Immersion in Writing Workshop is Always Worth the Time

In Craft Moves: Lesson Sets for Teaching Writing with Mentor Texts, I stated:

It’s wise to spend a few days immersing students in the genre in which they are going to write (Bomer 2010; Caine 2008; Eickholdt 2015; Ray 2006). Engaging with good writing helps kids develop a vision for their own texts. For some units of study, the best mentor texts are those written by other kids, such as exemplary work from another teacher’s class or writing you have collected from former students. In addition, for many units of study you can provide students with picture books to give them a sense of the genre.

Shubitz, 2016, 2010

While some curricula build immersion days into each unit’s plan, not all do. Therefore, it’s often necessary for teachers to add a few extra days to each unit of study so that meaningful immersion can take place before kids start collecting in their writer’s notebooks or folders.

Last week, I worked with two fifth grade teachers – Sarah Columbus and Sarah Kirstner – who were on the first and second days, respectively, of immersing their students in the research-based report genre. After some conversations with each of them in the wintertime, both teachers added on extra immersion days during their last unit of study. Both felt their students had stronger finished products thanks to the immersion days they built into the previous units they taught. Therefore, they committed to immersing their classes in the kind of writing they will do for the next month before they gave an on-demand assessment.

There is some thinking behind providing kids with time to immerse themselves in a genre before asking them to create a piece of writing on-demand. First, it gives students the opportunity to try out what they noticed during immersion by reading other writers’ writing. Second, scheduling the on-demand writing assessments after immersion provides teachers with data for conferences, small group work, and minilessons. Both Mrs. Columbus and Mrs. Kirstner will be able to alter their full-class minilesson plans if they notice class-wide gaps in a particular skill. In addition, they will be able to create series of small group lessons and pre-plan for 1:1 writing conferences with the data they’ll glean from the on-demand assessments.

Here’s an example of how an immersion day might go in an upper elementary classroom:

  • 9:00–9:20: Whole-class reading and discussion
  • 9:20–9:40: Partner work
  • 9:40–9:50: Independent writing time
  • 9:50–10:00: Share session

For more on what each segment of this time looks like, you can check out pages 20-22 in Craft Moves.

So how do we immerse ourselves in a genre? At the most basic level, you:

  • Read.
  • Jot favorite quotes/lines.
  • Note features you admire.

For more specific ways to immerse kids in a new genre, check out:

I often suggest teachers provide students with time to work with a partner to read and notice things in the text. Both Mrs. Columbus and Mrs. Kirstner provided their students with a graphic organizer – which students were told was optional – to use to help them organize their thinking about the text they read. (You may peruse the immersion category on Two Writing Teachers, where you’ll find some sample graphic organizers.) A word of caution about graphic organizers during immersion: Like all scaffolds, you should have a plan for removing them once students become adept at doing this kind of work.

The time investment you will spend in immersion may seem like a lot – especially if you’re providing students with four days to understand a genre. However, students will gain a greater understanding of the kind of writing you are asking them to produce if they have a clear vision for what the end product should look like.