The Close Read of Your Life – By Regina Kim

In the late 80s, between teasing my spiral perm and watching actual videos on MTV, I spent most of my time reading and reading things that I loved.  There are many texts I  returned to repeatedly throughout my life—some simply because I was  required to (thoughts of a poem my fourth grade class was forced to recite pop into my mind) and others because I loved them and maybe still do love those texts. For me, after finishing my homework and spending time in those “required reading”  texts, I immediately opened a book or turned on the TV to return to texts I was passionate about. Like, Dirty Dancing.

Ok, so maybe I am a little defensive, but believe it or not, I don’t see my 50+ viewings of Dirty Dancing as a waste of time. In fact, I think re-watching, re-listening to, re-reading, and, most of all, re-thinking about, nearly any self-chosen text is one of the most valuable things a reader can do.  The return to a text that you don’t care about often means a return to the recitation of the words or a literal retelling of what the text means (think about how many students can recite the Pledge of Allegiance but have no clue what it’s about), but a return to a text you love means being curious–asking questions like, “why did she say that?” or “what did he mean by that?”.

We all liked Dirty Dancing from the start because it was scandalous for our conservative-private-school-attending selves (Uh–that isn’t 6 inches between those dancers! Leave room for the Holy Spirit!), but as I continued on my own to watch and think and talk to others about it, I began to see more in it.

Recently, after seeing it was being released for the 25th anniversary of the film (!), I took a look at and was insulted to see this reductive summary—“ Spending the summer in a holiday camp with her family, Frances “Baby” Houseman falls in love with the camp’s dance instructor Johnny Castle.” My young adult heart screamed. That’s not what this movie is about! What about the class struggles? The coming of age story? Father/daughter relationships? Misunderstandings and good intentions? Don’t you remember Robbie the waiter and his copy of The Fountainhead? It’s a story about people’s fundamental differences in worldviews!


“The Lift.” So symbolic.

You see, the first time I saw Dirty Dancing, it was about two people falling in love. But only after parsing through the film and thinking about each part and its meaning did I begin thinking about what the film was really saying, and perhaps more importantly what I thought about what the film was saying, and perhaps most importantly of all, how differently I thought about things each time I left the text. My ideas were a work in progress.

So, what does my obsession with this movie have to do with reading and writing workshop?  Here are some takeaways.

1)    A few thoughts about choice: Close reading happens more naturally when students are enamored with a text. In my case, the movie didn’t have to be Citizen Kane, and in your students’ case, the text doesn’t have to be  Hemingway.  A student will more likely see the value in close reading if the text resonates with them from the start, even if he or she doesn’t know why. So even if you begin a unit on close reading with some joint texts or previous read alouds, ask students to return to a text that they think merits a return to.

2)    A case for picture books: You probably don’t have enough time to reread a chapter book a dozen times the way I watched a 100 minute movie dozens of times. There are so many picture books that are wonderful to read, re-read, and pick through with a fine toothed comb. What about Duck by Randy Cecil? Sure it’s about a duck who mentors a “real” duck at first glance, but I’d bet you’d return to it again to figure out the symbolism of the scarf or how this reminds you of Eastern philosophies on raising families. Check out short stories too! Tried and true: stories by Sandra Cisneros (A Rice Sandwich), Cynthia Rylant (Slower than the Rest), or Gary Soto.

3)    Give them lenses to look through: Close reading strategies begin with retelling clearly, but move quickly to interpretation by using lenses such as word choice, structure, setting, and more. Consult Christopher Lehman’s and Kate Roberts’ Falling in Love with Close Reading for more ideas.

4)    A case for digital texts, images, non-print texts, and non-narrative texts: Even quicker than a re-read is a re-look or a re-watch. Watch a video. A simple commercial. You can use different lenses to analyze these texts—how is the artist/director etc using color to convey meaning? Body language? Objects? Music? Video, images or other image-heavy texts  are quick and more accessible for some students, but can be used to really help students see how looking closer at texts can yield so much rich thinking. Or how many of us really show our students the value of a re-read in science, math, social studies or other content area? Primary sources are terrific fodder for close readings.

5) The Life Work of Close Reading: I believe that we are most moved when we feel we know something well and have lived with it for a while.  When we embrace a text so deeply, we will explore different thoughts, challenge old thoughts and confirm others; we will notice that messages are not always conveyed in broad strokes and large banners but in the subtle, nuanced decisions authors and artists make. And so we hope that students will begin to notice that they convey meaning in every decision they make.

Oh yeah.

And watch Dirty Dancing again. And again. And again.

The Playful Classroom: The What, Why and How of Play – By April Nickell

When was the last time you lost yourself in play? If you are like me, play can get lost in the shuffle of life. I have been studying play for a number of years, but it took me awhile to actively pursue it in my life. I have long since been convinced of the developmental value of play in the lives of children, yet it can be so hard to cultivate and foster play in our busy schedules both in the classroom and beyond. This blog series will explore and discuss the benefits of play, the decline of play and its consequences, then will offer ideas on how to promote playfulness in the classroom in such a way as to leverage the cognitive, social, emotional, and learning benefits of play.

I began studying play a number of years ago as a result of my own efforts to bring playfulness to classroom instruction. In my programs in NYC public schools, I could see the increase in engagement and motivation when children perceived classroom experiences as play. However, I didn’t always know what made it seem playful to them, nor did I always know how to add play into an already packed day. These are the questions I have been addressing over the years but to explore them we need to briefly define play and its benefits.

What is Play?

Brian Sutton Smith, a leading play scholar who spent his life studying play, wrote a book called The Ambiguity of Play, which in part discusses the amorphous quality of play. Play isn’t binary, as in something is play or not play. Things can be more or less playful. On one level, you know it when you are in it but when we try to define it things get tricky. Despite this there are a few key characteristics that most scholars agree with.[1][2][3]

• Is spontaneous and Voluntary (Self-chosen and self-directed)
• Has structure or rules (that come from the players)
• Has no extrinsic goals (the means are more valued than the ends)
• Includes active engagement (but not stressed)
• Elements of make-believe or in some way mentally removed from real life
• Is pleasurable and enjoyable (often includes a sense of getting lost in it where time passes differently like the concept of Flow)[4]

Fromberg and Bergen write in the intro to Play From Birth to Twelve, “Possibly the overriding attribute that is so gratifying and addictive about play is that it is intrinsically motivated, satisfying and empowering.” Many of today’s children have limited opportunities for the fullness of the above definitions, rather they spend much of their time in adult led activities (such as sports or dance or other classes) and in the era of high-stakes testing the classroom has less opportunities for play than in decades past. (See future blog about the decline of play and the rise of psychopathology in children.)

Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute of Play, argues that play is as natural a human phenomenon to humans as is sleep. He came to understand the value of play when he worked on a task force to understand mass murders and later alcoholics and in both groups he discovered play deprivation in childhood. (To hear his TED talk, click here). Play is essential to healthy development.

Historically, Play has been misunderstood from colonial times where play was seen as “moral laxity”, to industrialization during which time schools were created, up to the present with the nation’s focus on the bottom-line and observable benefits.[5] Although it is understandable that play became so disconnected with learning, it is also very unfortunate because play is so central to learning and healthy development. Below is a list of benefits of play from the Play=Learning website:[6]

Why Play?

Emotional benefits include…

  • enjoyment, fun, love of life
  • relaxation, release of energy, tension reduction
  • self-expression

Developmental benefits include…

Cognitive development:

  • creativity
  • abstract thinking
  • imagination
  • problem-solving
  • social cognition, empathy, perspective-taking
  • mastering new concepts

Affective development:

  • self-confidence
  • self-esteem
  • anxiety reduction
  • therapeutic effects

Social development:

  • cooperation
  • sharing
  • turn-taking
  • conflict resolution
  • leadership skill development (control of impulses and aggressive behavior)

Physical development:

  • gross motor experiences
  • fine motor experiences
  • physical challenges
  • self-help skills

Attentional development:

  • attention regulation
  • concentration
  • persistence

Language development:

  • communication skills
  • vocabulary
  • story telling
  • emergent literacy

Educational benefits include…

  • providing a meaningful context for children to learn concepts and skills;
  • making learning fun and enjoyable;
  • encouraging children to explore and discover together and on their own;
  • allowing children to extend what they are learning;
  • encouraging children to experiment and take risks;
  • providing opportunities for collaborative learning with adults and peers;
  • allowing for the practice of skills.

Today’s children spend 18% more time in school, 77% more time doing schoolwork, and 32% less time playing. In light of so many benefits, we are left with a challenge: How to bring more play into learning.[7] I most often find that no one is opposed to play, rather just unsure of how to fit it in, and how to maintain control while playing. These issues will be the focus of future blogs where I will share practical ideas and activities to bring playfulness into your classroom. First, I want to offer a few broad ideas to begin the journey toward your playful classroom.

How to Play
Tips for a Playful Classroom
1. Understand and believe in the benefits of play and its role in healthy development.
“Perceptive educators and scholars acquainted with the benefits of play realize that play contributes to learning and academic achievement, and is not a cause of their decline.”[8]
2. Recognize those benefits are not just for early education but for all children (and adults).
“Current emphasis on narrow perspectives of academic achievement has prohibited widespread acceptance of 8-12-year-olds right to play.”
3. Play yourself.
Play guru Bernard De Koven says “Playfulness is a gift and a choice that we often forget about but that it is the shortest road to happiness!” As we release the playful energy within us, we will begin to see opportunities to play everywhere including with students and curriculum.

4. Offer choice.
Research suggests that when children are able to choose an activity, they code it as play, whereas they code the same activity work when it is selected for them by an adult.[9]
5. Take play breaks.
Transitions can be a nice place for a quick 5 min game that is played for play’s sake. This quick activity, especially if it uses the whole body, can be enough to ignite the mind for the next block of seated focused coursework. Some game ideas are Simon Says, Table Pictionary or Charades, Zip, Zap, Zop, ball tossing games, slow motion tag, or a favorite of mine – Bibbity, Bibbity, Bop.
Or any of these warm up games used in improv-
I’m also pretty sure students will come up with many more ideas!

Honestly, sometimes play is intimidating and scary to me. It is spontaneous which makes it a little scary but that is also what makes it fun. I encourage you to journey with me through this blog series where I share specific examples of bringing more play into your life and your classroom!

[1] Fromberg, D. P., & Bergen, D. (Eds.). (2006). Play from birth to twelve: Contexts, perspectives, and meanings. Taylor & Francis.
[2] Gray, P. (2008). Freedom to Learn.
[3] Sutton-Smith, B. (2009). The ambiguity of play. Harvard University Press.
[5] Fromberg, D. P., & Bergen, D. (Eds.). (2006). Play from birth to twelve: Contexts, perspectives, and meanings. Taylor & Francis. P. 22
[7] Gray, P. (2011). The Decline of Play and the Rise of Psychopathology in Children and Adolescents. American Journal of Play, 3(4), 443-463.
[8] Fromberg, D. P., & Bergen, D. (Eds.). (2006). Play from birth to twelve: Contexts, perspectives, and meanings. Taylor & Francis. P. 27
[9] King, N. R. (1987). Elementary school play: Theory and research. School play: A source book, 143-165.

Celebrating Writers: A Spotlight on 95th Street Preparatory School

Welcome to our new spotlight series. We hope to highlight and celebrate innovative schools and educators with whom we are privileged to work alongside in this series.  We feel the energy and passion these inspiring educators bring to their schools and we want to share this energy with you to inspire your practice.  We hope to spark some ideas you can take back to energize your school.

Here we are celebrating an inspiring school in LAUSD, 95th Street Preparatory Elementary School.  Along with the amazing 95th Street Preparatory School principal Carlen Powell, Growing Educators hosted a recent event with the prolific writer Ralph Fletcher.  During this event, both the 95th Street Preparatory School leadership and teachers were incredibly welcoming and made us all feel the energy of their school.

Writer Ralph Fletcher, Growing Educators Co-Founder Renee Houser, and Principal Carlen Powell

Writer Ralph Fletcher, Growing Educators Co-Founder Renee Houser, and Principal Carlen Powell

During our visit to the school, it got us thinking about this question: What message does your school send to visitors about your writing beliefs?  95th Street Preparatory School’s message about writing was loud and clear to all visitors: they believe in the power of process writing, writing workshop, and celebrating their writers.  Energized by their passion for writing, here are our three innovative ideas on how to celebrate writing at your school to send the message: writers are celebrated here!

1. Celebrating Writing in Public Spaces

  • Consider creating wall space in your communal school areas, like your auditorium, cafeteria, media center, or library to display student writing.
Sending a Message about our Beliefs in the Power of Writing

Writing Process Walls in Visible School Spaces

  • Also, consider not only displaying published pieces from all grade levels, but also writing in various stages of the writing process. Notice the images from 95th Street Preparatory School below include displayed writing from the collecting, drafting, and editing stages of the writing process.  What a powerful message to send to students and visitors: the journey through the process of writing is as important as the final product.
95th Street School Writing-Collecting Stage

95th Street School Process Wall-Collecting Stage

95th St Blog 6

95th Street School Process Wall-Drafting Stage

95th St Blog 3

95th Street School Process Wall-Editing Stage

95th St Blog 4

95th Street School Process Wall-Celebrating our Emergent Pre-K Writers

95th St Blog

95th Street School Process Wall-Celebrating our Emergent Kindergarten Writers

Celebrating Process Writing In Your School

Celebrating Process Writing

2. Celebrating Writing Within the Classroom

  • Consider making your writing celebration a special experience for your writers.  Kindergarten teacher, Mindy Wise, created an unforgettable experience for her Kindergarten writers: they celebrated their published pieces around a campfire in their classroom.  You’ll notice in the picture below that she dimmed the lights, handed out flashlights, and her writers shared their published pieces around a “campfire.”  Of course, your writing celebrations don’t need to be this elaborate, but you know her writers will remember this experience for years to come.  Thanks for sharing this inspiring idea Mindy!
Celebrating Writing Campfire Style

Celebrating Writing Campfire Style

  • Consider reading a poem to begin and end the writing celebration.  Photocopy the poem on colored paper and have one of your writers hand out the poems to any celebration visitors: parents, guardians, school support staff, other students, etc.  To begin the celebration, all writers and visitors read the poem aloud to participate in a shared experience.  To end, everyone reads the poem again.  What a great tradition to begin with your writers.  One writing celebration poem might be: “Catch a Fall Star, Put it in your pocket, Save it for a rainy day. Catch a Writing Moment, Put it in your notebook, Save it for a writing day!”
  • Finally, consider creating writing business cards for your writers to celebrate their new status as a published writer.  Sites like allow you to make free business cards and only charge a nominal fee for shipping.  Writers feel professional and can share with their families their new status as an author of multiple genres.
Writing Business Card

Student Writing Business Card

3. Celebrating Writing 2.0

  • Consider a digital celebration of writing using multimodal composition.  Create a classroom blog and have your writers publish their final writing pieces online.  Free sites like,, or can get you started and are user-friendly.  Sites like our host,, come with a nominal fee but offer more customization and might be perfect for your classroom blog.
  • Also, consider using the web tool Glogster, a graphical blog, to create virtual posters to celebrate student writing.  Writers can develop virtual posters that include audio, video, text, hyperlinks, and images that support their published pieces.
  • Finally, consider a podcast to celebrate student writing.  Invite family members, other school staff, and friends to join in a celebration of writing virtually.

However you choose to celebrate writing, remember the message you are sending to your writers, their families, and your community: we believe in our writers and support their successes.  We are proud of the writers in our school!

We’d love to hear from you. How do you celebrate writing in your school?  What traditions do you have during a writing celebration? What are your writing celebration rituals? Leave us a message to inspire other educators!

Primary Writing Process

Primary Writing Process

To find out more about the prolific and inspiring author Ralph Fletcher, visit his website here and follow his blog here.

To find out more about 95th Street Preparatory School, visit their school website here.

Written by Growing Educators Staff Developer Courtney Kinney

Top Three Tips For Supporting All Students During Reading and Writing Workshop

As teachers, we are detailed oriented individuals. We truly do “have eyes on the back of our heads,” constantly keeping tabs on our students’ academic and social progress. We scan our rooms looking for places to add student work, display books for our students to read, and if you are like me, you often have thought of new furniture arrangements to squeeze out an extra few inches for your ever-growing students. We, as teachers, are always evolving and looking for the next best environmental accommodations, visual supports, and how to fine tune instructional methods for our students. In our quest for improvement, it is important that we find a “balance,” especially for our students with disabilities. Our students with disabilities should be provided with a predictable routine, environment and instructional supports that they can count on. And, believe me, it is a lot simpler than it sounds. Below are my top three tips for supporting all students, especially those with disabilities.

1.     Simple, Visual Supports

  • Students benefit from a visual schedule that clearly explains what they need to do not only during the day, but during Reading and Writing Workshop.

o   Consider creating small icons next to your schedule on the board. Icons can be hand drawn (i.e. a student writing), or an actual picture of a student writing, for Writing Workshop.

o   Many students benefit from a visual schedule/checklist that explains every aspect of the schedule. The pie chart below provides students with an overview of what to expect in workshop. Although, for many students with disabilities, they do not know what it means to be “in meeting area with teacher” or “working together as a group.” We can provide pictures of what those look like and place them on the chart.

o   Each phrase could also be broken down further in a step-by- step fashion on separate sheets of paper, placed in a binder for students to reference at their desk or tables. For example, “in meeting area with teacher” might have the following steps: listen for the signal to move to the meeting area, bring writer’s notebook and writing tool, sit in my assigned spot, sit cross-legged with my materials in my lap, and listen to the mini-lesson.

o   Alternatively, students could also be provided with a short video of what the teacher expects the room to “look like” and “sound like” during workshop.

Kate 1Kate 2

  • Interactive charts that provide students with a map of where to sit in the meeting area create independence.

Kate 3

  • Charts that support instructional content ideally have examples and pictures. Charts should also reinforce independence, providing students with strategies to help them throughout each aspect of the writing process.

Kate 4

2.   Environmental Accommodations

  • Many students with disabilities do not do well within the constraints of a meeting area on a carpet. Feel free to have students stay at their desks, while you present the mini-lesson from the front of the room. This can minimize transition difficulties.
  • Students can benefit from visual timers between each component of workshop, i.e. transitioning from the meeting area to independent writing. It is also helpful for students to know the amount of time expected for independent writing. Many visual timers can often be placed on the board.

Kate 5

  • If students do gather in a meeting area, students should be able to exit easily if needed. Also, a pacing line (colored tape on the floor) can be used for students who have difficulty focusing during the mini-lesson. The management of the pacing line needs to be clear for all students, i.e. students cannot freely choose to use the pacing line during a lesson.
  • Beanbags, bumpy seats and cushion supports have often been helpful for some students who need assistance focusing during a lesson and independent work time.
  • As much as possible, the environmental arrangement of the classroom should stay as consistent as possible. Students with disabilities benefit from a structured environment that stays the same all year. While minimal changes, such as a rotation of student work on bulletin boards is helpful, rearranging desks, tables and the location of the classroom library can bring unnecessary anxiety and frustration for some students.
  • The classroom library should stay consistent for the entire year. Often, we reveal one aspect of the library at a time, relishing in the element of “surprise.” Students with disabilities often appreciate when everything is laid out to them at once. If you have extra levels of books that cannot be stored in your library, try to store them in a closet that is clearly labeled.
  • It is beneficial if students do not have anything on top of their desks or tables, or even in their desks if at all possible to minimize distraction, and create a clutter free environment. The writing center should store all necessary supplies in clearly labeled bins.
  • For primary teachers who use centers, it is beneficial if every center is color-coded. When called from the meeting area, students can line up on the appropriate line of colored tape on the floor next to the center, and then sit down at the center when directed by the teacher. Then students move from center to center transitioning using the colored taped lines.
  • Cardboard from furniture stores can be cut and placed in between desks. For example, a piece of large piece of cardboard can go between six desks (three on each side), and students can use that to place post-its on, so they have more space for their ideas. It can also serve as a divider to help students focus, and is an alternative to separate dividers around each student, which can be cumbersome.

3.     Instructional Supports During Workshop

  • Students with disabilities benefit from small group instruction during writing and reading workshop. Small group instruction can take place during independent work time, where the teacher can provide additional modeling of the skill or strategy to help students with disabilities. This can be an effective alternative to partnership discussions, because a teacher can facilitate discussion among group members.
  • Graphic organizers are extremely beneficial during the writing process, and can also aid students in recording their thoughts about their reading.
  • Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD), pioneered by Karen Harris and Steve Graham (Arizona State University) contains several graphic organizers that will aid students in the writing process. See –
  • Students with disabilities benefit from multi-media during the mini-lesson, especially with difficult concepts such as theme. For example, showing students a video on Michael Jordan’s career in basketball can be helpful in explaining determination and perseverance to a student.
  • Whenever possible, it is helpful to embed pictures within the sentence starters and graphic organizers. Boardmaker has excellent pictures that can be used for this purpose.
  • Sentence starters that are individualized can be particularly helpful, and also be a part of the graphic organizers. Below is an example of sentence starters used for the conclusion of a literary essay:

               I wish that ___________________.

              This book proves that ______________ and I know that people can learn from this because ___________________.

              My thinking changed because _____________________________.

  • When teaching spelling concepts, utilize student writing to make it as authentic as possible. It is helpful to score students spelling ability in terms of application. Below, I had a student “hunt” for her correct application of several spelling concepts within her writing.

Kate 6

For additional resources see: I Hate to Write: Tips for Helping Students with Autism Spectrum and Related Disorders Increase Achievement, Meet Academic Standards, and Become Happy, Successful Writers by Cheryl Boucher and Kathy Oehler

Written by Kate Riedell, Growing Educators Staff Developer

Cultivating Independence During Workshop

Notebooks, journals, and book baggies counted and distributed. Check.

Writing pens (a variety of colors, of course) and stacks of post-its, ready for use. Check.

Meeting area and classroom library arranged just so. Check.

As many of us return to our classrooms fresh off a long and adventurous summer, our minds turn to planning and preparation.  Piles of post-its with long ‘To Do’ lists line our teacher’s desk, bags brimming with supplies litter our classroom floors, and books, books, and more books piled high on our student desks, ready to be leveled, ‘stickered’, and placed in our classroom libraries.  As you begin your journey of preparing for the new school year, how are you planning for your launch of an independent workshop?

We recently had an amazing opportunity to spend a day with educators from the Tustin Unified School District doing just that–preparing and planning for their strategic workshop launch.


GE Staff Developer Angela Bae working with Tustin teachers: Thinking about the Grammar Share during an independent writing workshop

Here are our top five tips for building independence with readers and writers during a strategic workshop launch:

  1. Routines and Habits: Consider building in routines, habits, and expectations for how workshop flows in your classroom early on.  As your readers and writers learn what’s expected of them, you will be able to maximize your workshop time.

    How Writer’s Can Prepare for Writing Workshop

    Woodcrest 3

    Woodcrest Elementary School: Routines for Set Up during Writing Workshop in Primary Classrooms

  2. Anchor Charts: Charts build independence for your students.  Your readers and writers will learn to refer to them for strategies and reminders.  Consider a spot in your room where you can hang these charts so readers and writers can easily access them.
    Andrews Chart

    Andrews Elementary teachers, in Whittier City School District, created a chart reflecting upon why they love charts!

    Carlos WWS Collecting Carthay

    3rd Grade Carthay Center Elementary Teacher Carlos Alvarez’s Chart for Building Independence in his Writers during the Collecting Stage of the Writing Process

    Ms. Moore's Process Board

    Woodcrest Elementary’s 2nd Grade Teacher Ms. Moore’s Writing Process Board for Building Independence during Writing Workshop

  3. Partnerships: Consider how you want your partnerships to function in workshop.  Preparing for the purpose and expectations for workshop partnerships and making those explicit to your readers and writers will help build independence.  You might choose to have partners assign themselves A and B (or yellow and orange) status as an efficient way to organize their turn and talk time.


    Building Independent Partnerships: Establish Seating Spaces and Yellow/Orange Status for Partnerships

  4. Mentor Texts and Materials.  Consider how your workshop texts and materials will be organized for independence.  Your readers and writers will learn where to access books and materials, including: post-its, pens, draft paper, publishing paper, and markers.

    TK Library 95th St School

    Lise Traphagen’s TK Classroom Library at 95th Street School in LAUSD

  5. Meeting Areas. Think about how your meeting area will flow and make sense for all your learners.  Consider accommodations you can make to meet the needs for all learning types in your room during workshop.

    Kate's Meeting Area Ideas

    GE Staff Developer Kate Riedell’s Recommendations for Sensory Supports in our Meeting Area to Meet the Needs of ALL Our Learners

Now, with just right books, journals and notebooks, writing pens, mentor texts, and meeting areas prepared and ready for building independence, enjoy your workshop launch this Fall!

Written by Growing Educators Staff Developer Courtney Kinney

Launching a Strategic Writing Workshop: Tips and Tools of the Trade

With a new school year upon us or about to begin for the rest of us, thinking about launching your writing workshop in a strategic, well-planned way will pay off in the end.  Setting up the routines, expectations, and the flow of writing workshop first thing will enable your writers to blossom this school year.

Here are our tips and tools to think about when launching your writing workshop this Fall:

Meeting Area. Think about how you will create a designated space for minilessons and small group work.


Workshop Meeting Area and Conferring Table

Classroom Library. Consider how you will organize and set up your classroom library so readers can easily and independently find their books.

TK Library 95th St School

Lise Traphagen’s TK Classroom Library at 95th Street School in LAUSD

Materials.  Consider how your writing workshop materials will be organized, including notebooks, pens, folders, publishing paper, chart paper, markers


Writing Materials Area


Writing Materials Paper Choice

Management Charts. Think about where you’ll place these strategically around your room


How Writers Can Prepare for Writing Workshop


Parts of Workshop


Writing Process in Upper Grades

Woodcrest 4

Writing Process in the Primary Grades


Writing Process: SMASH 5th Grade Teacher Genie


Writing Process: SMASH 2nd Grade Teacher Christian

Process Board.  Consider having a process board in your room: a place to display anchor charts for each stage of the writing process. Encourage writers to refer to these charts to build independence.


Writing Process Board 

Anchor Charts. Think about how to display charts for writing plans, qualities of good writing, and thought prompts to build independence with your writers.


Anchor Chart: Writing Plans


Anchor Chart: Story Elements

Woodcrest 2

Primary Grades Anchor Chart: Bring you Story to Life


Anchor Chart: Qualities of Good Writing


Anchor Chart: Thought Prompts

Conferring. Consider building a notebook or binder to store your strategic conferring notes and think about the classic conference.


Classic Conference

Accountable Talk: Consider displaying charts with specific suggestions about partnership talk, including your expectations for building meaningful, accountable talk in your workshop.


Building Meaningful Conversations


Turn and Talk: SMASH 2nd Grade Teacher Christian


Language Stems: Partner Talk


Group Talk: SMASH 5th Grade Teacher Genie


Partnerships: A & B and Seating in Meeting Area

Woodcrest 1

Partnership Ideas in the Primary Grades

Mentor Texts: Think about the mentor texts you’ll use during your launching unit and have those displayed for your writers to refer back to throughout the unit of study.


Mentor Texts on Display

Celebrating Writers. Consider displaying your writer’s published pieces after your writing celebration.  A proud declaration of the writing going on in your classroom.


Published Writing

We hope you have a successful launch in writing workshop this Fall and encourage you to send us pictures of some of the tips and tools you find helpful in your classroom.

Written by Growing Educators Staff Developer Courtney Kinney