Sharpen Your Workshop Routines: The Importance of Talk Within the Workshop Process

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Let me start by being honest…

I’ve been in a writing rut. The first of its kind to rear its ugly head so strongly. I think my well dried up a bit and I needed a break so it could refill. Every time I looked at a notebook or computer screen over the past few weeks it was bare. Where were the words? I kept thinking about this post wondering how it was going to write itself. What was I going to do? I needed to write but my voice was mute. My husband asked me the other day, “So what are you going to write about for Two Writing Teachers?” UGH! He knew. He knew I had been struggling. I told him, “Oh, just a little piece on the importance of talking within the writing process.” He suggested I go get one of my notebooks and that I should talk through the piece. So that’s exactly what I did. I talked, he wrote. It helped immensely and firmed up for me the importance of talking in the workshop, not just for young writers but for all writers.

Students need time to process. They need it for all content areas and writing is no different. In fact it might be most important in the process of writing because, “You can’t know what you mean until you hear what you say,” Berthoff, A. E. (Forming, Thinking, Writing: The Composing Imagination, 1982, p. 46).

We want our students to have a message. A story. Information to share. Some are chomping at the bit to get their words down, but that’s on a good day. Not all days are easy for writers and for some no day is easy. We need to allow our students to let their thoughts fill the air a bit. Make a cloud of thinking in their space so they can hear their words. Share their words. Process their words before putting them down on paper.

One of my interesting take-aways from working on this post with my husband was that he chose to write and take notes for me instead of the other way around. My sole purpose was to share my ideas through talk. This would be very challenging for beginning writers to do with a peer however, more seasoned students would probably benefit. A middle school student would be able to stay within her thoughts if someone else was taking notes for her or recording her words. It’s interesting to read the notes of someone else when you were the one generating the ideas.

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How do we sharpen our routines at the beginning of workshop through talk?

Let them. Tell stories. Share life. I think talking as the first step in your workshop is what builds a community in your classroom. Talking and sharing ideas for writing provides windows into the life of each of our students; a window into ourselves. Those who are initially timid to the idea of talking feel secure once the community is in place. Give them time. Make it part of the routine. Eventually this will provide security and they will be comfortable talking with a partner.

You will notice that in the picture above there is no writing yet. This student is telling his talking partner what will be there and processing through the part of the story that will go on that blank page.

How do we structure the talk so it doesn’t deviate from the work?

Model! Practice! Reflect! Retry! Model the talking with another adult about your own writing or model with a student about what his writing will look like. Release the students for independent practice and let them talk while you move around as a listener, not someone that intervenes. Talk and discuss what you saw. What good talking behaviors you noticed. For instance, did you notice students giving each other good eye contact? Did you see back and forth dialogue and questions? Share what you noticed and what you would like to see emulated in all your students.

At the beginning of the year we make a chart about talking behaviors and what a talker/listener looks like. I make small individual copies of the chart for students to hold while practicing the talking routines. In the photo I have the whole group charts we made and the small charts are right up there too in paper pockets for easy access and storage.
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When do we move on from the talking? When does it end?

When you have a burning idea, you just have to get it down. It is often through talk that you find these burning ideas. The students will know, through your guidance, when it is time to get ideas on paper. Make it part of your routine to talk and discuss ideas each day. Students will put out a better product and spend more time writing by adding this step to your process. How? Well, when you don’t know what to write about you tend to stare off into space, wasting precious minutes. When you know what you want to write, you tend to get it on paper. Let them process these ideas and the writing will come.

Talking comes in all the stages of the process. It never really ends; it’s just put on pause until the next time. Talking in the beginning of a students piece helps him generate and organize his ideas. After the piece has begun he shares his progress. When he is beginning to revise he shares his thoughts on where to go next and the listener probes for more. When he publishes he is ready to share with the world!

Talk is what we begin doing as infants and its importance in our ability to process the world around us never ceases. It just changes and evolves. I’d love to hear ways you have used or implemented talking into your workshop routines. Please share in the comments!

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. We hope to see you there!