Inquiry Minilessons: Beyond the Fundamentals of Writing Workshop
- At the beginning of a unit or bend: If you want students to draw upon the things they already know about writing, then you might teach an inquiry minilesson at the start of a unit of study or at the beginning of a new bend.
- At the end of a bend in the road: After you’ve taught several lessons to students in a unit, you might teach an inquiry minilesson since it allows for more independence. This kind of lesson requires a higher level of thinking so kids will be drawing upon the strategies you’ve taught them to answer the inquiry question.
- Anytime students have acquired a lot of knowledge: Whenever you feel students possess a good deal of knowledge about writing in a particular genre or the writing process, you might include an inquiry minilesson that will allow them to posit about why a writer may have done something in a particular way.
Connection: Remind kids of something familiar. Perhaps remind kids of some prior knowledge, or a story from your classroom, or an anecdote from your own personal life that will connect to today’s teaching point.
Name the Inquiry Question: Name the question your kids will be thinking about. Be explicit about the question, unless you are inviting kids to come up with their own questions. In that case, the kids should name their questions clearly at this stage of the minilesson. Perhaps you’ll invite students to examine a mentor text, asking, “What does this writer do that I could do in my own writing?” Or for another example, maybe you’ll ask kids to observe two partners at work, thinking, “What do I notice these partners doing that is helpful to each other?”
Inquiry Set-Up: This is where the kids will actually do the inquiry. Plan that it will be short, probably a few minutes is plenty. For example, you might read a page or two of a mentor text, or ask a partnership to have a conversation while the rest of the class looks on. You might model some of your own “noticings” at this point to set the stage. (For a longer, more involved inquiry, the minilesson is probably not the right structure. Maybe your designated read-aloud or a separate time set aside for an in-depth inquiry would make more sense.)
Active Engagement: This is where kids might talk to a partner about what they noticed, or jot something down on a post-it, or maybe even try something in their own writing. Just like in a classic minilesson, this should be something brief for kids to try, just a small sample. In an inquiry, it may help to chart some of the “noticings” to help kids remember the lesson later.Link: As always, this is where you can make it very clear to kids what the choices are for their ongoing work. In an inquiry, there are usually multiple things that the kids have gleaned from whatever it was they studied, whether it was studying a mentor text, or watching a partnership work together. The list of noticings gets added to the many other strategies they can choose from.
- Keep an eye on the time! Inquiry minilessons can go long (and off the rails) if you aren’t watching the clock.
- You want to give students the time to write after the minilesson.
- Just like a traditional minilesson, students should leave an inquiry minilesson excited to do similar work in their own writing.
- Pose a question rather than directing students towards a strategy.
- Let kids figure out what the writer has done so they can do similar work as writers.
- Remember to pose a question that has more than one “right” answer. There should be several correct answers to your question.
- Inquiry-Based Centers in Grades 3-8
- Inquiry Stance
- Minilessons: Writing Workshop Fundamentals
- The Problem with Q&A
- There Are More Ways Than One to Teach a Minilesson
- A Place for Wonder: Reading and Writing Nonfiction in the Primary Grades by Georgia Heard and Jennifer McDonough (Stenhouse, 2008)
- The Art of Teaching Writing, New Edition by Lucy McCormick Calkins (Heinemann, 1994)
- The Curious Classroom: 10 Structures for Teaching with Student-Directed Inquiry by Harvey “Smokey” Daniels (Heinemann, 2017)
- The Power of Grammar: Unconventional Approaches to the Conventions of Language by Mary Ehrenworth and Vicki Vinton (Heinemann, 2005)
- What You Know by Heart: How to Develop Curriculum for Your Writing Workshop by Katie Wood Ray (Heinemann, 2002)
- This 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.)
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