Answers to a Variety of Workshop-Related Questions

When Ruth and I present, we always leave time for teachers to turn and talk.  Our Monday morning session at KSRA was much smaller than our Sunday afternoon session, which meant we could walk around and listen-in to the teachers who were talking with each other.  A variety of workshop-related questions were asked of me as I stopped by to chat with teachers.  I jotted a few of them down since these were the ones the teachers wanted more information about.

Q:  What’s the time breakdown of each part of a minilesson?

A:  Minilessons last 10 – 15 minutes.  Most of the minilesson is time where you’re providing direct instruction to your students.  While a ten-minute minilesson is the ideal, I’ve found it’s not always possible to convey your point fully and succinctly in that short of a time.  Therefore, I like to think of time ranges when I think about the way in which a minilesson should be broken down.

  • Connection:  2 – 3 minutes
  • Teaching:  4 – 7 minutes
  • Active Involvement:  2 – 4 minutes
  • Link:  1 minute

Q:  How often do you meet with students?  How do you decide who to meet with on a given day?

A:  Ideally you want to meet with each student once a week.  The year I taught 32 students, it was virtually impossible to confer with every student in a given week.  However, I once had a class of 18 fourth graders, which enabled me to confer with all students in a given week.  Some years it was just me in the classroom, while other years I had a student teacher.  There were times when service providers pushed into the classroom and could confer with particular students.  Therefore, the frequency you meet with your students depends on the size of your class, as well as the amount of time students have for independent writing during each writing workshop.  The more time you allot for independent writing, the more five to seven minute conferences you’ll be able to hold.

On page 294 of our book, Day by Day: Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective Practice, you’ll find a Class Conferring Manifest.  (NOTE: You can preview Day by Day online for free by clicking here.)  If you walk around with a clipboard, then you can place a sheet like this on it so that you’ll be able to see who you’ve met with in a given week.  If you notice that you’ve met with and checked back in with a particular student, then you shouldn’t meet with them a second time that week (unless there are extenuating circumstances).  Conversely, if a student’s box is blank by Thursday or Friday, then it’s time for you to meet with that child before the week is out.

There are other factors that can help you determine who to meet with in a given week.  One reason you might decide to confer with a student is because you notice something is awry when you review their plan box.  Another reason you might meet with a student more often is if a student has been absent.  For instance, you might have to meet with a particular child multiple times, upon their return to the classroom, to get him/her back up to speed.  (Though, if peer conferring is working well, then you may not have to meet with that child more than once upon their return to the classroom.)  Yet another reason for a conference could be that a student requests one from you because s/he needs your help with something specific.

Q:  How do you get students to generate writing in their writer’s notebooks?

A:  If you’re familiar with our blog, then you’ll know that Ruth and I don’t do prompt writing.  We both believe the best way to have kids to generate writing in their notebooks is to have them write anecdotal pieces about their own lives.  (The Slice of Life Story Challenge, which happens every March and every Tuesday during the rest of the year, is an outgrowth of this belief.)

That being said, we know teachers need strategies for helping their students generate notebook writing, especially when notebooks are new to students.  Here’s a list of past posts that deal with notebook-generation strategies:

Finally, if you’d like to take a look at the strategies my former fourth grade colleagues and I used to launch a notebook writing unit of study in 2008, then click here.  For the unit of study plan from 2007, click here.

Are there any burning questions you have about writing workshop that you’d like one of us to answer?  If so, you can leave them as a comment on this post or e-mail them to us by clicking here.