I received an email from Chris asking me for information as to how we run our Writer's workshop in our kindergarten. So I thought I would write a little about how we structure our program. Please know, though, that I do not profess to be an expert in writing and do not have all the answers as to how to get kids to write!
The foundation for our Writer's Workshop is the Lucy Calkin's Unit of Study for Primary Classrooms. We start our writing early in the school year with a simple This is me activity. The children draw a picture of themselves and label their picture with their name. This becomes our writing baseline. We also use the Handwriting Without Tears curriculum and will do the Mat Man activity and song after we have gotten our baseline drawing and writing example. Our second lesson is modeled/shared writing. I will draw a picture on my Promethean screen and then ask the children what things they see in my picture. As they say them, I write the words next to the picture. Of course, this is simple labeling which is a natural way to begin the writing process. After I have shared my writing, I give the children blank paper and ask them to draw and label a picture. If they protest and say that they cannot write words, I tell them to just write the beginning sound or any letter that they can hear in the word. Here is an example of what I might draw and label for our first session. Another activity that I do with early writing is the use of the word the or my before the pictures that they draw. Here is an example of the paper that the children use at the beginning stages of sentence writing. The children use these 2 styles of writing for several weeks or until they feel confident enough to begin writing sentences. Lucky Calkins has some wonderful scenarios for teaching children how to add details to their pictures and sentences.
When the children are ready for the next step, we use paper with lines and a larger picture box. It is also during these sessions that I show my students how to observe the shapes in pictures and the world around them and use these shapes to draw pictures. We also practice listening to sounds in words and recording the sounds upon our paper. As the year progresses, the children become more and more competent with their writing and advance to 3 lined paper.
We write everyday in some way. We have formal mini-lessons at least 3 times a week. This is when we meet together on the rug and receive instruction or a shared writing lesson. When we are not meeting formally, the children are either writing in a literacy center or simply writing with no formal lesson during Writer's Workshop time.
An important component of our Writer's Workshop program is shared writing among each other. My students love to share their writing and I try to make sure that they get the opportunity to share in some way at least once a week. We share in 2 ways. One way is teacher's choice. This is when I choose 5 or 6 children to sit on the author's chair and read their favorite story to the whole class. The other way is when the children get together with their writing partner and read their stories to each other. Both are fun and exciting and my students never seem to tire of sharing! When a child is on the author's chair, I try to point out one positive thing about their story such as "I really like how Sally uses spaces between her words. It makes it so much easier for us to read!" or "I like how Lincoln made his picture match his words! That's what authors do, you know. They make sure that their picture matches the words that they are writing." This week the children will begin their publishing journey. They will be brainstorming a story that sounds fun to write and then outlining it into a beginning, middle, and ending format. They will then use this format to write a story becoming both the author and illustrator of their publication. As we progress through this project, I will post some pictures of their work!
So, that is our writing program in a nutshell. Again, please know that I am no expert on the writing process! Just as every teacher searches for ways to motivate and teach her/his students in fun and exciting ways, I continue to search for more and better ways as well! I am sure that many of you who are reading this post are more of a writing expert than me! But it is fun to share and collaborate and I hope that is what I have done! If you would be interested in the paper that I use for Writer's workshop, click here. It is nothing fancy - just something that I put together to suit my needs. Lucy Calkins has a CD included in the program with wonderful writing paper as well. Otherwise any paper that you have will work! The most important thing you can do is to just get your kiddos writing, writing, writing and to not be afraid to make a mistake! Mistakes are how we learn and if we don't try, we can't accomplish anything! I'm sure this is a lesson that many of you tell your students everyday!
As a side note, we are doing a mini butterfly and caterpillar unit this week! I will be sharing some of our fun activities this week and hope that you may find some that you will be able to use as we glide into spring here in North America!