Environments: Writing Workshop Fundamentals

In her book Teaching With Intention, Debbie Miller challenges us to consider what our classrooms say about what we believe about education, how children learn, and what we value.  Debbie suggests we invite a colleague (someone we aren’t too close to) into our rooms.  Then, ask this co-worker to share what your classroom says about what you believe about teaching and learning, what you value, and what they know about your students from looking around the room. Now, think about this in your writing workshop. Does your writing workshop represent what you hold to be true about writing and being a writer?

A writing workshop environment is a space where a community of writers gather to learn, write and share. Like any environment, a writing community is affected by its population.  Working with the intention of creating writing environments with our students that are reflective of the beliefs and the needs of all should be our goal.

While each writing workshop is unique to the writers within the workshop, there are basic physical design components common for nearly all writing workshops.

First Things First – Student Spaces: Writing Workshop should provide spaces to collaborate with a peer, spaces to work independently, spaces seated at a table, standing at counters or tables, room to sprawl out on the floor, and a space to gather with a small group. With a variety of options, expect students to explore the various seating options and spaces daily until they find or create their personalized space.  I love watching kids gathering various seating options and using them differently than what I had imagined.

Student Spaces:

  • a small group area 
  • spaces for partners to work alongside each other
  • spaces for collaborative groups to gather
  • spaces for students to work independently
  • a variety of seating options (floor room, traditional table sitting, standing tables/counters, and creative spaces)
  • safe and open traffic patterns (We practice our traffic patterns over and over the first week. We establish clear entrances and exits in traffic design. Entrances and exits keep the room moving safely.)

The Teacher Desk: As you’re setting up student spaces ask yourself how much space your teacher desk is occupying.  A large teacher desk not only takes up valuable real estate in the classroom it also sends a message to the students that this classroom belongs to the teacher.  Eliminating the teacher desk is a big step for many teachers, but I haven’t seen anyone bring the desk back once it’s been removed.

How to Move the Teacher Desk Out:

  • Relocate the contents to your cabinets and closets
  • Grab a caddy and fill it with the tools you want to have on hand.

Displaying Writing: Keep bulletin boards in your classroom clear and ready to display student work.  This environment belongs to the students, and the walls and bulletin boards should say so!  Avoid placing shelves and other classroom furniture under bulletin boards. You’ll want to keep at least one bulletin board accessible to the students so they can place work on display independently.  

  • Tools to keep near display space:
    • open space to display student writing
    • step stool (if appropriate)
    • stapler or tool to hang writing

Charts: Students’ independent work isn’t the only work you’re saving your wall space for.  You will also want to have ample space available for the charts you and your students will create in minilessons.  You will want these charts visible as students work.  Choose a prominent area in your room to display the most recent charts.  Make sure your students know where the charts are within the room.

Meeting Space: Writers and their writing processes are individual to the writer.  But with the right tools at your fingertips, you’ll be ready to deliver minilessons that will inspire any writer.  Ensuring you have ample room for all students, a variety of tools, and integrating your technology into your meeting space will allow you to write with your students in a way that meets the needs of all your students without the loss of time in unnecessary transitions or the hunt for the right tool.

Tools for the Meeting Space:

  • A space large enough for the class to sit comfortably in a circle or in rows.  
  • An easel stocked with large chart paper, pens, pencils, markers, colored pencils, correction tape, scissors, tape, sentence strips, index cards, and word study charts for reference.
  • Teacher writing folder, writing paper, teachers’ anecdotal notes and charts for demonstrations and interactive writing.
  • If you’re fortunate to have a large screen for projection, a projector, document camera, and a computer or iPad, you will want to set your easel up in this space. I like my easel on my left ( I am right handed) with the technology on my right. Then, with a nice swivel chair, I can move flexibly between the easel and iPad, computer, and document camera without losing the flow of the lesson and the integration of technology seamless. 

Writing Center: Many teachers set up a writing center as a place to organize all the tools for writing workshop.  Keeping a variety of tools in the writing center allows writers to be creative and plan writing without worry of what tools are available.  I have two writing centers in my room.  Material housed in two spaces reduces the time and frustration that can result in crowded areas.  I also keep a back stock of tools so kids can replenish supplies when they run low.  

Essential Tools:

  • pencils
  • tape
  • pencil sharpener
  • staplers
  • paper (a variety of lined and unlined to help meet the varying needs of your writers’ fine motor skills)
  • crayons
  • writing folders (to house student writing)
  • basket of mentor texts (When possible I gather multiple copies of mentor texts. One to be kept in the meeting area and two copies in the writing center.)
  • basket of student authored mentor texts (Student written mentor texts shows students what they can do and empowers writers.)
  • word study charts for reference

These tools add variety and choice:

  • pens
  • markers
  • digital tools

Community Supplies: In addition to the supplies in the writing centers, community supplies on the tables, counters and floor spaces helps writers use tools flexibility with out the interruption in having to move about the room as they write. 

  • pencils
  • crayons
  • scissors
  • glue
  • word study charts for reference

Trust: Once you have established your environment, sit back and watch it all fall into place.  Trust your choices and trust your students.  Take note of what’s working and what needs tweaking. Talk with your students.  Ask them what they notice, what they like, and what changes they want to make.  As your students share their perspectives,  remember your non-negotiables and trust your students.

Quick Tips:

Become a teacher who writes.  Through the act of writing, you experience what it is you’re asking students to do.  You learn the messiness and the individuality of what it is students need. 

Allow yourself to step back and watch your workshop.  What do you see?  Does what you see match your vision?

Wondering what to teach next?  Take home student writing folders and read.  Note similar strengths and needs.  Use this information to plan minilessons, small groups, and conferences.

Link Roundup from TWT:

Suggested Reading

Teaching with Intention Defining Beliefs, Aligning Practice, Taking Action, K-5 by Debbie Miller

Spaces & Places Designing Classrooms for Literacy, by Debbie Diller

DIY Literacy: Teaching Tools for Differentiation, Rigor, and Independence by Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts

The Third Teacher: 79 Ways You Can Use Design to Transform Teaching & Learning by Inc. OWP/P Cannon Design  

Giveaway Information:

Renew

  • 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.)
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