Writers, Not Just For Workshop

Writing is something I do. Writer is something I am. It’s not a hat that I put on and take off, nor is it an identity compartmentalized in my mind by a schedule.

I think like a writer.

Ideas pop in each day, inspired by a conversation, an article, a noticing during a walk, a self-reflection. My inner dialogue is taken over by my writing voice, like music, stringing together words before releasing them.

I lean on writing.

It’s easier for me to write my feelings than verbally express them. I like taking the time to be thoughtful with my words. I love making lists and plans, sketching ideas before creating.

I heal through writing.

As someone who holds onto things that happen, things that are said, I have learned to practice the art of letting go. The most powerful releases I’ve had have been a result of writing.

Yes, there are certain times of each day designated to “stop everything and write!” but I never quite turn off the part of me that is a writer.

We schedule “stop everything and write” time each day in our classrooms. Time to do the writing. But the time to nurture writers cannot be scheduled. It must be embedded in the culture of our classrooms. If we want our kids to think like and lean on and heal with writing, we first need to model it ourselves. By doing so, we are extending an invitation for kids who write to become kids who are writers.

When writing is integrated in the classroom environment, in our conversations, and in our tools, writers will emerge.

1. Give writing a presence

If we limit writing tools to the writing center, kids will associate them with writing workshop and a specific unit of study. The hope is that kids will rely on writing throughout the day for many purposes.

  • Consider adding blank paper or booklets and clipboards to other areas of your room as a provocation to write. The library, science area, windowsill, and choice time centers make inspiring options.
  • Keep a bin of clipboards and paper near the door so kids have an option to write during outdoor play or as a quick carry along for a field trip.

2. Think aloud as a writer

Our talk can very quickly become a child’s self-talk. Just as we think-aloud reading strategies during read aloud with hopes that kids will begin to do so independently, we can think aloud to model living a writerly life.

  • Inspiration: Limiting idea generation time to writing workshop can consume a lot of time. Kids can grow a pool of ideas throughout each day, and we can model what that sounds like.
    • “This seems like a true story that should be in a book so it gets told again and again!”
    • “The hurricane that you were hiding from during choice time gave me such a big feeling. Big feelings can make great stories!” 
    • “We discovered that acorns can sprout in water! This seems like information more people should know! Who might we teach it to in a book?”
    • “Oh no, friends didn’t know you wanted to save your tower at the end of choice time. Sometimes when people have really important projects that aren’t done, they make a sign to inform people.”
  • Reading with writer’s eyes: We read to become better writers, and vice-versa. There are endless reading-writing connections, and making those visible helps significantly with transfer. We can sprinkle in think-aloud’s or turn-and-talk’s during interactive read aloud.
    • “I notice the tornado the illustrator drew above the character’s head. This makes me think the character is REALLY angry. I am going to remember that strategy for when a character I write about is having that big feeling.”
    • “Oh my gosh, do you see how the author used a flap to show a zoom in of the animal’s skin? I can’t wait to try that as a writer!” 
    • “Woah. You’re having a big reaction to this part. What did the author do to make you feel this way?”

3. Make writing a tool

Writing serves many real purposes each day. We write to connect, to teach, to tell a story, to persuade, to invent. Many opportunities to lean on writing as a tool happen outside of writing workshop. By offering writing as a tool during these times, kids will begin to rely on it more frequently.

  • Add a supply of envelopes. Kids love having the option at choice times throughout the day to write to each other or a family member at home.
  • Offer writing as an option to fix-it. Whether it’s a letter (because sorry is often not enough!), a label for a newly organized materials shelf, or a sign to the community to save a structure or stop littering in the classroom, writing can fix many problems.
  • When kids are feeling big feelings, writing can help. Writing a note for a grown up can make for a smoother transition into the classroom upon a weepy arrival.
  • Writing can help document kids’ work. “Will you take a picture of this and send it to my grown up?” is a common question. Kids can take a picture and add a caption using an app like PicCollage or Seesaw.

Of course, authenticity makes all the difference in anything we teach: devoting time to write, knowing what it’s like to think like a writer, and to see possibilities and purposes to write. In these beginning weeks, it is our role to model these behaviors, but before long, kids will be leading the way as writers, proposing and inventing and inviting us to write in new ways we have not yet thought of.

More on Writing Identity

A Soft Start To Writing Workshop, by Kelsey Corter

The Power of Language Revisited, by Lanny Bell

How Do We Develop a Writing Identity?, by Dana Murphy

Q & A: A Writer’s Identity?, by Ruth Ayres

5 Ideas to Create a Classroom of Writers, by Stacey Shubitz

Discovering and Developing Student Writer Identity, by Lisa Keeler

Writing Takes Guts: My Writing Backstory, by Deb Frazier