Most of my minilessons follow the architecture of a minilesson laid out in the Units of Study for Teaching Writing (as well as the Units of Study for Teaching Reading) by Lucy Calkins et al.
In case you’re unfamiliar, the majority of the ten-twelve minute minilessons in these series follow a pattern that is helpful for planning and delivering crystal clear instruction. It goes like this:
Connection: Remind kids of something familiar. Perhaps remind kids of some prior knowledge, or a story from your classroom, or an anecdote from your own personal life that will connect to today’s teaching point.
Teaching Point: Tell the kids exactly what strategy are going to teach them today. Don’t be mysterious. Don’t make them guess. Be explicit and direct. Just tell them!
Demo: Demonstrate the teaching point with one very clear example. Use your own writing, or a piece of student work, a class story, or a published mentor text–but not all four! That would take too long, and shouldn’t be necessary if you demonstrate very clearly. Act out all the steps of your teaching point, do some actual writing on paper, and think aloud as you do it.
Active Engagement: Make sure every student tries the teaching point before you end your lesson. Invite them to try something quick and small that shows they understand the strategy. It may be talking, sketching, writing, or something else entirely. Just a sample is enough. Plan that this will take no more than one or two minutes. This is the one and only time all your kids MUST try the teaching point. After this, today’s teaching point will become one of many choices your kids can pull from as they work on their own independent writing.
Link: This is where you make it very clear to kids what the choices are for their ongoing work. Today’s teaching point is now just one of the many strategies they can choose from. Often, you’ll add today’s minilesson teaching point onto a chart, so that kids won’t forget it in the future.
A STRONG ACTIVE ENGAGEMENT
When I was new to this work, I put all my energy into planning what I would say, how I would demonstrate, and what my charts would look like. At some point, however, I realized that the minilessons needed to not be so much about me. Instead, the minilessons needed to focus on the students, and whether or not they were understanding and learning how to do something in their own writing.
Over time, I learned to always get up and move around during the active engagement piece of the minilesson, as kids are talking with their partner or trying out a strategy on a snippet of writing. This is my chance to informally assess whether they understood the strategy, and if they can apply it to their own writing.
As I move about, I keep an eye out for any student who seems to be confused, or is having trouble applying the strategy. I jot down their names so that I can pull them into a small group immediately following the minilesson. I often incorporate a sample of exemplary student work into my minilessons, and I keep this at hand as I listen and observe. This helps me easily identify which students will be able to do work on par with the exemplar, and which students will need extra support to get there.
Some signs that a student may need more support
- If talking with a partner, one partner isn’t saying much, even with prompting
- A particular student’s writing/jotting demonstrates that they have misunderstandings about the strategy
- The writing/jotting/sketching or other work could be even better with a little coaching
- The student’s body language or facial expressions show that they are disengaged or uninspired by today’s minilesson
A ROUTINE FOR DAILY INFORMAL ASSESSMENT
Another little trick that I picked up somewhere along the way is to move about during the active engagement, and give out 3 or 4 index cards to students who I observe needing some extra support with the minilesson. (It goes without saying that if half the class needs extra support, then I need to reflect on my own teaching, rethink the minilesson and try again another day).
Then, at the end of my minilesson, as I send students off to their writing spots, I simply say, “If you’re holding a special index card stay here at the carpet with me. Otherwise, off you go!”
This is a quick and efficient way to subtly keep a group of students at the meeting area for a few minutes of follow-up without having to publicly call them over by name.
Another option that I often use is to say, “If you have questions or aren’t sure what to do, stay here at the meeting area with me. Otherwise, off you go!” This leaves me a small self-selected group of students to follow-up with immediately. Additionally, I often have a place in the room where students can sign up for conferences if they feel they need support.
When I meet with a small group immediately after the minilesson, I can either do a quick replay of the active engagement, this time with more individualized support, or I may decide to alter the strategy or teach an entirely different strategy to meet the needs of the group at hand.
A strong active engagement and a routine for informally assessing student work during the minilesson can give you the tools you need to be sure that no student leaves the meeting area completely confused.
Literacy Coach, Consultant, Author, Graduate Course Instructor, and Mom. Passionate about fostering a love of reading and writing in learners of all ages.