authentic writing · listening · mentor texts · writing workshop

Getting to Know Your Writers

Screen Shot 2018-10-02 at 11.19.04 PMThe new school year is in its infancy. Students have barely settled into the routine of coming to school every day, eating lunch on a schedule, and asking permission to go to the restroom.

We are just getting to know each other.

All along, whether we intend to or not, we are establishing our learning community. What we pay attention to and the decisions we make each day will be played out throughout the year.

One of the most powerful (and personal) ways we’re learning about each other is through our stories. As we share stories with others, we’re exposing little pieces of ourselves.

I am mindful of what I am telling students not only in my stories but also in my daily interactions. I work purposefully watching and listening for opportunities to get students excited about sharing the little pieces of themselves. I respond to individual students and the community of writers while listening for topics tossed into their conversations. It is through these informal connections that I am able to get to know my students.

The decisions I make from the classroom library to family connections are intentional and responsive to building a community of writers and learning about the students who make up this community.

Reading Connections

Books are mentors to our classrooms, our students, and our writers. To shape our classroom community. I choose books that teach a love of learning, perseverance, taking risks, and working together. To inspire the writers, I choose books that match the interest of the students.

  • Provide a variety of books on topics students often talk about in work and play.
  • Ask students to generate a list of topics and authors they would like to have in our classroom library.
  • Ask students to bring in favorite books from home to share with classmates.
  • I encourage the writers to read in writing workshop. Writers get ideas from books

Teacher Model Connections

I consider the interests of the students when choosing my topics for modeled and shared writing lessons. My goal is to present ideas students can connect with and leave the writers aching to write their stories.

  • I listen to the stories students talk about throughout the day.
  • I ask the students for permission to write about topics I have heard them discussing. “Oh, Tarik, the fire drill yesterday was exciting. Do you and your friends want to write a story about the fire drill? We can all write our story together.” Many students find inspiration and confidence in the shared writing experience and go into the workshop and write a more personal version of our story.

Writer Connections

I am a writer. I write because I ask my students to write. I understand the trials and tribulations of being a writer. I use what I am learning to guide my writers.

  • I demonstrate a variety of ways to plan, tell, compose, and share their stories. I encourage the writers to explore them all to find the one that works best for them.
  • I write in front of students using a variety of tools (pencils, skinny and thick markers, pens, writing apps, lined paper, and unlined paper)  and then allow students to explore what feels most comfortable to them.
  • I show the students how we can videotape ourselves telling a story. Then replay the video as we write to help us remember the details of the story.
  • As I plan my story or confer with a writer, I talk across the page(s) while telling the story. Students can visualize how their story will look and as they write across the page ideas are refreshed from the preplanning.
  • I show students possible places to collect ideas for writing. A writing notebook, a folder, a box for artifacts, WordClouds app, digital documents, camera, or a class chart. I share a variety of ideas and allow students to find and choose what works best for them.
  • I demonstrate how I use my writer’s notebook as a place to play with writing. A space free of evaluation where I can try out an idea from a minilesson, mentor text, or writing partner.

Conferring Connections

As a writer, I am dependent on my writing community. As I write this post I have a trusted writing companion reading along, making sure my thoughts are clear and organized. My writing community is with me through the entire writing process. Writing is grueling and rewarding. Students need to know writing is a process.

  • I allow time for students to work with their peers in all stages of writing.
  • I encourage writers to practice oral storytelling to help recall the small moments of a story. As students tell their stories, they work to captivate their audience. They add details and drama that add interest to the story.  

Family Connections

Writers often look past the best stories not realizing stories are in our everyday lives. I reach out to families to help students find their stories.

  • As a family project, I ask families to share family trips, events, daily routines, pets, and other hobbies with the students. By creating a “mini-me,” pictured above. The family project is displayed in the classroom for inspiration.  

One of the strongest tools we have as writers is audience. When writers share their stories they are sharing the personal pieces of themselves. As a writer, sharing leaves writers vulnerable and open to the judgment of others. Listen to the stories the writers share, what are they telling you about themselves as learners, writers, and humans? Consistent opportunities to share allows students to open up and share pieces of themselves and in turn, we all learn a little more about each other.

One thought on “Getting to Know Your Writers

  1. There is so much power to all of these suggestions for getting to know young writers, Deb. As you know from experience, the strongest one is certainly teacher as writer. Nothing gives us more cred than writing ourselves.


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