Setting Up Writer's Workshop

Hey bloggers!

It has been a crazy 3 weeks back at school for me & my 24 firsties. Hopefully you are all settling in! Today I'm bringing you a post about how I set up writer's workshop.

A few years ago, my district purchased the Lucy Calkins Units of Study...and I love it. Many people think that it's too much for little kids, but like anything else, you have to buy in. You have to fully give it a chance. I strictly followed the books my first few years, and now I'm comfortable enough that I can check out the session name, and teach it on my own.

The Units of Study really guide the kids in their writing. It's great because the students can work at their own pace. Everyone hears the same mini-lesson, but you can really differentiate and teach to each student's needs during conferences. You really get a lot of information about your students during conferences!

I start writer's workshop on day 1 of school. That may sound a little crazy, but they can do it! Their writing can start very basic-it can be a simple one page story about something they did that summer or even the day before. What's really important is that they get used to writing and the expectations.

The first few days are basically introducing them to the paper, pens, and where supplies are kept.
All of our writer's workshop paper is located in the same area. In the beginning, they only have one paper choice in one drawer. Eventually they will have many paper choices depending on the type of writing we are focusing on.

My students all have a writer's workshop folder. I give them labels on the first day that say "Not Done" and "Done." The "Not Done" label has a green dot on it and the "Done" label has a red dot on it. If they have a story they are still working on, it goes on the "Not Done" side and if they finish a story it can go on the "Done" side. My qualifications for a "Done" story at this point in the year are that a story has to have a picture & words that match on every page (coloring is optional). The green and red dots just help the kids that can't read the words-green means keep going, red means stop. The first few days, I expect them to be able to write for about 10 minutes. The kindergarten teachers at my shcool also follow the Units of Study, so the students have some writing background. I slowly stretch this out over the first few weeks of school and eventually they write for about 25-30 minutes independently. The students keep their writing folders in a special writing drawer that each group of desks has next to it. They also keep their pens in this drawer. This keeps students from losing things in their messy not organized to my standards desks.

I also model writing stories during the mini-lessons on the first few days (& throughout the year).

The second week we really start discussing the expectations during writer's workshop. We create our "Writer's Workshop Contract" and all of the kids sign it. We discuss what a contract is and what it means when you sign it. I refer to this MANY times the first few weeks, and a few times later in the year when needed :) In my classroom, writer's workshop is a QUIET time. It's one of the few times during the day that I do not let them talk. The only noises you will hear during this time in my room are me conferencing with students and students quietly stretching out their words to spell as best as they can. 

At the beginning of the year, we are writing personal narratives. I love starting out this way because the students are writing true stories about themselves. Writing these types of stories is much easier for them than writing fiction or procedural. It is much easier for them to come up with true stories about themselves!...which brings me to another key concept at the beginning of writer's workshop-How to Write a Story.

I teach them a few different ways to plan:
(1) Plan across your fingers.
(2) Touch the paper and say your story before writing.
(3) Plan with a partner.

After independent work time, we have a share time. This differs day to day:
(1) teacher share
(2) partner share
(3) group share
Sometimes I choose a few stories to share on the document camera from students that were doing their best first grade work. Sometimes I have the students share in partners. Sometimes I have the students share in groups. With everything, there is a lot of modeling that is done for each.

For partner sharing:
-You have to have a done story.
-You sit side by side with your partner and take turns sharing & listening.

For group sharing:
-You have to have a done story.
-One person sits facing the rest of the group.
-The only person talking is the person who is sharing.
-Your story goes behind your body when it is not your turn to share.

The Units of Study cover many topics and types of writing throughout the year. In first grade we cover:
-personal narratives
-how to writing
-all about writing (non fiction)
-letter writing

After each unit (usually about 4 weeks), we have a writing celebration. We use this time to celebrate the hard work they have done and to recognize what great writer's they are becoming. The celebrations vary each time. Sometimes we share as a whole class, and everyone gets a chance to share on the document camera. Sometimes the students share in groups. Sometimes we partner up with the other first grade class and share our stories with them. There is usually some kind of treat as well-just something small like a cookie or something. They love it. After celebrating, their new published story goes on our bulletin board in the hallway. When we publish a story, I have them choose their favorite story in their folder, re-write it neatly, and color the pictures (crayon or colored pencil only).

If your school has some extra money, I definitely recommend the Units of Study (I do not get any compensation for promoting them). They make teaching writing SO much easier and will make you and the students more confident in writing!

We just finished our 3rd week of school...and my students are already writing for 20 minutes independently! They are awesome :)

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