In the first post in this series, I explained how we had dabbled in writing, but had never found a “program” or curriculum that worked well for us. I found some expert advice from primary classroom teachers, though, and set about creating a workshop that works for our family. I learned about the 6+1 writing traits (the basic qualities that make writing work and include: ideas, organization, word choice, voice, sentence fluency, conventions and presentation) and about using mini-lessons to cover some of the basic writing characteristics. I read through a lot of books written by experienced teachers who shared some of the Mini-Lessons and writing ideas that worked for them in the classroom.
Before I talk more about those, let me tell you about my other “Duh” moment –when it came to learning about writing workshops. Many teachers use “Mentor Texts” in their writing time. Okay, so smack me over the head!!! We have always, always read a lot in our homeschool. Books fit into every nook and cranny of our day — we read at breakfast and lunch times, the kids read independently, we read together at night… but I never really used books in conjunction with our writing time to point out things like how vivid the verbs were, or how many stories the author had to tell about his relatives or how we could feel the emotions of the main character or how we could practically smell the basement with the words that the author used (dank, musty, damp)… and on and on.
Suddenly, I had another incredible resource at my hand for helping the kids learn to write! Those brilliant children’s authors themselves!! The possibilities for writing time were suddenly SO exciting! I realized we could use any great piece of writing and could pull wonderful lessons from it.
With this in mind, we slowly created our own writing workshop rhythm:
- We gather together. The kids pull out their notebooks, pencil and date stamp.
- I read a short book aloud. We talk about the book and the memories it evokes for us, or a time when we were lonely or scared like the character in the book, or a place that is as beautiful as the author described… etc.
- I go over a mini-lesson (more about that below) and suggest that they keep that in mind as they did their own writing.
- The kids grab their writing journal and add to an old story… or start a new one… or grab for the “Feeling stuck…” page… and spend 10-30 minutes quietly writing. The rule is that no one is to talk until everyone rejoins. I always spend time writing too. I think this is an important factor in making our workshop work.
- We usually (but not always) share what we have written.
Finding Mentor Texts: I’m always looking for really good children’s books and found the perfect resource for helping me find more mentor texts: 450 More Story S-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-r-s. This book highlights various children’s books and gives a brief one paragraph description of each book. It also has suggestions for different activities you can do with each book, although we did not use the book in this way.The book is organized under various topics such as Self Esteem (with suggestion such as Chrysanthemum and Molly’s Pilgrim), Abilities and Talents, Friends, Families, Neighborhoods, Endangered Animals, Oceans, Deserts, Native American Stories, Folktales from Around the World, Poetry and many more. I’ve found it to be an extremely useful resource.
By the way, there is an original book, Story S-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-r-s, (affiliate link), but I found that we had already read many of the selections they suggested.
So what kinds of Mini-Lessons are there? Well, the possibilities are endless, but here are a handful of lessons we might cover. Again, we might have a lesson on strong verbs and avoiding tired/overused verbs such as went. Then once we all grab our writing journals, I’ll suggest they keep the lesson in mind as they do their own writing:
- Finding a topic to write about
- Creating Writer’s Notebooks (for gathering ideas, memories, life events for future stories)
- Focus the story (Don’t have the story idea too broad and big)
- Favorite Leads — How to Open the Story
- Hooking the reader
- Great beginnings can start with a picture, dialogue, action, question, interesting fact
- Developing suspense or anticipation in writing
- Lively, vivid verbs
- Show, Don’t Tell — Don’t write “he was scared…” instead write, “His eyes bulged. His breath caught. His hand went to his mouth to stop him from screaming.”
- Clarity in writing
- What do feelings look like? Angry — red in the face, clenched hands (etc.)
- Avoid boring, overused words (said, went)
- Similes, Metaphors or Onomatopoeia
As I mentioned, I’ve done a lot of reading in the past six months. I purchased a lot of books to help me on this journey. I thought it might be useful for me to review the books I’ve read if you’re interested in creating your own writing workshop.
If I had to recommend just one book, it would have to be No More “I’m Done! (affiliate link) This was the book that really explained why writing workshops work well and help students become independent writers. She has a lot of practical ideas on how to get started and mini-lessons to do with your student. I found it to be quick, easy reading and I came out with practical ideas to implement right away.
At times, I need ideas right at my finger-tips. We’re busy and I don’t always want to think up the next writing mini-lesson. I have found 25 Mini-Lesson for Teaching Writing and The Most Wonderful Writing Lessons Ever extremely useful. I can open up the book and see how these teachers made a mini-lesson work in their classroom and can modify it to share with my kids. You can look inside the 25 Mini-Lessons or The Most Wonderful Writing Lessons Ever (affiliate links) on Amazon to see if you might find them helpful.
I’ve gotten a number of good points from Teaching Writing: A Workshop Approach, though it hasn’t been quite as helpful as the books above. Creating Young Writers is helpful in a very different way. It has taught me what to look for in the kids’ writing and how kids to learn the six keys to good writing. The third book in the picture below is the 6+1 Traits of Writing, the book that all of these authors refer to. It has been very useful to read/skim through, but it is a little bit heavy. I would suggest it as summer reading, but if you want to get started creating a writing workshop NOW, this would not where I would start.
Finally the last two books (by the same author), have been full of really practical useful information. These are books that I always read with a pencil and paper in hand. I take notes from them a lot and find them very informative about how to teach writing. They are a bit “heavier” reading that No More, “I’m Done” but a highly recommend them if you have the time/space to concentrate for a while. Mentor Texts: Teaching Writing Through Children’s Literature, K-6 and Nonfiction Mentor Texts: Teaching Informational Writing Through Children’s Literature, K-8 (affiliate links)
Do you want to learn more about starting your own Homeschool Writing Workshop? Here are some related posts:
- Creating a Homeschool Writing Workshop – Post #1 — How/Why we needed a change in our writing program
- Creating a Homeschool Writing Workshop – Post #2: Creating a Writing Workshop Area and Materials to Have on Hand
- Creating a Writing Workshop Post #3: This post is about Mini-Lessons during writing time, mentor texts and includes reviews of 8 or 9 writing books that you might find helpful.
- Writing Resource Pack: This is a post about the 30-page pack I made for our writing workshop. Reference pages on the 6 +1 Wri ting Traits, Mini-Lessons, the types of writing, creating a powerful beginning, techniques for ending a story/paper, and so forth. (These writing resources are free to download.)
- Writing Workshop: Dr. Seuss Style: The kids and I had fun writing in the style of Dr. Seuss!
- Biography Research Paper Resource Pack
- Practical Pointers for Working with a Reluctant Writer (or any Writer)
- Writing Activity to Spark Kids’ Imagination!
- 40 Journal Writing Prompts (Free Printable)
- Animal Portfolio Project: writing, art and geography activities that go with any animals… With many activities to choose from. Writing activities include both fiction and non-fiction suggestions such as
- Write a speech or a letter to the president on why your animal needs protection in the wild.
- Menu: Create a humorous menu at a restaurant where your animals would like to eat.
- WWII Portfolio Project
- Writing Workshop Rules! Why the Writing Workshop continues to work so well in our homeschool.
Mini-Lessons to Use in a Writing Workshop:
- What makes a good book or story?
- Make your story come alive with details and description.
- Creating Interesting Characters
- Story Openings: Set the mood or feeling of your story
- Gathering story ideas from your own life
- Alliteration and more
- MiniLesson – Describing in Detai- – Additing Details Exercise – Fun Activity!(Don’t miss this one, the kids LOVED this activity!!)
- Writing Workshop: Conflict in Literature (Man vs. Man, Man vs. Self, etc)
- Writing Workshop Mini-Lesson: Rules for Writing and the Story Writing Process
- Writing Workshop Mini-Lesson: Rules for Writing and the Story Writing Process — Have your kids read the Plot Chicken? We started our Writing Workshop this year off with this book. What a great buk, buk!! In fact, I liked it so much that I created a chicken writing rules printable to go along with the book!