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Private: Teaching Reading: 3-5 Workshop

Writing Extend Your Knowledge | Writing

Examine the Topic

The amount of time students have to write–in Writing Workshop and throughout the day–is a critical factor in students’ writing development. Read the following statements by Nadeen Ruiz, and by Ralph Fletcher and JoAnn Portalupi. Think about how these statements relate to your classroom writing program and what questions you have about providing appropriate time for instruction and practice in writing.

Every writing expert, from Donald Graves to Lucy Calkins and Nanci Atwell, talks about time. We must have regular times for our students to write. We would hope that this is true on a daily basis, but, if it’s not possible, there will be certain days that are dedicated for writing. And children know when those writing times are going to occur.

–Nadeen Ruiz

Through his books and his research, Donald Graves has had a major impact on the teaching of writing. One day a teacher asked Don, “How should I teach writing if I can only sandwich it in one day a week?” “Don’t bother,” Don replied bluntly. “One day a week will teach them to hate it. They’ll never get inside writing.” It is crucial for students to have frequent, predictable time set aside for them to write. Plan to schedule a minimum of three days a week for about an hour each day. Four or five days is even better. It’s important that students know when the workshop is scheduled so that they are ready to meet it. When students know they’ll have a specific time to return to a piece of writing in progress, they think about that work when they are away from their desks. You may be thinking, with a sense of panic, “Okay, but I don’t have three hours a week to spare!” Of course not. Yet many successful writing teachers have found ways to hurdle the time issue. They’ve done this by scrutinizing their schedules and pruning out other, less effective methods they are using to teach students writing skills. Let’s assume you have tackled the time demon and carved out regular class time for the workshop. It’s also important for students to plan how they will use their time. The wording here is deliberate. When we suggest you schedule time to write, three days a week, we are referring to a workshop environment where student choice is prevalent; where students decide when a piece of writing is finished; where students set their own agendas and their own pace. While individual teachers have added their own rituals and routines, three basic components should be present in your workshop: (1) time for whole-group instruction (often referred to as a mini-lesson), (2) time for writing, and (3) time for structured response.

Excerpted from Fletcher, R. and J. Portalupi, Writing Workshop: The Essential Guide. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2001.



Consider a typical week in your class, and then write your answers to the following questions:

  • How much time do you schedule for student writing? Based on what you have read and viewed, should you add time to your daily or weekly schedule?
  • How do you structure this time to support and advance student writing? How might you change it to increase opportunities for students to improve their writing?
  • How do you balance student choice with teacher choice of writing topics?
  • What challenges/questions do you have in scheduling adequate time for writing?
  • What changes can you make?

Tips for New Teachers: Supporting Young Writers

Supporting Young Writers

  • Be positive. Emphasize first, and more frequently, what works in a piece, rather than what doesn’t.
    • Your first sentence gives a very clear introduction….
    • I really like the way you used this specific word to let your reader know exactly what you meant.
  • Choose the most important strengths and weaknesses in students’ work when giving feedback.
  • Be sure to comment on pieces in first-draft form, so that students have a chance to make changes. Comments given after a final draft is completed get less attention.
  • Address the content of students’ writing first, then deal with mechanics.
  • Carve out time for students to read and respond to one another’s writing, so that they learn how to be effective peer respondents.

Adapted from Graves, M. F., C. Juel, and B. B. Graves. Teaching Reading in the 21st Century, 446-448. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2001.

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Private: Teaching Reading: 3-5 Workshop


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