Writing Workshop – 30 years and counting!

5281-22-23I began supporting teachers with developing their writing workshops in the 80’s.  Don Graves had written his famous book, Writing: Teachers and Children at Work. Lucy Calkins, Shelley Harwayne, Joanne Hindley and Nancie Atwell visited our county or state conferences and talked about their early work. Before long, their books were on my shelves too. I read it all, soaking it all in, sharing with the teachers at my school, modeling lessons for them, and so on.  As the years went by, I added new writing gurus, like Ralph Fletcher, Carl Anderson, Georgia Heard, and eventually Katie Wood Ray (really enjoyed In Pictures and in Words this summer.) As a Reading Teacher and Coach for elementary school teachers for most of my career, I never tired of reading about writing workshop and how to support students in becoming lifelong writers.  I bet many of you could say that you, too, learned so much from all the names I just mentioned.

Now there are a few new names on the writing front.  And I still find the topic exciting although I’m near the point of fully retiring (which I keep saying will happen “next school year” but my husband doesn’t believe me.) I continue to learn with Rose Cappelli and Lynn Dorfman with all their mentor texts books. Jeff Anderson and Aimee Buckner are also two of my new favorites.  I just finished Aimee’s recent publication called Nonfiction Notebooks (this is her third book on how she uses notebooks.)

41hANbCtgnL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-64,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_Buckner’s latest book includes her work with upper elementary students as they learn to use their writers’ notebooks to flush out ideas for informational writing topics, narrow their topic to find an angle or focus, try out different leads, experiment with organizational ideas, expand and dig deeper, make decisions about what’s important, and so forth.  She tells you right up front that this book will not include revising and editing of final drafts. It’s Buckner’s belief that the students’ first drafts will be a much better quality if they use some of these prewriting strategies in their notebooks first.  But she cautions us against these scenarios:

  1. The student who begins a first draft way too soon and then there is too much revision work to be done. This can frustrate a student.
  2. The teacher who uses far too many prewriting ideas so that by the time the students begin their drafts, they are tired of their topic.

Some ideas I gathered from Buckner’s new book:

  • On pages 72 and 82 when she is doing a shared demonstration with the kids, she has them glue the excerpt into their notebooks.  So simple, yet why didn’t I think of that?  I usually have the excerpt large enough for all to see and then we might create an anchor chart from the lesson.  When I want to refer back, I’d tell the kids, “Remember when we noticed what so and so did with her description in her NF piece…” It makes more sense to let the kids have the actual excerpt to refer to (with their jottings, things they noticed, and ideas around it.)
  • Using boxes and bullets for organizing ideas (p. 42).  This is something I heard about many years ago, and yet had totally forgotten about.  That’s why we need to keep reading articles, books, and blogs on teaching writing. There’s just too much information out there and sometimes we need reminders.
  • Since the teachers at my school use Readers’ Statements to open their mini-lessons, I appreciated the fact that Aimee began her lessons in a similar way.  Examples of a few: “Writers read informational texts and notice what the authors do”; “Writers write all they know about a topic and then they look for what they don’t know”; “Writers use specific nouns and active verbs to keep their informational writing interesting.”
  • P. 80 – chart of possible leads and the nonfiction books where she found them.
  • Although I don’t have to do report cards, Buckner has included a final chapter on assessment for those teachers who want answers to evaluation questions.

sad-children04Buckner’s book will mostly be helpful to teachers who already have a strong writing workshop in place.  What saddens me most is that even though my county in Virginia (which has 145+ elementary schools) began introducing writing workshop to our teachers in the 80’s, there are still schools where it is just not happening. And that’s a very sad thing for students of all grades.

Let’s talk WRITING

Recently I was doing some storytelling in my grand nephew’s third grade class.  Prior to arriving, the teacher emailed me and said, “The timing is perfect for storytelling.  We are working in writing on telling a good story.” I wondered if my storytelling would really connect with her writing lessons.  But the more I thought about it, the more I could see the relationships the teacher would be able to draw from my telling of tales to the students’ writing.

I knew that the story “Tinderbox” had some great descriptions, for example, the dogs that sat on top of the treasure chests – “one with eyes as big as saucers, another with eyes as big as dinner plates, and a third with eyes as big as cartwheels.” A good storytelling has plenty of descriptive passages because there is no book with pictures to show the kids. The kids create the pictures in their minds as the words flow from the teller.

I also knew I would slow down the moment in “Tailypo” when the creature finally arrives in the old man’s bedroom – “He had the kind of feeling…you know the kind of feeling you get when something’s in the room with you…. then he heard some banging around the pots and pans…then he heard some scratching at the foot of his bed (pause). He stretched his neck and saw two pointed furry ears. (pause) Then he stretched his neck a bit more and saw two big fiery eyes staring up at him…” The more connections I saw between a good storytelling and the ideas for mini-lessons in writers’ workshop, the more I missed talking about writing to teachers. Since both my first book (One Child at a Time) and my second (with Katie Keier) deal with working with struggling readers, that’s usually the topic of my workshops when I am invited to school districts. But there was a time I talked to teachers a lot about all aspects of writing workshops, and I was seriously missing that! Lo, time to write a blog!

Although I never authored a book on writing, I learned plenty from the masters.  In my early days of teaching, I read everything possible by Lucy Calkins, Donald Graves, Shelley Harwayne, Georgia Heard, Ralph Fletcher, Carl Anderson, and Barry Lane. As new authors appeared on the scene (Katie Wood Ray, Jeff Anderson, Aimee Buckner, Kate Messner, Matt Glover, and many more) I read them too. After reading, I would try out lessons in classrooms; I would model lessons for teachers; I would confer with students about their pieces. My goal (in professional development workshops) was to share with teachers the essentials of writing workshop (time, choice, response, structure, and community) as well as lesson ideas they could take back to their classrooms.

Two favorite lessons that teachers commented on were those I learned from Barry Lane’s After the End – “explode a moment” and “shrink a century.” So simple, yet such powerful revision tools. “Exploding a moment” meant teaching kids how to find a significant moment in their story and slow it down. Lane says, “the writer takes a sentence or two, and explodes it, scattering details all over the page.” When working with a student, Lane asked the child to “make the moment as long as he could, because the more he could describe that moment, the more the reader would become him and feel the impact of the story.” I remember having Lane’s words echo in my head as I worked with Ahmed, a fifth grader. Ahmed had asthma and was telling a story about an attack he had while playing with friends in his basement and couldn’t find his inhaler. He found the significant moment (when he rushed upstairs to his mom to find his extra inhaler) and he was able to slow that moment down so that his readers could feel his panic as his lungs tightened up and the pain in his chest throbbed.

“Shrinking a century” is the opposite type of tool.  It involves getting rid of extra, useless dialogue or overly drawn-out descriptions that add nothing to the story. If you need to move a story along in time, sometimes you need to take some of that boring part and shrink it down to a sentence or two. While working in the same 5th grade, the teacher and I were able to find several examples from our read aloud books of lines that exhibited this idea for our mini-lessons. After a few anchor lessons, the students were able to find places in their writing pieces (and, believe me, there were plenty.)  Many young writers often just fill space with boring dialogue like:

I met Mandy while walking to the bus stop.

“Hi, Mandy,” I said.

“Hi, how are you? Did you do all your homework?” she asked

“Yes,” I said. “But the math was hard. Was the math hard for you?”

“Yup,” Mandy told me, “but my dad helped a little.”

Blah, blah, blah. Most of this had nothing to do with the main point of her story. We were able to teach the students how to create a “shrunk-down sentence” instead.

Though I absolutely still love supporting teachers with working with reading, I have to admit that just writing this blog brought back many memories of other discussions with colleagues about the teaching of writing in elementary classrooms (and my literacy geek friends – you know who you are!) If you are a fairly new teacher, I know you are reading some of the latest on the teaching of writing, but don’t hesitate to go back to some of those early books (they are probably gaining dust in your school’s professional library.) Just thinking about some of those books gives me goosebumps because I remember how inspired I felt. I felt inspired to help students write about a topic of their own choosing AND about something that really mattered to them.

The Art of Teaching Writing, Lucy Calkins

Living Between the Lines, Calkins with Shelley Harwayne

Lasting Impressions, by Shelley Harwayne

For the Good of the Earth and Sun and The Revision Toolbox, G. Heard

What a Writer Needs, Ralph Fletcher

In the Company of Children, J. Hindley

What You Know by Heart, Katie Wood Ray









Writing on Day One of Kindergarten

Writer's Workshop

Writer’s Workshop

“The fastest way to teach a child to read is to teach them to write.” -Mem Fox

In one week, I will start my 24th year of teaching with a group of eager, squiggly, excited kindergarteners. One of the things we do on the very first day is start Writer’s Workshop. I begin by reading David Shannon’s ever popular book, No, David! In the front of the book is an author’s note, explaining how he got the idea for No, David! I share that with my kindergarteners and then tell them that they are authors, just like David Shannon. And in our classroom, they will get to make books every day – just like David Shannon! I then pass out a 5 page stapled blank book to each student and send them off to make a book. After four years of doing this with kindergarteners, I have never had a student ask what to write about, say they couldn’t write or question this task at all. They get excited and carry on – making books. Just like David Shannon. It’s really quite amazing to watch.

Last year I was invited by the folks at #kinderchat to participate in their Campfire Chat series. I did two Blackboard Collaborate sessions and wrote a blog post about writing in my classroom. If you would like to hear more about the possibilities of writer’s workshop in kindergarten and beyond, check out Campfire Chat 1 and Campfire Chat 2 – Writing Joyfully. When you launch these, you may have to download the Blackboard Collaborate Launcher. Once the program opens, click Playback – Player – Play on the top bar. You will then get the hear and view the recorded presentation. Enjoy and have a great year of writing with your class!

Digital Tools, Narrative Writing, and Listening: Reflections on NCTE

At the recent NCTE conference in Boston, I heard Tom Newkirk say, “My original ideas are those for which I’ve forgotten the source” (and he may have even been quoting someone else!)  But it made me think about how much we all learn from each other.  In all my presentations for teachers, I always feel like I’m building on the works of others. Teachers are so willing to share ideas, thoughts, reflections about their practice, and when we listen to each other we are building our own understandings.

sharingSo, in the spirit of sharing, I’ll post some things I heard and learned about in three particular sessions at NCTE.

In a session called “Reimagining Literacy Workshop in the Digital Age” I listened with my not-so-techy-ear to the thoughts of three of my favorite teachers – Bill Blass, Ann Marie Corgill, and Franki Sibberson.  Bill built his talk around this question, “What does it mean to be literate in the digital age?” which switches our thinking from “What is digital literacy?”  We all want kids to become literate, but we need to add options to their repertoire. Kids can respond to texts using many digital tools like voicethread, educreations, making videos, etc. In addition to response logs or other old favorites, they can have conversations about texts by posting blogs and commenting on each other’s posts. Franki and Ann Marie were very clear in saying that we need to teach kids about the tools, i. e., how to post, how to consider your audience, how to comment, and so on. “Possibilities invite intentionality.” They shared charts they brainstorm with their students, such as, “Making comments to writers on their blogs” or “Possible blog posts.”  To me, the bottom line from this session was that the internet and new digital tools are not going away; they are not a fad; they are here to stay.  As teachers we need to make the best use of them without giving up what we know constitutes best practice for a literacy workshop – authenticity, choice, and ownership.

In another session (with Ralph Fletcher, Tom Newkirk, and Becky Rule), Ralph shared his concern that narrative writing is getting pushed to the back burner by the Common Core.  Of the 24 samples that CCSS gives at the 5th grade level, only two are narratives. The CCSS emphasis is heavy on argument and non-fiction writing.  Fletcher talked about how story is the way people think and view the world.  We retain information better if it is embedded in story. So much of informational text is composed of stories. Aren’t the best history teachers the ones who teach it with stories? Newkirk continued the talk saying that CCSS compartmentalizes writing into narrative, argument, and informational writing.  He felt that was a “category error” in that narrative is foundational to the other two. Newkirk read the Gettysburg Address and asked us to listen to it for the story it tells – the story of our country from the Declaration of Independence (all men equal), through the war, and on into the future. This session was concluded with entertainment from a most wonderful storyteller, Becky Rule, whose books I will be checking out soon!

The third session that got me thinking a lot featured Martha Horn and two first grade teachers she worked with on implementing writers’ workshop in their classrooms.  Martha showed a video clip of her modeling how to listen as a first grader told his story to the class. She encourages us to “listen with your eyes, ears, heart, and whole self” and she showed how to do just that.  This telling of stories that the children do is a rehearsal, a kind of planning, for the writing that they will soon do.  She’s there to help them “talk their way into writing.” She would retell parts of the story to give the child an opportunity to clarify.  She often said, “and then what happened?”  She didn’t assume to know what he meant or intended to mean, but rather gave him back his words in the language of books, so that he could confirm them or change them or add to them.  The two classroom teachers then shared their learning journeys of going from the whole class doing the same kind of writing to a true writer’s workshop with time, choice, opportunity, support, response and feedback.

I loved Martha Horn’s idea of bringing classroom teachers with her to share their growth stories.  I hope that many reading teachers and literacy coaches who are reading this are thinking about encouraging their teachers to put in proposals for next year’s NCTE.  AHEM, I’m especially talking to my local friends who work in the DC/Virginia/Maryland area (where NCTE will be held in 2014.) I know I’ll be nudging a few young teachers!

Writing in Kindergarten

Writing has been a recent topic of discussion on the #kinderchat Twitter feed. I was honored to be invited to participate in the first #kinderchat Campfire Webinar series last week with an hour chat on “Writing Joyfully”. If you’d like to listen to our recorded discussion, you can listen here. For those of you who would rather have the “Cliff Notes” version, I’m writing this blog post to summarize a few of my current thoughts on writing with young children.

Making dinosaur books

Making dinosaur books

Writing, to young children, is play. It is natural, engaging and fun. Kids love to write. And they write like 3, 4, 5 or 6 year olds – not like we, as adults, may define “writing”. Their books, signs, labels, etc… are full of squiggly lines, pictures, scribbles, maybe some letters and even occasionally a word or two. However, when a child makes something, and you say, “Read it to me!”, he or she can “read” it to you. What they have put on the paper has meaning to them. And they love to share that!

I view writing in a similar way to how I view oral language development and reading. I think children need lots and lots of modeling in order to take something on as his or her own. We talk to our children from before birth, engaging with them in meaningful conversation, questioning, wondering and celebrating their first attempts at talking. We don’t insist on those early words being correct, and through lots of modeling, eventually our children become proficient speakers of our language.

The same goes for reading. We read to our children from before birth, immersing them in lots of bedtime stories, read alouds and play with books. We celebrate the first time our children “read” a familiar book – turning the pages as they retell a story they’ve heard many times before. We know they aren’t reading as adults read – but we celebrate this success and know it is paving the way to independent reading.

The Mitten - interactive writing

The Mitten – interactive writing

Week 10 039

Community writing to label book baskets

I see writing in the same way. In our kindergarten classroom, we have two distinct types of writing- community writing and independent writing. Community writing, which includes shared writing (where the children are deciding what we want to say and the teacher is doing all of the writing – actually scribing what the children are saying in a small group or whole group setting) and interactive writing (where the children and teacher are deciding what to say and sharing the pen to write the words, again in a small or whole group setting). Both of these go under the umbrella of “community writing” because we are composing text as a community of learners together.  This is the time when I am modeling what writing is. The finished text for these projects is correctly spelled and written. The teacher is filling in what is out of reach of the children. (For example, if the word we are writing is “read” – the children might call out “r  e  d” – the teacher honors this approximation, has a child write the   r  and  e, then takes the pen to write the  a, saying “in this word there is an a that we don’t hear”, then allowing a child to write the ending letter  d)  It is a model of writing that becomes shared reading in our classroom. It’s essential that the writing is correct for that reason. I don’t want to display writing that is not correct for children to read and/or use as models for their own writing. The topics for these writing projects are mostly teacher driven – connecting to science, social studies, math or literature we have worked on together, as well as functional text for our classroom (schedules, labels, signs). I am modeling what correct writing looks like with the help of the children. It is an extremely supportive environment that helps our young writers in many ways. My students are seeing and hearing me think aloud as we compose the text together. Those children who are ready to write sentences have this opportunity to see what that looks like. Those children who are just beginning to label their pictures or are exploring letter/sound relationships also see this in our writing projects. All children are seeing the “in the head” thinking of a writer getting thoughts down on paper.  It is a daily teaching practice that models writing and allows children to participate within their zone of proximal development. It is paving the way to independent writing and encouraging children to take risks in their own writing.

Photo Apr 20, 2 51 04 PM

Angry Birds vs. Lizard – cover of a book

Writer's Workshop

Writer’s Workshop

We also have a daily Writer’s Workshop, where children are engaged in independent writing. In our classroom, this is a time when we “make stuff”. Most of the time, this is books.  I model what book making is by reading lots and lots of wonderful books by authors we love. We start on day one, with 5 blank pages of paper stapled to make a book. This format evolves as a variety of book forms are discovered over the year.  During independent writing time the children are working on their own (for the most part – occasionally we have co-authored books with a friend), making books about topics of their choosing.  We read lots and lots of good books to use as our mentor texts, and learn from authors we love about making books. The children work at their own pace – sometimes taking many days to complete a book. I confer with the children as they are writing and they share their books with me and with the class. I take notes for myself as I talk with my writers, but I do not write on their books. If I need to remember what they wrote to take note on whether they are staying on one topic or have an understanding of how a particular genre works, for example, I write it down for me in my notes. I do not write on a child’s book at all. I teach each child differently, based on what they are ready for as a writer. I honor the fact that they are five, and are writing like a five year old. If a child decides to make a book and then I do the writing for him or her (either by writing under his or her writing, transcribing a word or two, or otherwise writing on the book), it is sending a strong message that I am the one who really knows how to write – not the child. It takes away ownership from the book. A child can “read” his or her book just fine – if we let them – and if we change our definition of what “reading” might look like – perhaps the book sounds different every time it is read. That’s fine. The child is the author and they can read it however they like.

This is a brief overview of writing in my classroom. There are many more examples and thoughts in the Webinar. Stay tuned for another post about how I use mentor texts in my classroom and how I support my young writers through various tools in our classroom. Here are a few of my mentor texts that have transformed my teaching of writing – I highly recommend: Already Ready, Interactive Writing: How Language and Literacy Come Together, Engaging Young Writers, In Pictures and In Words, Talking, Drawing, Writing: Lessons for Our Youngest Writers.

So what are your thoughts on writing? How do you help your young writers thrive?

Expressing ourselves in Writer’s Workshop

Co-authoring a book to give to a child who had a birthday in our room. The crowns were made first!

My young writers continue to amaze me! We make books daily in our 45 minutes to an hour Writer’s Workshop and many children protest when it’s time to stop. But what about those friends who only last 5 minutes or so? You know them…you hand them their writing folder and before you’ve finished passing out the rest of the pile you hear it…”I’m done!” When I taught first, second and third grade we learned on the first day (a la Lucy Calkins), “when you’re done, you’ve just begun!” Children knew that writers were  never “done”. They knew to add to the words or pictures, read their book to a friend for more ideas or start a new book.

But I think it’s different in kindergarten (and I would  now argue in first grade as well…and even second grade…). Developmentally, 4, 5 and 6 year olds may not be ready to stick with making a book for such a long period of time. A lot of them are – but there are kids in every classroom who just aren’t there yet. The last thing I want to do is to force them to sit quietly and make books. All that’s going to do is make them hate writing.

When children proclaim they are “done”, I first ask them to read their book to me. Of course, at this point in kindergarten it’s usually reading the pictures. Then I ask them what they need to do next as a writer. I make sure my talk during this time continues to refer to them as writers, and helps them see different possibilities for what “writing” might look like. Perhaps they need to go find a stack of Mo Willems books to look at to get an idea for their next book. Maybe they need to get the toy dinosaurs out and create a scene to get an idea for their next book. Maybe they need to pull out the storytelling kit that goes with a favorite read aloud and make up a new story. I honor what the needs are at that moment, and make sure I’m not forcing the writing piece. I play the role of a gentle encourager, helping my young writers see possibilities for sharing themselves with their classmates and the world.

As I writer, I know that some days I just don’t feel like writing. I want to express myself in another way. I know that I will get back to writing tomorrow, but for now I need something else. I think our young writers feel this way too. Sometimes what my writers are doing during Writer’s Workshop isn’t making books. Maybe today as writers they are making crowns or invitations for the afternoon Explore time when the princess party will resume. As I chat with these writers, I may suggest that a “how to make a crown” book might be just the thing for the future princess party attendees. Maybe painting a picture similar to an artist we are studying is what a writer is doing. They are using a piece of art as a mentor text instead of a book. Another child may be talking to an iPad or computer as he makes a book in one of the many creative apps we have on our iPads or computers. Maybe a group of children are composing a dance to share the butterfly life cycle. They are drawing the cycle and deciding ways to act it out. Maybe another group of children are Tweeting or blogging and talking to children all around the world. The point is, writer’s workshop can (and does) look different for all children, depending on what they need at that moment as a writer.

Playing with animals in Writer’s Workshop

While all of this is going on, many children are bent over their books and writing folders in what looks like a more traditional writer’s workshop – writing, drawing, creating. But others are moving, playing, talking, painting, creating like children do. And that’s OK. It’s the energy of children “making stuff”, as Katie Wood Ray talks about. And all of that “stuff” is and will become texts in many different modalities for children to share and express themselves through.

And that’s what really matters to me – that is the purpose of our Writer’s Workshop.

Community Writing

Last week we finished a community writing project that we’ve been working on for several weeks. After completing a unit of study on fairy tales, we decided to write our own version – calling it The Three Gingerbread Kids. I posted the story in a VoiceThread below so we could share it with others. There is also a slide show that shows the illustration process.

In Catching Readers, I talk about community writing in Chapter 5 as a key component to a comprehensive literacy framework. Sharing the pen with the students as we negotiate the text together provides many excellent teaching opportunities. My kinders are making books like crazy during writer’s workshop. They are trying a variety of genres and all of them are adding words to their books – from labels to detailed sentences. I wanted to use this community writing piece as a way to support all writers in taking even bigger risks in their writing. I wanted to have them create a continuous text, based on what they learned about fairy tales, and practice strategic reading and writing actions and skills while we composed and wrote the text together. Within the context of community writing, we not only learned about letters, sounds and how words work but also about decisions writers make, such as what to include, how to best structure a sentence and how to organize their thoughts into a coherent piece of writing with a clear beginning, middle and end. I am also seeing a huge transfer in their own writing. The books they are making in writer’s workshop have more words, more details and show a clearer story structure. Kids are taking more risks as they attempt to write the words they need to create their books.

I also wanted to focus on the writer’s statement, “Writers make sure the pictures match the words.” We looked closely at our read aloud favorites and noticed that indeed, all writers make sure the pictures match the words. We took this into our illustration days, thoughtfully planning how our illustrations could not only match the words, but build upon the story, just like Mo Willems, Jan Thomas and other favorite mentor author/illustrators do. We chose to illustrate the book using a method I learned about from Ann Marie Corgill in Of Primary Importance (an excellent resource for writing). We used Sharpie permanent markers to outline our drawings. Then we filled in the colors with crayons. The bold outlines really make the illustrations pop.

Community writing is one of my favorite teaching contexts. It’s just so rich, meaningful, engaging and differentiated. It does build community and allows all children to shine. Rereading the book every day before we added a page had this book soon become a known favorite. We have it displayed in our hallway to revisit during reader’s workshop and to share with our school. Enjoy our story!

Illustrating “The Three Gingerbread Kids” on PhotoPeach

Vodpod videos no longer available.


Vodpod videos no longer available.

Writing for a Reason

We’ve been making books in my kindergarten class since the first week of school and I am amazed at the wonderful books my students have written already this year. Most of my writers write wordless picture books, although a few are adding letters and names of their friends, as well as dedication pages. When students share their texts, they do a great job “reading” the pictures as they tell their story. When I talk with the kids about their books, I notice that the majority of them are on one topic, even though the blank books I give them have five pages of paper. Some books are personal narratives, some are made-up stories; others are list books and nonfiction books. Our bookmaking time is supported with LOTS of read aloud books, conversations about what authors do when they write books, and invitations (not prompts) to make books like our favorite authors.

  • “Mo Willems uses speech bubbles to help Elephant and Piggie tell the story. You could try that in your book.”
  • “David Shannon makes us laugh when we read his books. You might want to make a book that makes your reader laugh.”
  • Pumpkin Circle teaches us about something real that happens in nature. You’ve learned a lot about pumpkins and monarch butterflies. You could write a book that teaches someone about those things or something else you know a lot about.”
  • “Bill Martin, Jr. writes about the alphabet having an adventure in Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. You could write a book about the alphabet too.”

My kindergarten writers have an hour-long writer’s workshop every day. They are never at a loss of what to write about and they complain when it’s time to stop. They truly love writing and already see themselves as authors. Standing on the shoulders of favorite authors and envisioning themselves making books just like Mo Willems, Eric Carle and Jan Thomas keeps our workshop thriving daily.

This past week we decided that our kinder classroom needed some labels to help us put supplies away and to direct visitors to specific areas in our room. We made a bunch of labels together using interactive writing, with me sharing the pen with my young writers. Our bathroom was carefully labeled (to help the preschool kids who visit our room during art), the window, the block area, the clock, the books, and so on.  Since enthusiasm was high, I decided to take this meaningful activity and link it to the writing my students do every day.

After labeling the room, I invited the children to try labeling in their books. “You might want to try labeling some of the pictures in your books today. That will help someone else read your book – just in case you aren’t sitting there to tell them about it”.  It was a huge “a-ha” moment for many of the children. There was an explosion of letters and words filling the pages of their books. They saw a reason and a purpose for adding words to their stories and moved to a new level of bookmaking. I can’t wait to see where our writing goes from here!

How is writer’s workshop going in your kindergarten or first grade classroom?  What real world writing are your students engaged in?

Check out these new books on writing

As you begin to set up your writing workshop with your students you might want to take a look at these two new exciting books that I just read.

I hope you read Katie’s blog post about the storytelling time she has set up in her classroom. The telling of stories can be so much fun and that foundational start with her kinders will lead to some great story writers, I’m sure. Her idea fits closely with Carolyn Coman’s new book from Stenhouse called Writing Stories:  Ideas, Exercises, and Encouragement for Teachers and Writers of All Ages. This small book (seriously, it can almost fit in your pocket) is chock full of useful information that will help you as a writer and as a teacher of writing.  Coman explains the difference between character-driven stories and plot-driven stories, teaches about developing voice in your writing, gives tips on using dialogue and speaker tags, shows us how she gets to know her characters deeply and why that’s important, and so much more.  The exercises at the end of each chapter are easily adaptable to many grade levels. They are meant to be quick ideas for students to try out (not prompts) and lead students into a discussion about some aspect of writer’s craft.  I highly recommend this text particularly for teachers of grades 2-6.

AND… the wait is over.  Ralph Fletcher’s new book is out and ready for instant use in your class’s writing workshop.  Mentor Author, Mentor Texts is right up there with all the other great texts that Fletcher has written for teachers and students (like many other folks, I’m a big fan!) Ralph has written 24 interesting texts, all short enough to be read in one sitting.  Instructions are given as to how to access these whiteboard-ready texts, even with audio clips of RF reading his pieces. But don’t rush so fast to start projecting these pieces and leading discussions with students.  Take the time to read and reflect on Ralph’s ideas on how mentor texts are being used and misused in some of today’s classrooms.  He gives us a new direction on how best to make effective use of his and other authors’ excerpts, essays, non-fiction pieces, or poems.  Rather than force-feeding our ideas or those of the author’s, Fletcher suggests we “put students in charge of what they notice.”  Let them decide what the writer is doing, whether this craft or technique would work for them in their writing, and how they might use the idea in a future piece of their own.  He cautions us to remember that young writers grow slowly.  Wouldn’t it be magical to see “students apprentice themselves to an author they can springboard off to reach new heights on their own”? One of my favorite short texts in this book is “Interview with a Coho Salmon” — very funny (and Ralph said it was a blast to write too.)  If you are using Fletcher’s new text in your classroom, please feel free to comment on how it’s going.

Also, stay tuned in a few weeks when Katie will be writing a review of another great book on writing meant for parents of preschoolers but also appropriate for teachers of PreK-2nd.

What else have you read on writing that has inspired your work with children?


Katie’s 28 years teaching experience in grades K-8, as a classroom teacher, a school librarian and a literacy specialist, allow her to speak from experience about a wide variety of topics. She is currently a full-time kindergarten teacher in a Title 1 public school. She has also completed a training year of Reading Recovery. Pat is now retired, enjoying her grandchildren and traveling.

Katie is available for consulting work and professional development workshops tailored to the specific needs of your staff and students, depending on the grade level, background knowledge, the diversity of the student population, and specific goals at the classroom, school or district level. Please feel free to contact Katie to create a custom workshop to fit your school.

Katie is also available to do webinars. These custom designed, interactive webinars can be used for group staff development meetings and/or for teachers to access on their own time. This may be your answer to affordable and ongoing staff development that best meets the needs of your teachers. Contact Katie for more information.

Katie Keier:  katieannkeier@gmail.com

Katie can present on topics such as:

-joyful literacy

-agency and advocacy in our youngest learners

-developing strong writers workshops and writers playshops

-using children’s literature to teach for strategies

-interactive read aloud as an effective instructional tool – moving talk in your classroom to a deeper level

-the power of shared reading in the classroom in whole group and small group instruction

-play and learning

-creating communities of learning that incorporate play and the meaningful learning of state and Common Core standards

-kindergarten specific workshops that show how authentic literacy and math learning is integrated into a play-based kindergarten curriculum, while addressing the demands of state standards

Additional Workshops:

Creating Literacy Communities to Nurture and Expand Our Readers 

 Our classrooms are communities of readers and writers, mathematicians and scientists, artists and thinkers. We come together in the fall as a diverse group of learners and spend a year growing, discovering, exploring and redefining ourselves. This is exciting work we do! So how do we make sure our classroom communities inspire, empower, motivate and support all learners – while teaching the important curriculum and standards that are required?

Katie will discuss:

-structuring the classroom space to nurture and support our literacy learners,

-building community within a comprehensive literacy framework,

-supporting readers and writers identity and how teachers can use statements to help create literate identities,

-the power of read aloud to engage children in conversations that build community.

Powerful Literacy Teaching Through Inquiry, Interests and Play

When children are engaged in meaningful literacy experiences, learning soars. See how using inquiry based explorations and children’s interests can build a solid foundation of literacy learning. Participants will look at reading and writing to, with, and by children and see how literacy infuses an early childhood (PK-2) day in meaningful, playful and powerful ways. Through photos, technology and student work samples, teachers will see how planning literacy throughout the day can support the learners in a classroom.

Playful Learning: It’s a Child’s Work

Our youngest learners need rich, meaningful learning experiences from the very first day they enter a classroom. Play is a child’s work, and play is how we can provide these experiences! In this time of raising the bar and increasing standards, how can we stay true to developmentally appropriate practice and playful learning? How can we keep learning fun? Participants will explore ways to meet the needs of all children as well as curriculum objectives and standards, through fun and playful learning and rich child-based experiences.

Literacy Learning for our Youngest Readers and Writers 

Engage your young preschool and kindergarten learners by supporting them in making meaning from powerful and fun literacy experiences. When we make learning fun, meaningful and relevant our young learners are engaged and learning. Participants will learn the key strategies and behaviors necessary for literacy success and see how we can teach these in engaging ways using children’s names, quality literature, children’s interests and technology. Participants will see video clips, photos and examples of student work and learn practical, useful strategies to take into the classroom to support our most beginning readers and writers.

Catching Readers Before They Fall, K-3

Teachers don’t need another test to tell them which students are having problems learning to read.  They already know. What teachers want is help supporting those children who are struggling, catching them before they suffer the consequences of school failure.  Katie will share how she helps classroom teachers observe students’ reading difficulties and plan instruction tailored to the needs of individual students.

Harnessing the Power of Shared Demonstrations

Are we jumping too fast from our modeling to independent practice?  Do students need more time learning about strategic actions by “doing it with us?”  In this workshop we will share ways to do interactive teaching, allowing students to take on some responsibility for thinking and comprehending as the teacher guides them through shared demonstrations.  This workshop is designed for K-3.