A Consistent Structure for Planning Units of Study in Workshop Classrooms – By Jodi Manby

Picture this…a pile of resources, a blank unit planning calendar, lots of page turning, and very little progress in creating a unit. This is how planning a unit of study in writing used to look for me. I told myself, obviously this could not continue! I was wasting so much time trying to figure out where to begin! Sound familiar?

Now any time I am planning a new unit or revising a previous unit, I rely on a few patterns that emerged when the unit seemed to build itself: identify mentors, study genre, analyze on-demand writing, and write within the genre myself.

Finding mentor texts has been a little less daunting once I heard Matt Glover, author of Projecting Possibilities for Writers: The How, What, and Why of Designing Units of Study, say 1that it only takes a couple mentor texts to support a unit…there’s no need for a pile of them! So now, I look for 2-3 mentor texts that I can use both before the unit begins, as read alouds to build some foundation for my writers, as well as throughout the unit, as we learn to try similar craft moves as our mentors. In other words, as I’m reading through realistic fiction stories or perusing nonfiction books, I’m not only looking for a text that I envision my students producing, but my first goal is to find a text that my writers will engage with and that I enjoy reading as well. I’m going to be spending a lot of time with this book, from repeated readings to excerpts pulled for minilessons and conferences — I want to make sure it’s a book I like too!


Yes, my post-it addiction is something my family is trying to curb!

Once I have 2-3 texts I think both my writers and I can get excited about, it’s time to study the genre closely! The first thing I like to do is hunker down with the books and an assortment of Post-it’s.As I read the text closely, I consider the qualities of writing to guide myself in naming the moves the author and/or illustrator is making, and ask myself if I can imagine my writers approximating this writing. Lenses I typically consider are: Meaning (For whom — and why — can we imagine the author wrote the text?), Structure (How will the structure/parts of the text support our study?), Focus (How do the parts of the text work together?), Elaboration (How does the writer help readers envision the story/information?), Voice (What has the author done to support the way we read the text and with what tone?), and Conventions. Having these qualities explicitly identified in the text helps understand the genre itself, and also allows me to be more efficient when conferring with writers. For example, I can quickly refer to a part in the text that demonstrates an elaboration strategy that we might try to imitate.


Once I have a strong sense of the genre and mentor texts to study with kids, it’s time to take the pulse of my writers by administering an on-demand writing sample (a pre-assessment given at the beginning of the unit to collect baseline data on our writers). Questions we might pursue as we analyze our on-demand data: How much of our immersion work have they internalized? What parts of previous units are they carrying forward? What is going well and what are our next steps? 4While it can feel uncomfortable to give an on-demand/pre-assessment on a genre we haven’t formally studied, we want to keep in mind that across our previous units and across years of writing workshop and reading workshop, our writers are building a repertoire of tools to access in any writing experience. As the examples in Lucy Calkins’ Writing Pathways suggest, first we give our writers a quick reminder about what they might already know about the genre, and then let them have at it, so we can see what they know! During the on-demand/pre-assessment, we can study our writers to take note of their initiation, engagement, stamina, volume, and process. One way we can make use of this data is to help set up small group work right out of the gates as we kick off the unit. After the on-demand writing session, the analyzing of the writing begins. I often find it helpful to create a checklist that captures the same qualities I uncovered when I was studying the mentor texts: meaning, structure, focus, elaboration, voice, and conventions. This data will have several implications: it will help shape the lessons throughout the unit (especially at the beginning of the unit), identify patterns for small groups, and provide information to help guide one-on-one conferences. Here’s a sample of checklist I co-created with a Kinder team earlier this year:

Okay, so now I have a clear understanding of the genre, mentor texts, and samples of student writing…sounds like I would have enough information to get my unit off the ground. However, there is one crucial piece of planning that awaits…I need to write! 6When I write what my students are writing, it helps me anticipate some of the bumps or roadblocks they might encounter. If I struggle to find a topic to write about, it’s possible they might struggle as well. If I’m finding it difficult to structure my piece, I can consider/reconsider the paper my writers have access to that might scaffold the structure of their pieces. On top of helping me identify potential challenges for my writers, writing a few demonstration pieces can also help to set my minilessons up for success. If I’ve already taken a few topics through the whole writing process, I can then peel off layers of the text that I’ll use for specific lessons. This way, ideally I always have an opening in my demonstration texts to model in a minilesson.


Identifying mentor texts and noting the craft moves you’ll teach into, analyzing what your writers already know, and writing demonstration texts to anticipate challenges as well prepare for lessons are four steps you might take to support your unit planning. Whether you’re taking on new genres or looking to breathe new life into units you teach each year, having a structure to your planning can help lower anxiety and get you closer to launching!


Enjoyed this post on planning units of study in workshop classrooms? Learn more about this topic at our GEMS this Saturday, May 2nd, at Woodcrest Elementary School – REGISTER HERE.

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 Vistaprint.com 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 Blogger.com, Shutterfly.com, or Weebly.com can get you started and are user-friendly.  Sites like our host, WordPress.com, 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 – http://kc.vanderbilt.edu/casl/srsd.html
  • 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

Celebrating Writing!

We hope you enjoyed the week as much as we did and we also hope to see you this winter at our Annual Winter Writing Conference January 7-8, 2014, focusing on raising the levels of informational reading and writing.  Here is our culminating video celebrating our week of studying the craft of writing at our 3rd Annual Conference on the Teaching of Writing. Enjoy celebrating all of your hard work this week!

To find more information about our Annual Winter Writing Conference focused on raising the levels of informational reading and writing and to register, click here.

GE Winter Conference 2013: Expository Writing

During our Annual Winter Writing Conference, we focused our sessions on developing our informational writing strategies.  What a success this conference was in enabling teachers and school leaders to understand the importance of expository writing within balanced literacy and writing workshop.  Participants came away with tangible ideas to roll out and develop this writing genre within their classrooms and school sites.  We are so proud of the hard work from all of our participants, especially for taking three days out of their winter break to join us. Kudos!

Teachers journaling during the keynote address by Jessica Martin, Co-Founder of Growing Educators

Jessica discussing with her writing partners topics she can teach others in a procedural text at our writing conference

GE Staff Developer Jodi Manby coaching writers rehearsing their procedural text

GE winter conference on writing in content areas: Teaching note taking to learn and think about new ideas

We hope to see you join us at our next writing and reading conferences this summer.

For more information about these events, click here.

Written by Growing Educators Staff Developer Courtney Kinney