writing workshop

Getting Ready for Literary Essay

Immersion Work

I first learned about immersion work from a former staff developer at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, Annie Taranto. Annie led a 3-day institute on the Coaching of Writing at the Ovington School in Brooklyn, New York. One of the most impactful methods I learned that week was immersion.

I remember her sitting next to a document camera while the feature article she was sharing laid underneath. A classroom full of 5th graders had gathered around her on the rug to listen. At first, she told the students they would be listening to the feature article two times. The first time it is read, students would be listening through a reader’s eyes, turning and talking to their partners when a key detail or main idea was presented. The second time she read it, students listened to it through a writer’s perspective, actively turning and talking to their partners when they identified a specific craft move the author made. 

I appreciate this experience for multiple purposes. The first being students get to hear a text and analyze it for qualities of good writing. Students can pick up on this new type of text’s nuances and maybe even use it as a mentor text. The other purpose it fulfils is it helps slow down a unit of study, a move that is beneficial in a classroom but even more so during remote learning. 

Getting Ready for Essay Writing

Essay writing can be challenging enough when our kids are physically present in the classroom. Layer that with remote learning, and this genre can be even more tricky. Recently, I helped a classroom of fourth-graders prepare for their upcoming unit of study, where this immersion work came in handy. 

To get ready, I spent a day reading aloud the story, Fox, by Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks. It is a heartening story about friendship and whom you can trust. These students are currently in book clubs, so their teacher Kelly Martinez and I decided to have students listen as a whole class in the main room and then join their clubs in break-out rooms.

I prepped the book with questions on sticky notes. I deliberately chose to stop at places in the story where it was worth paying particular attention. This includes places where they could extrapolate a claim about the character, setting, or problem. For instance, when Magpie wakes up after rehabilitating her burnt wing, Dog is waiting for her. I wrote on a post-it note to ask the class, “If Dog’s action reveals something about himself, what kind of person would you say he is?” In another part of the story, Fox comes to visit Dog and Magpie. Dog offers him shelter and food to eat while Magpie trembles and shrinks away. I noted this scene with the question, “I noticed this is the second time Magpie acts a certain way to Fox. Why is she acting like this?” 

After reading aloud, students went into break-out rooms to discuss their most significant thinking around the story. As Kelly and I visited each room, students were highly engaged in their discussions. 

Shared Writing Literary Essay

Recently, literacy consultant Kristi Mraz, equipped our staff with an engaging and minimal prep idea for shared writing using Google Jamboard. She reminded us that we use shared writing when we want to get a large amount of content down. Below are the steps I plan to take with small groups of the same 4th graders to facilitate this shared writing tool.

  1. Rally students to why they are in a small group by saying, “I gathered you here today because you have heard the story Fox. In it, there are three characters. Can you name all three?” As students name the characters, I will type them each on a sticky note. 
  2. After students have named the three characters, I will ask them to tell me what kind of person they are. 

3. After listing each character’s character traits, I’ll ask students to pick one character and one trait. It is important to remind students that the trait shows up more than once in the story when choosing a character trait. In the example below, we can pick Dog is a good friend. This could be the claim for our shared writing.

4. Next, I’ll ask students to describe all the times Dog shows he was a good friend. Below are some times from the beginning and middle of the book.

5. In this step, I write out the first sentence of the literary essay. The sentence will include the book title and authors’ names. I will also remind students that our claim is, “Dog is a good friend” and proceed to write it onto Jamboard.

6. In step six, the students will help rehearse the reasons listed and write them into the sentences. I imagine it to look something like the picture below:

After step six will model taking the first reason and add evidence from the story to support the claim that Dog is a good friend.


Immersion work gives students a clear vision of the work they will be doing on their own. Combining Annie Taranto and Kristi Mraz’s thinking and using a low-key digital tool like Jamboard makes this work accessible.