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A Review of Teaching Writing in Small Groups

I studied with Jennifer Serravallo for the first time at a TCRWP Summer Writing Institute in 2006. I was surprised just how much she packed into a week-long course on conferring. The things Jen taught during that course transformed the way I conferred with children.  

Leave a comment on this blog post for the chance to win a copy of Teaching Writing in Small Groups.


Just as I was a stronger teacher of writers after having studied with Jen, I always come away from her books feeling like I can conquer more as an educator. In her latest book, Teaching Writing in Small Groups: Grades K-8 (Heinemann, 2021), Jen takes on small-group instruction in ways that will encourage you to re-vision the ways you engaged kids with small group work. Jen does a masterful job of explaining how to choose goals for students, how to use the goals to form small groups, and how to help students meet those goals through a variety of small group lessons with varying levels of teacher support.

Small-group instruction maximizes teacher time while providing highly-individualized instruction, increases engagement among students by building peer relationships, and helps all learners play an active role in becoming a better writer. Small groups have a pre-determined focus set by the teacher and provide students with lean support and immediate opportunities to practice a writing skill. Throughout Teaching Writing in Small Groups, Jen shows readers how to curate small groups that will move every young writer forward by teaching into each child’s greatest area of need and moving them forward. There are video clips throughout the book that illustrate the concepts being presented, which make it feel like Jen is your personal literacy coach. (And what teacher can’t use one of those!?!?)


To help gain a better understanding of what’s inside of Jen’s book, here’s a brief Q&A I did with her:

STACEY: Your book is heavy on goodies in that the online resources are plentiful! One of my favorite goodies are the 15 skill progression note-taking forms, which I wish I had when I was trying to move students forward through small group work when I was in the classroom. Would you talk more about how you envision teachers using them when they’re keeping records of small group sessions?

Click on the image to enlarge.

JEN: Yes! I wanted to make sure to give teachers really practical tools that they could print out and use immediately. The skill progressions are meant as a way to both identify what strategy(ies) may be next up for a student as they work on a goal, and also as a way to monitor progress. I find having the progressions right there on the notetaking forms simplifies and streamlines notes we might take during or immediately after a conference or small group—I will often just date the progression when I see evidence of a student exhibiting a skill which makes the narrative notes I take briefer. Of course, I also talk a lot in the book about how kids don’t always develop along linear progressions and to expect kids to surprise you in all sorts of ways. Still, I hope these are a helpful tool that makes decision-making, progress monitoring, and notetaking simpler for busy teachers.

STACEY: Another goodie I appreciated were the table tents since they act as a cheat sheet, of sorts, to remind teachers of the flow of each kind of small group lesson while they’re getting used to using a variety of small group structures. Talk more about the way the table tents can be used as a scaffold for teachers as they begin to lead different types of small groups?

JEN: In the book I share seven types of small groups—each with slightly different purposes, some that are more helpful to certain grade levels or goals than others, and each with a different structure. I advise in the book that teachers choose one at a time to focus on and practice, and the table tents are meant as a reminder of the way they “go,” their structure. I did these table tents for Teachers Guide to Reading Conferences as well and teachers and coaches responded really well to them so I thought I’d include them as a free downloadable tool for this book, too!

Click on the image to enlarge.


STACEY: In the “Understanding the Principles of Effective Guided Instruction” chapter, you discussed the types of small groups which teachers can lead. How do you suggest teachers support striving writers without over-scaffolding (or maybe it’s over-supporting) them? Also, do you think that using a moderate amount of support, but increasing the frequency of time spent with a group of striving writers could be more helpful than providing them with small-group types that have a heavier type of support?

JEN: This is a really important question. It’s crucial as writing teachers that we find where students are, and target them with strategies that can help, always keeping in mind that our goal is to support student’s independent practice. We can’t always be sitting beside them, nor should we! Yes, sometimes we might meet with them more frequently, or/and adjust the types of groups we lead, the ways we set children up to practice during the small group, and the amount of support we give them as they practice. The different group types I mention in the book, the ways we might introduce strategies, and different considerations for giving feedback all come into play when figuring out what the “just right” amount of support is so that they are both engaging in productive struggle when they are with us in a group so they learn and grow, AND so that they are equipped to work independently once the group has concluded. This is a theme throughout the whole book and I’m glad you asked about it.


STACEY: What’s your next project?

JEN: I’m always working on something! I’m working on a partial Spanish translation for this book now, with one of the Spanish-speaking consultants from my team. It’ll include new original student work in Spanish, sections from the book that go with that work will be translated, and all charts that include student-facing language will be translated. All of the notetaking forms with skill progressions, too! We hope to get that out soon to support teachers who teach in bilingual and dual language classrooms.


Click here to download a sample chapter of Jen’s book.



Both the book and the accompanying online resources for Teaching Writing in Small Groups will help educators add to their repertoire of possibilities for engaging students with small-group work. If you’re looking for ways to provide highly individualized writing instruction for your students, you’ll come away with lots of practical ways to engage them after reading Teaching Writing in Small Groups.


GIVEAWAY INFORMATION:

  • This giveaway is for a copy of Teaching Writing in Small Groups, Grades K-8 by Jennifer Serravallo. Many thanks to Heinemann for donating a copy for one reader.
  • For a chance to win this copy of Teaching Writing in Small Groups, please leave a comment about this post by Friday, June 4th at 11:59 p.m. EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Tuesday, June 8th. You must have a U.S. mailing address to enter the giveaway.
  • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, my contact at Heinemann will ship your book out to you.  (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
  • If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – SMALL GROUPS. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.

Comments are now closed.

Jan. G.’s commenter number was selected so she will win a copy of Jen’s new book.


All images in the post were used with permission from Heinemann Publishers.

Stacey Shubitz View All

Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.

163 thoughts on “A Review of Teaching Writing in Small Groups Leave a comment

  1. I am very excited about this book. Teaching writing is something I have always struggled with and am looking forward to using multiple strategies within our small groups.

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  2. I’m looking forward to growing in my knowledge of planning for and providing meaningful writing lessons and supporting my teachers in their efforts!

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  3. At the last NCTE convention I attended in person I was at Jennifer Serravallo’s table and it was a real treat! I have not found a system for small groups that I’m happy with, yet I experiment with small groups a lot and look forward to reading Jennifer’s take on small group instruction. Thank you for this opportunity!

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  4. Jen’s expertise and ability to clarify layered information and ideas have taught me so much about teaching reading and writing. I look forward to diving into this book!

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  5. I’m excited to explore this book. It is so interesting to read everyone’s comments, as there is a mix of those who already include small groups in their teaching-of-writing practice and those who do not. I sadly fall into this second category and am looking forward to learning from Jen, as I always do. — wymanc@weston.org

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  6. Teaching Writing in Small Groups is the only way I’ve ever taught writing. My group was six students. Held during the school day, we did not have a lot of time to confer. I’d like to start another writing group over the summer and would plan to do more conferring in a non-school setting. I think this book would be a great fit for me! Thanks for the opportunity to win it!

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  7. Excited to work with teachers using the newest resource – Teaching Writing in Small Groups. Love to think about how small groups can happen throughout the day in reading and writing to support all learners.

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  8. This book couldn’t come at a better time! As a literacy coach, I am always looking for resources for teaching writing and Jen always makes the work so doable! Planning on recommending this book to lots of colleagues!

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  9. Teaching writing in small groups is my goal for the upcoming school year. Thank you for this resource! I love the Reading and Writing Strategies books—I’m sure I’ll love this one, too!

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  10. Pushing writers forward has been a struggle at times. Learning to do it in small groups would be amazing! Love Jennifer’s reading and writing strategy books and would love to add this to my library.

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  11. Hi Jeniffer,
    I teach 4th grade writing, I refer to the books that I read continuously, so I would really like to have my own copy. That would be amazing! I can already imagine my side notes and colorful bookmarks attached to numerous pages to refer to. 😊

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  12. I would be thrilled to win a copy of this book to use for my writing instruction! I have loved Jennifer’s Reading and Writing Strategies books, and her book on teaching reading in small groups, and I imagine this will be very consistent with those. Fingers crossed!

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  13. Looking forward to reading Jen’s newest book. After this year, I am rethinking how I use small groups for writing in the classroom.

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  14. I was just talking with a colleague and said I was going to spend time this summer wrapping my head around teaching writing in small groups- I am so glad I stumbled onto your blog (which is great btw) I love jens books and would be tickled to start my research this summer with her book!!

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  15. Teaching writing is a passion of mine, so this book will help me strengthen my ability to help more students in a small group setting.

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  16. As a vice principal I am always looking for resources to support y teachers, especially those who are apprehensive about writing. This would be a great addition to add to our writing toolbox.

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  17. This will be a great addition to my collection of Jen’s books on reading and writing strategies. Teaching writing was one of the most difficult tasks as a remote teacher. This new book of Jen’s is timely and much needed for the next school year!

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  18. We purchased our teachers their own copies of several Jennifer Serravallo’s books. We are excited for them to have these resources. I would love to add this one to our collection so we can implement small group writing.

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  19. As asmall group instructor, I find all of Jennifer Serravello’s books to be invaluable resources. Best practices and ideas to refresh instruction.

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  20. Jen Serravallo’s work is so user-friendly! Thanks for sharing this glimpse into her new book. It wasn’t on my radar, and even the interview and images you shared are giving me new things to think about to improve my teaching. Thanks!

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  21. Jennifer’s Reading and Writing Strategy Books have been so helpful as a new teacher. I’m moving to second grade next year and this book would be a great resource to help my students grow as writers!

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  22. As a student, I never enjoyed writing. For this reason, writing instruction has always been challenging for me. I love Jennifer’s Reading Strategies and Writings Strategies books! Looking forward to this one, as well and to gleaning knowledge and strategies to apply in my classroom!

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  23. As a student I never enjoyed writing. For this reason, writing instruction has always been challenging for me. I love Jennifer’s Reading Strategies and Writings Strategies books! Looking forward to this one as well!

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  24. You had me at “Jennifer Serravallo”…I’ve been a fan of hers even before her Strategies books (which are goldmines, btw) so I’m REALLY excited to learn about this new book! Thank you for the interview style article and the opportunity to win her new book!

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  25. I’m excited to revitalize writing my 5th grade classroom after the challenge of remote writing this year. I’m looking forward to learning more in this book!

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  26. I love Jen’s Reading and Writing Strategy books and would love to take a deep dive in writing small groups. I know that it will help me to really rethink my writing lessons.

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  27. I am so glad I stumbled across your blog! I have gained a lot of valuable tips about writing! And I would love a chance to win Jenn’s new book!

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  28. I own a copy of both the reading and writing strategies books and this book would be a great addition to my collection. I recently switched from 3rd to 1st during the pandemic so I haven’t had the chance to maximize small group structure in my new grade level. I believe I would learn a lot from this book.

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  29. I would love to win this book. I have all of Jennifer’s books and have attended virtual workshops. I am sure this is another must have for my bookshelf ! Such practical information and easy to locate activities.

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  30. Last summer I read Jen’s Reading Strategies book. This year, with COVID restrictions, it was a challenge to implement writer’s workshop. I’m looking forward to next year and would love to learn some new strategies. Small groups would be a great way to differentiate while also maximizing my time in a tight schedule. Thanks for the post and the opportunity to enter the giveaway!

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  31. This has been my first year teaching, and I’ve struggled with supporting my students in writing. One of my goals for this summer is to learn more about effective teaching practices I can implement next year. I’m looking forward to seeing what this book suggests!

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  32. This is so awesome! I would be beyond thrilled to use this in my classroom! I am a first year teacher, and I think writing is the key to success for my scholars.

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  33. This book sounds amazing! Teaching in small groups really does increase engagement and writing is one of those areas where students are all at different levels! I can’t wait to check out this resource!

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  34. This speaks to the heart of what I have said as a Literacy Coach for years- there is so much more power in small group instruction and conferencing. I have used Jennifer’s books as a resource with teachers I coach for years. As a coach who is returning to the classroom to enjoy the kids for awhile, I would love a copy of this new book to put to use.

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  35. I love your books! Your new book will help me work with students in their writing. Thank you for your informative books.

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  36. This book would surely revolutionize my writing instruction for which I have no curriculum or guidance!

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  37. I teach third grade and we are given such a short amount of time for Writing Workshop. I would love to win a copy of this book to learn how to better maximize my small group writing instruction to benefit my students!

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  38. I would love a copy of this! I have the Reading Conferences, Reading Strategies and Writing Strategies books – as a classroom teacher they have driven my practice and as literacy leader of my school they have informed professional learning for staff. Teaching Writing in Small Groups would value add to this! 🙏

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    • I would love a copy of this book. My school never has a clear writing curriculum, so I’m always searching for resources. I think this book could go a long way in helping us focus on developing our Writer’s Workshop.

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  39. I love Jennifer’s books and they have helped me so much as an ELA teacher. Now with Covid and a world of virtual students, I need fresh ideas to engage students in writing!

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  40. I have had a difficult time with small group writing instruction. It sounds like this book would help me be a more effective teacher with my students. I would love to have a copy.

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  41. I’m looking forward to Jen’s book! Thanks for reviewing it. I’ve loved all the books that I’ve gotten of hers. They are so practical and easy to use.

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    • I can’t wait to read this! We are finally updating our ELA curriculum and I love the reading strategies book!

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  42. I was wondering if I really needed this book, but after reading your interview, the answer is an obvious YES! I love how Jen always has new ways to help move me forward as a teacher, which helps my students so much.

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  43. So excited for this one! Jen does it again! Thanks so much for this post and for writing this book! Can’t wait to dig into it and I know it will be amazing just like her other books!

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  44. I’m so glad to see this resource come out by Jenn! I taught writing in small groups when teaching Primary and Kindergarten grades and would get great results! Looking forward to reading it.

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  45. I have used several of Jen’s books and will definitely be adding this to my list! Small group writing instruction will be so important after teaching writing remotely for most of this year. Thanks for a chance to win this great resource!

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  46. Thank you Jennifer for writing a book that supports small-groups for writing. Small group reading instructions gels a lot of “press”. Writing is so vital to our Scholar’s learning, so having a resource that will help writing teachers provide the strategy-based instruction is a game-changer. Thank you again. Partnered with your Reading Strategies and Writing Strategies, I will be able to provide effective literacy instruction that will meet my Scholars needs.

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  47. This book will be an awesome resource for next school year especially! I know we’re worried about student writing and I think implementing small group writing is going to be essential so this book would be great to help with planning small group writing instruction

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  48. I would love to have this book to add to my writing strategies book. Writing is a subject I need to work on more in my classroom.

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  49. I hope I win this book so I can save a little money, as I will definitely be buying it anyway. 🙂 Thanks for sharing this conversation with her!

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  50. The one thing I saw as a 1st grade teacher this year (after the Covid closures of schools) was that parents did not know how to have their kids working on writing. They knew how to keep them reading and working on math skills, but writing seemed to suffer the most! I already purchased and have been using Jen’s books “The Reading Strategies” and “The Writing Strategies” but having her new book “Teaching Writing in Small Groups” would be very beneficial to my first graders and I. Thank you for this opportunity!!

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  51. As a classroom teacher and Resource Lead I have found both of Jennifer’s books invaluable (The Writing Strategies Book and The Reading Strategies Book). They are referred to regularly and strategies shared with other teachers. I find writing is always a challenge with students and to have an additional resource to support me in supporting them is amazing! I’m excited to read this new book!

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  52. I need to strengthen my small group teaching . With limited time, I always gravitate towards while group instruction in writing. I want to improve!

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  53. I love Jennifer’s Reading Strategies book and use the strategies in my classroom. I love the idea of a small group writing strategies book! Writing does not come easily to most younger students and I’m excited to read and implement the strategies she provides in this new book!

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  54. I am super excited about this! I am looking for more ways to teach writing in my content area (Science). I am not an ELA teacher and feel like I am at a deficit when trying to gage what strategies to use for my student. Would love to have this as a resource!

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  55. As much as I love writing, I am constantly trying to redirect my writing instruction. It’s a love hate relationship.

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  56. After 14 years of teaching I feel like I’m finally starting to find my footing as a writing teacher. Jen’s books are always so powerful. I’d love a copy of this to continue to grow and focus on small group teaching!

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  57. I’m looking forward to conducting more small group sessions in the new school year than I was able to this past year, due to covid. This would be a great resource to have on hand to facilitate them. Thanks!

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  58. All of Jen’s books are fabulous! As a veteran teacher (46 years), I rely on her previously written books each week as I plan. Can’t wait to read this one!

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  59. I serve on the writing committee in my district and we’re in the process of creating grade level maps. I would love to show my district this resource and get copies in the hands of my colleagues so we can do this correctly and efficiently!

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  60. I love Jennifer’s work because I can always use her helpful and practical strategies immediately in the classroom. I would love to win this book!

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  61. After reading this blog, I know I need this book! I love all of Jen’s books, so I hope to have this on my shelf as a resource soon!

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  62. I think would be so helpful in coaching my dual language teachers on teaching writing, which was the focus of our Pd when covid hit. During remote learning, writing was not prioritized at all, so I look forward to teachers teaching writing again when we are full time in-person again!

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  63. This is valuable information. The real learning and connections are made within small groups. Thank you for the opportunity to win!

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  64. Always looking ways to better use small groups and this looks like an excellent resource. Thank you for looking into it!

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  65. Thank you for sharing! Can’t wait to get a copy of this book. It will be useful as I take on a new role as the Writer’s Workshop Coordinator for our Lower Primary School! Thank you for doing what you do! You continue to inspire us!

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  66. I find it so valuable to share goals and monitor progress, being as transparent as possible with students, as we confer. I love that you have included resources such as these for us to jump right in and get to work!

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  67. I’m moving to a grade I’ve never taught next year and this would be an amazing resource to help set me up for success.

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  68. Thank you for the chance to win this book. I feel like I fail in the area of writing and meeting my students needs. I would love to learn strategies to help target each student’s writing needs better.

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  69. This will be so helpful as I come back to a brick and mortar classroom after a year of remote teaching. Fingers crossed!

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  70. Jen’s strategies are so applicable. They make successful readers and writers out of my students and they’re easy to use in the classroom. I can’t wait to read this new book so I can be a better teacher.

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  71. I LOVE all of her books! I’ve just recently started refining my writing block and this would be an amazing resource to help implement in my classroom, especially with conferring with small groups or one-on-one!

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  72. I’m excited to read this over summer. I’m always looking for ways to improve my writing especially in small groups.

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  73. I feel as though my writing block goes by so quickly it’s hard to truly utilize all aspects of small group writing. I love Jennifer’s reading and writing strategy books, they’re like my “bibles”. I’m hoping to win a copy of this edition to grow in this area as well!

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  74. Love all of Jennifer’s books. I especially love the forms to help teachers get started. Love the ease and practical advice on how to get started.

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  75. I’m excited to learn how to work better with small groups in writing. I have both the reading and writing strategies book and am sure this will be a wonderful addition to my collection.

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  76. Writing strategies are is so vast but you have focused to make it easy.
    Would like to implement in my language class!

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  77. Jennifer also provides amazing small group strategies for teachers! I use her books like the Bible for small groups, and I am sure that this would be no different. I appreciate how Jennifer has thought about teachers during the pandemic and continues to also think of injustices around the US with regards to race and racism. Last summer she had FREE workshops for teachers focusing on POC and it’s amazing how she is (as per your interview) translating this to Spanish. She goes above and beyond with everything and this interview highlights that.

    Jullrich@westfieldnk12.org

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  78. Super excited about this new book for teaching writing! I can’t wait to order my copy! Jennifer Serravallo always shares her thoughts in a way that I can understand very easily!

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  79. As a department chair I am always looking for ways to grow and learn so I can help my team develop as well. Our school improvement plan has a large focus on writitng and small groups next year as we anticipate lots of deficits from being virtual since last March. This book is going to provide so many resources and helpful strategies, just like the other JS titles we have!

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  80. I always feel like I over support students in writing! I would love this resource to help scaffold my instruction better!

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  81. EL Teacher here!! Absolutely LOVE Jennifer’s work and I can’t wait to put her small group strategies and frameworks to WORK!

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  82. This is one of the only books I don’t have of Jen’s. It is a big one too for writing in small groups rather than whole class instruction. I’m excited to own this one soon. Thank you for the post.

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  83. Definitely ordering this to read over the summer. Her reading and writing strategies books are amazing! So excited to dive into this one.

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  84. I’m excited for another teacher friendly resource book from Jen. It is challenging differentiating children in the same grade at so many different levels. I’m hopeful this book like her others will help with this task.

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  85. I would love to be considered for the giveaway! My email is kimahannigan@outlook.com.
    I love how this book, much like Reading Conferences identifies learning progressions and note taking sheets that can be used for goal setting. I love the table tents! Who doesn’t love a cheat sheet?!?

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  86. I would love to add this book to my Serravallo collection. I have all her other books, attended a workshop two years ago, and took an on line PD about this topic many years ago. I use her methods every day! Thank you for another terrific resource.

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  87. I just received my copy of Teaching Writing in Small Groups, and I can’t wait to dig into it! I am so appreciate of Ms. Seravallo’s generosity and how she shares her knowledge and multiple resources to support teachers!

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  88. At last – some very user-friendly effective ways to facilitate small group work for developing writing skills! Thank you! Just reading the interview sparked on a number of ideas I am eager to try.

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  89. This interview was a chance to get a glimpse of Jen’s thoughtful and inspiring work. She always offers the perfect blend of practical strategies teachers can implement while still building their own thinking. Her books are a must have.

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  90. Thanks for the interview with Jen. I find her strategies invaluable and always look forward to trying them out in my practice!

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  91. I’m very interested in learning more about guided writing in small groups! I have Jen’s Writing Strategies Book and it’s amazing. It sounds like this one is too!

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  92. Thanks for letting me hear your chat with Jen. I have all her earlier books and love her easy to follow writing style. After reading this blog post, I can’t wait to read this book too. Fingers crossed that I’m a winner!

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  93. Small group writing has been one of the trickiest for me to plan and balance over the years. I love Jennifer’s Reading Strategies and writing Strategies books and I’m excited to read and apply what I read in this new one. Thanks for this post!

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