coaching · conferring

Be a Writing Coach.

The coaching begins…

Last week, Ari, my two-year-old son, climbed into his toy box. While his little legs were agile enough to get inside, he was unable to figure out how to climb out. Isabelle, my eight-year-old daughter, could’ve lifted him out of the box. Instead, without any prompting from me, she climbed into the toy box, held his hands, and provided Ari with step-by-step directions for climbing out of the box. When the verbal directions didn’t help, she showed him what to do. She used words to explain how she was moving one leg over the side of the box, then holding onto the frame with her hands, and finally, turning her body to get her other leg out of the box. I stood back — amazed — when Ari tried to follow her instructions.

Without knowing it, Isabelle provided Ari with step-by-step coaching to help him do something on his own. As he tried to climb out of the box, she stayed nearby, but never grabbed any part of his body to help him. She let him go through the motions of getting out of the toy box on his own.

Ari climbed out unassisted.

Many of us are faced with kids who don’t know what to do after the minilesson. There are striving writers who need help because they are lost or over-thinking kids who understand, but don’t have the confidence to execute something on their own. Both of these kinds of students can be supported with a coaching conference.

Here’s are the basics to get you started with a coaching conference:

As Lynne Dorfman and I state in our forthcoming book, Welcome to Writing Workshop, “You can think of coaching conferences like a coach calling to the players while a game is in progress. You’re instructing the student with a writing strategy, by whispering lean and succinct prompts, while engaging the child as he tries the strategy. Like the football coach who helps players from the sidelines, whisper-in to the writer rather than taking control of the writing” (2019, 101).

It’s been more than a week since Ari climbed into his toy box and needed coaching to climb out of it. He’s still climbing into it, but at least he knows how to get out — independently — thanks to some good coaching from his big sister.

*** A note about the tip in the image: I heard the quote about the person holding the pen is doing the thinking work years ago at Teachers College. Regretfully, I do not know who said it. ***

3 thoughts on “Be a Writing Coach.

  1. Oh, the tip!!! My downfall every time! I’m printing out this Coaching Conference image and taping it to the wall beside my desk. It’s so easy for me to grab their pencil and jot down the thinking for them. They write (and therefore think) so slowly. Like molasses sludging out from the bottom of a jar. And then they can barely read their own handwritten scrawls themselves. But I’ll try harder next time to leave the pencil in their hand. “The person holding the pen is doing the thinking.”


    1. I don’t remember who I heard that quote from, but I wrote it down years ago and have been saying it ever since. It really does get at the heart of the issue. (Btw: There are rare occasions you’ll still need to scribe for a child. Please don’t think you can never scribe for a child who truly needs the assistance. I would certainly not force a child with something like Dysgraphia to have this kind of pressure in a writing conference. Kids with issues like that need modifications. However, that’s another post entirely!)

      I have a feeling that now that this is in your head, you’re going to be taking hold of the pen much, much less.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I think I’m tempted to do the writing for them especially on those days when I have so many kids to work with during a class period. Time management (let alone classroom management) can affect how well I’m able to let them hold the pen.


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