Use this complete, free unit of study when you are working on launching writing workshop. Includes mini-lessons, anchor charts, graphic organizers & more.
A strong launching unit is the key to a successful writer’s workshop in your classroom. Students need to know and understand expectations so that you are able to have meaningful and uninterrupted conferences with your writers. Use the lessons we’ve laid out below to help guide you through setting up your workshop. Because this unit is designed to build the foundation of your writing workshop, not all of the lessons will address writing standards. Just keep in mind that these first few weeks are critically important to the rest of your year in writing workshop as they will show students what needs to be done and set the tone for the rest of your writing workshop year.
Some of our work is based on the work done by Katie Wood Ray in About the Authors. The writer’s workshop you create by following our lessons will lead to a workshop where students are writing everyday. Children instantly become writers and almost always go through the writing process by working in blank books and papers. We have found that first graders generally use these blank books throughout the writing process – even as they revise and edit, but sometimes as students move towards third grade they might prefer to use lined paper, and may eventually publish by typing their pieces and printing them off the computer. This should be a natural choice by students- with your guidance, of course, depending on needs of specific students. Children usually know what works best for them and can hopefully explain their thoughts to you, so be sure to create a writing center with many choices. We have created some templates for you to choose from here: Blank Books and Papers for Student Writing and Blank Books for Nonfiction Writing.
What is Writer’s Workshop? – The format for writing workshop is much the same as reader’s workshop.Below is a short description of what workshop looks like in many classrooms, keeping in mind that time frames can vary a bit and that some days things may look a bit different depending on the focus.
Writing Mini-Lesson – A true writing workshop begins with a 5 to 15 minute mini-lesson that focuses on a specific concept or skill. The focus of the lesson should be based on standards (most of the time), and many times might include a read aloud from a mentor text of some kind to illustrate a specific skill or concept in writing. Keep in mind that you don’t have to read an entire book for this. You may only read a portion or have a discussion about a page or two. Many times these mentor texts will be books your students have read independently or that you have read aloud in your reader’s workshop.
Independent Writing and Teacher Conferencing – Following the mini-lesson, students move on to their work as writers. During this time students will be in all different stages of the writing process (once they have been taught this process). They should have easy access to papers and supplies for writing and illustrating. During this time you will conference with individual students or small groups to check in with them on their current piece of writing (possibly revising or editing), reinforce a skill you have taught and/or informally assess so that you know what skills need to be taught or revisited in your upcoming mini-lessons. If you do not yet have a system set up for conferencing, we have posted these resources in the past:
Lesson Wrap-Up & Sharing – At the conclusion of independent writing, the class returns to a meeting spot to review the lesson and discuss what students did to practice a new skill on their own. Many times, unless you have something specific that you want reviewed, you will have chosen a few students that you conferenced with who have illustrated the mini-lesson skill in some way.
Standing on the Shoulders of Published Authors – We heard this expression in some of our professional development and loved it. Another important piece of writer’s workshop is using books by published authors to teach children what real authors do. These books, that are used as tools for teaching writing, are called mentor texts. Once you begin teaching writing using mentor texts, you will always be thinking about how a children’s book might help you teach a writing skill in the future. You might want to keep track of the mentor texts you find by using the forms we’ve created. You can find some that we have created here: Keeping Track of Mentor Texts. We like to keep this page in our planning binder and immediately jot down the title, author and writing skill each time we see something in a book that we know will be great to share with our young writers.
Launching Writer’s Workshop Theme: Passport to Becoming a Great Writer – We have chosen to use a traveling theme for this launching unit. We want students to begin thinking of writing as a journey they will embark upon and they will make many “stops” along the way as they learn what writers do. To get started you might want to think about creating an area in your room that will display all of the resources, supplies, posters and anchor charts that students will need during writer’s workshop. You want everything they will need to write independently to be easily accessible so that you are able to focus on conferencing with students and not interrupted during independent writing time. We have given a few cute ideas for this writing area in the lessons below. Many of the resources we have also provided without the travel theme in case you would prefer those.
Writing Journey Bon Voyage Party!! – Another idea to launch your class’ writing journey is with a “Bon Voyage” party! Have students bring in books from some of their favorite authors to share why they enjoy that author’s particular stories or style. Share some light refreshments and put up our Bon Voyage Banner (simply cut out each letter flag, fold the tops over a piece of string and hang in your classroom). You might even want to invite some guests such as parents, your principal or other staff members to come share their favorite authors with the class during this celebration. Hopefully it will get your students excited about writing!
Lesson 1: Writers “Pack Their Bags” with Ideas for Writing – This initial lesson encourages students to brainstorm ideas that they can later use for writing their own books. You will use a stack of real books to discuss topics various authors have chosen to write about and the types of writing that they have written. The class will talk about different kinds of writing and then students will get a stapled book as a place to keep all of their ideas for writing. Use the What Can I Write About Anchor Charts for this lesson. (We have provided one with ideas already listed – both black & white and in color, and also provided blank anchor chart pages so that your students can brainstorm some ideas for narratives, fiction & nonfiction. Use both or choose the one you feel would work best for your class. We also have created Packing My Bag With Writing Ideas (Book Cover & Idea Pages) as a place for students to keep and add ideas all year. (You can choose to have these books pre-made and simply pass them out, or you can have your students cut out fronts and backs for their books that look like real suitcases.)
Lesson 2: “Sightseeing” in the Books of Published Authors – This lesson takes students on a “tour” of sorts through published books and has them go on a “sightseeing” trip through books to talk about what they notice in the books of published authors – title, author, illustrator, format, illustrations, fonts, etc. After discussion, the students get to use their sightseeing finds as they practice making a book of their own.
Lesson 3: Exploring Our Writing Tools – This lesson involves a fun idea for organizing and displaying student writing tools that fits the passport theme! You will need to think through the tools you want available to your writiers – sharp pencils, different types of paper and/or blank books, erasers, revising and editing pens, markers, crayons, etc. You will be setting expectations for students for how they should get supplies and find a location to write. Use our blank Using Our Writing Tools Anchor Chart to brainstorm and set your expectations with your class. If you decide that you would like to have assigned writing seats for your students, this is the time to explain this to the class. We like to let students choose where they would like to sit. The conversations that occur during writing often spark amazing writing!
Lesson 4: Writers Sometimes Need “Maps” to Guide Their Writing – This lesson is designed to get students to understand the importance of prewriting. We realize that not all students, depending on level, will prewrite for every story, but as we are wanting to familiarize them with the writing process we feel it is important that they are taught about this important step. This is true especially as their stories are likely to become longer and more involved as they grow as writers. They will need to think through their ideas before beginning. This is quite possibly a multiple-day mini-lesson, depending on how you choose to model the use of the graphic organizers you want them to use. We have provided six Planning/Prewriting Graphic Organizers to go with this lesson. Three of them are for narrative or fiction pieces and three of them are for planning for their nonfiction writing. (There is also an additional nonfiction organizer in lesson 14.) You may have specific organizers you like to use for your class. Whichever prewriting resources you use, it is important to model each one for the students so that they understand how to use them. You might choose to share just one for now or even a few different narrative or fiction organizers (over the course of a few days) and save the others for when you are teaching informational texts in your writing curriculum. Do whatever seems to make the most sense to you.
***For struggling writers, a good idea for prewriting is to use post-it notes to help them plan. Start with a blank book and a stack of post-its. Have the students tell you their story while you write a few words on each post-it about their story. Stick a post-it on each page. Students use this as their organizer. It is more concrete than the organizers below for students who might need a little extra help.
Lesson 5: Writing a First Draft – This is a very simple modeling lesson where you will use your graphic organizer to write a first draft of a story in front of your class. It is important that they have a teacher model how to write a first draft so that they understand how to refer to their organizer, sometimes make changes if needed, and so they don’t get bogged down with trying to make sure everything is perfect. They will see this done several times over the course of the year as you introduce new graphic organizers and turn them into pieces of writing to publish. Constant modeling is the key to getting your students comfortable with moving from prewriting/planning into drafting.
Lesson 6: Passport to the Writing Process – We think it is beneficial for students to become familiar with the entire writing process before they actually have to go through all the steps. In this lesson, you will share all the steps that published authors should go through and set the expectation that your students will be doing the same several times during the year. Use our Writing Process Anchor Chart to introduce the steps. This lesson also includes a Writing Passport for students that has contains all the steps in the writing process. As you conference with individual students for the next several weeks, you will be stamping (or adding stickers) to their passports as you see them moving through these steps in their own writing.
Lesson 7: Writers Need a Way to Organize All of Their Writing Pieces – This lesson gives some ideas and suggestions for helping your students stay organized as they begin to accumulate many pieces of writing. Whatever method you decide upon for organization, it is important that you spend a day discussing organization so that students don’t lose the ideas and drafts they are creating.
**The following three lessons (8 – 10) in our launching unit focus on P.A.T. (Purpose-Audience-Topic) and the importance each of these has in writing. All of our P.A.T. Anchor Charts are linked together. (There is one anchor chart for each lesson and we have provided them with and without the clip art.)
Lesson 8: Writers Have a Purpose for Writing – An important part of the writer’s workshop is teaching students that there is a purpose for writing – WHY they are writing their piece. Conferences about different pieces of writing should always include the question “What is the purpose of your story?” This lesson helps students to learn to focus on and determine a purpose for each piece of their writing.
Lesson 9: Writers Need to Think of Their Audience – A second consideration for writers is to think about their audience – WHO it is that they are writing for. Often students do not think about who they are writing for and how that affects the way that they write. So another question to ask as you conference with students is “Who are you writing this story for?” This will be an idea you revisit throughout the school year in many different ways as you teach students to write letters, opinion pieces and other types of writing. Students need to realize that something written for a parent or family member would most likely be much different than something written for a teacher or a principal, for example.
Lesson 10: Writers Need to Have a Clear Topic – A final question that students need to ask themselves is “What is my topic?” Introducing this idea and working to keep it at the forefront of students’ minds helps to provide focus on one idea in their writing. This lesson focuses on brainstorming both ideas for topics of fiction or narrative stories as well as appropriate topics for nonfiction writing. Use our Topic Anchor Charts which includes charts to record your student ideas for both kinds of writing.
ADDITIONAL P.A.T. Resources:
P.A.T. Check – This graphic organizer can be used as a planner before students begin writing to help them to have a clear purpose, topic and audience. Or, use this after students begin as a way to check if they are on track. This form also allows you to see if students understand the concepts of purpose, audience and topic. Have them fill it out before a conference so that you can check for their understanding as you discuss the organizer.
P.A.T. Conference Form – This is an extremely simple teacher conference form for tracking Purpose, Audience and Topic and is a great tool for beginning of the year conferences! It helps you with a simple conference format for your first conferences with students and you can clearly track if writers are meeting expectations.
Lesson 11: Writers Use Strategies When They Try to Spell Difficult Words – It is important that students know they don’t need to spell all words perfectly for their initial drafts of a piece of writing, but they also need to realize that these pieces must be “readable”. Whether it is a teacher, a peer or even themselves, when they pick up their story they need to be able to read the piece even if the words they chose were difficult to spell. Students also need to be aware that as they are writing, the teacher has the important job of conferencing with other students and can’t be interrupted by questions about spelling. This lesson helps students to remember to use strategies when they are stuck on the spelling of a new word. It incorporates the use of a Spelling Strategies Visual so that students have a reminder of what to do when they want to spell a word that is tricky. We have related this lesson to our theme by likening getting stuck on a word to getting lost in a new place while traveling.
Lesson 12: Writers Use Other Resources to Help Them Spell Difficult Words – This lesson introduces students to a Portable Word Wall which they can keep in their binders/folders which may help them to spell some words during Writer’s Workshop. We have two versions of Portable Word Walls that you can use – one that contains the letters of the alphabet but has only blank spaces to add words and one that has some commonly misspelled words. For Writer’s Workshop purposes, we suggest the one that has some words already listed as it is likely to be more helpful and cut down on questions and discussions during conferencing. Adding words to student’s portable word walls should be something that takes place throughout the year, but can be done as a whole group (you notice that there is a specific word that is being spelled incorrectly quite often by many students) or can be done quickly during individual conferences (you meet with a child who is constantly misspelling the same word in their writing).
Lesson 13: Writers Add to Their Work – This lesson has you pulling out an earlier draft of a piece of writing to model how a writer might add parts or details to a piece to improve it. Before presenting this lesson, you might want to think about specific ways that you want students to mark their drafts to add things. Our idea involves using a brightly colored pen or marker and writing directly on the draft. If this isn’t the method you prefer, then think about how you want your students to add to their work before you begin so that you can model this method.
Lesson 14: Creating an “Itinerary” for Nonfiction Writing – We have related the process of creating a plan for nonfiction writing to that of a trip itinerary in this lesson. Students come to understand the importance of planning for nonfiction writing and how creating a Table of Contents in advance can help them organize their thinking as well as give them a structure for their writing. Use our Author’s Plan for Nonfiction Writing organizer as a place to brainstorm and/or determine a Table of Contents for a piece of informational text.
Lesson 15: Writers Use Words and Illustrations to Teach in Nonfiction Pieces – This lesson teaches students the importance of pictures/diagrams in nonfiction writing and how illustrations such as this can help readers to learn new information or make information more clear in a different way. It will require you to gather a stack of nonfiction books that have good use of diagrams. Also, we used the National Geographic book Sharks! by Anne Schreiber for our lesson but you can choose any nonfiction book as long as it has a few good diagrams to illustrate the point of the lesson.
Lesson 16: Revision – Taking Souvenirs and Wishes From Writing – It is important for students to know that their writing can be improved with the help of their peers and adults. In Writer’s Workshop they will have revision conferences with friends and their teacher. They need to understand that good ideas sometimes come from others and can be added to their original writing to make it even better. For this lesson we have created an anchor chart called 3 Souvenirs and a Wish that corresponds to our Passport theme for this unit. (We have also provided one that is called 3 Stars and a Wish that is attached to the above resource for those not wanting the Passport theme.)
Lesson 17: Writers Edit Their Work Before They Publish – Editing is also an important step in the writing process. Students need to understand that mistakes with spelling, capitalization and punctuation can lead to confusion for their readers. This lesson has you reviewing the revision process and then moving into editing. You will model a mock editing conference with you and your whole class serving as your editing “partner”. Although there are many editing checklists that you can use for this, we have created our very own primary Editing Checklist for Students which is a fairly simple and straightforward way to start.
Lesson 18: Writers Publish Their Work – We realize that publishing can look very different from classroom to classroom and depending on the level of the writers, but we feel all students should understand what it means to “publish” a piece of writing. We want them to understand that it entails getting a piece of writing ready for others to read and enjoy. This step is important for students in the writing process because it gives them the sense of being a real writer, builds confidence and gives them motivation for moving forward with writing more pieces. We have created a Publishing Checklist as one way for students to know when their piece is truly complete – a way to finalize the writing process and give them a sense of accomplishment.
Lesson 19: Welcome Home Celebrating the Writing Journey – End your launching unit with a celebration of all the students have learned! This is a great way to keep the excitement for writing growing in your classroom. You can choose to use our ideas for the celebration, which includes our Welcome Home Banner and New Author Certificates or you can make it a more simple celebration. However you choose to celebrate the end of this writing unit, we feel it is an important way for students to end this journey about becoming a writer.