Going into the last leg of the school year, I’d like to take a minute to encourage you to empower students to chose the genre they are going to write. It is important for students to have the choice of genre throughout the school year. Often Writing Workshops become genre study after genre study. Before we know it the entire year has passed and students have had little (if any) say in regards to genre.
One of the reasons we like genre studies is because of the predictable nature of the writing process. When in a unit of study based on genre, it is fairly easy to predict when students are going to be planning and when they are going to be revising. Almost everyone is within a few days of each other. However when one student is writing poetry and another is working on a script and another is drafting short fiction, the only predictable notion is everyone is going to be at a different place every day. This makes planning minilessons more challenging and conferring becomes an even bigger adventure.
Here are some ways to plan Writing Workshop when genre is up for grabs:
- Lead an Author Study. Focus on a mentor author who writes a variety of genres. Over the course of a unit, allow this author to inspire minilessons. The lessons can range from personalizing the writing process, to specific craft moves, to conventions. My favorite authors for this study are Jacqueline Woodson and Jane Yolen. Not only do they write in a variety of genres, across a slew of topics, but they also have useful websites.
- Play with punctuation. Punctuation is universal, regardless of the genre. By devoting a small unit of study to it, students will begin to understand the nuances of punctuation. You may also be pleasantly surprised to find more voice in their writing, as punctuation influences a writer’s voice.
- Focus on audience. Help students understand the important role the audience plays for the writer. This kind of study offers an opportunity to delve into peer collaboration. Another option is to focus on different publishing opportunities and encourage students to submit their work to be published.
- Refine revision. Revision is a sophisticated process and can often be only glossed over for a handful of days within a unit of study. Imagine spending several days on the art of revision. Georgia Heard’s Revision Toolbox and Barry Lane’s After the End helped me envision this kind of study.
Finally, keep in mind a unit of study doesn’t have to be long. Often genre studies last 4 – 6 weeks; however, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. Sometimes it’s best to think of mini-units. If a non-genre unit of study is a little overwhelming, consider taking a week for a mini-unit, which opens the possibility of genre to students. Naturally students won’t publish a piece within one week, however, they will be able to focus on a writing project of their genre choice. Even for a small period, this is good for a writer’s soul.
I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments. Here are a couple questions to start:
- What makes teaching a non-genre unit of study difficult? What is easy about it?
- What could be the focus of a unit of study where your students have control over the genre?
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