It was a beautiful Tuesday morning several years ago. I sat in a rocking chair in Ms. Smith’s second grade classroom, ready to teach her students a minilesson on how to choose different text structures in their information writing. A group of six teachers, including Ms. Smith, sat in the meeting area among the students, each holding a packet of handouts I had created for them.
Earlier in the day, the teachers and I had discussed our goals for making minilessons more engaging and memorable for kids. Now, my goal was to model some of the ideas we discussed.
“Teachers, please turn to the minilesson page in your handout. You’ll see the four parts of a minilesson there, with space to take some notes.”
A student raised her hand, and asked, “Excuse me, what are the four parts of the minilesson?”
The teachers looked to me to see how I would respond. The entire class seemed interested.
“Well, every day your writing workshop starts with a quick lesson. Most of the time the lesson actually has four small parts to it.”
I reached for a dry-erase marker, and wrote on the easel next to me.
There was a murmur from the kids. One student jokingly called out, “So…. now we can be the teachers?”
I didn’t skip a beat. “Yep! Maybe on another day, I could teach you even more about how each part goes!”
I continued on with my minilesson for that day. As the lesson unfolded, I simply pointed out each part of the minilesson I had written on the whiteboard. The teachers jotted notes in their handout packet. Later, when it came time to debrief, we commented on how interesting it was that the students were asking about how to teach minilessons–and how intrigued the kids were to have a peek behind the curtain.
“Couldn’t we teach them how to teach minilessons?”
“We could give them a small chart, with prompts on it to remember how it goes…”
“The connection part will be easy for them– they can use our anchor charts for that.”
“And once they can do the teaching and active engagement piece, we can teach them to confer with each other as well.”
Since that day, I regularly teach kids how to teach minilessons, and how to confer with each other. It seems especially effective mid-year or late in the year, when the routines of writing workshop are well established, the kids know each other really well, and they have built a solid repertoire of writing skills and strategies to pull from. In fact, now is the perfect time of year to infuse something a little bit different into your writing workshop.
I typically teach kids the basics of minilessons in a few simple steps:
- I list the four parts of a basic minilesson.
- I give simplified prompts and tools for each part.
- I teach a simple minilesson using the prompts, then they turn to a partner and teach the same minilesson.
CONNECTION: “We already know how to… ” (use anchor chart to name something you already know)
TEACHING: “Watch how I do this in my own writing.” (add to or point to a place in your own writing)
ACTIVE ENGAGEMENT: “Now you try it right now.”
LINK: “Today and every day, you can do this in your writing.”
Once students know the basics of teaching a minilesson, you might set up a system kids can use for teaching other kids. Perhaps one by one you’ll invite different students to be an expert on a particular skill or strategy, and create a sign-up chart where kids can sign up for lessons with other kids. Or perhaps you’ll pull a small group to teach a strategy lesson, but instead of you teaching the lesson, you prepare one of your students to teach it instead. Perhaps you’ll invite a student to teach a minilesson to your whole class in lieu of the “Share” at the end of your workshop time. The possibilities are endless.