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Minilesson Alternatives: Considering OTHER Ways to Kick Off Workshop

Contrary to popular belief, minilessons are not mandatory.  Let me clarify: daily minilessons are not mandatory. 

I often wonder if daily minilessons are perceived as necessary because they look, sound, and feel like what many people are used to seeing in traditional classrooms- the adult leads the experience and does most of the talking. Minilessons are certainly reminiscent of more familiar instructional practices; they are pre-planned, highly scaffolded, and explicit. Although minilessons are not intended to be assignments, some teachers may worry that without a minilesson, certain students could struggle to get started. And so, it makes sense that this has become the default way to begin a session of writing workshop. I wholeheartedly believe that minilessons offer plentiful benefits and represent a highly-effective way to efficiently model strategies. However, they are not the only way to start each day. 

If you have ever felt that you were going through the motions of a minilesson, know that there are plenty of other ways you can choose to gather as a community and launch writing time. Here are ten alternatives for beginning a writing workshop session – – with joy, intention, and inspiration.

Read on to learn a bit more about each alternative: 

  1. Start with the Share: Instead of ending by sharing the words of classroom writers, begin workshop by celebrating and finding inspiration in the recent “design choices” of those in the room. 
  2. Read Aloud: Read aloud a published, teacher-written, or student-composed text as if you were doing an interactive read-aloud. Pause at pre-chosen spots to notice and appreciate the structure, development, craft, or convention choices made by the writer. When reading with “writer’s eyes,” the class zooms in on aspects of a carefully-chosen model and gets rewarded with new ideas and inspiration for their own writing. (You can also study illustrations and images by viewing print texts or videos.) 
  3. Mentor Sentence Study: Follow the lead of Jeff Anderson & Whitney LaRocca as you study a specific feature within a sentence pulled from an authentic piece of writing. Wonder about, discuss, and explicitly introduce/review a convention that feels relevant for current students. 
  4. Convention Mini-Inquiry: Pose a convention-themed question and then spend a few minutes collaboratively investigating the concept, discussing ideas, and developing theories. (Examples: Why did the author use three “periods” in a row? How do writers expand sentences- without turning them into unintentional run-ons?) Then, sit back and watch students get excited to try new conventions in their own writing! This TWT blog has plenty of tips to get your wheels turning. 
  5. Word or Language Study: When it’s tough to find enough time for word study or grammar, you might decide to kick off writing workshop with a quick review of a concept related to words or language. A few efficient, yet intentionally planned minutes is all it takes. Grammar games are also great.  Don’t wait until the end of a unit to bring up spelling, vocabulary, or grammar! 
  6. Interactive Writing: Use this community-driven component to model how to get ideas from heads to pages- conventionally. Check out this recent blog for more details. The proximity of interactive writing to independent writing promotes immediate transfer. 
  7. Shared Writing: If you began co-composing a piece during immersion, consider returning to that shared writing piece during the unit. A session of shared writing can kick off a workshop session and provide vision for using stepped-up strategies students weren’t quite ready to explore earlier in the unit. 
  8. Goal Reboot:  Encourage students to revisit their goals (class, club, partner, or personal) and set a “session intention” that aligns with this goal. If this is new for students, model it! Leah reminds us that even the youngest writers benefit from setting and working toward goals
  9. Checklist Check-In:  There’s something that feels so satisfying about beginning a workshop session by celebrating what’s already been completed and considering where to head next. Checklists are powerful tools that make this kind of reflection and planning feel more concrete and accessible. Melanie offers plenty of checklist advice here.
  10. Nothing:  “Yesterday, the room was buzzing with productivity. Today, pick up where you left off. If you get stuck and aren’t sure where to head next, remember that some of the strategies we’ve recently talked about are listed here on this chart.” Consider the students’ perspective. A new minilesson may result in students feeling overwhelmed. Writers benefit from the gift of time and the opportunity to linger in trying what has already been introduced. (However, If you want to kick it up a notch, consider offering optional seminars instead of starting with a whole-class minilesson.)

The way a class launches a session of writing workshop is one more way teachers enact their commitment to being responsive to the writers currently in the classroom. Don’t feel you need to limit yourself or students. Rebel against it’s always been done that way rhetoric. Teaching is not an “all or nothing” practice. Find a new balance – one that works right now. Observe the writers in the room. Talk with them. Imagine and wonder about new possibilities for starting sessions that are designed with students (and their current goals) in mind. And then make thoughtful decisions that feel supportive of the next steps you hope to encourage and cultivate each day. You might find that it is just the lift you all needed! 

2 thoughts on “Minilesson Alternatives: Considering OTHER Ways to Kick Off Workshop

  1. I can’t wait to try some of these! When I’ve done them in the past, I’ve felt like I was cheating or skipping something important. Your post outlines why it’s beneficial to pause and change it up!

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