While I have read many articles and coached into many situations about how to use writing partnerships in class, I recently had a new teacher ask me about setting them up. Partnerships are such an essential component of writing workshops, but often they are underused. I loved that this teacher was thinking about how to plan for successful pairings even before putting them into place! Thinking about some of the work I’ve done in other rooms, as well as my own writing life, here are some strategies that could help to establish productive partnerships.
Some ideas for setting up writing partnerships in elementary classrooms:
- Have students create “Writing Partner Wanted” posters.
These posters can be personalized, and they can also be differentiated depending on the grade. You might brainstorm different traits and categories before asking students to create their own poster and emphasize to them the importance of prioritizing their preferences.
2. Have students create T-charts or what they’d like in a writing partner and what they can offer.
Before students can really do this work, they should have an understanding of some of the grade level expectations for writing traits and behaviors. I recommend spending some time teaching those before asking students to create this sort of a t-chart.
3. Have students think about goals for themselves as writers. The checklists that are in Writing Pathways by Lucy Calkins are fabulous tools for students to think about the categories of good writing. Are they working on structure, development, or conventions? A good partner might be one who is working on a similar goal.
4. Consider giving students a writing survey. Dana wrote a post about this with questions to ask, and I have created one as well about getting to know writers. Sometimes, the responses on these surveys will help you pair students.
5. Ask students to write down three people in the classroom who they think they would be good partners with. Emphasize to them that this is a business relationship, and not a social relationship. You’ll be surprised at how well students understand the difference, and how wisely they make choices. I recommend using index cards for this, as they can be easily sorted. Have the students write their name on the front and the three choices underneath it.
Some do’s and don’t’s about setting up writing partnerships:
- Commit to these partnerships being in place for a while–at least for the unit, and possibly longer.
- Allow some partnerships to remain in place even when others switch. A strong partnership is a gift!
- Teach into how writing partners choose each other and what they might look for.
- Pay attention to students’ input about setting up partnerships.
- Be ready to teach into successful partnership behavior.
- Worry about having same-sex partnerships. Boys and girls work really well together as writing partners in workshops.
- Be in a rush to set them up. Waiting to see how the writing community evolves for 2-3 weeks is fine!
- Have writing partnerships be the same as reading partnerships.
- Try to pair strong writers with struggling writers. Your strong writers will benefit by having peers who will push them, and your struggling writers may find inspiration and confidence when they work with people who are close to their own levels or working on similar skills.
Writing partnerships are an important element of workshop instruction, but one that requires careful planning and instruction. Like so many routines and procedures, the investment of time in this area to establish successful, productive, independent partnerships is incredibly worthwhile!