midworkshop interruption · minilesson · writing workshop · Writing Workshop Fundamentals blog series · writing workshop routines

Structure: Writing Workshop Fundamentals

Writing Workshop Fundamentals Blog Series - August 2017 - #TWTBlogI used to run in college. Sometimes we went for a quick mile, and other times, we planned a longer route–sometimes up to five miles. I learned that if I geared up for a short run, any extra steps beyond that one mile felt hard. On the other hand, I could make a five mile run happen as long as I was expecting it. (Full disclosure: the last half mile was hard.)

This relates to writing workshop because we all program ourselves, and a lot of the time, we function best when our program coincides with our expectations. One of the critical aspects of a well running writing workshop is its predictability. That predictability provides clarity and structure for both teachers and students, offering a format for instruction and for paying attention and working.

A pie graph works well for me whenever I think about the component parts of a writing workshop. In most classrooms, the pie graph represents sixty minutes, but the graphic representation applies to longer and shorter workshops as well.

chart (1)

What are the Structural Components of a Writing Workshop?

The Minilesson

In general, minilessons should last approximately 10 minutes, and they should contain four distinct parts. Tomorrow, Stacey will elaborate even more on each part in her post about this important aspect of a writing workshop.

  1. The Connection: Students learn why today’s instruction is important to them as writers, and they learn how it connects with what they have been learning and practicing.
  2. The Teaching Point and Demonstration: The teacher states exactly what will be taught during the lesson. “Today I’m going to teach you” is a useful phrase to streamline instruction. This is the part of the lesson when the teacher shows students how to use a specific skill or strategy.
  3. The Active Engagement: Students have a chance to practice what has just been taught or to share noticings about the lesson. They might also “turn and talk” about how they could use the strategy in their writing. They might even “stop and jot” in their writer’s notebook.
  4. The Link: The teacher reiterates the teaching point, and students are challenged to include it into their repertoire of growing skills within their practice of writing.

Independent Writing Time

For about twenty minutes following the minilesson, students should be engaged in independent writing time. Mid-workshop interruptions offer students a shorter teaching point, and then students should have another segment of sustained independent writing time for a total of about 40 minutes within a 60 minute workshop. Early primary students may have shorter segments, working toward stamina and sustaining longer sessions.

During independent writing time, students should be working on their own writing, and they may very well be in different phases, focusing on a variety of goals. Yes, they should be trying out the skill from the minilesson, but they should be developing a growing repertoire of skills within genres and as writers. Independence and repertoire are important goals of writing workshops.


Conferring with individual students and/or partners and Small Group Work

Conferring and small group work target specific students and skills. Conferring especially is often called the heart of the workshop. A strong conference also has discernible components: a compliment, research on the part of the teacher, and a teaching point. Small group work at its best involves 4 students who are working on the same skill. They may be of different writing levels, but the teaching point pertains to the work all of them are doing.

Mid-workshop Interruption

It is difficult to sustain writing, and students are usually ready to handle a break in the action. Therefore, the mid-workshop interruption is just as it is described. Students usually stay at their desks, but the teacher folds in an additional teaching point that may or may not relate to the minilesson. The MWI could involve honoring a student, or it could relate to a skill that the teacher knows pertains to several students in the class.

Lucy Calkins emphasizes the importance of having students’ attention during the mid-workshop interruption, and a line she uses is “Writers, can I have your eyes?” She then waits for everyone to stop what they are doing and look at her. While we can all coin whatever phrase works in our own classroom, I have to say that Lucy’s is really effective!

Teaching Shares

Shares come at the end of the workshop. Like the mid-workshop interruptions, shares might be a time to honor students’ work, but these five minutes can also be a time to directly teach one more concept. Either way, shares should involve student work, and they should create a sense of closure for the day’s writing work.


Just like when I’m preparing for a run, when I’m preparing to give or to participate in any sort of lesson or presentation, it helps me to know how long it will be; that way I can pace myself. As your workshops become more and more predictable in terms of structure, I bet you’ll find that you engage and even empower your writers!
Quick Tips

  • Use a timer! Hold yourself to a ten minute limit for a minilesson. If you find that you are going over, try to establish which part of the minilesson is taking too much time, and target your revision.
  • During independent writing time, challenge yourself to get to one individual conference, one partnership, and one small group. You won’t believe how many students you can reach.
  • Think of your mid-workshop interruption and share as teaching points and add bullets to the charts that are in progress.
  • Create charts with your students of what your role and responsibilities are, as well as what their roles and responsibilities should be. Refer to these charts as needed.

Next Steps

  • Google Forms is a fabulous resource for setting up record keeping systems. Consider using it as a tool when you are conferring with individual students or even more than one student at a time.
  • Try asking students to set a goal for themselves at the end of your mid-workshop interruption. Often, this helps focus them for the remaining minutes and provides a sense of purpose.
  • Veer from the classic minilesson structure with an inquiry lesson. Sometimes inquiry lessons take a little longer, but challenge yourself to not stray too far from the 10 minute time frame.

Link Roundup

Anna Cockerille writes about the components of a minilesson:  https://twowritingteachers.org/2015/09/13/teaching-writers-about-writing-workshop/

Beth Moore writes about routines:  https://twowritingteachers.org/2014/08/07/sharpen-your-workshop-routines-writing-centers-to-organize-all-your-materials/

Beth Moore writes about more than one way to teach a minilesson:  https://twowritingteachers.org/2014/08/21/there-are-more-ways-than-one-to-teach-a-minilesson/
Suggested Reading




Giveaway Information

  • This giveaway is for a copy of Renew! Become a Better — and More Authentic — Writing Teacher. Many thanks to Stenhouse Publishers for donating a copy for one reader. (If the winner has a U.S. address, you may choose a paper or eBook. If the winner has an international mailing address, then you will receive an eBook.)
  • For a chance to win this copy of Renew! Become a Better — and More Authentic — Writing Teacher, please leave a comment about this or any blog post in this blog series by Monday, August 7th at 5:00 p.m. EDT. Beth Moore will use a random number generator to pick the winner’s commenter number. His/her name will be announced in the ICYMI blog post for this series on Tuesday, August 8th.
  • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so Beth can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.  From there, our contact at Stenhouse will ship your book out to you.  (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
  • If you are the winner of the book, Beth will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – RENEW BOOK. Please respond to her e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.



40 thoughts on “Structure: Writing Workshop Fundamentals

  1. This series is incredibly helpful as I plan to implement writing workshop for the first time in my 8th grade ELA classes. I’ve always struggled with teaching writing, but this series spells everything out to make planning much easier. Thanks so much!


  2. Timers are such a fun tool. For a ten minute lesson, I like to have a student in the group set the timer for 8 minutes so then he can give me a two minute warning, and I can still end with a quick restated teaching point and link without taking up precious writing time!

    Structure is everything . . . in our writing and in our writing workshops!


  3. This series is very timely as we are revving up to provide Writing Workshop PD across this coming school year. We see a great need for all of us to give writing the time every day it deserves. Too many times writing workshop is the thing that is taken off the schedule and we forget how writing is reciprocal to reading as well. Thanks and I am also looking forward to getting a copy of the book!


  4. Great post on structure Melanie. I agree that predictability makes it all run better- for teachers and writers. Can’t remember where I saw this (probably here on TWT) but I love the idea of handing the timer to a student who then lets the teacher know at the ten minute mark that it’s time for writers to write. I haven’t used Google forms for record keeping, and am not aware that teachers at my school have either. Excited to explore the possibilities.


  5. This was a wonderful post. Our high school ELA Dept is adopting a reader/writer workshop model this year. Your posts are really helping me get my brain around how to manage this structure in my classes.


  6. Excellent blog – I’m going to send this to my colleagues as we are just starting to implement the writing series. I think it will be very helpful to them . Love the series & would love a copy of the book.


  7. What a great blog series to run right before teachers are returning to the classroom! Thank you for the breakdown and explanation of each component. As a self-taught Workshop teacher, this is very helpful! : )


  8. Interesting post. Have you given thought to the mid workshop break conditioning writers to not know what to do when attention flags? Wouldn’t lessons in self-monitoring and persistence be important components to facilitate independence and enable writers to refocus on their own? Students will learn what we teach.


    1. Absolutely! This is a post I’ve been planning–you can even do minilessons on self-monitoring and workshop responsibilities. Reflection and metacognition are important for all of us–in more than just writing workshop.


      1. Thanks Melanie. Sometimes following routines leads to undesirable outcomes and many of my recent readings have pointed to teaching students to self monitor and work through weakening attention. I appreciate the opportunity to bring these ideas forward.


  9. So great strategies to incorporate while teaching English and French, students of all level at the CFL I run, here in Greece! The mid-interruption workshop is the ideal way to strengthen the feedback. Thanks for the fabulous post!!! Greetings to all, from Patras, Greece!


  10. Thanks for sharing the breakdown of the timing portion of the workshop. I’ll have my kiddos for a 50 minute block, so I am thinking of adjusting the independent writing time.


  11. Thank you for the streamlined, honest look at writer’s workshop! Your timing is impeccable as I begin to gather my own thoughts and start planning the new year’s writing path. Looking forward to reading and being inspired by more of your tips this week!


  12. I love this post. I plan to share it with my student teacher when discuss our launch for writing workshop this fall. As always, Two Writing Teachers is a wealth of knowledge.


  13. I really enjoyed reading your blog post STRUCTURE: WRITING WORKSHOP FUNDAMENTALS just now. Being new to using the Writing Workshop method, I found your post to be extremely helpful. I look forward to incorporating these fundamentals in my classroom this year as I seek to fully develop the Writing Workshop with my students. I really appreciate all of the resources you suggested in this blog post as well. Thanks so much for sharing your expertise with us.


  14. I always have so much difficulty finding those two 20 minute segments for my kiddos to just write. I am determined to do better this year!! I must!!!! 🙂


  15. Perfect timing for this series- thank you for all the reminders! I’m still challenged by keeping a 10 min mini-lesson! I’ll try a timer, the kids can help me.


  16. I am really keen to use a writing workshop approach with my 12th graders. By this time they have fulfilled all of their formulaic writing standardized test requirements (sigh) and I think it’s necessary to do something to return joy to their reading and writing. They are preparing for college level writing and in my many discussions with English Comp professors, they all bemoan how derivative and cookie cutter incoming college freshmen writing is. I understand that much of English 101 is rhetoric based and I do focus my class upon that but I’d like to use a different method to inspire deeper engagement and promote more passionate and relevant writing. Is Writing Workshop capable of this? I think so! If you were to use WW with high school seniors during 46 minute long classes, what would it look like? How would you design it? Mentor texts? Creative non-fiction? Inquiry questions? Help! I have so many ideas but I’m overwhelmed with the actual implementation!


    1. Read some of the other posts this week. Beth’s post about unit planning is important, and Stacey’s post today about minilessons might help you, as well. Mentor texts are a tool–you can even do a minilesson on how writers use them to inform and inspire their own writing. Inquiry questions are a different type of lesson that can add variety to your overall instruction. Start with what you’re going to teach–like a 5-6 week unit–and then explore the rest of the posts. Hope this helps.


  17. Last year, I became more aware of timing and occasionally timed my lessons to be sure I wasn’t overdoing it with the “mini”! This is a great post as I get ready for back to school.


  18. Thanks to this series, I’m starting to get excited about diving back into school and teaching my second year in fourth grade. I’m especially loving the Quick Tips sections!


  19. I am excited to be trying out a writing workshop style of intervention with a group of 5th and 6th graders this year. I am starting at a new school where I will. E teaching K-6 which is a change since getting my Master’s when I focused on 6-12 students in SpEd. I need to find my routine in the time I have 35min x 2days and 40min x 2 days.


  20. I enjoyed reading your blog post on writer’s workshops. Using a timer is something that I need to embrace as I often make mini lessons much longer than they need to be. Looks like I have a goal for this year. 🙂


  21. I have found that students are extremely successful when using The Workshop Model. They are able to work at their individual levels, which enables all learners to make great strides.


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