Getting Back to Basics: Structures & Routines (Part of TWT’s Big Pictures Series)

Structures and routines need to be clear in your head so they can be implemented when you start Writing Workshop. You can shift to a new routine or modify one that’s not working mid-year, but explaining WHY you’re doing it to your students is important. If you’re unsure of whose model you wish to adapt, talk to other teachers in your school to get a sense of what works for them. You can pepper-in teaching tips and strategies from a variety of authors, but having a clear sense of where you’re going is helpful.

Here are routines and structures I have taught my students. These are by no means a one-size-fits-all plan. These are things that have worked for me after a few years of trial and error with a variety of structures and routines.

  • Transitions to and from the Meeting Area
    • Be on-time and be prepared!
      • Create a short list of things that you always expect students to bring to the rug for Writing Workshop (e.g., writing implement, writer’s notebook, and their present draft if they’re working on one).
      • List any additional items you’d like them to bring to the rug in the same place daily so they have a centralized spot where they can get that information.
      • Create focus spots or assigned spots where children can sit that is near their writing partner, which helps during the active engagement part of your minilesson!
      • Remind them they may not leave the meeting area during a minilesson (unless they need a tissue).
    • Movement to and from the minilesson needs to be practiced for speed, efficiency and sound. While quiet conversations, especially those about writing, are okay, fooling around isn’t an option if you want students to take the time they’re with you on the rug seriously.
      • Practice the speed at which kids come to and leave the rug so that it happens safely and seamlessly, which means YOU won’t have to wait for them.
  • Plan Boxes
    • This is a student’s ticket off of the rug after a minilesson.
      • Plan boxes help you realize whether or not a student understood what you taught during the minilesson.
      • These boxes are also useful since they encourage a student to plan out how they’ll use their independent work time, thereby eliminating their need to get up and ask for your assistance while you’re conferring.
        • It also reduces the amount of talking since they’ve created a plan and you’ve “signed-off” on it before they left the rug.
  • Focus Spots for Independent Writing
    • After a couple of weeks kids may select places where they can truly focus for an entire independent writing period. The spot should be consistent, a place where the child can do his/her best work, each and every day.
  • Using the Writing Center
    • Emily Smith has talked about creating a classroom where it’s “The culture of having enough.” Therefore, giving students access to the supplies they need for Writing Workshop means making a commitment to replenishing the Writing Center often. However, teaching them how to care for the plethora of supplies they’ll go through during the year is important since we want students to use only what they need and to care for the items (e.g., permanent markers need their tops snapped-shut) in the classroom Writing Center.
      • Encourage children to take their supplies from the Writing Center after their plan is approved so that they don’t need to get up often during their independent work time.
      • Consider creating a couple of “Inventory Chiefs” as classroom jobs who alert you whenever more Writing Center Supplies are needed.
    • Purchasing a hanging pocket-chart that has many slots for editing checklists, rubrics, dark lines, etc. allows children to be self-sufficient. If they need something, they can get it from the pocket chart, which should be located in a central location in the classroom.
  • Mid-Workshop Interruptions
    • Lucy Calkins taught me that you need to wait for every student to give you their attention after you say, “Writers, may I have your eyes?”
      • That expectation, that you will wait because you have something important to share with them, creates a sense of urgency amongst the kids. It creates a classroom where one child consistently runs into the hallway to alert their friends who have their focus spots outside that they need to come into the classroom asap.
      • Once you have everyone’s attention, it’s easy to share a teaching point and give a quick example before the kids head back to work.
  • Conferring Expectations (“The Conferring Scarf”)
    • Conferring time is sacred. Kids didn’t want to be interrupted when they were conferring with me, which means that you have to work hard to eradicate unnecessary distractions. Even though students should be working through the plan they created on the rug, sometimes other things need to be mentioned so that they remember not to interrupt during a conference.
      • You might institute a visual signal, like a hat or a scarf to serve as a reminder that they should be reading or writing independently if they see you wearing that clothing item, which you cannot have on at any other time of the school day.
        • Teaching some basic American Sign Language Signs, like water fountain, bathroom, yes, and no eliminates distractions since the kids can sign these to you from across the room and wait for your hand to signal yes or no.
        • Children should know that medical emergencies are the only reason they should interrupt you when you’re conferring with one of their peers.
    • The children will quickly come to value how precious that conferring time with you is since, depending on your class size, you might only see each child once a week for a one-to-one conference.
  • Using Charts & Mini-Charts
    • Creating miniature versions of classroom charts diminishes time spent copying information from a chart to the student’s notebook. These mini-charts can be pasted into a child’s notebook with the swipe of a glue stick or two small pieces of tape. Additionally, mini-charts are excellent resources to have in students’ notebooks since they can reference the strategies taught in class at home since the chart is literally in their notebook.
  • Cleaning-up from Story Surgery
    • This must be explicitly taught early on in the year or else paper scraps will be all over the classroom floor. If you’re clear about the way in which you want materials to be cleaned-up after students cut apart and paste together their drafts after adding sections of new writing, then you have to show the kids how to tidy-up efficiently after any & all revision lessons.
  • Sharing
    • Leah Mermelstein suggests informing kids early on in the school year that you, the teacher, will select who shares and how they share (e.g., process share, content share, etc.) daily.
      • Teacher-driven share selection should help the speed at which the children come to the rug at the end of a Workshop period and should impact the seriousness with which they arrive.