot or chair for the author to sit in while he reads his work. Encourage the child to practice good speaking techniques such as sitting up straight, good enunciation, eye contact and dramatic reading of the material. Everyone in the audience should sit quietly and remain attentive. Each will have an opportunity to give some feedback. In the beginning, the feedback tends to be general and not very helpful, but as you continue to give specific praise, your children will learn how to do this as well. Again, I usually praise two or three things, give one suggestion for improvement and end with a positive comment.


This can actually occur either before or after the Author's Chair. I always did it as the very last activity, but some like to have the finished product to display for the Author's Chair. This is where the child begins to learn basic editing skills to make a clean copy of their work which they will then illustrate. You can devote as much time and energy into this part as you want. There are a lot of ways to make books...including sending the work off to be "published" as a hard back book! Work is then kept in a portfolio (or notebook) so the child and parent can refer to it later to note progress

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