In those posts, I described how I get writing workshop started at the beginning of the year, the routines and procedures that I teach, and how I set high expectations from the start.
But I left out something super important. Maybe the most important thing of all.
I think it is absolutely essential to create a joyful and positive environment for your writing workshop. Kids are likely to have greater motivation and write more in this kind of environment.
I don’t mean that you need to do anything fake or over-the-top. I’m not really a bubbly, cheerleader type of person. But I do have a genuine love for writing and teaching writing, and I make a special effort to convey that joy to my students at the beginning of each school year.
How do I do this? By carefully choosing my words and actions.
In today’s post, I’ll share some examples of the things that I say and the things that I do to help establish a joyful writing workshop environment in my classroom.
Photo Credit, Luis Molinero, Shutterstock
Disclaimer: Amazon affiliate links are included in this post.
The First Days of School
The way you talk about teaching writing matters SO much! On the first (and sometimes second) day of school, I don’t launch our writing workshop. But I do mention it towards the end of the day:
“Boys and girls, I have something exciting to share with you. Tomorrow we are going to hold our very first writing workshop for this school year! We’re going to have a lot of fun drawing and writing this year – but I can’t tell you more right now. You’ll have to wait for tomorrow!”
Then, when it’s time to begin our writing workshop, I don’t immediately launch into teaching routines and procedures.
If you read my previous posts, you’ll know that I do spend a lot of time teaching writing workshop routines and procedures. But before I do so, I need to help my kids understand why we are doing all of this – and why people write in the first place.
Depending upon what grade level I’m teaching, I start the year with at least one or two of the following activities:
- Discussion and anchor chart creation about why people write (kids give examples from their lives of when they have seen people write)
- Readaloud and discussion of The Best Story or Rocket Writes a Story
- Discussion and anchor chart creation about what students hope to draw and write about this year
- Kids share where they enjoy writing or where they think might be a cozy place in our classroom to write
- “About the Author” project – we read the “About the Author” section of a few different books and kids create their own bios to be posted with their writing throughout the year
- Show students photos of past students writing and/or past writing celebrations and/or past special writing projects to get them excited
Routines and Building Stamina
As I mentioned earlier, I spend a good amount of time teaching writing workshop routines and procedures. I also give kids a very limited amount of writing time at the beginning of the year, and then we build stamina slowly
All of this can get a little tedious, so I try to put a positive spin on things. I give lots and lots of compliments when I see students following the procedures and routines correctly. When the whole class stays on task for a goal amount of time, we celebrate (with something very simple – a “dance party” to something on YouTube, or five extra minutes of play time).
I also choose my words very carefully as we work on routines and procedures. I say things like…
“You only had 5 minutes to write today. I KNOW you want more time! I will give you two more minutes tomorrow. We will work together to help you earn more writing time!”
“Make sure to spend lots of time drawing/writing today – and not so much time talking! I have a special sharing activity for you to do with a partner at the end of writing time. I want to make sure you get lots of work done so that you are ready to share!”
“Abby, did you notice how carefully Sam put away his group’s pencils? I know you can make your group’s box look just as beautiful as theirs.”
Dealing with Negativity
As I described in my first and second grade post, many of our students come to us with a writing “past.”
They’ve had some experiences with writing at school. Or if this is their first time at school, they may believe that they don’t know how to write yet. Or they may think that writing means copying down letters as dictated by Mom.
Many students have also already formed opinions about whether writing is easy or hard for them, and if it’s enjoyable or not-so-fun.
I believe that we have to acknowledge kids’ feelings when they express them. But I also believe that we need to quickly move on from any negativity and refocus them on what writing will be like this year.
If a child tells me that they don’t like writing, I might say, “I understand that you have some bad feelings about writing. But I’m going to work hard this year to fill you up with GOOD feelings about writing. Tomorrow I’m going to be telling you about our first special writing celebration, which I think you’ll really enjoy. So – what were you thinking about writing about today?”
If a child continues complaining or telling me that he can’t write, I just respond by helping him with the task at hand. I try to avoid arguing or contradicting his feelings. And it takes time, but continually helping those students focus on the writing task at hand eventually puts a stop to the negativity.
Handling Less-Than-Desirable Behaviors
Teaching kids positive behaviors is just as important as teaching kids to write well. And this takes time.
At the beginning of the year and throughout the year, I choose my language carefully when I talk about writing (this is especially true when I’m addressing behavior like sloppy work, a lack of effort, or getting off task).
I try to keep kids focused on our purpose for writing. I never use writing as a punishment. I never encourage kids to write more just for the sake of writing more.
If a child is off-task, I might say,
“Kyla, are you stuck? Can I help you with something in your writing?”
“Brandon, I’m a little worried. I see you spending a lot of time talking to Juan. Remember that our big writing celebration is in just 3 days! I know you want to make your book GREAT. Can you show me what you are working on right now?”
If a child is finishing quickly, without much effort, I can say,
“I know you want your writing to be the very best that it can be. One way to do that is to check your writing with a rubric to see how you can make it even BETTER! Let’s take a look at the rubric together. Right here it says, ‘The how-to piece tells the reader the materials he will need.’ How would you rate yourself on that?”
As you can see from those examples, I try to assume the best – that all kids want to produce excellent writing.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember that, especially when a student repeatedly misbehaves. But when I assume the best of kids, the way I talk to them changes for the better.
More Writing Workshop Ideas
Want more ideas and free resources for implementing writing workshop? Check out these posts!
- How To Build Writing Folders That Support Independent Writing (big freebie in this one!)
- How To Launch Your Kindergarten Writing Workshop
- How To Launch Your 1st or 2nd Grade Writing Workshop
- How To Let Student Choice Drive Your Writing Workshop