During a Voxer chat a couple of weeks ago, our conversation turned to minilessons and anchor charts in writing workshop. How do we keep these minilessons alive for our kids? we wondered, what do we do to make sure our kids have these anchor charts to reference as they begin drafting, revising, editing? Somewhere during this conversation, I shared the fact that my kids kept copies of each minilesson in their writer’s notebooks, which led to some interesting conversations, and this suggestion from Kathleen: why don’t you write about the way you keep track of the minilessons? All of which brings me back to the essential question: why do we do this?
I have always envisioned our writer’s notebooks serving two main purposes: a place to write (i.e. to gather seed ideas, experiment with craft moves, create entries that may grow into published pieces) and a handbook to help us write (i.e. a place to keep track of our minilessons and the writing strategies they focus upon). With this in mind, we use the front of our notebooks for writing, and the back to collect our mini lessons. Here’s what that second half looks like:
When my students write, my expectation is that they will use this collection of minilessons as a source of reference, to remind them of this or that strategy we had discussed during various minilessons. Our anchor charts, created during these minilessons, are also on display in our classroom; but I believe that it gives my students a measure of independence to be able to look up the strategy they need at any given time right at their desks while they are writing.
For many years, my students copied these lessons down while I was at the easel creating these charts. A few years ago, as more and more of my students came to sixth grade with handwriting issues, I began to move towards other ways of making copies of these strategy charts available: photographing them and making copies available, allowing my kids to photograph them, and typing them up for students with special needs. This year, we dispensed with note taking entirely. We “plonk” in the minilesson first, then gather at the easel to go over the strategy and jot down additional ideas.
Here, for example, is a lesson from the other day. First, the anchor chart, complete with my “in the moment” spelling mistake (which caused much triumph and delight among my kids):
and here is what it looked like in a student’s writer’s notebook:
Often, I take photographs of our mentor text work, email them to my classroom computer, and then print them out for my students as well. These, too, become part of their writer’s notebook – handy references to turn to when they are trying out a mentor author’s strategy:
Now that we have Google Classroom, I am also able to add the minilessons and photographs of mentor texts to our Writing Workshop Classroom, which parents and collaborative teachers have found to be helpful. I think it’s especially helpful for parents to be able to have this peek into our classroom practices, since most are unfamiliar with the way workshop functions, having grown up with much more traditional and “old school” writing instruction. It also helps to know what was taught and what the terms on our rubrics mean when I evaluate my students’ writing; terms such as “so what?” and “the rule of thoughts and feelings” can seem quite mysterious to someone not versed in workshop terminology.
Of course, a good deal of the success of this reference section depends upon cultivating the habit of turning to it during writing. This is the work of the first few months of writing workshop, when I need to remind my kids to consult this section first and refresh their memories about a certain strategy, before requesting a conference. In doing so, they learn that they can often get past the “I’m stuck” parts themselves. A great lesson in agency and independence.
How do you help your students keep track of minilessons? Please share your practices and ideas in the comments, we’d love to know!
I teach Writing Workshop, Language Arts and Social Studies to sixth graders at a middle school in suburban New Jersey. This blog is my attempt to capture all the "stuff" that goes into my teaching life - the planning, the dreaming, the reading, the preparing, the hoping and (above all) the kids.
Please note that the content of this blog is my own. It does not reflect the opinions of my employer.