Sharpen Your Workshop Routines: 5 Secrets to Great Meeting Areas

5 SECRETS TO GREAT MEETING AREAS v2I always loved the meeting area in my classroom for it was the place my students and I learned together.  Meeting areas are important because students are:

  • Able to see, regardless of their eye sight, since they’re close to the easel, interactive white board, or projection screen.
  • Assessed by their teacher during active engagements who circulates by talking with or eavesdropping on writing partnerships during turn & talks.  (This may or may not demonstrate understanding of the minilesson , which means a teacher knows who may need to be pulled for a strategy lesson once the minilesson is complete).
  • Focused on their teacher, not on something in their desks.
Teachers need to have clear expectations about the way the meeting area is utilized. That said, you can’t create a list of rules about the meeting area and expect the kids to follow them.  During the first week of school, you can talk with students about the function and purpose of the meeting area.  Together with your class, you can create expectations that will help the meeting area be a place where meaningful instruction and share sessions will take place.

Here are five secrets to having a meeting area that works:

#1) Set it up.  I believe elementary school students should be seated on and around a rug.  The rug needs to accommodate most, if not all, of your students.  (One year I taught a class of 32 students.  It was impossible to fit them all on the rug. Therefore, I had two benches surrounding the meeting area. Every month I rotated who got to sit on the benches.  Click here for more on flexible seating options.)
There should be a projector screen (for an overhead projector, document camera, and/or computer) or interactive white board in your meeting area so you can use it in your minilesson demonstrations.  It’s also important to have an easel with chart paper and markers in the meeting area so you can create classroom charts with your students.  If space permits, have a bulletin board space where you can display relevant charts.
YOU also need a place in your classroom meeting area.  Find a comfortable chair and a small table for you to keep your supplies (e.g., sticky notes, mentor texts, tape) while you’re teaching.
Want to win a copy of Diller's book? Leave a comment on this post (see "giveaway information" for details).

Want to win a copy of Diller’s book? Leave a comment on this post (see “giveaway information” for details).

Need some inspiration for setting up your meeting area? Search for classroom meeting areas on Pinterest.  You can also purchase a copy of Debbie Diller’s book Spaces and Places: Designing Classrooms for Literacy, which is beyond inspiring.  (Chapter four is completely dedicated to whole group, small group, classroom library, and literacy work areas.)

#2)  Bring what you need. — On a typical day, students need to bring their writer’s notebook, their writing folder (which might contain a draft they’re working on outside of their notebook), and a writing implement to the meeting area.  If students need to bring anything else, you should tell them in advance of the workshop so they come to the meeting area prepared.  (My rule was once you’re in the meeting area you do NOT leave to get anything.) I suggest telling students this orally and writing it in a place they can see it.
#3) Get there. — I think kids need to practice coming to and from the meeting area during the first few days of the school year.  I had a seating plan for the meeting area so students would be sitting next to their writing partners.  In addition, kids who needed to be close to me, for behavioral reasons, were placed close to my spot so I could refocus them if necessary.  I believe it needs to happen quickly and quietly so time isn’t wasted.  If students know what to bring and where to sit, then there’s no reason it should take long to transition to the rug.
The most effective way I have had kids transition from their desks/tables to the meeting area is by using a rain stick.  (Read: Five Shakes of the Rain Stick for the specifics on how to do this.)  Five back and forth movements of the rain stick were all my fourth graders needed to gather what they needed from their desks, push in their chairs, walk calmly to the meeting area, and show me they were ready for the minilesson.
#4)  Expect to learn something. — Everyone expects students to listen and be responsive (when appropriate) during a minilesson. As someone who has been into her fair share of classrooms, I can tell you teachers’ expectations vary from classroom to classroom. I’ve been in classrooms where kids were allowed to bring snacks to the minilesson and others where kids were allowed to go to the bathroom during the lesson.  As an observer, I found this distracting and wondered how students were able to learn…
Anyway, you have to figure out what is non-negotiable for you during minilesson time.  Then, talk with your students about it.  Also, find out what they need in order to help them learn.  Then, create a list of minilesson expectations (e.g., come prepared to learn, respect other writers’ ideas, keep hands free except during the active engagement, have-a-go with the strategy, remain in the the meeting area unless you need to throw up) for students to abide by.  If necessary, you can revisit the list of expectations during the year.
#5)  Depart in an orderly fashion. — Some teachers have their students depart from the meeting area as soon as the link has been state while others have students linger to create plan boxes. Regardless, students need to leave the meeting area and get to work on their independent writing.
  • If kids are leaving are creating plan boxes, then you will likely be checking them.  On the upside, this means kids are leaving the meeting area one by one. (Unless you have a student teacher who checks plan boxes alongside you.)  The downside is that students might get chatty while they’re waiting for you to check their plan box.  Talk this through with your students and determine what will work for everyone during this time.
  • If kids are leaving the meeting area as soon as the link is stated, you need to have a way to get them off at the same time.  I once witnessed a teacher who finished the link and said, “Scram!” which was the most disheartening thing I’ve ever heard during a workshop observation. Here are some better ways to have your students depart the meeting area:
    • Call areas of the meeting area (e.g., rows on the rug, sections of a circle, clusters of chairs, kids on furniture) to leave together.
    • Dismiss students by writing partnerships.
    • Have students leave based on the area they’re sitting in the room (i.e., where their focus spots are).
    • Play the same familiar song (e.g., a classical piece) daily and invite students to leave the meeting area silently once they’re ready to begin working.  They must gather everything they need so they’re writing once the music ends.
When it comes to getting on the same page as your students, consider using interactive modeling.  Click here to learn more about interactive modeling.

Want to think more about meeting areas?

Giveaway Information:

  • This giveaway is for TWO COPIES of Spaces and Places: Designing Classrooms for Literacy by Debbie Diller.  Many thanks to Stenhouse Publishers for donating a copy for two separate readers.
  • For a chance to win this copy of Spaces and Places, please leave a comment about this post by Tuesday, August 12th at 11:59 p.m. EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Thursday, August 14th.
  • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.  From there, my contact at Stenhouse will ship your book out to you.  (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
Let's have a conversation about sharpening workshop routines.

Let’s have a conversation about sharpening workshop routines.

Twitter Chat:

We’ll wrap-up our week of blog posts with a Twitter Chat on Monday, August 11th at 8:30 p.m. EDT. This will be an opportunity to talk about procedures that have worked in the past and new ones to start before the school year begins.

We will use the hashtag #TWTBlog.
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Thank you to everyone who left a comment on this post. I used a random number generator and drew Allison Jackson’s and Tara Warren’s commenter numbers.  They’ll each receive a copy of Spaces & Places. Here’s what they wrote:
Allison said:
Once again, Stacey, Two Writing Teachers is on fire! You guys came back from your July break with a bang. This week-long series on sharpening your routines is perfectly timed. I just started back to school (as you know) so your post today and Tara’s yesterday on writer’s notebooks is just what I need. We do have a meeting area in our room but it’s kind of blah. So thinking of ways to jazz it up….. But one idea that captured my attention here was sharing with students the expectations for what happens in the meeting area, so that they recognize it as something other than just a place to sit for a lesson. Thanks for giving me something to think about. Glad you all are back from your break! (And also hope your break was everything you needed it to be.)
Tara said:
Thank you for this timely blog series this week. I find myself looking forward to each day’s nuggets of inspiration. I am moving from 1st grade back to 5th this year and am eager to get into my classroom next week to define the spaces in my classroom. Thank you for the chance to win the Debbie Diller book! It’s on my very long must-read book list!