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Back to Basics: Minilesson Parts (Part of TWT’s Big Picture Series)

So what are the basic parts of a minilesson?  Here’s a short list according to the Teachers College Reading & Writing Project at Columbia University:

  1. Connection — The reason for teaching today’s lesson.  A great way to start out is with these words, “Yesterday I noticed . . . ” Our teaching should be in response to the work students are doing, as well as guided by the goals of the unit (which are guided by state standards!).
  2. Teaching — Use all the wonderful ways you know to teach one key point as efficiently and effectively as you can.  Some of my favorite ways include:  modeling with my own writing; using a mentor text; using an example from a student; using an example from a published writer; or sharing strategies via a chart.  A friendly reminder — keep to one key idea, watch the clock and stop talking in order to allow time for active engagement!
  3. Active Engagement — Carl Anderson refers to this as “Have-A-Go” this is the point where students give the one key point a whirl.  Ways to include active engagement are:  partner shares or writer’s notebook entries.  In all honesty, this is sometimes a very short part of the lesson.  It is also the point where lessons can become too long.  It takes time to refine active engagement so that it works for you and your students.
  4. Link — Link this one key point back to the work students are doing.  It acts as a book-end to the minilesson.  At the front, you tell why you are teaching this one key lesson and at the end you remind students how they will use this one key lesson in their work today (and forever-the-rest-of-their-lives).

Finally, for elementary classrooms, I aim for fifteen minute (or less) minilessons.  I believe that learning comes by doing . . . not by listening to someone else talk about the doing.  Therefore, we need to leave the bulk of Writing Workshop time for students to work.  The simplest way to keep lessons short is by adhering to one key point and committing to ending the lesson when time is up. 


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