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Where do your minilessons live?

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:

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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):

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and here is what it looked like in a student’s writer’s notebook:

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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:

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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!

Tara Smith View All

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.

16 thoughts on “Where do your minilessons live? Leave a comment

  1. Tara,
    So much wisdom in your post! And so much respect for students! I love that you can “plonk” the notes and then the students get to add their own connections or ahas or whatever thoughts seem to make sense individually. You’ve married the “efficient” and “effective” parts of the mini-lesson and given the students the purposeful work that will move their writing forward (not the drudgery of copying). What a great way to honor their “thinking” time!


  2. If charts are purposeful they are being used so how to have them accessible is the challenge. Like Deb, I keep them available, though past units are put in a stack, attached with binder clips, and hung as a ‘stack’. I also photograph charts and share them in Google Docs with a folder for each set of charts. I agree that not only having the charts available to students when they aren’t in the physical classroom, parents do love the insight into our classroom.


  3. Tara,
    I leave charts up all year! Some say this is cluttering the room and not necessary. But I see my kids reference the charts long after their “best if used by date.” Now you have me pondering how I can bring these charts closer to the kids, organizing them in order of the lessons, and allow the writers room to jot down notes.
    I see a lifting addition to our writing folders/notebooks on the horizon!
    Thank you for sharing!


    • So much of what we do in my room centers around the idea of jotting ideas around texts – I want my kids to know that any text, even a mini lesson anchor chart, is interactive. That’s how they make meaning.


  4. Thanks for the information about what to include in your writer’s notebook. This is an area a lot of my teachers struggle with. By adding in the mini lessons and photographs, how many writer’s notebooks do the kids go through during the year?


  5. I read about photographing them over the summer, but had forgotten this tip. I need to do that since several of my charts need to be rotated out to make room for new ones.


  6. As I read your post this morning, I was struck again by how much you and your team do to help teachers grow stronger and stronger in helping students everywhere. Your blog has been classroom-changing for many years. Thank you.


    • Thanks for these wonderful ideas! I am a literacy coach and many of my teachers are starting to use Google Classroom. Is there a chance you would give me access to the resources you share with parents/students so I can share as an example for my teachers? Thanks so much! Michelle


      • I have created a Google Classroom for writing workshop, so each time we do a minilesson in class (such as the one I shared above) I post the minilesson as an announcement on Google Classroom. That way, students and parents can access these strategies at home, and parents are aware of the types of strategies we’ve discussed in class. Hope that helps!


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