back to school

Launching Writing Workshop with Passion and Purpose

In Spark! Quick Writes to Kindle Hearts and Minds in Elementary Classrooms, Paula Bourque states, “We write for so many reasons, from practical to poetical. I want my students to embrace writing as a way of being human.” Not to raise test scores, not to get a point on a rubric, not to earn a certain grade on a report card. There is writing for the game of school and there is writing as a path to better self-knowledge, writing as a bridge to connect with others, writing as a means to understand the world and our place in it. What do you want for your student writers?

When we want more than formulaic writing, more than answers filled in a graphic organizer, we need to establish writing as more than something done for an assignment.

In my third grade classroom, here is what I plan to do to start the year with passion and purpose for writing:

Teacher as Writer:

I’m going to gather a collection of pieces I’ve written through the years: a poem for my son, the eulogy for my grandmother, the speech for my sister’s wedding, blog posts I’ve written, an A-Z book I made for my husband when we were dating, my writer’s notebooks, etc. I plan to share how writing has meant so much to me and has allowed me to remember important moments, communicate my love for people, and understand my thinking and feelings. I want my students to know I have a passion for writing and it is a meaningful practice in my life.

Student Surveys:

In the classroom, I’ve used surveys to learn about my third grade students as readers. Typically, I give the same survey at the beginning of the year and the end of the year, which allows me to see if students changed their thinking over time. I’m not sure why I never thought to give students a survey about writing, but this year I plan to find out what they think about why people write, what people write, and how they feel about themselves as writers.

Click on the image to be taken to the file. If you want your own version, click “File” then “Make a copy” and rename it to use as you like.

In Kelsey Corter’s post, “When Writers Choose the Genre: Nurturing Independence From the Start”, Kelsey says, “Writers in the world find reasons to write, drawing upon inspiration in everyday occurrences. Then, they think flexibly about how to bring ideas to life.” I want my students to understand that writing takes many forms and there are so many reasons a person might choose to write. So before we begin our year together in writing workshop, I want to know what students already think about writing. Do they feel like writers? Do they know why people write?

Display Answers 

After reviewing student surveys, I want to make a display of the answers to the questions “Why do people write?” and “What do people write?” (I will fill in any missing ideas from student surveys.) Kelsey’s chart about the reasons we write is an excellent one to share and adapt for this purpose. Students need to know there are many reasons to write and many possible ways to express themselves via writing.

One Topic, Many Genres 

It is important for students to know the terms narrative, persuasive, informational and poetry. I plan to show them how you can write about a topic in any genre. I am going to pick the topic “Roller coasters” because my family took a vacation at an amusement park this summer with many roller coasters and I think it is a topic that third graders will enjoy. I plan to model a personal narrative, a persuasive piece, a “how-to”, and a poem about roller coasters. My idea is to model one genre a day and briefly talk about the structures we commonly see in that genre.

Territory Maps

I wrote about territory maps here and plan to bring them back this year! Heart maps are a great tool to help students brainstorm topics, but territory maps are another possible way to go. My social studies unit in September is about geography with a focus on maps, so creating maps in writing workshop is another way to layer meaning and understanding. The map students choose is one way of expressing a topic they love. The goal is to uncover important people, places, and events that a student might want to come back to again and again when thinking of a writing idea.


Each year, I use Kidblog as the platform for my students to become bloggers. This year, I am considering interactive blogging on our class website before students start to blog themselves. In this way, I can model the parts of a blog, considering the audience and the purpose, and revising and editing before publishing.

Personalizing Writer’s Notebooks

I usually reserve a Friday afternoon for this activity! Students bring in photographs or any memorabilia they want to add to their notebooks (ticket stubs, postcards, etc.) I always have magazines and stickers on hand for students who do not bring in anything from home. Students can share their notebooks with a partner and the class can do a gallery walk to view all the personalized notebooks.

Read Alouds That Celebrate Writing 

One other way to show my passion for writing is to share beautiful books with students and notice what the author did to make the book so special. Some books that I plan to share with my students include:


How do you start the year of writing workshop with passion and purpose?

14 thoughts on “Launching Writing Workshop with Passion and Purpose

  1. I love your Thinking About Writing survey, Kathleen. It is such a powerful way to begin your writing workshop. How empowering it is to make space for young writers to think hard about purpose. Thank you for giving us one more tool to help us grow writers in our classrooms.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love this, Kathleen! I’m especially interested to see how students ideas about writing (and themselves as writers) evolves over the course of a year. A survey is such a great way to capture this.


  3. I love the writing survey idea and I’ll certainly be borrowing it for implementation in September. You also shared some books that will fit perfectly into our culturally responsive literature curriculum that we plan on incorporating this school year. I’m so grateful to be able to add these wonderful ideas to my instructional toolkit. I wish you and your third graders the best year ever!!


  4. Incredibly powerful post, Kathleen; I fervently wish all teachers and systems understood the importance of writing and its vital connection to our humanity. The vision must be infinitely larger than the parameters of a classroom or a school or an assignment. The thinking that comes with authentic writing is a life skill. So is the process of laboring over the craft to say what you think and to express your ideas well – it is problem-solving at its height and creativity at its deepest. I can go on and on but you and Paula and Kelsey have already made the points so beautifully here in so many ways. “There is writing for the game of school and there is writing as a path to better self-knowledge, writing as a bridge to connect with others, writing as a means to understand the world and our place in it. What do you want for your student writers?” – a creed for any educator.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fran and Kathleen,
      My classroom philosophy for writing is the act of writing for discovery, to engage with language, and to express our unique selves. The other, academic writing and such, comes after and is stronger because of first and foremost writing for the world.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I really like the thinking map you created to help students dissect & think about their own writing thoughts & feeling apart from their writing skills. Sometimes when children are asked about writing, they tend to focus on their ability to perform according to past rubrics. I think this thinking map/though organizer will allow them to look past that and move to a more positive view of writing beyond those rubrics. They story they have to share is the most important thing, all those other things can continue to be improved upon later. I loved the shared list of read alouds.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Tracey! I am so eager to share the books and writing experiences with my students. Wishing you a wonderful school year!


Comments are closed.