I absolutely love to teach writing. I feel like it is the one time of day that I can truly reach every student on THEIR level EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. It is also the one time of day that I can honestly say at least 90% of my students are fully engaged for 30+ minutes. It is also the only time of day that I tell my students to clean up and they moan and groan because they want to keep going.

The way I really keep my students engaged and striving to new heights is through writing conferences because I can really customize our conference to fit their needs and it provides immediate feedback during the middle of their writing process instead of having them go back and fix something they are already finished with.

Why Give Feedback?

Students need immediate and corrective feedback. And yes, there is a right and a wrong way to provide feedback. I know it is way easier to simply say "no, that isn't right", but what does a student really learn from that? Nothing. Instead, provide feedback to the student that lets them know their answer is incorrect, but lead them to learning why that answer wasn't right. Try something like "Well, if we were asking a question we would use a question mark, but read this sentence to me. What type of punctuation do you need?"

Why is feedback so important? It takes 16 to 21 days to reverse a misconception. If you translate that into school days... that's approximately 3-4 weeks!! That's why IMMEDIATE and CORRECTIVE feedback that allows a student to learn from their mistakes and learn WHY they made a mistake is so incredibly important.

How to Give Feedback

The number one thing about feedback that you need to remember is that your goal should be to enhance the "writer", NOT the "writing". Handing back a writing with a bunch of red circles does not show the writer what they can do better. Feedback needs to be interactive and WITH the student! If you want to use a red pen to show errors, let the student use the pen to make the marks, etc.

I like to have the student make corrections/additions in colored pencil... and trust me, they love it, too. By doing this, I can easily see what the student was able to do on their own, and what they did with my help.




When giving feedback to a student during a writing conference, I like to use the 2 to 1 method. I have the student share their writing with me, then I point out two things I really liked during their writing (I usually try to find a skill we've recently had a mini-lesson on) and then I share ONE thing that I want them to try or keep in mind for next time. Let's be honest, there are about ten things on every writing that are going to drive you insane. But remember that your writers are only 6 or 7 years old. You can't expect them to retain ten lessons or skills in one day. Find one thing that you think will benefit them the most and work on that ONE thing.

I try to make a note of their 2 to 1 comments so that the next time I meet with them I can say "last time, we talked about doing ___ and I love that I see that on page 2". Documenting those comments also helps me plan ahead in case I want to pull a group of 3 or 4 who all really need to work on capitalization, etc.

Advanced Writers

Sometimes you will only have good things to tell a student about their writing and that's OK! They deserve a full on win every once in a while without the "you were great, but you need to work on this".

But, if you really want to push that student, here are a few of my favorite advanced writing skills that I use with my first graders:

  • The Seven Up Rule: Powerful sentences are seven words and up!
  • Sparkle Words: instead of I "went"... I "wandered", I "drudged", I "chased"
  • Sensory Details: "The hot sun made the sweet ice cream melt into a sticky puddle".
  • Dialogue with quotation marks and correct punctuation

Beginner Level Writers


The Writing Conference is also a great time to really meet your beginning writers at their level. I like to pull a strategy group of 3 or 4 students who need substantial guidance.

The Highlighter Trick
  1. I talk to one student while the rest of the group listens. 
  2. The student provides a sentence and as a group, we count the number of words in that sentence. 
  3. Then I use a highlighter and mark that many spaces on their paper. 
  4. As a group, we help that student restate their sentence as I help them match the words to the spaces. 
We repeat this process for each student at the table. After a while, you will be able to help that student plan a page at a time rather than a sentence at time.

In my Writing Conference Notes product, you can find a list of suggestions for beginner level writers and also advanced level writers:

Track Your Feedback

There are so many different ways to track feedback and there is honestly no right or wrong way to track feedback. It's all about what works for you.

This is the form that I use. I like to track what kind of errors I saw in their writing as they are reading to me and then I mark the "teaching point" I chose with "TP". One thing that I've learned from writing conferences is that you really have to focus in on ONE teaching point or else your students may get overwhelmed or discouraged.




(TPT Link: Writing Conference Forms)

Analyze Your Feedback

Another reason I really like to track my feedback is to use it to plan my writing goals and strategy groups. A strategy group is a group of students who need to work on similar skills such as capitalization, punctuation, adding details, etc. I like to get my entire class writing independently, then pull my strategy group back to my table for 5-10 min, then let them go back to their desk while I return my focus back to the rest of the class. You can pull students as a strategy group or pull them independently. 

My Writer's Workshop Binder


I keep a binder with 22 dividers in it. I numbered them 1-22 so that I did not have to keep changing names each year and I assigned a number to each student (I usually do this anyway). This was a super easy way to find notes on a student. Everything went behind that divider, whether it was a nice, neat conference log, a sticky note or even a writing sample that I needed to save a copy of for documentation. 


I also kept a scheduling sheet in the very front of my binder where I could track which students I had already seen and who I needed to "SIT" with. I tried to see every student at least once a week, and then I had my special friends that came to me two or three times a week.


After my scheduling sheet, I keep my grouping pages so that I can group students of similar abilities/teaching points to help maximize my writer's conference time.  These can also be found in my Writing Conference Forms product. 

As a new teacher, I did not realize how important poetry actually is to reading fluency. To me it wasn't worth spending a lot of time on because poems are short and most of the time, students just memorize them anyway, they aren't actually reading them. I now know that the very reason I did not want to use them was the reason that they are so effective. Yes students often memorize them, but that allows them to focus on their speed, the intonation and the rhythm. I saw a HUGE difference in how my students were able to read with expression after a couple of months using this poetry station. 



{Get it here}: FREE I Can Statements

Pocket Chart/Poetry Packets

I cannot take credit for these awesome sight word poems. They were given to me by a veteran teacher, but you can find grade level appropriate poems just about anywhere. I should really start by saying that my students have a copy of each of these poems in a folder at their desk called their Rise and Shine Folder and we practice one or two of daily. Students can use their Rise and Shine folders during the poetry station to read the poem, highlight sight words, circle rhyming words or color/illustrate the poem.

I keep all of our poems for the year in one basket. I really love the idea of giving the student's choice at the poetry station and I love that they get to choose which poem they want to work on. It also works well because they have plenty of things to choose from if they finish a poem before the station is over. 

I keep our poems in colored poly envelopes that I found at Dollar Tree 3 for $1. They work so good because they are easy for students to open and close. I also really like that they are colored, but you can easily see what's inside. 


Our poetry packets include:
  • a copy of the poem with highlighted sight words and circled rhyming words
  • a copy of the poem on sentence strips
  • separate high frequency words that can be matched to the sentence strips

When a student gets a "poetry packet", they have several options of activities to do with it: 
  • read the poem by themselves
  • read the poem with a partner
  • sequence the poem using the sentence strips
  • match the high frequency words to the sentence strips
  • use the printed poem to find high frequency words and rhyming words on their own copy of their poem that is in their desk
  • respond to the poem in a poetry response folder (explained later)



Alliteration 

Check out my post on my kids' favorite "Silly Names" station here

Journal Page

Our poetry response folders are something that I started this past year. We were doing the same activities in a regular journal, but I found that my students did much better when they had a little bit more structure to follow. I chose to have my students focus on two kinds of responses to their poems.

Word Ladder

The first thing my students had to do was to choose their favorite line from the poem and create a word ladder. A word ladder is so great because it really works on reading fluency. Then, students illustrate that line. The kids love it because they see it as a time to draw and color. What they don't realize is that they are actually communicating what they visualize when they read the poem. Since they are only responding to one line of the poem, they can generate 5-6 or more responses to each poem so I never have to change anything in the station, yet they still have a TON of options to choose from.


FREE Poetry Journal Page

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Saving Our Spot

So what if a student starts a response, but doesn't finish it during the ten minutes they are given for the poetry station? We use post-it notes to mark our spots if we are not finished. The students have to write their name and stick it at the top of the page. They know that before they start a new journal response, they have to check the sticky notes for any unfinished work first.



Hi Friends!! Welcome to the Simple Stations Series, the series for teachers who want solid stations that are quick, easy and cheap to make!! Check out full series below: 

Author's Purpose Sorting Station

Author's purpose is such a hard thing to teach in first grade, but it is SO important that kids set a purpose for reading before they start a text! This author's purpose sorting station actually started as a whole group lesson. It's something that I do every year. I give each student one book and I make sure I have a mixture of fiction and nonfiction, hardback and paperback, magazines and newspapers. We make our labels for inform and entertain (I hold off on persuade until we are a little more comfortable with author's purpose). Then, I have each student come to the front of the room and sort their book under the right label and we go over the results as a class. 


Not only is this a super easy mini-lesson that lets the kids learn hands-on how to set a purpose for reading, but it is SO easy to transition it into a station. I took all of our books from our mini-lesson and put them in the bucket you see above. I also put our two labels for "inform" and "entertain". I demonstrated to the class how they would partner up and check each other's answers as the sort the entire box of books under the two labels. They LOVED it!!

Bonus Activity

This is an activity that I do every year and my students LOVE it! It's so simple, give each student a Scholastic Book Order. Let them go through and circle the books that they like, now ask them "Why would you want to read this book? Would you read it for fun or to learn something?"

 Then, have students cut out books from the book order and sort them under inform or entertain. We don't use anything fancy, we just create a t-chart on a piece of paper.


Bonus Mini-Lesson

Below are two different anchor charts that I have used to help teach author's purpose. The first one is my favorite. We built it over the course of several weeks. Every time we read a book, we added a picture of the book or a sticky note to the chart. I really think it helped my students make connections between different types of books and different reasons you would read a book! 

This second anchor chart is one we used as more of a checklist to determine which category a book best it under. This was a really good activity to show that books often show characteristics in more than one category. It helped teach the lesson that sometimes the answer isn't easy to choose, you have to choose the one that is the best fit! 


Author Studies

Author studies are a great resource to tie into author's purpose.

Learn more here----> 



and check out these great author studies: 





Focus on the Ideas

The key to making independent writers is to focus the student's ideas. Often times the first thing we want to fix is structure or spelling or conventions. I think as adult writers we often forget that the process of transferring ideas into writing is incredible hard for emerging writers. When grading state level writing assessments, the graders pay more attention to the quality o the content first, conventions and spelling are one of the last things that affect the student's overall score.

The greatest lesson you can teach a student is how to do things independently. At the end of the year, it doesn't matter how good their ideas are if they still rely on you to help get those great ideas on paper. Next year's teacher might not understand each student the way that you do, but if a student can independently get their ideas on paper then the gap between teachers will be significantly less.

Plan, Sketch, Write, Details

I am a Teachers Pay Teachers author but I do not make a lot of writing products because to truly create independent writers, we need to provide them with the TOOLS they need to write a good story, not the worksheet they need to write a good story. 

We use four steps to writing our stories: 
-plan
-sketch
-write
-details

Plan 

Planning is one of the hardest stages of writing for students. Typical we think of a story having a beginning, middle and end, but I like to teach my students to have four parts to their story when they are planning. 

Here are a few methods I use to help my students plan out their story: 
-plan across four fingers
-touch and plan across a four page booklet
-tell your story to a partner
-tell your story to the teacher (for those who are really struggling)

{Example of a four page booklet}


Get my Writing Templates here--->

Sketch

One mistake that I made too many times was to make students write before they could draw. If you haven't read the book Patches Lost and Found, go read it now! It is. such a cute little story about a character who must write a story but doesn't know what to write about how. The character loves to draw, she draws tons and of pictures and her mom helps her turn her pictures into a story.



One very important thing that you must do is demonstrate HOW to sketch to your students. Sketching is a great way to help a student think about the different parts o the story and create an outline or each page. It is easily done with stick figures and outline of building, etc. This is NOT the time to be adding details or to color, it is simply to help students create an outline of their story. 

Write



Like I said before, you really want to focus on the student's ideas. You want to teach them how to get their ideas down on paper as fast as they can. Spelling and conventions will become a habit as they grow as writers. Writing fluency is just as important as reading fluency but it is something that does not get talked about nearly enough!

I think it's also important to mention that you teaching writing skills in small steps. You can see an example of my writing station below. I often use half page anchor charts or even small pieces of colored paper to help highlight the ONE skill a day that we teach.



We will talk about mini-lessons later on, but one thing I really want to emphasize is that you need to MODEL, MODEL, MODEL. Students need to see fluent writing and see the writing process so that they know what the strive for and they know what is expected of them. Modeling is not something that you should use only at the beginning of the year, it needs to be done every single day from August to May.

I model writing for my students every single day. It may not be a full four page booklet each time, a lot of times I give a one page example or go back and add a trade craft to something we have already written together.

For mini-lessons and mentor texts, check this out--->

Details

Now comes the fun part, adding details to those sketches we made earlier. I am so guilty of thinking our writing time should be spent WRITING, but illustrations can communicate just as much as words can. This is the time to demonstrate how to turn a sketch into a detailed picture.



I love using the mentor text The Day the Crayons Quit for this lesson. A common motto in my classroom is to "keep your crayons and your teacher happy".

What's Next
So you've taught the process and now your students are writing and you really want to help them improve but you just aren't sure where to start?

Check this out--->





Writer's Workshop is a term that is blowing up teachers' Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram feeds right now and for good reason. From the beginning to the end of the year, you will continue to have writers on completely opposite ends of the spectrum. Writer's Workshop allows teachers the flexibility to work with each student on their level and the specific skills that they need.

But you already know all of this. You don't need another textbook like post about the amazing benefits and perfect schedule of a Writer's Workshop. I'm here to give you the "Real Life, Mistakes I've Made, It's Not Always Pretty" version of what you really need to know.

Getting Started

Before school even starts, here are a few decisions you need to make about how you want to spend your writing time with your students. Your answers to these questions will help shape your entire Writer's Workshop structure. 
  • How long will your writing block be?
  • How are you going to divide it up?
  • Will you call groups back or will you walk around the room?
  • How will students organize their writing?
  • Where will students keep their writing?
  • What are procedures for starting a new story? 
  • Where do they get new writing paper?
  • When can students work on their writing? (writing time only, writing stations, free time, etc.)
  •  What kind of writing templates are you going to use?
  • How do students need to “title” their writing (name, date, story title)?
  • How will you organize your conference notes? 
  • How many times a week do you want to see each student? 
  • How will you track which students you have seen/need to see?
I know this seems like a lot of questions to answer before school has even started, but I've found the key to a successful writing block from start to finish is consistency. I'm not saying I don't tweak a few things here and there, but for the most part we keep the same procedures and same templates for the ENTIRE YEAR! But hey, that just means less planning on your part!

When thinking about these questions, consider the mistakes I've made and AVOID them! 



Check it out here--->



How It Works for Me

My Writing Block

Here's my typical schedule. Please keep in mind that this is AFTER students have already built up stamina to be able to write for longer periods of time.
5 min- Whole Group Mini-Lesson using a mentor text
5 min- Model Writing using trade craft from mentor text
1-2 min- Pre-writing/Brainstorming ideas
30 min- Students are writing at their desk and Teacher is conducting conferences
5 min- Share Writing

Call groups back or walk around the room?

I honestly really like to call groups back to my teacher table AND walk around the room. It's a strategy I learned in my first year of teaching called Roam, Sit, Dip. Basically you get students working independently at their desk while you ROAM the room and make sure all students are on task. Then, you SIT with a group and DIP into their knowledge of what they are supposed to be doing. I let them practice for 5-10 minutes at my table then I send them back to their desk. Then, I get up and roam again and sit down again with a new group. This method seems to work really well to minimize behavior problems and keep students focused during writing time because they know I could be getting up at any second to roam around the room again. 

I use this form for helping me create/organize small groups for my writing time. It allows me to get a good snapshot picture of my class and who is working on similar skills. I like to use sticky notes to list students' names so I'm not constantly re-printing the page. 


Get it here--->


Writing Folder

At the beginning of each year, I give each student a semi-heavy duty laminated blue folder that is forever known as their "writing folder", clever name, huh? It has the two pockets inside and brads in the middle. I really like this kind of folder because we punch holes in all of our writing. When a writing sample is complete, I put it in the bradded part of the folder so we can easily go back and see all of the students' writing samples for that unit. Keeping students' finished products also allows you a lot of opportunity to go back and edit/revise.




New Stories

The key for me this year to getting my students to become independent writers was to let them start and finish writing samples at their own pace. Some students would work for days on one sample and others would start and finish a new sample each day. To make this system work, I made a writing station in our room (a small black bookshelf from Wal-Mart) that had a tray on top for new writing pages.


Here's a look at the process we used in our room:

New Writing Pages- found in the writing center
Writing Drafts that are NOT finished- pocket of writing folder
Completed Writing Drafts- turn in to teacher
Finished Writing Samples- bradded section of writing folder(and repeat!!)

**Sometimes students would have two or three completed drafts turned in before I was able to sit down and discuss the drafts with them, but I promise you it was still OK!!

When can students work on their writing?

I know this sounds like a silly question, but you seriously have to spell it out for some kids. AND it's totally up to you. Maybe you don't want students working on their writing samples during station time because you have a specific process you want them to follow and thats completely OK!!

I chose to let my students work on the writing samples during:
-writing block
-guided reading stations
-free time
-ALL OF THE ABOVE

Was the quality of their writing during stations super great? Not really. But, it provided them a good time to go back and add the details to their pictures that they were missing. Or it allowed them time to share their story with a friend. Writing is a HUGE, lengthy process. Sometimes it's okay to let students pick the easy part. BUT, you need to make sure your expectations are clear and that students still have a purpose during this time.

Need extra writing station ideas? 
Check out these posts--->





What kind of writing templates are you going to use?

I used the same writing template ALL YEAR LONG. I'm serious. I did not change that template one single time because students knew exactly what I expected them to do with it.

My students knew that had to:
-Write their name
-Write the date
-Title their story

Later on in the year, my students even knew how to number their own pages and fill in the table of contents.

You can seriously use any kind of writing template that you already have, but if you are in need of some check out my year long writing templates.

Get it here--->




Conference Notes

I tried keeping my conference notes several different ways. I will go into more detail of how and why to keep conference notes in a later post, but all you really need to decide right now is how you are going to organize them.

For more on Conference Notes and Feedback, Check out--->

Get the forms I use here---> 

Make It Work for YOU

Well, you have your homework cut out for you. Review the questions at the beginning of this post. Really give it some thought, you don't have to have all the answers right now. Because if we are being honest, everything always changes anyway. But, it will be good to give yourself some time to think about how you want to make Writer's Workshop work for YOU!!

What's next? Check out this post--->


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