Ten Tips for Coaching into Writing Partnerships

All your kids have writing partners. You’ve taught minilessons on partner talk. You’ve provided numerous demonstrations, they’ve been working together in partnerships nearly every day, and things are up and running. But maybe you have the feeling that every time you come near a partnership, they stop what they were really doing so that they can talk to you, the teacher, instead of carrying on their conversations with each other.

If this scenario sounds familiar, you might try some coaching. Here are some tips:

Coaching Tip #1: Position yourself so that you can easily listen in on students, without taking total control of the conversation.

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Coaching Tip #2: If students are apt to stop the conversation when you are near, or if they have a tendency to want to talk to you instead of each other, let them know that you’re just listening. I often find myself saying, “Pretend I’m not even here!”

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Coaching Tip #3: Coach the kids to talk to each other, not to you. I’ll often whisper to one of the students, “Tell her, not me,”  or “Say that great idea to your partner,” or “Make sure your partner hears you!”

Coaching Tip #4: If one of the students is difficult to hear, or if one student says something that isn’t easy to understand, instead of you saying “Can you explain that?” coach their writing partner to ask the questions. I will often whisper to the listening partner, “Ask her to say that again,” or “Ask him to explain what he means,” or “Ask him to speak a little louder so you can hear.”

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Coaching Tip #5: Remember that coaching is also about naming what students are already doing as well as giving tips or reminders on new work. You can interject brief, concise compliments to name what you notice students doing in a way that they can repeat every time they work together. (“I noticed that you are really asking each other great questions, not just saying what you already thought.” Or “I noticed that you came prepared with something to share with your partner. Being prepared makes for an even better conversation.”

Coaching Tip #6: In some cases, try using a visual cue instead of verbal. Using an index card or a post-it, you might just point to the reminder. Students can see your visual cue, figure it out, and then react without missing a beat in their conversation with their partners.

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Coaching Tip #7: Don’t forget to coach into basics, like sitting shoulder to shoulder, and making sure both partners are physically touching the piece of writing being discussed. When young kids aren’t physically holding or pointing to the piece of writing, chances are they aren’t highly engaged in the conversation. Be sure to be consistent so that kids don’t get mixed messages about the importance of active listening.

Coaching Tip #8: One of my favorite coaching moves is to say “Try that same conversation again, only even better.” Sometimes that simple suggestion is all it takes to lift their work together to the next level.

Coaching Tip #9: Coach kids to make use of the anchor charts around your classroom. They are a huge support. I love it when anchor charts are written in different colors so that I can differentiate for different partnerships. I can say to one group, “Try using the green chart to compliment each other,” then to another partnership I might say, “Don’t forget that blue chart probably is a good place to look for suggestions for each other.

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Coaching Tip #10: Last, but not least, smile. It sounds obvious, but it may not be. It’s not so easy to hold a hundred things in your mind as you move from partnership to partnership and sometimes, kids can read our faces more than we realize. Smile!

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