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Inside Writing Communities, Grades 3-5

Teaching the Writing Craft

How can you target specific writing skills and strategies in your teaching? In this workshop, you will explore the role of whole-class instruction in the writing workshop and how lessons on particular writing skills can unfold over multiple days.

Katie Wood RayPlanning whole-class instruction begins with your required curriculum, what you know about writing, and what your students are interested in. Then once you get inside of a study, you’re always looking for what your students need, what you can teach that would help a lot of students based on what you’ve observed.

— Katie Wood Ray, consultant and author or co-author of five books on teaching writing, including The Writing Workshop: Working Through the Hard Parts (And They’re All Hard Parts)

Learning Goals

In this workshop you will explore how to:

  • determine when to use whole-class lessons
  • integrate whole-class lessons into the writing workshop structure
  • use an inquiry approach to introduce new concepts and explore ideas
  • design lessons to increase understanding of writing concepts and skills

Prepare for the Workshop

To prepare for this workshop, you will review the strategies you already use and read two articles about whole-class instruction.


What Do You Do?

Think for a moment about how you remember being taught writing in elementary school. What do you recall about a typical writing lesson? How do you imagine your teacher prepared for the types of lessons you were taught? Now think about your own teaching and answer the following questions, jotting down your answers in your notebook.

  • How do you determine which writing skills to teach?
  • How do you prepare to teach specific writing skills?
  • When do you use whole-class instruction? What kind of an approach do you take?
  • What types of resources and materials do you use in your teaching?
  • How do you assess students’ understanding of your lesson?


Examine the Literature

Print out the Examine the Literature Response Chart (PDF). Then read the articles listed below, recording your ideas on the chart during and after reading. When you have finished, save your chart to submit as an assignment.

Exploring Inquiry as a Teaching Stance in the Writing Workshop (PDF)
This article examines the benefits of using an inquiry approach to teaching writing, including the use of op-ed pieces in a fifth-grade writing workshop.

Ray, Katie Wood. “Exploring Inquiry as a Teaching Stance in the Writing Workshop.” Language Arts (National Council of Teachers of English) 83, no. 3 (January 2006): 238-247. Copyright 2006 by the National Council of Teachers of English ( Used with permission.

Why Cauley Writes Well: A Close Look at What a Difference Good Teaching Can Make (PDF)
This article examines the writing of one first-grader, Cauley, and reveals how good teaching has helped him become a better writer. It also includes goals and outlines for 11 writing workshop units of study.

Ray, Katie Wood. “Why Cauley Writes Well: A Close Look at What a Difference Good Teaching Can Make.” Language Arts (National Council of Teachers of English) 82, no. 2 (November 2004): 100-109. Copyright 2004 by the National Council of Teachers of English ( Used with permission.

Analyze the Videos

Key Practices To Observe

“Teaching the Writing Craft” and “Teaching a Specific Writing Strategy” explore the place whole-class lessons have in a writing workshop and the approach teachers take in planning them. They feature commentary from experts on teaching writing at the elementary level, as well as classroom illustrations highlighting the practices of several teachers.

As you watch, look for the following key practices:

  • Teachers use whole-class lessons to introduce ideas and strategies relevant to the entire writing community.
  • Teachers use inquiry to help students identify elements and strategies in written texts that they can replicate in their own writing.
  • Teachers use a variety of models to show the elements of good writing.
  • Teachers’ lessons are guided by the overall ideas and goals of the unit of study.
  • Teachers give students opportunities to talk with one another during whole-class instruction.
  • Teachers listen in on student conversations to monitor understanding.
  • Teachers urge students to immediately try the strategy being taught.
  • Teachers realize that student mastery of writing skills may take several attempts and “re-teachings.”
  • Teachers record the strategies they have taught on charts, and post the charts to remind students of important strategies to use in their writing.
  • During whole-class instruction, teachers think out loud to model and teach writing strategies.

Extend Your Learning

Examine Your Practice

Punctuation is one of the writing skills often taught in whole-class lessons. Read the following quote, consider your own students, and answer the questions below.

Something I think is really big — believe it or not — is punctuation, and not in the way we learned about punctuation when we were in school. To me, punctuation is so much the heart of getting the writing down on the page and getting it to read the way you want it to sound. And there’s so much potential for experimenting with punctuation, with sentence structure, that brings sounds and voice to writing.
— Katie Wood Ray


Guiding Questions

Reflect on the quote from Katie Wood Ray and consider your own students. Then write your answers to the questions below in your notebook. If you are working in a group, share your responses.

  • What does Katie mean when she talks about the difference between the way most adults, including teachers, were taught punctuation and the way she proposes?
  • Think of a lesson in punctuation you already do with your students. What changes, if any, would you make to your lesson to help your students use punctuation to boost the impact of their writing on the reader?

Try an Activity

Interactive. (Activity disabled due to Flash content.)

Analyzing a Writing Mini-Lesson

This activity provides an opportunity for you to focus on specific elements of a mini-lesson. Three video clips feature veteran teacher Sheryl Block and her fourth-grade students in a mini-lesson on adding detail to narrative writing. You will consider the purpose and effectiveness of each part of the lesson and compare your observations with those of another teacher.

Put It Into Practice

The videos, activities, and readings in this workshop illustrate how whole-class instruction can be balanced with other learning activities in the writing workshop and some of the strategies or approaches well suited to teaching the whole class. Now apply what you have learned to refine a lesson for whole-class instruction.


Refine a Lesson

Think of a lesson that you have recently used to teach a writing skill. Use the strategies you have learned in this workshop to modify your lesson.

First, ask yourself if the concept or strategy you plan to teach is a good fit for the whole class or if it would be better taught in conferences or with small groups of students. Once you have decided on a lesson appropriate for whole-class instruction, redesign the lesson to include strategies you have learned or seen illustrated in this workshop. When you have finished, save your written work to submit as an assignment.

Reflect on Your Learning


What Did You Learn?

Summarize what you have learned about designing writing lessons for whole-class instruction from the experts’ statements, classroom examples, and the readings and activities in this workshop. Use the questions below to guide your thinking. When you have finished, save your written summary to submit as an assignment.

  • Which classroom practices from the videos reflect what you currently do?
  • Which practices or ideas are new to you?
  • What changes do you plan to make?
  • What support and/or resources will you need to implement these ideas?

Related Resources

Web Resources

National Council of Teachers of English
NCTE provides research, teaching resources, and articles for teaching writing at all levels.

A to Z Teacher Stuff
A to Z Teacher Stuff provides teachers with free lesson plans, thematic units, and other resources.

The Poetry Forge
The Poetry Forge offers teacher tools such as poetry generators, lesson plans, and discussion groups for teachers attempting to implement these activities.
This site provides ideas for poetry lessons, contests, and activities.
Educators and students can make use of several features, including interviews with children’s writers, writing contest links for young writers, classroom resources for teachers and librarians, and a directory of children’s authors and illustrators who are available for school visits.

Web English Teacher
Web English Teacher presents the best of K-12 English/Language Arts teaching resources: lesson plans, WebQuests, videos, biography, e-texts, criticism, jokes, puzzles, professional development, and classroom activities.

Print Resources

Bomer, Katherine. Writing a Life: Teaching Memoir To Sharpen Insight, Shape Meaning — and Triumph Over Tests. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2005. ISBN: 0-325-00646-6

This book features classroom-tested strategies for tapping the memoir’s power, including ways to help students generate ideas to write about, elaborate on, and make meaning from their memories, and help them learn craft from published memoirs.

Collom, Jack, and Sheryl Noethe. Poetry Everywhere: Teaching Poetry Writing in School and in the Community. New York: Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 2000. ISBN: 0915924986

This book features 60 writing exercises and 450 sample poems by students, teachers, and published writers, including poems in Spanish and translated poems.

Fiderer, Adele. 25 Mini-Lessons for Teaching Writing (Grades 3-6). New York: Scholastic, 1999. ISBN: 059020940X

This book features 25 quick lessons on subjects such as choosing and focusing topics, crafting openings and endings, using details, showing characters’ feelings, etc. It includes sample student work to use as models.

Graves, Donald, and Penny Kittle. Inside Writing: How To Teach the Details of the Craft. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2005.

This book demonstrates the power of an apprenticeship approach to writing instruction, even if teachers don’t consider themselves writers.

Harvey, Stephanie. Nonfiction Matters: Reading, Writing, and Research in Grades 3-8. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers, 1998. ISBN: 1571100725

This resource explores how students can write authentic nonfiction that is interesting, visual, and full of voice.

Jamison Rog, Lori, and Paul Kropp. The Write Genre: Classroom Activities and Mini-Lessons That Promote Writing With Clarity, Style, and Brilliance. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers, 2004.

Written by an educator and a popular novelist, this book presents a balanced approach to teaching 3-9 writing workshops.

Jorgenson, Karen. The Whole Story: Crafting Fiction in the Upper Elementary Grades. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2001. ISBN: 0-325-00292-4

This practical and innovative resource helps teachers guide young writers to refine their fiction through improved characterization and description.

Robb, Laura. Nonfiction Writing: From the Inside Out. New York: Teaching Resources (Scholastic), 2004. ISBN: 0439513685

This resource includes nonfiction writing lessons based on conversations with professional writers.


Literacy Experts

Isoke Titilayo NiaIsoke Titilayo Nia

An educator for more than 25 years, Isoke also spent 13 years as Director of Research and Development at the Reading/Writing Project, Teachers College, Columbia University. She currently travels throughout the U.S. and abroad as a literacy consultant through All Write Literacy Consultants, an organization she founded in 2001. She writes short stories and is at work on a book on the study of genre in the process classroom.

Jack WildeJack Wilde

Jack retired in 2005 after more than 35 years teaching first through fifth grade, most recently in Hanover, New Hampshire. He has two master’s degrees: a master’s of arts in liberal studies from Dartmouth College with a concentration in math and science, and a master’s in education from the University of Toronto. Jack has been a workshop presenter and college-level writing instructor at various institutions including the University of New Hampshire. He is author of A Door Opens: Writing in Fifth Grade.

Featured Teachers

Lindsay DibertLindsay Dibert
Fifth-Grade Teacher
Danville Elementary, Danville, New Hampshire

Lindsay Dibert has been teaching fifth grade for the past six years. She has served on technology and distance learning teams for the Timberlane Regional School District. Lindsay earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Bowling Green State University in Ohio and her M.S.T.E. from the University of New Hampshire.

About the School:

Danville is a small town in southern New Hampshire, and Danville Elementary is one of five elementary schools in the Timberlane Regional school district. The school enrollment is nearly 400, and 96 percent are Caucasian.

Silvia EdgertonSilvia Edgerton
Fifth-Grade Teacher
Herrera School for the Fine Arts, Phoenix, Arizona

A 22-year teaching veteran, Silvia Edgerton has worked with students ranging in age from 6 to 14. She received her bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University. A second language learner herself, Silvia leads reading and writing workshops for parents of Herrera School students.

About the School:

Located in the urban core of Phoenix and among the poorest districts in the nation, Herrera is a fine arts magnet school with a comprehensive arts curriculum. Predominantly Hispanic (93 percent), 44 percent of the students are second language learners. The school has a two-way bilingual immersion program in which non-Spanish-speaking students are learning Spanish and native Spanish speakers are learning English.

Mark HansenMark Hansen
Third-Grade Teacher
Clarendon Elementary, Portland, Oregon

Mark Hansen graduated from Swarthmore College with degrees in anthropology and sociology. His first experience in teaching was as an assistant working with fourth- and fifth-graders with severe emotional problems. He went on to teach adjudicated teenagers in a Los Angeles mental health facility before returning to college and graduating from Lewis and Clark College’s MAT program in 2001. He has been teaching third grade for four years at Clarendon, where he is also the Title One Coordinator. He serves on the steering committee of Portland Area Rethinking Schools, and published an article in Re-thinking Education On-Line.

About the School:

Clarendon’s student population of 338 represents a wide diversity of ethnic groups — almost 50 percent of students speak a language other than English in their homes, and bi-weekly parent meetings are held in English, Spanish, and Hmong. No walls separate classrooms, and teachers are encouraged to mix students of different ages for a variety of activities.

Mark HardyMark Hardy
Third-Grade Teacher
Partnership Elementary, Raleigh, North Carolina

Mark Hardy recently returned to classroom teaching after working for five years as a national literacy consultant, both for the Teachers’ College Reading and Writing Project and independently. Mark spent his first seven years in education teaching upper elementary grades in the Bronx. He is currently at work on his first young adult novel, to be published by Front Street Books.

About the School:

Partnership Elementary is a school of choice within the Wake County, North Carolina, public school system. The school has a diverse student population, with equal numbers of Caucasian and African American students. Each of the school’s 300-plus students has an individualized learning plan, called a Personal Education Plan.

Latosha RowleyLatosha Rowley
Third-Grade Teacher
Cold Spring Academy, Indianapolis, Indiana

Latosha Rowley has been teaching for six years in grades 2-5. She serves in her school district’s leadership program, and co-wrote an article published in the NCTE publication Primary Voices, titled “Making Meaning.” She received her degrees from Indiana University and currently attends Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.

About the School:

More than 300 students attend Cold Spring Academy, a K-8 program with a focus on environmental studies and stewardship as well as on commitment to community action. Nearly 90 percent of the students are African American.