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 Workshop||How to Write Compelling Fiction, Short Story Structure|
|What Is Writing?||Ways to Develop a Character|
|Heart Mapping||Grounding Dialogue in Scenes|
|Writing Territories||Setting, More than Just a Backdrop|
|Advice to Poets||Setting Exploration, Stepping into the Picture|
|Where Poetry Hides||Plotting with Tools, Part 1|
|Good Titles||Plotting with Tools, Part 2|
|Proofreading for Spelling||How to Write Compelling Fiction, A Second Look|
|The Rule of Write about a Pebble||Review, Short Fiction Resources and Techniques|
|The Power of I||Student Fictional Narrative Samples|
|Beware the Participle||Traveling Back, Historical Fiction|
|Engaging Beginnings/Leads, Begin Inside||Student Historical Fiction Samples|
|The Rule of So What?||Essay Genre|
|Conclusions, End Strongly||Essays, How Do I Scratch the Itch?|
|Breaking Lines and Stanzas and Punctuating||Thesis Statements|
|Cut to the Bone||Essay Organization and Planning|
|Use Repetition||Some Transition Words and Phrases|
|Figurative Language, Two Things at Once||Conclusions, Experiment with Essay Conclusions|
|Some Additional Literary Devices||Response to Literature Genre|
|Polishing Poems and Prose||Response to Literature Components and Organization|
|Poetry Genre||Critical Review Genre|
|Free Verse Poetry||Effective Critical Book Reviews|
|Spoken Word Poetry||Critical Review, A Beginner’s Guide|
|Where I’m From, Poetry of Place and Identity||Critical Review Components and Organization|
|Paint Me Like I Am, Poetry of Identity||The Vocabulary of Critical Review|
|The Marks We Leave, Poetry of Legacy||Critical Review, Beyond Book Reviews|
|Vanquishing the Monster, Poetry of Empowerment||Troubleshooting, Surefire Ways to Weaken Your Writing|
|Passionate Pontification, Poetry of Fervent Voice||How a Thesaurus Can Help|
|Praise Poetry, Celebration of Identity||The Truth aboutI before E|
|Student Free Verse Samples||Some Foreign Words Used in English Texts|
|Some Additional Poetic Forms||Root Words and Prefixes|
|Personal Narrative Genre||Suffixes, To Double or Not|
|Questions for Personal Narrative Writers||Other Suffix Rules That Mostly Work|
|Effective and Ineffective Personal Narratives||A Brief History of Some Common Punctuation Marks|
|Drawing and Talking to Find Topics||Essential Punctuation Information|
|Narrowing the Topic||How to Correct Comma Splices|
|Narrative Engaging Beginnings/Leads||How to Punctuate Dialogue|
|The Rule of Thoughts and Feelings||Four Capitalization Confusions|
|Conclusions, Reflective Close||Writing Numbers|
|Student Personal Narrative Samples||Indicating Titles|
|Fictional Narrative Genre||Me 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 Fiction||Reflect and Intensify|
|The Main Character Questionnaire||Vague Confusion|
|Character Exploration, Stepping into the Picture||Daily 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!
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.
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.
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:
- When a new speaker talks, it needs to be on a new line.
- The punctuation rules are different if the attribution is in the beginning, middle, or end.
- 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?
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