Authentic Purposes for Writing Blog Series · writing workshop

Writing Partners: Authentic Purposes for Writing


Someone once told me: You can’t write well about something you don’t care about.

One day, I listened in on two first grade partners, Jennifer and Marco, sharing their pieces of writing. I stood ten steps away, just observing.

Jennifer had written a piece about her brother.

I watched as Marco and Jennifer scooted their seats so they could sit shoulder to shoulder, presumably to put one of their pieces of writing in the center to share. Though the two children sat next to each other, Jennifer’s writing was tucked neatly away, her folder halfway across the table. Marco’s writing was exploded all over the table in a messy heap. Marco leaned away from Jennifer and started adding to one of his sketches. Jennifer looked the other direction. I was beginning to think I should step over and do a little coaching.

But before I did, something amazing happened. Jennifer reached over and pulled out one of her poems from her folder and looked at Marco, waiting.

Marco saw her looking and stopped drawing. “What you got?” he said.

She pushed her paper over to Marco and read it to him in a small shaky voice.

Marco was astounded.

“You wrote that?” I watched on from a few steps back, waiting to see what would happen next.

Jennifer nodded.

Then Marco: “I hope your brother will share toys with you next time.”

Jennifer smiled.

Jennifer and Marco sat and looked at her poem a little longer. Just looking. With the poem in the middle. Marco studied the sad faces of the figures sketched below her writing, a frown on his own face. “You brother is mean. You should stand up for yourself.” Jennifer nodded.

With a little coaching, and a little practice, something very important started to happen with the writing partners that day. Jennifer heard from Marco she should stand up for herself. Another child overheard, and chimed in that his brother was mean to him, too. The children start talking to each other in new ways – they began to care about what the other person was writing, and not only that, they started to care more about the other person as a person.

When we teach writing workshop, we also teach students to care about the world around them. Developmentally speaking, this is a big deal for a lot of kids. Personally speaking, I don’t think I was ever given many opportunities to share my own writing with an audience of other kids–certainly not daily–and I can only imagine how it might have changed me as a student, and as a writer. I wrote for the teacher, and the teacher alone. If we were lucky, our final drafts went on display in the hallway, or were sent home for our families to see.

Kids take gigantic risks to write and then share true stories and ideas with other kids. When they have a consistent writing partner, they learn to think ahead about how their writing will sound to their partner. They can plan ways to make their work more interesting and easier to connect to. When they have the same partner consistently, they learn that person’s personality, and what kind of questions to ask, and reminders to give each other each day–not just feedback that comes after the fact. Each interaction is a continuation of a conversation, rather than starting all over from scratch.

Setting up successful writing partnerships is one of the most challenging parts about teaching writing workshop.  Who is learning English? Who needs a model for positive behavior? Who is very very shy? Who tends to dominate the conversation? The list of considerations goes on. Who has learning disabilities? Who works well together? Who has similar interests?

It’s easy to forget how crucial partners are to very young children. When you are eight or nine years old, your entire social world can be disrupted, shattered, by a simple teacher decision. One day, you ask Alicia to turn and talk to Jeremy. On the playground that day Jeremy gets picked on for being partners with a girl. Another day, Melissa decides she just doesn’t want to be partners with Ali anymore, and Ali’s heart is broken.

Kids have a whole world of complex social interactions that we often forget about or aren’t even aware of in the haste of our everyday snap decisions.

This makes it all the more important that children have some amount of consistency, and plenty of guidance on how to be a supportive writing partner.

When we teach children to be writing partners, we teach them practical steps, such as how to sit “knee to knee and eye to eye,” so that they are looking at each other when they talk. We teach them to nod or otherwise show that they are listening. We teach them to ask questions. We teach them to sit shoulder to shoulder and put the story in the middle when they want to read it. We teach them to give friendly reminders to each other such as “Please don’t yell” or “We should stay at our writing spots.”

When we teach them to do all these things well, we are also teaching them to care about one another.

If that is not an authentic purpose for writing, then I don’t know what is.



  • This giveaway is for one copy of Heart Maps: Helping Students Create and Craft Authentic Writing by Georgia Heard. Many thanks to Heinemann for donating a copy of this book.
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26 thoughts on “Writing Partners: Authentic Purposes for Writing

  1. Beth,
    So important to stop, think, and just wait! It’s so easy to “rush” to a teacher decision. Unfortunately that prevents students from being independent. Slowing down for students to have time to work, think and solve problems always takes time, but it is always time well spent!!! Superb post! ❤


  2. Thank you. I just looked at the book and it got me thinking. My first graders are definitely not digging in to heart/true stories. I love the idea of the heart map and the creative process that takes place before the writing.


  3. This is a beautiful post. It gave me chills. When we trust our students after modeling and coaching them on the how and why of partnering, they will rise to the occasion. The relationships create a wonderful class culture where learning soars. Thank you!


  4. I had a similar experience today with my writers. A few were gathered under a desk (their comfy place to write) and I thought about jumping in, but they were looking at each other’s stories and talking, so I steered clear and watched the magic happen. 🙂 Thanks for sharing this post, I gained a few ideas that I’d like to implement as well. 🙂


    1. There’s always a bit of trial and error involved! Lots of teachers ask kids to write a confidential note naming a few people they think would make a great partner (and why) as well as who they think they probably shouldn’t be partners with (and why). You can take this into account when setting up partnerships that you think will work and then adjust as needed.


  5. Good reminder that the “small” decision we make for students may have huge impacts for their writing, their thinking and their feelings.


  6. I love that instead of stepping in, you paused and waited. I feel that so often we as teachers want to jump in and “fix it.” But if we just wait and watch a little longer, sometimes magic happens all on its own and we get to learn, too!


  7. In may small intervention groups, my students love to share their writing. However, I feel like it is mostly because they are feeling good about their message and their writing. I haven’t thought beyond that to the bigger idea that kids need to learn to care about one another through sharing of writing – the idea that someone else’s work is just as important. Oh, I’m gonna think more about how to make that happen…


  8. Elizabeth, this is beautiful and so apropos to the world of middle school writing workshops as well. Partnerships are about building relationships and trust, two essential ingredients for a writer’s support system. It must have been so heartening for you to witness such an amazing display of caring that was initiated by writing!


  9. Love this statement: “When we teach writing workshop, we also teach children to care about the world around them.” So true – it’s all about observing the world, finding one’s place within it, and caring.


  10. Wow this waa timely! I am new to 1st grade since October and am just now learning how my writers interact as peer esitors. This helped me eemember to see kids first, learners second which is how they see themselves and thus approach their writing.


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