Writing Workshop Mini Lessons Personal Narrative Essays


This year’s writing instruction will focus on the pursuit of good writing, with explicit instruction to help students begin to master some of the complex and nuanced qualities of exceptional writing. The goal is for students to improve their writing and simultaneously develop myriad approaches to writing that empower students to effectively evaluate and improve their own writing and thinking. To this end, students will participate in writing workshops of at least forty-five minutes three to five times a week.

The writing workshop begins with a mini-lesson of five to thirty minutes and continues with independent writing, during which time I circulate among writers and meet with individuals or small groups. At any point during the writing workshop, students may share their written work in progress and receive constructive feedback from their peers and me. The writing workshop may conclude with this oral student sharing of written work, with a group discussion of what writers accomplished or what problems emerged, with my observations, or with a follow-up to the mini-lesson. The writing workshop is a quiet and productive period. Writing is thinking so silence is needed to help all writers think and write well. The only noise besides pencils moving across paper is the quiet talking that occurs during writing conferences. During the writing workshop, students develop most of their own writing projects, even during genre studies, writing passionately about what matters most to them.

The writing workshop mini-lessons provide a writing course of study. They draw on a combination of impromptu lessons based on student need and lessons that incorporate key writing instruction critical for every sixth grade student. This year’s mini-lessons have been amassed from a wide variety of sources over the past two decades, but the core of most of the lessons has been informed by Nancie Atwell’s work with junior high school writers and generously shared in her books, In the Middle: New Understandings about Writing, Reading, and Learning and Lessons that Change Writers. Other key resources have been the Resources for Teaching Writing developed by Lucy Calkins with her colleagues from the Reading and Writing Project, as well as the work of Old Adobe Union School District’s writing liaison group, with whom I worked to help enhance our Wonders of Writing program.

The mini-lessons fall into four distinct categories: lessons about topics, lessons about principles of writing, lessons about genres, and lessons about conventions (please note that sometimes conventions will be taught out of the context of writing mini-lessons as separate grammar lessons). Each day’s mini-lesson is akin to a group writing conference, where students share problems they are having as writers, determine solutions to writing problems, evaluate examples of outstanding writing, learn strategies for developing topics, learn and try different genres of writing, develop and experiment with literary techniques, and gain a better mastery and understanding of conventions.

During the daily mini-lesson, students will take notes in their writing binders so that throughout the course of the year, they may refer back to what they’ve learned to inform their writing in an ongoing manner. Students will also create a mini-lessons table of contents for ease of later reference. Some, but by no means all, of the writing mini-lessons are posted here.

The Writing WorkshopHow to Write Compelling Fiction, Short Story Structure
What Is Writing?Ways to Develop a Character
Heart MappingGrounding Dialogue in Scenes
Writing TerritoriesSetting, More than Just a Backdrop
Advice to PoetsSetting Exploration, Stepping into the Picture
Where Poetry HidesPlotting with Tools, Part 1
Good TitlesPlotting with Tools, Part 2
Proofreading for SpellingHow to Write Compelling Fiction, A Second Look
The Rule of Write about a PebbleReview, Short Fiction Resources and Techniques
The Power of IStudent Fictional Narrative Samples
Beware the ParticipleTraveling Back, Historical Fiction
Engaging Beginnings/Leads, Begin InsideStudent Historical Fiction Samples
The Rule of So What?Essay Genre
Conclusions, End StronglyEssays, How Do I Scratch the Itch?
Breaking Lines and Stanzas and PunctuatingThesis Statements
Cut to the BoneEssay Organization and Planning
Use RepetitionSome Transition Words and Phrases
Figurative Language, Two Things at OnceConclusions, Experiment with Essay Conclusions
Some Additional Literary DevicesResponse to Literature Genre
Polishing Poems and ProseResponse to Literature Components and Organization
Poetry GenreCritical Review Genre
Free Verse PoetryEffective Critical Book Reviews
Spoken Word PoetryCritical Review, A Beginner’s Guide
Where I’m From, Poetry of Place and IdentityCritical Review Components and Organization
Paint Me Like I Am, Poetry of IdentityThe Vocabulary of Critical Review
The Marks We Leave, Poetry of LegacyCritical Review, Beyond Book Reviews
Vanquishing the Monster, Poetry of EmpowermentTroubleshooting, Surefire Ways to Weaken Your Writing
Passionate Pontification, Poetry of Fervent VoiceHow a Thesaurus Can Help
Praise Poetry, Celebration of IdentityThe Truth aboutI before E
Student Free Verse SamplesSome Foreign Words Used in English Texts
Some Additional Poetic FormsRoot Words and Prefixes
Personal Narrative GenreSuffixes, To Double or Not
Questions for Personal Narrative WritersOther Suffix Rules That Mostly Work
Effective and Ineffective Personal NarrativesA Brief History of Some Common Punctuation Marks
Drawing and Talking to Find TopicsEssential Punctuation Information
Narrowing the TopicHow to Correct Comma Splices
Narrative Engaging Beginnings/LeadsHow to Punctuate Dialogue
Manipulate PacingHomonyms
The Rule of Thoughts and FeelingsFour Capitalization Confusions
Conclusions, Reflective CloseWriting Numbers
Student Personal Narrative SamplesIndicating Titles
Fictional Narrative GenreMe or I?
What’s Easy about Writing Bad Fiction?Who or Whom?
What’s Hard about Writing Good Fiction?Yours, Mine, and Ours
Problems to Explore in FictionReflect and Intensify
The Main Character QuestionnaireVague Confusion
Character Exploration, Stepping into the PictureDaily Editing and Vocabulary Exercises
Considerations in Creating a Character

Mini-lessons are a great way to teach students about small tidbits of writing without overwhelming them. These sessions are 10-15 minutes long, which is the perfect amount of time to engage elementary students without them losing interest. In my post about Writer’s Workshop, I stress the importance of teaching writing through mini-lessons.

Here are the 5 mini-lessons you MUST teach during your creative writing unit!

Character Development

Your students all know about character traits, right? Build off of this knowledge to talk about character development in your creative narrative. Character development occurs when the author writes character actions or dialogue that gives us clues about the character’s traits, interests, and background.

In our creative narrative unit that also connects to science and reading standards, students spend time during brainstorming coming up with a strong lead character, who happens to be an astronaut on the international space station. We use this brainstorming to help us write our rough draft, which includes character development. This is a great organizer to use after your mini-lesson to help students develop their main character.

Setting Development

It’s imperative to teach your students to develop their setting using descriptive words and phrases. Put up photos of different places and have students come up with words and phrases to describe them. Have them orally share with a partner as if they were introducing the place to someone that has never seen it. Have students close their eyes and describe a setting to them, then have them draw a picture of how they saw the setting in their mind. There are so many fun ways to teach setting development in a 10-15 minute mini-lesson!

Sequence of Events

Your students will probably remember the sequence words they’ve learned in past grade levels: first, next, then, last, etc. This mini-lesson is a great time to reintroduce those words to show that a creative narrative has a sequence of events. Give them an example creative narrative text and then have them retell the story using these sequence words. I love to use the story Amazing Grace for this mini-lesson, as well as my mini-lesson on character development.

After you retell the sequence of events using those order words, change those words to stronger transition words. My two favorite lists of transition words can be found here and here.


By Now



After this mini-lesson, I send my students back to their seat to independently create a sequence of events for their own creative narrative. I encourage them to use transition words and we continue to work on these throughout our rough draft and revision stages.


Dialogue is one of the most important pieces of a creative narrative. It’s also one of the most difficult for students. I’ve often found myself asking, “Why can my students identify dialogue so easily, but they can’t write it correctly?” It’s all about practice, which means they need to be writing a lot of dialogue in their creative narrative writing!

For this mini-lesson, give students the rules to writing different type of dialogue.

They’re going to need to know:

  1. When a new speaker talks, it needs to be on a new line.
  2. The punctuation rules are different if the attribution is in the beginning, middle, or end.
  3. There’s always a beginning and ending quotation mark to indicate the part of the sentence that is being spoken (or thought, if someone is thinking to themselves).

I send students back to their seat with the bookmark below (from the creative narrative unit), so that they have all the rules with them. I’ve also found that they are more much more likely to use a bookmark as a resource than turn to a page of notes in their notebook – crazy, right?

Strong Endings

Students really struggle with how to write a good, strong resolution to their story. You may notice that many of their stories either abruptly end, or end with “and that’s what happened” or “the end.” Teach your students about how experienced authors end their stories. Grab an ending or two from one of the short stories your class has read this year. Analyze the ending with your class during your mini-lesson and brainstorm the different parts of a strong ending.

Easy Prep Writing Resources


Free Writing Resources


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