Dreaming Big for This Year’s Writing Workshop Blog Series · partnerships · writing workshop

This is the Year I’m Going to Use Purposeful Partnerships

Recently I wrote some essays on my beliefs in education. They span from my personal growth, to leadership, and then reflection. They are sitting within my computer waiting for the right place and time. One might say, hibernating. I have a parable-like story I’ve been working on for several months now as well as a realistic fiction story about my great grandmother. There are several story beginnings awaiting their middles and ends in the draft section of my personal blog. I have notebooks with recorded moments, poems, reading notes, and pops of ideas in lots of colors with occasional questions to ponder. These are all the bits and pieces of my own writing life.

My essays and stories were read by my husband, my parents, and a few close friends. This blog post was read by each of my co-author teammates here at TWT before it came to you today. All of these people, each one, brings perspective, a string of thoughts, and feedback that can range from specific to general. So why is this work important enough for extra eyes to see it? Because it allows the work to have a dry run with its audience.

As I look at my writing life, I realize this is why partnerships hold importance for me as a teacher of writers. My students choose what and when their work goes to an audience, and I listen, advise, and guide from the sidelines. Did my partnerships begin this way? NO. Trial and error played a big role, but I think what carried me to successful and purposeful partnerships has a lot to do with my belief in my students. My belief in their ability to do this work. Together we forged a path where partnerships were collaborative, flexible and most importantly impactful.

Why Partnerships? Why NOT?

Belief is quite possibly one of the most important tools we can carry with us as educators. The belief that the children we work with every day have the potential and ability to progress as learners. When we open up our beliefs to include students as teachers, we have then expanded the learning potentials of every student under our care. Just as I glean inspiration from the feedback and guidance of my peers, my students do the same. If something has held you back from starting or continuing partnerships, it’s time to unpack your hesitation. I think giving ourselves permission to take a break and try again is a valuable strategy and I am reminded of Aubri from my blog series preview post earlier today. Anticipate failure, respond to failure, and gain ground from failure.

The Basics to Beginning

You might be thinking, “But Betsy, I’ve tried partnerships. I can’t get them off the ground.” Maybe you find yourself saying things like, “There’s no way I can do that with this group, maybe next year.” To both of these I say, hear me out. Here are three steps to get you started on the right foot.

Step One: Assigned or student-choice partnerships?

For me, starting early with assigned partners can help eliminate some guesswork, shorten transition times, and support partnerships with some structure in the beginning. These beginning partnerships are often short-term and frequently flexible as we build a community at the beginning of the year. Your decision to assign or allow student choice, in the beginning, may be influenced by your students’ familiarity with purposeful partnership expectations. You may find that allowing choice from the beginning gives you the opportunity to determine what layers of guidance are needed as you build toward independent partnerships as an end goal.

When creating assignments, I have met them in many ways:

  • Random partner assignment: I quickly partner students with each other.
  • Triplets: Sets of three give each student an automatic backup partner. Lanny Ball, TWT co-author, suggests these groups of three, or “triads” for students who may benefit from hearing two spoken examples for English-Language Learners (ELL).
  • Floaters: Having a few students who float where they are needed helps eliminate problem partnerships. I also like assigning my trickier students to this role, giving them opportunities to work with many different writers within the community.
  • Partner Partners: Two sets of partners assigned to each other creates a small group of four and automatic backups in case of issues or the need for a bigger audience.
  • Temporary Assignment: This allows for possible spontaneous shake-ups. I might take half the class and assign them to one another and allow the other half to choose their own, then change it up the next day or week.

Encouraging students to write you a note about the dynamics of the partnerships can also give you insight as to how to move forward. Are students feeling comfortable or uncomfortable? Are the partnerships helpful or harmful?

Step Two: Start Structured and Wean Away

Discussing the roles within partnerships is important. From kindergarten and up, young writers can take on these roles as listeners and talkers. You’ll find that once students have a good understanding of how partnerships work, flexibility within those partnerships will be a novelty. Writers might begin with the assigned partner followed by sharing with a partner of their choosing. Opening up the possibility of sharing with more than one partner gives a writer the opportunity to practice the roles related to partnerships more than once in a workshop cycle.

This is a basic chart to share with students on their role in the partnership as you begin. You could adapt as needed.

Step Three: Deliberate Practice

Once you have a starting point, do bursts of practice. Model with a student using your writing. You and the student partner can even rehearse a bit beforehand.

Chart as a class what was noticed about the partnership. You might make a template (see below) for students to fill in or do a co-created interactive writing chart.

Here is an example of what a student might record or how you might structure your co-created chart:

This chart is more detailed. As you work together and reflect as a group, you will likely take your basic “What is My Job?” chart and grow it to meet the needs of your students. I find collaborative conversations helps students frame what’s working and what is not with the idea that as a community we can adapt to the needs of the whole group. For more on expanding your intentions through writing partnerships, see Intentional Talk with Writing Partners.

After collaboratively observing and charting, let students try. Take the time to practice a little at a time. Reflect as a group about what worked really well and what students would like to get out of partnerships.


Ask questions like:

As you talk with each other about your shared purpose, if the conversation is not leaning toward growth, steer it there. You could offer follow-up questions:

  • When we listen to our partners share their work, what could we take away to try in our own writing?
  • What have you noticed in your partnerships and used later in your independent work?
  • As writers, how does this benefit us after the partner time is over?

Plan together for hiccups and hurdles making it clear these will likely happen and that as a group you will work through it together.

Mid-Year Hurdles

Hurdles will tempt us to doubt the progress we’ve made. The shape of a solution is all in how we respond to the challenge. Typical mid-year hurdles might start with routines that worked, suddenly not working anymore. A writer who just can’t seem to work with anyone. The partnership that is more interested in taking apart their pens than workshopping their writing. The new student. Switching up partnerships. The impromptu principal walk-through and that little voice inside your head saying, “This isn’t going to look like I’m teaching anything.”

  • The writer who is struggling? She’s your new writing partner. Rehearse with her for tomorrow’s lesson and maybe work in a little conversation about how things are going.
  • The engineers? Ask them to write about the anatomy of a pen if it really is of interest. Really! I mean it.
  • New student? He can join any partnership and observe for a few days.
  • Partner switch up? New perspectives are good and may take time. Mixing up the partnerships can naturally change with your units or as social dynamics evolve.
  • Your principal? Let her see how you value student collaboration. Encourage her to sit beside a partnership or two and listen in. Let her see you do the same.

Be optimistic! Don’t get distracted by what didn’t work. Analyze it, unpack it, assess what doesn’t need to be there and what is missing. When you’re ready, re-pack and set off on your journey again.


Don’t forget to celebrate your accomplishments along the way and remember that you are taking your students on this journey with you. Work together to make purposeful partnerships a reality and celebrate together when hurdles are jumped, and successes are achieved.

Don’t forget to enter the giveaway! Details below.

Giveaway Information:

  • This giveaway is for a copy of Kids 1st from Day 1: A Teacher’s Guide to Today’s Classroom . Thanks to Heinemann for donating a copy to one reader. (You must have a U.S. mailing address to win a copy of this book.)
  • For a chance to win this copy of Kids 1st from Day 1: A Teacher’s Guide to Today’s Classroom,  please leave a comment about this or any blog post in this blog series by Sunday, August 12th at 6:00 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, August 13th.
  • 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 – KIDS 1ST. Please respond to her e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. A new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.

Want more?

Here are some of my favorite posts on partnerships from some of the co-authors here at Two Writing Teachers.

Beth Moore has written several posts on partnerships. Here are a few of my favorites.

Writing Partners: Authentic Purposes for Writing

Setting Up Writing Partners for Success

Top Five Lessons to Teach to Writing Partners of All Ages Right Now

Melanie Meehan wrote a post titled, Setting Up Writing Partnerships.

Anna Gratz Cockerille also added to this conversation back in 2015 when she shared a post about Creating Classroom Environments: Making Space for Partnerships.


23 thoughts on “This is the Year I’m Going to Use Purposeful Partnerships

  1. Thanks for such a detailed post about writing partners. I know the part I need to get better at is taking it slow and really observing how students are working together. It’s also helpful to give kids a bit of structure in the beginning or a suggestion for getting started. If they needed, they’ll use it. If not, they’ll do their own thing.


  2. I love the idea of having triplets so that there is always a backup partner. Often times I automatically think of putting 2 students together for partners, but having 3 students in a partnership has lots of benefits that I haven’t thought of.


  3. I was reminded this past week that partners can be significant. Another reminder was that partnerships take work, and if they aren’t going well, don’t quit. Practice more. Thanks for your expertise here!


  4. There are so many wonderful ideas here to start and develop writing partnerships. The share time is ALWAYS my students favorite part of WW. This post provides lots of effective ways to make share time even more powerful. Thank you!


  5. Thanks for outlining the steps for effective partnerships. Partnerships are successful when the expectations are clear.


  6. This is a great read for summer; it has me pondering and back to my ever faithful optimism. First graders can struggle with partnering, but if we practice more, it should help. Modeling is huge in our room, but I’ve not used that as much in this area. Thanks for the reminder.


  7. Thank you for this thoughtful piece about writing partners. Supporting successful partner work has always been a challenge for me. I always start out with good intentions. I teach a partnership routine, model, build charts, etc. But somewhere along the way I start to doubt that they are truly benefitting from each other. I would love to learn more about how to teach first graders to really help each other. Looking foreard to more inspiring pieces like this one.


  8. I think I’d like to bring more partner work into the share portion of our writer’s workshop. I’m trying to eliminate some of my teacher talk and this might be a great way to give my students more of a voice. Thanks for the motivation!


  9. You gave me a lot to think about with this post. I appreciate the actionable steps. I also really like the idea of trickier students being floaters. I never thought of that before. This is a post I am going to come back to again and again. Thanks!


  10. Thank you for this post. I have done a little peer-to-peer writing partners, but I’m pretty sure I’ve said, “not this group, not this year”. Now…. I’ll work through it, thanks so much!


  11. Purposeful writing partnerships have always been challenging for me to get off the ground. Reflecting on your article and my experience I feel like I need to be more deliberate in my instruction. I loved the reflective framework of I noticed, I liked, This didn’t work because. Thank for sharing your work!


  12. Hmmm…. you’ve given me lots to think about re: partnerships this year. I definitely could improve my use of partners, and you’ve given me many ways to do this. Thank you!


  13. You’ve named one of my hurdles from this morning’s post in this post on partnerships! I love how you so candidly list so many realistic scenarios that can throw a functioning workshop into a tailspin! The charts and forms are helpful, too. Thinking that setting the structurecearly on when stakes are low will make it easier to build. Also, very excited thinking about partnership that will be nurtured through #kidsneedmentors ! Your closing advice about celebrating is well noted – after participating in JenSerravallo’s writing camp this summer, I know I looked forward to the celebration part of our units! Thanks for sharing!


  14. So many great ideas here, Betsy. But the most important one.

    Go ahead. Give it a try. Plan for success. Partnerships do decrease teacher headaches and teacher dependency. REALLY!


  15. I appreciate your post about utilizing student partnerships during the writing process. It is a beneficial technique for providing and receiving feedback.


  16. I appreciate that you took time to address mid-year struggles right here in August. They’re inevitable, but possible to be dealt with when we have the right tools.

    Btw: I am thankful to call you one of my writing partners, Betsy!


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