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Developing Writers: A Workshop for High School Teachers

A Shared Path

Explore the first steps (and those that follow) in creating a classroom community that provides a secure place for all writers.

What kind of atmosphere do students need to grow as writers? This session concentrates on the “hows” and “whys” that answer that question. The featured teachers talk about the physical set-up of a writing community, the importance of reading in a writing classroom, and their own roles as co-writers in the community, showing how these practicalities and philosophies actually work in setting up communities where trust and mutual respect are the hallmarks. In a writer’s workshop, the teachers react in writing to Judith Ortiz Cofer’s assignment: hiding and revealing through language.

Key Points

“My students have a sense of community. They take care of each other. They help each other out.”

– MaryCarmen Cruz


These are the key points the teachers, educators, authors, and students consider:

This workshop focuses on the steps teachers can take to build and nurture a classroom community of writers.

  1. There are several hallmarks of a writing community:
    • A writing community is a place marked by mutual respect. Everyone contributes: some by actively listening; others by voicing their ideas. Everyone can and should make mistakes and learn by doing so.
    • A writing community reads as well as writes.
    • A writing community encourages people to think throughout the processes of writing, reflecting on and synthesizing ideas offered by those inside and outside the community.
    • A writing community should have mechanisms in place for writer-to-writer communication (writers’ groups). These groups should have agreed-upon structures and rules of operating.
    • A writing community should have other audiences to hear and react to their voices. These include families and other members of the community at large.
  2. Because those involved in the processes of writing best understand them, all teachers should be writers.
  3. Not every student writes at the same level. Teachers must meet students at their level of ability and move them forward. The writing community must provide acknowledgment for differently-abled students.

Need time to grow as a writer yourself? Try the Writer’s Notebook Activity led by celebrated author Judith Ortiz Cofer.

Things To Consider

“For writing students, a sense of classroom community is absolutely critical.”

– Margo Jefferson


In building a writing community, teachers usually provide multiple opportunities to read, write, and react to writing. What percentage of time do you generally devote to:

Planning for Writing Assignments?
(including conferencing with peers)
Writing in class? 
(Original assignments for private or public audiences)
Editing original assignments   %
Revising original assignments?   %
Teacher conferences with student writers?   %
Reviewing and celebrating student work? 
(Whole class)
Reviewing and celebrating student work? 
(In individual writing groups or with peer partners)
Reading exemplary works? 
(by authors outside the classroom community)


  • Victor Villanueva, an advisor for Developing Writers, chair of the English department at Washington State University and noted author, has a unique perspective on the inclusiveness necessary in any writing community. His book Bootstraps: From an American Academic of Color offers his insight as an outsider in many communities attempting to make his way through the world of English language arts. The prologue for this book raises key points teachers should consider as they work to create a community that includes all students.
  • In a writing community, members need a chance to review and reflect on their work — seeing where they have been and planning where they are going. In an article written for NCTE‘s English Journal, Dawn Schwartzendruber-Putnam offers suggestions for ways to facilitate this reflection. Along the way, she validates trust and other values inherent in a writing community.
  • In conversations taped for this project, Lori Mayo stated:

    “…We were talking about planning for a writing community and setting it up. And I don’t think that we’ve really gotten to the specifics of that, but I think that in teaching relationships, the most crucial—and a lot of books are being published now with kids writing that they want to be known, they want the teachers to know who they are and what their interests are and all that. And I think that, especially in a writing classroom, you have to kind of have that relationship and have that trust and have that respect, so that you can help the student become a better writer without being scathing or insulting.”

    What do you think about what Lori said? What are some other important factors in setting up a writing community?

In the Classroom

“It’s very important to have feedback from other people . . . people you trust..”

– Tracy Mack


  • One of the first steps in building a writing community is exploring what other community members value in their writing lives. Sharing writing and opinions become easier as the community members come to know each other as writers and thinkers.
    • Lori Mayo often uses this inventory to find out more about her students and their interests.
    • Susie Lebryk-Chao starts off with this form.
  • Whether you think of writing as an art or a craft, there are some very specific tools that writers work with. Chief among these are the sounds and shapes of letters. Senior Scholar Roy Peter Clark has put together a more extensive list of tools of the trade. The Poynter Institute is a school for journalists, future journalists, and teachers of journalism. While concentrating on journalism, Clark’s tools have applicability in every writing community. You can use Clark’s list as a centerpiece for a class discussion. Talk about:
    • writing tools vs. writing rules,
    • other opinions about the suggestions offered in the list, and
    • suggestions for other writerly tools to add to the mix.
  • Susie Lebryk-Chao uses these activities to help her students get to know more about each other.
  • Kelly Quintero uses an activity, based on Sandra Cisneros’s vignette “My Name” in The House on Mango Street, to start to build community.
  • Student writing often deserves a larger audience than each school can supply. There are many venues on the Web that offer students a place to be heard by the community at large. Here are some sites that publish the work of young writers. Perhaps you and students can find more:
  • When did you first realize that your students were finally working together as a community? Share the moment—and the hard work that led up to it.

Additional Resources

“You need to hear what other people think of what your writing says, because writing is about communication.”

— Christopher Myers



  • Kylene Beers’s thoughts on the connection between reading and writing in the writing classroom, expressed during an interview for this project.


On the Web:

  • Washington College’s Michael Harvey has compiled an extensive site—The Nuts and Bolts of College Writing—that offers advice on everything about writing—from organizing ideas to where to put the commas. Although prepared for college students, this resource is a ready source of online help for student writers of all ages.
  • Read ° Write ° Think , a site sponsored by NCTE, IRA, and Marcopolo, has a searchable and generous database of lesson plans, grouped by grade band and literacy strand.
  • Tools for writers of all ages are easily accessible on the Web. Try this useful and elegant online thesaurus to explore word relationships from a new angle.


In the Library:

  • Bell, Kathryn. From the Heart: A Creative Approach to Writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2002.
  • Bomer, Randy. Time for Meaning: Crafting Literate Lives in Middle and High School. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1995.
  • Bruffee, Kenneth. A Short Course in Writing: Practical Rhetoric for Composition Courses, Writing Workshops, and Tutor Training Programs. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, 1992.
  • Frost, Helen. When I Whisper, Nobody Listens: Helping Young People Write About Difficult Issues. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2001.
  • King-Shaver, Barbara and Alyce Hunter. Differentiated Instruction in the English Classroom: Content, Process, Product, and Assessment. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2003.
  • Jago, Carol. Cohesive Writing: Why Concept Is Not Enough. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2002.
  • Tomlinson, Carol Ann. The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners. Baltimore, MD: ASCD, 1999.
  • Tsujimoto, Joseph. Lighting Fires: How the Passionate Teacher Engages Adolescent Writers. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2001.
  • Zemelman, Steven and Harvey Daniels. A Community of Writers: Teaching Writing in the Junior and High School. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1988.