Beyond the Fundamentals Blog Series · classroom environment

Environments for Kids & With Kids: Beyond the Fundamentals of Writing Workshop

Feb 2018 Blog Series - DRAFT

As I thought about writing this post, I considered my day and what needed to get done.  I mulled over when I would go to the store, how many loads of laundry I needed to fold, visiting family, and when I’d have time to sit down with my thoughts.

As I went through my to-do list, my thoughts immediately jumped to where I would go to write today.

I have different writing environments, and part of getting myself writing is determining my space and setting a tone for writing. Will I write in my office, in the beloved corner of the leather sectional, in the recliner by the fire, or at the back table of my favorite coffee shop?  Getting settled into writing requires careful planning, the right time, space, and tools.  

Choosing the location is just the beginning of setting a tone for writing.  I need a few more essentials: a candle, a warm drink, and a great playlist.  Now, I am ready to write, right?  No, now I am left to decide where I’ll put my thoughts: Word Press, Grammarly,  Pages, my notebook or Google Docs?  The decisions a writer makes are many and always changing.

Some days it seems getting settled into writing is the most challenging part of writing. When everything is right in my environment, the words seem to spill out onto the paper, but everything has to be just right. One unexpected bump can turn me away and leave my words compacted and confused in my mind.

My writing environment is the first obstacle and I am an adult writer who has complete ownership in my context. Let’s consider the writers in our classrooms. They aren’t as experienced as we are. They are still learning the benefits of the right environment, tools, genres, and the craft of writing.  So how do we enable them to gain ownership of this first obstacle?

I wrote, in a post for our  August 2017 blog series Writing Workshop Fundamentals:

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.

As I visit classrooms, read blogs, and browse my Twitter feed it is ubiquitous that classes have opened their writing workshops to various seating and tool options.  So, how do we help our students choose, design, and evaluate the right writing space?


When an environment feels comfortable, writers are free to explore and discover their processes and voices as writers.  As teachers who write, we know the writing process is individual, and we understand the struggle and importance of settling into a place where we can write and where our thoughts flow; we know the needs of a writer are always changing.

How can we nurture and support our developing writers?  Students need to feel the value of spaces, know what tools are available, and understand how to use both the tools and space. Determining where and how a writer works take time, modeling, and experimentation.  

I’ve found that asking students to plan a space where they are going to write and then reflecting on their choice at the end of a workshop helps them to evaluate the area, provides student ownership, and builds responsibility.  Asking students to assess their decision means they need time to work in a variety of areas and time to settle into the environment where their thoughts can flow.

Spaces are just one of the choices our writers need experience evaluating.  Its crucial writers know the tools at their fingertips. It’s not enough to expose our writers to a variety of writing instruments. Students need our help in determining the purpose of tools and how they can be used.  

Quick Tips:

  • Ask your students what is working for them in the classroom and what they’d like to change.
  • Provide a variety of seating options and talk about the purpose of each one and allow students to experiment with each option.
  • Write intentionally in front of your students with a variety of tools and share your reasons for choosing the tool.
  • Keep all tools easily accessible.
  • Study mentor authors and text and discuss their process, tools, and writing environments.

Link Round-Up

Suggested Reading to support Classroom Environments

On Monday, February 12th at 8:30 p.m. EST, we’ll host a Twitter Chat about this blog series. Please join us so we can move beyond the fundamentals and outgrow our thinking together.


  • Back and ForthThis giveaway is for a copy of Back and Forth: Using an Editor’s Mindset to Improve Student Writing by Lee Heffernan. Thanks to Heinemann Publishers for donating a copy for one reader. (You must have a U.S. mailing address to enter this giveaway.)
  • For a chance to win this copy of Back and Forth: Using an Editor’s Mindset to Improve Student Writingplease leave a comment about this or any blog post in this blog series by Sunday, February 11th at 7:00 p.m. EDT. Melanie Meehan 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 Monday, February 12th.
  • Please leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment so Melanie can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.  From there, our contact at Heinemann will ship the book 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, Melanie will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – BACK AND FORTH 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.

7 thoughts on “Environments for Kids & With Kids: Beyond the Fundamentals of Writing Workshop

  1. Deb,
    So many decisions during a day. Love this …”Spaces are just one of the choices our writers need experience evaluating. It’s crucial writers know the tools at their fingertips.”

    And have time and space to test out the tools! Building in that time intentionally may be necessary for many students!

    THANKS so much!


  2. Wow! I hadn’t really thought about the choice of where to sit. My co-teacher and I have been thinking about the choice of writing materials (notebook vs chromebook) recently but now we will need to try this too. Thank you!


  3. Thank you for this post! I have some options for choice seating, but would love to offer more! I struggle with kids writing laying down or sitting on rug when using Chrome-books. Thoughts? TIA


    1. Wherever, kids are comfortable! Laying prone , prompted up on elbows is actually very good for students with low tone, fine motor difficulties, and poor penmanship. Let the kids show you what works!


  4. Your quick tips are useful, Deb! I especially like the one about studying mentor authors’ spaces. Any author who willingly shares an inside look into their space (and their process) is doing a great service for young writers. We can learn so much about a writer’s process by seeing where and how they work.


  5. I have just recently been trying out new seating options and my writers are loving it! It’s much later than in years past, but at least it’s better than never. 🙂 This would be a great read and will hopefully teach me a few new tricks.


  6. In my Writers’ Workshop I stress the idea that Writing Is Decision-Making, that as writers we make conscious choices about the subject of our writing, the words we include, the voice we use, the images we conjure, the revisions we make, etc. etc. etc. I must confess that I have not really included the idea of choosing the environment in which we write. I will definitely do so now. Thanks.


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