How to Integrate Reading and Writing Workshop in K-2

Do you use the reading workshop AND writing workshop models in your K-2 classroom?

I love the workshop model because it:

  • Promotes student choice (which is motivating!)
  • Gives students lots of real reading and writing time—not worksheets
  • Creates time for us teachers to meet with students one-on-one or in small groups

If you’d like to learn more about the reading workshop or writing workshop model, you can watch either (or both!) of my free webinars:

Free Reading Workshop Webinar

Free Writing Workshop Webinar

But let’s say you’re already implementing both! Yay!

This is a wonderful thing, because reading and writing are reciprocal processes. When kids grow in one area, they also grow in another. So even though your reading and writing workshops are probably scheduled separately in your literacy block, they actually support each other!

In today’s post, I’ll share time-saving tricks for using both reading and writing workshop AND explain how you can help kids transfer their learning from reading to writing (and vice versa).

Do you use the reading workshop and writing workshop model in your classroom? You can use both of these models together to save time! Read this blog post for tips about integrating both models in a Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade classroom.
Photo Credits: Monkey Business Images, Shutterstock

How to Save Time With Workshop

First and foremost, I know your schedule is packed. Sometimes the school day feels like a track and field event, with you sprinting from subject to subject! And I don’t know about you, but I don’t like that feeling.

But here’s the good news: using both the reading and writing workshop models can actually help you save time. 

And you’ll save the most time if you simultaneously work on the same genre in reading AND writing workshop (as much as possible). For example, if you’re writing all-about (informational) books during writing workshop, read informational texts during reading workshop. 

This will save you time because:

  • You can use books from reading workshop for your writing workshop mentor texts. For example, let’s say that you read a fairy tale during a reading workshop minilesson. During writing workshop time, when you’re teaching students how to include a problem in the stories they’re writing, take that fairy tale and discuss the problem in it. Or show kids how the author used transition / time words in the fairy tale.
  • You can use some of the same graphic organizers in both your reading and writing activities. If students already know how to use (for example) a web from your reading minilessons, then it’ll be easier for them to use the web to plan their writing.
  • Books read during reading workshop can serve as inspiration for students’ writing. For example, sometimes kids run out of ideas or topics for nonfiction writing. If you’re reading tons of nonfiction to them, they could write about one of the topics they’ve learned about.

Not only will these strategies save you time, but your literacy block will feel so cohesive when you work on the same genre in all areas!

One caveat—sometimes opinion writing can be hard to “match” in reading workshop. As a result,  genres don’t always match up perfectly. That can be tricky.

However, if you use my writing bundles and reading bundles, the genres will match up as much as possible (assuming you start them both around the same time).

How to Help Kids Transfer Their Learning

Now let’s talk about how to help our students make connections between reading and writing workshop!

First, if you “match up” genres like I discussed in the previous section, that in itself goes a long way in helping students make connections.

Second, you’ll want to consistently model and point out how you make connections between reading and writing workshop. For example, you might say something like…

“We learned a lot about elephants during reading workshop last week, so I can take what I learned and make a nonfiction book about elephants!” or

“We’ve been talking about using adjectives in our writing, and that made me notice this adjective in our book!” or

“I’m not sure how I want to start my new story, but maybe I can find some ideas in the books we’ve read this week during reading workshop.” 

You get the idea. YOUR comments can lead them in the direction of making connections between texts.

You can also:

  • Encourage students to notice nonfiction vocabulary words in books, and then use those terms in their writing
  • Keep a basket of reading workshop books available for students to use during writing time (for ideas and inspiration)
  • Create “cross-workshop” projects where students do simple research during reading workshop and write about their research during writing workshop


Reading and writing workshop are like peanut butter and jelly—they’re awesome together! 

And they work best when we “match up” genres as much as possible. This creates a cohesive feel to your entire literacy block and encourages students to make some wonderful connections.

If you need help implementing reading workshop and writing workshop, check out my mega-bundles below. You can also purchase *just* the reading component or *just* the writing component, and those are linked on the product pages, too.

Happy teaching!

Why I Have My Students Make Personal “Word Part Dictionaries”

Do you want your students to apply their phonics learning to their writing?

I know I do! And I also know that this doesn’t happen easily for all students.

In today’s quick post, I want to share a free tool with you—a template for a word part dictionary. Relatively recently, I started having my students create these word part dictionaries, and it has helped tremendously with their spelling! Keep reading to find out how I use them, and to grab the template for free!

FREE word part dictionary template - help your students connect phonics learning to writing!

What is a Word Part Dictionary?

A word part dictionary is a place where students keep track of word parts they have learned.

For example, if they study the “ink” pattern in phonics, they then add the “ink” pattern to their word part dictionary. They write the word part (i.e., “ink”) and then choose a word that contains that word part (i.e., “pink”). They draw a picture to illustrate the word.

FREE word part dictionary template - help your students connect phonics learning to writing!

Every time students learn a new word part during phonics, they complete a new box in their word part dictionaries. Throughout the year, each child has a record of his/her phonics learning. During writing time, students can refer to their word part dictionaries for help with spelling.

I’ve also found the dictionaries to be helpful to ME because I’m a little forgetful! During writing time, it’s sometimes hard to remember exactly what patterns each child has learned (i.e., I forget what they should be responsible for spelling correctly—especially toward the end of the school year). If there’s ever any question, a student and I can just look in their word part dictionary to see if they have already studied a particular word pattern.

You can use this tool with word families, vowel spelling patterns, prefixes and suffixes, etc. It’s super versatile!

What age group is this for?

I have been using this tool with first grade and up. You can also use it with Kindergarteners who are learning word families or other “chunks.”

How can I use this tool?

It’s very easy to set up! First, download the template and make copies for students. You might want to make copies on light-colored paper, so that students can easily locate their dictionaries during writing time. Or you can try white cardstock, so that the dictionaries (hopefully) last longer.

You can introduce the dictionaries whole-group or small-group—whatever works best for you. Have each student write his/her name on the front and decorate it. You want to foster a sense of ownership so that students feel responsible for and will use their dictionaries!

Each time you introduce a new phonics pattern to a group of students (or the entire class), students will fill out a new box in their dictionary. They write the word pattern, choose a word that exemplifies the pattern, and illustrate the word.

Want to give this a try? You can download the template by clicking on the image below.

Let me know how it goes! If you’re looking for more phonics or word work activities, you can check some out in my TpT store here.

Happy teaching!

10 Websites to Share with Parents for Summer Learning Activities

Looking for some websites and resources to help your students continue learning during the summer? Here are 10 great sites that you can share with the families of your Kindergarten, first, or second grade students!Looking for some summer learning activities? This blog post has 10 websites to try! (For parents of Kindergarten, first, and second grade students)Photo Credits:  Monkey Business Images, Shutterstock

Some of these sites are geared toward parents (I put **asterisks** by these), while others can be accessed independently by students. Even for student-independent websites, I always recommend that students’ parents visit the website with them to help students get set up correctly. – From Reading Rockets, this site is parent-friendly and has suggestions for books and learning activities for the summer** – Reading and math games that are great for preschool through 1st grade – Fun informational videos from National Geographic – Reading and math packs (in English and Spanish) that families can print and use with K-3 students** – Reading and phonics games – A variety of educational games for K-5 (you can easily access the exact grade level(s) you need!) – Students can listen to or read high-quality digital books at home! – Crafts and other activities that families can do on rainy days** – Informational articles that kids can read independently or that families can read together – A great, parent-friendly collection of ideas and tips for learning during the summer**

If you’re looking for more learning activities for your Kindergarten, first, or second grade students (or your own children), check out my Kindergarten, first, or second grade summer learning pack.

Happy teaching!

5 Activities to Help K-2 Students Improve Their Handwriting

There are a million things that we have to fit into our school day—and handwriting can feel like just one more thing that we don’t have time for!

BUT it’s super important. Even in our digital age, students need to learn to form letters correctly!

In this post, I’ll share 5 activities that I use to help my students improve their handwriting. Many of these can be done in the context of writing instruction (perfect for when your students aren’t applying their handwriting skills to their actual writing).

I’m suggesting these activities in addition to your normal handwriting instruction. These activities don’t replace explicit instruction that shows students how to form letters. I recommend dedicating time daily or weekly for teaching handwriting, having students practice on paper and with sensory materials (i.e., shaving cream), etc.

Looking for some fun handwriting activities? Read this post for handwriting ideas for Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade!

Activity #1: Highlight the lines on students’ writing paper.

This is more of a strategy than an activity—but it can be super helpful!

To help students who struggle to write within the lines, you can highlight the lines on their writing paper (for handwriting instruction AND any other writing activities they do).

If handwriting is a big challenge for a student, you might want to begin with paper with two lines, and then move to paper with three lines. Baby steps!

Looking for some fun handwriting activities? Read this post for handwriting ideas for Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade!

Looking for some fun handwriting activities? Read this post for handwriting ideas for Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade!

I definitely can’t take credit for this strategy. 🙂 I learned it from a wonderful occupational therapist who worked with one of my students. I wish I could give her a shout-out, but it’s been about 10 years now and I can’t recall her name!

Activity #2: Have students sort letters by their attributes.

Students need a “language” to help them think and talk about letter formation. It helps to use words like loop, dot, tail, stick, etc.

I really don’t think it matters WHAT terms you use, as long as you are consistent with those terms. (If you have a handwriting curriculum that students use at multiple grade levels, definitely stick to the curriculum’s terminology for consistency.)

To help students learn how letters are the same and different, you can have them sort letters by their attributes.

Students might sort magnetic letters into groups of letters that have curves, straight lines, or both.

I also like to have students sort letters by the lines they touch. For example, students might group letters by those that have tails below the bottom line, those that touch the top and bottom line, and those that touch the middle and bottom lines.

Looking for some fun handwriting activities? Read this post for handwriting ideas for Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade!

Having the highlighted letter cards is especially helpful to getting students to focus on these lines!

Activity #3: Play a “Handwriting Scavenger Hunt” game.

This game is helpful when you want students to fix up their handwriting in the context of their writing!

There are lots of different ways you can play the game. You give clues about a letter (or multiple letters), have students find it in their writing, and then have them fix up the letter if they see that it is formed incorrectly.

The clues can range from simple to more complex. Here are some example clues:

  • Find a lowercase a.
  • Find a capital letter.
  • Find a capital letter that is a vowel.
  • Find a letter that has a tail below the line.
  • Find a letter that touches the middle and bottom lines.
  • Find the letter at the end of the word the.

You might have noticed that many of these clues have more than one correct answer—this is helpful because you don’t always know which letters students have included in their writing.

It helps to have visuals of the letters to discuss them with students (once the mystery letter(s) are revealed). Also, make sure to have students study the letter(s) carefully and fix them in their writing, if necessary!

Activity #4: Play a “Mystery Letter Guessing Game.”

This activity is somewhat similar to #3, but it can be done out of the context of writing instruction. Instead of having students search through their writing, simply place letter cards on the table (4-6 letters at a time).

Choose one letter and give clues to help students guess it. They have to wait for 2 clues before making a guess.

If you put the below letters on the table and choose the letter c, you might give the following clues:

“This letter touches the bottom and middle lines.”

“This letter has only curves, no straight lines.”

Looking for some fun handwriting activities? Read this post for handwriting ideas for Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade!

You can swap out the letter cards and play multiple rounds of this! If you do want to incorporate students’ writing, after students have guessed the mystery letter, they can search for examples in their own writing and fix any letter formation mistakes.

Activity #5: Play “Handwriting Inspector.”

In this partner activity, students work with a partner to fix up their handwriting. After you provide instruction about how to (politely) give feedback, students swap papers. They look for examples of excellent handwriting, as well as areas for improvement.

Looking for some fun handwriting activities? Read this post for handwriting ideas for Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade!

Students can also do this independently, in a “Fabulous and Fix It” activity where they work on improving their own handwriting.

Looking for some fun handwriting activities? Read this post for handwriting ideas for Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade!


The materials shown in this post all come from my Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade small group writing bundles. And handwriting is actually just one small part of these resources—they address all kinds of writing issues, including capitalization, punctuation, spelling, and content!

You can read more about these materials by clicking on the images below.

If you have other favorite handwriting activities that you love, feel free to share below. Happy teaching!!

FREE Spanish Writing Folder Tools

Are you teaching writing in Spanish? If so, and you work with kindergarten, 1st, or 2nd grade students, I’ve got a BIG freebie for you!
In this blog post, I explain how I use my Spanish writing folder tools to help my students become more independent writers. Keep reading to get all of these materials for FREE!

Are you teaching writing in Spanish? Download these FREE writing folder tools for Kindergarten, first, and second grade!

Why folders?

I know that some teachers have their students write in notebooks. For writing workshop, I prefer to use folders. Here’s why:

  • When students write stories or make books within a notebook, there’s no clearly defined beginning and end. Primary students can easily lose track of where their book starts and stops! I give my students pre-stapled booklets of lined writing paper, and they keep these in their writing folders.
  • If students need to add in a page or rearrange pages, that’s hard to do with a notebook. Using the stapled booklets allows us to add on more pages or rearrange the pages if necessary.
  • The stapled booklets more closely resemble the books students are reading. I emphasize that students are authors, so it makes sense for them to create things that look like real books.
  • When students use booklets and folders, they can take home certain pieces of writing to share with family members. This isn’t the case with writing notebooks—we risk losing the entire notebook if something happens to it at home.

What type of folder is best?

I purchase plastic or sturdy cardboard folders. I want them to last. 🙂 I also usually buy them all in one color, so that students don’t confuse this folder with any other folders they may have.

I also make sure to purchase folders with prongs in the middle. You’ll see why this is important in a minute!

Inside the folder, you’ll notice that I place two stickers: a red dot, and a green dot. The “red dot” side is for work that’s finished. The “green dot” side is for work that is still in progress. This system helps students keep their folders organized!

What goes inside the folder?

In the middle of the folder, I place different tools that students can use while they’re writing. These supports encourage students to work more independently!

The writing folder tools include:

Spelling charts:

Editing checklists:

Genre checklists:

Transition word lists:

There are a few other things in the writing folder freebie for you, because I know that different grade levels and different types of writing require different tools!

How do you introduce the writing folder tools?

When we start the school year, I don’t include ANY of these tools in their folders. Students likely wouldn’t know what to do with them!

The first tool I typically introduce is an alphabet chart. I use it to show my students how I stretch out words and write them phonetically.

I say a word, isolate the first sound, look for a word that starts with that same sound on the chart, and write that letter. (By the way, this can get a little tricky when you’re teaching writing in Spanish, because kids often hear the vowel sounds before they hear other sounds, and we want them to think about the syllables. But the alphabet chart is still a helpful place to start!)

After the kids are able to help me use the chart in a whole group setting, I then place it inside their folders so that they can use it as they write.

As time goes on, I add other tools. I also sometimes remove tools that students no longer need.

Where can I get these writing folder tools?

I have these tools (and more!) for you for FREE! Click on the image below to sign up for them!

Do you have more resources for teaching writing in Spanish?

Yes! I have another blog post here: How to Support Dual Language Students with Writing

And I now have my kindergarten, first grade, and second grade writing units available in SPANISH!


Happy teaching!

Spanish Writing Mentor Texts for K-2

If you teach writing in Spanish, then you may be able to relate to the difficulties I’ve had with finding materials!

One problem I’ve had is finding mentor texts in Spanish. (Mentor texts are books that can be used to teach students about writing. We point out writing strategies that a published author has used and show students how to try these strategies in their own writing.)

After spending a good amount of time searching, I’ve found some great Spanish mentor texts, and I want to share this list with you!

Teaching writing in Spanish? Here are some lists of great mentor texts!

Photo Credits: vinnstock; Shutterstock

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are Amazon affiliate links.

Narrative Writing Mentor Texts in Spanish

These texts can be used to teach narrative writing—personal narratives, story writing, etc.

Así me siento yo (Janan Cain) – great for teaching different feelings words students can use in their writing to show how they felt in a personal narrative, or how characters feel in a story

¿Puedo jugar? (Mo Willems) – great for teaching dialogue through speech bubbles, problem and solution

¡No dejes que la paloma conduzca el autobús! (Mo Willems) – great for teaching students how to show character emotions through their drawings; can also be used as an opinion writing mentor text

¡Qué montón de tamales! (Gary Soto) – great for teaching students to show how characters feel and describing the setting

El conejito Knuffle (Mo Willems) – great for teaching setting, character emotions, problem/solution

La asombrosa Graciela (Mary Hoffman) – great for teaching strong characters/character traits, as well as setting, problem, solution, and descriptive writing

Un día de nieve (Ezra Jack Keats) – great for teaching “small moments,” writing with details, beginning/middle/end

La silla de Pedro (Ezra Jack Keats) – not told from the 1st person perspective, but is still a good mentor text for personal narratives

Un sillón para mi mamá (Vera Williams) – great for teaching “small moments,” descriptive writing, character feelings, and story elements (characters, setting, problem, solution)

El patito feo (Luz Orihuela) – great for teaching story elements like characters, setting, problem, character feelings

I tend to use a lot of fairytales and folktales in my narrative teaching. Fortunately, many are available in Spanish, including books written originally in Spanish, which is great! El gallo de bodas (Lucia Gonzalez) is one example.

Informational Writing Mentor Texts in Spanish

A sembrar sopa de verduras (Lois Ehlert) – a simple nonfiction book that can be used to teach labeling (great for kindergarten)

Los alimentos de la granja (Nancy Dickmann) – this is a very simple nonfiction book that’s great for kindergarten

Las partes del cuerpo (Bev Schumacher) – another simple nonfiction book that can be used to teach labeling

Las rocas: Duras, blandas, lisas y ásperas (Natalie Rosinsky) – a great general nonfiction book for K-2, also includes some labels

Me pregunto por qué las arañas tejen telas (Amanda O’Neil) – great for teaching labels and captions; can also be used to teach students to organize their nonfiction books into sections

Un hábitat de desierto (Bobbie Kalman) – good for teaching students how to include labels in their pictures and divide up their books into sections with headings

Cómo hacer slime (Lori Shores) – great for teaching “how to” writing (procedural nonfiction)

Cómo se hace un libro (Aliki) – great for teaching “how to” writing (procedural nonfiction)

Cómo hacer un tornado en una botella (Lori Shores) – great for teaching “how to” writing (procedural nonfiction)

Honestly, just about any well-written nonfiction book in Spanish can be used to teach general informational writing! Look at the books you already have in your classroom and choose a variety to use with your students: books with different text features, organized in different ways, about different topics, etc.

Opinion Writing Mentor Texts in Spanish

¡Pato! ¡Conejo! (Amy Krouse Rosenthal) – this is a simple book that’s great for teaching kindergarten or 1st grade students how to give reasons for their opinions using words and pictures

La paloma necesita un baño (Mo Willems) – a great picture book that shows a character giving multiple reasons for his opinion

Huevos verdes con jamón (Dr. Seuss) – can be used to teach persuasive writing strategies

Clic, clac, muu: Vacas escritoras (Doreen Cronin) – great for teaching kids to include reasons in their opinion writing; can also be used to teach letter writing

Los gatos vs. los perros (Elizabeth Carney) – great for teaching comparison in opinion pieces

Oye, hormiguita (Phillip Hoose) – great for teaching kids to include reasons in their opinion writing; this one is a bit longer, so use it with 2nd grade and up or just use parts of it with younger students

Writing Lessons in Spanish

Have you been translating your writing curriculum into Spanish? I did that for several years, so I know how time-consuming that is!

If you’re looking to save time and have your student materials in SPANISH, check out my Spanish writing workshop resources below. Let me know if you have any questions!

Happy teaching!

How to Use Detailed Rubrics to Guide Your Writing Instruction

A detailed writing rubric is worth its weight in gold!

(Actually…maybe it’s worth a lot more than that, because a sheet of paper doesn’t weigh very much. 😝)

But anyway…you get what I’m saying! Detailed writing rubrics are very valuable, because they a) help us get a clear picture of how students are doing (much more helpful than a simple “A” or “B” grade!) AND b) they help us adapt and shape our instruction.

In last week’s post, I shared my assessment plan for each writing workshop unit that I teach.

But in that post, I didn’t explain how I use rubrics to guide my writing instruction!

So in today’s post, I explain how I use detailed genre rubrics to make decisions about my whole group, small group, and individual writing instruction. I’ve also included a quick video to help walk you through my thinking!

Rubric scores help me SO much in planning my writing instruction. In this post, I use a video to walk you through my thinking about how I use a first grade narrative writing rubric to plan instruction!

How I Use Rubrics to Guide My Writing Instruction

As I mentioned in last week’s post on assessment (definitely check it out if you haven’t yet — click HERE), I use a genre rubric, like the one you’ll see in the video below, 3 times a year with 1st grade and up.

This thought process can be applied to any rubric, however. Watch the video below to hear how I analyze data from a 1st grade narrative writing rubric!

The Bullet Points

Here’s some of what I shared in the video:

  • Rubrics can be used as formal assessment, but it also makes sense to use them BEFORE instruction to guide your teaching during a unit.
  • Rubrics that have a wide range (i.e. 1-5) are the most helpful. A score of 4 is the goal, but as you can see, the rubric goes beyond that so that you can accurately assess more advanced students and understand how to move them beyond simply meeting expectations. (Same goes for lower students.)
  • Look among students’ rubric scores to find patterns. If there is an area of weakness for 50% or more of your students, address it in whole group. If a handful of students need to work on something, plan small group lessons. If just one or two students need to work on something, address it individually.
  • Although it’s tempting to constantly look ahead on the rubric to see what to teach next, remember that students may still need to spend time solidifying skills that fall under their current score on the rubric.
  • Know your limits. I’m a specialist and work with kids one-on-one or in small groups, so I can spend time analyzing each child’s needs as a writer/reader. If you have an entire classroom, however, it’s not feasible to try to work on every single aspect of the rubric with each student individually. Set one individual goal per student, and try to address as many things as you can in whole or small group.

Questions about any of this? Leave me a comment! And if you’re wondering how to get rubrics like these, you can check out my kindergarten, 1st, or 2nd grade writing units:

Kindergarten Writing Workshop Curriculum Learning At The Primary Pond

First Grade Writing Workshop Curriculum Learning At The Primary Pond

Second Grade Writing Workshop Curriculum by Learning At The Primary Pond

I also have the genre rubrics available separately:

Happy teaching!

How to Assess K-2 Students’ Writing in a Writing Workshop Model

In the writing workshop model, assessing or grading students’ writing can be a challenge.

Students are typically choosing different topics, selecting which strategies they want to apply, finishing their writing at different times…it can feel a little “all over the place.” So how do you assess their work in a consistent, easy-to-manage way?

My personal preference is to use a 2-part assessment system:

  1. Benchmark assessments throughout the year
  2. Writing assessments during each unit

In this post, I’ll explain both of these systems AND share how you can convert rubric scores to grades!

Not sure how to grade your Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade students' writing? In this post, I explain my assessment system and how to convert rubric scores to grades.

Photo Credits:  wavebreakmedia, Shutterstock

Benchmark Assessments Throughout the Year

First, let’s think about the year as a whole. During the year, I will teach informational, opinion, and narrative writing. I teach 2 units in each genre (they spiral).

I want to find out what my students can do in each genre at the beginning of the year, after I’ve taught one unit in the genre, and again at the end of the year.

To track their progress in each genre, I use a 6-step approach:

Step 1: I find or create a genre rubric for informational, opinion, and narrative writing.

You may have a school/district rubric for each genre, you might use my writing units, or you might have other rubrics that you use. Here’s an example of what a genre rubric might look like (this is a 1st grade informational writing rubric):

This is an example of an informational or nonfiction writing rubric for first grade.

This is an example of an informational or nonfiction writing rubric for first grade.

Your genre rubric should be detailed enough so that it can inform your instruction and guide you in choosing specific skills to teach. It should also include enough of a range so that you can accurately evaluate students who are on the high or low end of the skill spectrum.

Print a copy of each genre rubric for each student in your class. SAVE these rubrics and use them throughout the year to track students’ progress.

Step 2: A couple of weeks into the school year (or before I teach each genre), I give students a prompt for each type of writing.

After I’ve taught some writing workshop procedures and routines and the kids have done a little bit of writing, I give the first prompt. You can choose any genre, but I like to start with narrative.

I make sure that I give this prompt BEFORE I have taught students skills in the genre. I really need to see where they are starting from so that I can adapt my instruction accordingly AND get a true sense of their progress during the year.

I give a very general prompt, like“Draw and write to tell me a story of something that happened to you. It might be something that made you happy, sad, excited, or scared…it’s up to you!”

While students are writing, I don’t provide support. If a student isn’t producing any writing, I might say, “What are you going to draw/write about?” Other than that, it’s up to them!

So that it’s a low-anxiety activity for them, I just explain that I want to be the best teacher I can be, so I need to learn about them as writers at the beginning of the school year.

You can give all 3 prompts toward the beginning of the school year to get them out of the way.

OR you can just give the prompt for the genre you’re going to teach first. Then, before you teach the other 2 genres, give the corresponding prompts that you didn’t give at the beginning of the year.

(By the way, I don’t usually do this in kindergarten at the beginning of the year—but you can definitely give it a try if you’re so inclined!)

Step 3: I score those “baseline” writing samples with the genre rubric.

Once students have produced a writing sample for a prompt, I use the genre rubric (from Step 2) to evaluate the writing.

I mark all students’ rubrics with the same colored colored pen or pencil. Then, I can come back to the same copy of the rubric later on in the year and score it again (with a different color).

I use the same genre rubrics throughout the year and write on them with different colors.

This first time, I don’t use students’ scores as grades—again, this is formative assessment, done prior to instruction.

Step 4: After teaching at least one unit in a genre, I score students’ writing samples with the same genre rubric.

Later on in the year, once I’ve finished teaching at least one unit in a genre, I again come back to those genre rubrics. I take a piece of writing that students have produced during the unit, and I score it, using a different colored pen or pencil to mark on the original rubrics.

The writing samples that I choose have been revised and edited by the students, but I don’t provide students with adult help before I score the samples.

Step 5: At the end of the year, I give prompts similar to those I gave at the beginning of the year.

Rinse and repeat! Toward the end of the school year, after teaching one more additional unit in each genre, I repeat Step 2, using the same or very similar prompts.

Step 6: I score the end-of-year writing samples with the same genre rubric and (hopefully!) celebrate all the progress we made!

Once again, I score the writing samples using the same genre rubrics. Because I now have circled parts of the rubric in three different colors, I can easily see how students have progressed throughout the year.

Assessments During Each Unit

The process I described above provides me with a “big picture” look at students’ writing in each genre, 3 times per year.

In addition to the benchmarking process, I also do some informal and formal assessment during each of the 7-8 writing units that I teach. Here’s what I do:

Step 1: I list out the most important goals for the unit.

When I teach a unit, there are a number of different skills that I teach. BUT I don’t necessarily expect all students to completely master them.

However, I make sure I’m clear on the “essentials” of the unit—what I absolutely want all students to be able to do after I teach the unit. I list out these goals before I start the unit.

Step 2: I get my class checklist ready.

I take that list of goals and turn it into a class checklist, like this:

This is an example of a class checklist for a first grade informational writing unit.

This checklist provides me with a place to make notes throughout the unit.

Step 3: I make notes on the class checklist throughout the unit.

As I meet with students individually or in small groups, or when I pull students’ writing folders, I can use the class checklist to write notes about how students are doing with each essential goal.

Because I have notes about all of my kids on 1-2 sheets, I can easily see where multiple students are struggling. Then, I can then make adjustments to my whole group instruction or plan small group activities for specific students.

This checklist is for my own use. I don’t share it with students or parents. Again, this is formative assessment.

Step 4: Using a unit-specific rubric, I evaluate a writing sample that students have revised and edited on their own.

At the end of the unit, right before I help students revise and edit, I evaluate a piece of writing that they’ve produced during the unit. I choose one that I know they’ve revised and edited on their own (not a first draft).

The rubric has the same criteria that the class checklist does.

This is an example of a unit-specific writing rubric for first grade informational writing.

You CAN sometimes skip this step if you’re using the genre rubric approach, because technically you can end up evaluating one piece of writing with two different rubrics. But I’m fine with doing it twice, because I like to get a picture of how each student did on the unit-specific goals AND the overall genre goals for the year.

Sometimes, I use this unit-specific rubric twice during a longer unit: once in the middle, and once at the end.

Converting Rubric Scores to Grades

The assessments I’ve discussed in this post are designed to provide information for you—about how students are doing and what you need to teach.

But we also have to share information with other people—like parents and administrators.

If you use my writing units, the unit-specific rubrics are great to share with parents.

Sometimes, however, you might also need to produce letter or number grades. If this is the case, here’s what I recommend doing:

  1. Meet with your team. Bring the scored rubric(s) you want to use to generate grades for students.
  2. With your team, decide what constitutes an A, B, C, etc. You can do this with number grades too. For instance, you might say that scoring 31-33 points on the unit-specific rubric above is an A, 28-30 points is a B, etc. Is it a little bit subjective? Yes, but grading writing always is, to some degree!

As long as you and your team (or just you, if you’re on your own) have created specific number ranges for each grade, you will be able to easily justify your grades to parents or administrators. Make sure to keep the rubric(s) that you used to generate the grades so that you can provide in-depth explanations if necessary. Honestly, rubrics provide so much more useful information to parents than grades do!

Rubrics Done For You

Want these rubrics (and writing lessons) done for you? Check out my kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grade writing bundles. All of the rubrics in this post come from these resources!

Kindergarten Writing Workshop Curriculum Learning At The Primary Pond

First Grade Writing Workshop Curriculum Learning At The Primary Pond

Second Grade Writing Workshop Curriculum by Learning At The Primary Pond

If you don’t need lessons but are interested in JUST the genre rubrics, you can grab those here (note – these are already included in the above bundles, so no need to purchase if you already have a bundle!):

Happy teaching!!

3 Reasons to Add a “Reading Response” Center to Your Literacy Independent Work Activities in K-2

For a long time, I didn’t have a literacy center devoted entirely to reading response.

I wanted to have my kids write about the books they read on their own AND the books that I read to them. But I wasn’t quite sure where it could fit into our day.

Should it be part of the independent reading center? Well, not really, because that takes away from actual READING time.

Should it part of the writing center? Maybe, but I want the kids to work on other types of writing too.

Should it be a whole class activity, following a readaloud or shared reading? If I have time, absolutely. But sometimes I don’t. And if I give the kids all the same reading response task to work on, they usually finish at different times.

Finally, I ended up making reading response its own center.

It seemed like the best solution — it makes reading response a priority, but it fits conveniently into the literacy centers block that I already have scheduled in our day.

(By the way, I still do set aside time to model responses based on readalouds/shared reading. The reading response center ensures, though, that kids have an extra chance to practice since we don’t have a dedicated reading response time EVERY day.)

Have you thought about adding a reading response center to your literacy rotations? If not, here are 3 reasons why you might want to!Get reading response activity ideas in this blog post for kindergarten, first grade, or second grade! Perfect for literacy centers!

Photo Credits:  milanzeremski, Shutterstock

1. Reading response incorporates comprehension AND writing — a double whammy!

You really do get “a lot of bang for your buck” with reading response activities.

The very act of thinking about a text in order to write about it helps develop kids’ comprehension skills.

You also get to see how kids are doing with their reading/listening comprehension AND their writing skills!

(This is true even if kids can’t write yet, but it’s definitely helpful to have a parent volunteer or aide write what kids say about their drawings when you want to assess students’ comprehension!)

2. Reading response activities can be super fun and motivate kids to read MORE!

Do you know how EXCITING it is for a 5, 6, 7, or 8-year-old to get a personal letter from a friend that recommends a book?

Well, spoiler alert — it is SO fun for them!

Having kids recommend books to each other creates this amazing buzz and energy for reading in your classroom.

Try a project like:

  • A book recommendation letter

This post has ideas for a reading response center in kindergarten, first grade, or second grade!

  • A book review

This post has ideas for a reading response center in kindergarten, first grade, or second grade!

  • A book recommendation flip book

This post has ideas for a reading response center in kindergarten, first grade, or second grade!

3. If you lump reading response in with independent reading, it’s really hard to get kids to find a true balance between reading and responding.

I work with K-2 kids, and they take a loooooong time to write.

Sometimes it can be tempting to have kids respond to books that they’re reading. It seems like a good way to hold them accountable for independent reading, right?

And it can be. BUT there’s really no good way to ensure that the responding doesn’t eat up too much independent reading time — unless you separate the two activities and dedicate time to each one.

I set up my centers rotations so that kids typically visit the reading response center right after they visit the independent reading center. This ensures that they have time to read AND respond!

Reading Response Activities

How do you incorporate reading response into YOUR classroom?

If you’re looking for some reading response activities for kindergarten, first grade, or second grade, check out my reading response packs below!


Happy teaching!

5 Ideas for a Successful Writing Center in K-2

Do you have a writing center in your kindergarten, first, or second grade classroom?

In my classroom, the writing center is part of our daily literacy centers rotations. Additionally, I have a separate writing block (writing workshop) at a different time of the day.

The work students do in the writing center reflects what they’ve been working on during writing workshop — with a few fun twists and more variety in activities.

If you have (or are thinking about adding) a writing center OR independent writing activities to your independent work time, this post is for you!

In this post, I’ll share 5 strategies that have increased student engagement AND work quality in my writing center!This post has ideas for your writing center! Perfect for kindergarten, first grade, or second grade.

Photo Credits: spass, Shutterstock

1. Create an example binder.

Kids need to see examples of writing projects!

I always model each writing activity before I introduce it to my writing center. But it’s also helpful for kids to be able to refer back to an example!

I started the example binder so that students would a) quickly and easily see what writing activities they could do at the center, and b) to provide them the support they needed to be successful with those activities.

My example binder is small, because only 3-4 page protectors need to fit in it at any given time. I don’t want to overwhelm the kids with options!

I have one page protector for each project option.

On one side of the page protector, I place a photo or actual example of the writing project.

I put an example binder in my writing center to show students what their options are for writing activities!

On the other side, I place a sheet with ideas to get students started AND a list of “tips” (basically, a checklist for their work).

I put an example binder in my writing center to show students what their options are for writing activities!

It’s pretty simple to put together, but makes a BIG difference in how students do with their writing projects!

If you have lots of students using the writing center at once, consider making two example binders.

If you’re interested in done-for-you example binder materials, check out my kindergarten, first grade, and second grade writing center packs. Every activity comes with the finished example binder sheets, so all you have to do is print!

2. Think outside the box for writing activities.

If you find yourself (or your students) getting a little sick of the same old, same old, bring in writing activities that you might not have tried before.

For example, students might make:

  • Pamphlets / informational brochures
  • Posters for the classroom or school
  • Newsletters
  • Comic strips
  • Props for dramatic play or other play activities (restaurant menus, ad circulars, signs for a pretend store, street signs for the blocks center)
  • Photo stories (kids take photos of each other or small toys and then create a story from the photos — BookCreator is great for this)

3. Provide a range of supports.

We all have students who can sit down at the writing center and draw/write for days on end! We also have kids who need a little more help in order to be successful.

Supports like spelling charts, editing checklists, and word lists can go a long way in supporting students who need it!

When it comes to supports, I want to:

  • Provide a range
  • Present them in a way that’s organized and not overwhelming
  • Easily change them out as the year goes on and students’ needs change

After doing some online searches, I saw that other teachers used a trifold board to display writing center supports. Cool, I thought, but what about when I want to change the supports?

Having the supports stay the same throughout the year didn’t seem like the best option for my students. So I got a trifold board, but instead of gluing down papers, I glued down page protector sheets to the board!

This is the board I use in my writing center — there are page protectors glued to it so I can easily switch out writing supports!

Now I can easily replace the pages throughout the year!

This is the board I use in my writing center — there are page protectors glued to it so I can easily switch out writing supports!

4. Have students plan their work with a partner before they begin.

During writing workshop time, my students always talk to a partner about what they plan to write. This helps them plan out their ideas and get started.

Eventually, I realized that this needed to happen in the writing center too!

So before my students begin working, they tell a partner what they plan to write about.

In the writing center, my students talk to a partner before they begin writing!

These speech bubbles, like everything else shown in this post, come from the writing center resources in my literacy centers bundles.

5. Help students find real audiences for their work.

In “real adult life,” sometimes we write just for ourselves and our own enjoyment.

But more often than not, we are writing for someone else! Knowing that someone else (i.e., a parent, a teammate) will be reading our writing motivates us to make sure it’s coherent.

Similarly, having a real audience is SO motivating to kids, and it improves the quality of their work!

I include a “sharing time” following centers each day. Kids can bring one item to share with a partner (whether it’s a piece of writing, a book they read, or something else).

Additionally, students can:

  • Bring home writing to share with their families
  • Place select pieces in the classroom library
  • Hang up posters in the classroom or school

Having students share their work with an audience doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming!


If you try out any of these ideas, let me know how it goes! And here are those links again for writing center activities in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade:

Happy teaching!