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Creating a Writers' Workshop in a Secondary Classroom

Shelby Scoffield

High school English teacher, online instructor
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In the middle of the school year, I always regret my choice of becoming an AP and Honors English teacher. Not because I hate to teach, but because I'm always swimming in essays that I have to grade. In order to accommodate the load, I adapted the elementary way of thinking and formed a writers' workshop for my own classroom. Once they participate in the workshop, students are able to learn how to revise their own essays. Because of this, the time it takes for me to grade essays is literally cut in half.

Suggestions for Implementing a Writers' Workshop in Your Classroom

1. Station Rotation Model

When I conduct writers' workshops in my own classroom, I adapt the station rotation model of blended learning. I set up five or six stations around my classroom. Students walk into the room and look at the assignments listed on the whiteboard. They then pick the skill that they need to develop and go to the designated station. The teacher usually works at the table with the hardest skill and then wanders around the classroom offering help as needed. The workshop usually lasts 4-5 days.

2. Let Students Pick the Skills They Need to Build

Every time I conduct a writers' workshop, I survey the students and ask them what skills they would like to practice. I've found that doing this allows me to narrow down the specific skills that my students are struggling with.

Examples of Stations

1. Read Aloud

After a brief discussion about the benefits of reading aloud, students go out to the hallway and use their phones or Chromebooks to record their own voices as they read.

2. Kaizena Recording

For those who use Google documents in their schools, Kaizena is an excellent resource. Students download this app which allows them to have a conversation with the teacher. Using the app, they highlight certain portions of their essays and give me audible comments. They tell me what areas they think need improvement and what areas they feel they've mastered.

3. Learn How to Analyze

This is a skill that can be difficult for students at all levels. To help students learn to analyze text, give them various passages and teach techniques that will help them find the "bigger picture." After this quick exercise, have them rework passages in their own essays.

4. Sentence Fragments and Run-Ons

After students complete an exercise that teaches them how to identify these types of sentences, instruct them to fix the sentences in their own essays.

5. Essay Structure

Review the format of an essay with students. Then instruct them to go back and label the parts of their essay using pen, pencil, or Google Docs.

6. Academic Writing and Transitions

Give students examples of academic words and transitions. Then have them use this type of language in their own essays. They should underline or bold the areas where they made the changes.

7. MLA Format and Works Cited

Using Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab) as a main source, instruct students to complete various activities that will help them build a works cited page for their own papers.

8. One on One With Teacher

I believe that best help we can give students with their writing is to sit down with them one on one. With the station rotation model of the writers' workshop, teachers have more time to do this.

9. Introduce Quotes

This station is devoted entirely to helping students avoid the habit of "dropping quotes" -- including quoted material without introduction or attribution.

10. Peer Feedback

Students read their partner's essay and then fill out a detailed form that you've given them for their questions and observations. After reading the essay and filling out the form, they should have a verbal conversation with their partner about the areas that need improvement.

11. Grading Student Essays

Give students a stack of papers and a rubric. Their assignment is to grade each essay and talk about the score with their group.

Success of Workshop

Giving students control over their learning has made all the difference in my classroom. Allowing them to pick whatever writing skill they most need to develop will give those who are excelling the ability to move on, and give those who are struggling permission to slow down and get the help they need. After a writers' workshop, the quality of essays dramatically improves. Students are happier with the freedom that I give them in the classroom, and I'm happier with my decreased workload. Ultimately, I've learned that learning how to write essays is an individual journey for each student. The writers' workshop caters to students and allows them to learn the skills that every student needs to become successful.

What are your strategies for helping students develop their writing skills? Please share in the comments section below.

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Shelby Scoffield's picture
Shelby Scoffield
High school English teacher, online instructor

You use Canvas? So do we!!!! I would love to see how you are setting up your stations that way!!!! I do it by weeks....

kthigpen's picture

I think this is a great way to teach a writing workshop to students as well as get them in charge of their own learning. My only questions is how does this work (or how would you make it work) with students with disabilities or English Language Learners or even students who do not like writing or struggle with writing? As a middle school teacher, I feel like these students would struggle with the "freedom" of this station model and that the students get to pick which station to go to based on what they are struggling with. With that being said, I /?do love the different stations that you given examples of. With the introduction of the Common Core Standards who we teach writing has changed dramatically. Now students writing much incorporate the citing of evidence along with interpreting the evidence. Do students go through the stations with a piece of writing in mind? A piece that they have written before? Or do these stations help them write a piece? I really like the incorporation of the peer editing station, I think that this is a step that I tend to not complete due to lack of time and other variables. I hope to soon begin my own "writing workshop" with some of the ideas in mind. Thank you for sharing!

Rusul Alrubail's picture
Rusul Alrubail
Edutopia Community Facilitator/ Student Voice & Literacy at The Writing Project

Hi there, choice is great for many students, and I would also offer the students a choice of getting your recommendation. As you mentioned, some students are not sure what areas to improve upon in their writing. Perhaps if you give them an option to get your recommendation, it might make it easier for them. In the beginning of class, I would say, choose your area etc, but if you would like my recommendation or direction also feel free to ask me. I am not sure if I would lump struggling readers/writers with ELLs. To me they feel separate. Another way, you can ask the student to reflect back on their previous writing assignments and areas that were highlighted and received feedback, that way they also have a choice to make an educated guess about their progress based on past feedback from yourself/peers, and not doing it randomly. Of course the teacher will be monitoring the process throughout the rotations and if need be, suggest accordingly based on progress throughout the workshop. I am sure the author will have great suggestions as well.

Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Design/Broadcast Media teacher

Hi kthigpen! I also teach middle school, and my dept had a great discussion about how we might use this model in our English classes. We were also concerned about students who are not as motivated to work on their writing, and might not make the best use of this model. We haven't hammered out the details yet, but we envision a more teacher-directed kind of rotation, where students have been given specific directions from the teacher for the kind of work they need to do on their papers. That way they are told which stations to go to and what to do when they get there. We also talked about setting up stations that every student visits -- each station would be for working on a specific aspect of a piece of writing. If we did this often enough, maybe by midway through the year, students could transition to a more student-choice model. This is definitely something that requires training on the part of the teacher!

Shelby Scoffield's picture
Shelby Scoffield
High school English teacher, online instructor

Hi! Great thoughts. I am glad you asked the questions because it has forced me to really think about how I reach out to students who struggle with writing. First things first, you have to train students to adapt to this form of teaching. At the beginning of the year, I start with three long conference tables. Students rotate through the tables for three days of the week. I do this for several units so they are used to the rotation system. I think this is especially essential for those kiddos in middle school.

When I branch out to 7-8 stations the kids are ready for it. They are required to come to my table sometime throughout the week. They are required to do all the assignments on the board, but they get to choose what they want to do in class. I have stars next to the hard assignments and the students usually take my recommendations. That being said, there are kinks. Students love to work with their buddies so sometimes I have to separate. There is more information on how I do station rotation on my blog

I have always had writers workshops when they just completed a paper. That way, they can take the skills they learn in the workshop and apply it to their own paper. I have never thought of having students write a piece after the workshop. I might have to try that!!

At the beginning of each workshop I have students fill out a survey. They tell me what skills they need to work on the most during the workshop. I found that doing this really helps me cater to the students. I then create my assignments based on the skills that they need.

A lot of the activities during the workshop can be done with a partner or group. That is why I like to mix up my students. Exposing them to different types of writing is key to getting them up to speed. In the past I have also had tables named "Help me Ms. Scoffield!" At that table, students can ask me for help on whatever they need. That is my most popular table:)

I hope this helps! There are some great ideas below as well. Feel free to email me
Good luck!

Books4Learning's picture

I like the idea of centers. I usually do whole class writing workshops, but I can see where trying this method would change things up and allow students to work on individual areas. I plan to give it a try.

Jean's picture

I think this sounds like a great way to change the routine and allow for students to be more active in their journey to better writing, essays or even longer writing assignments. I think the pre-teaching of what you are looking for within certain centers is absolutely necessary. I will try to adapt this to the fact that I work with smaller numbers of students, all of whom need a lot of guidance to get to a final product as they are ELLs! Thank you for sharing.

Robert Barrett's picture

Great article, thank you for sharing! I'm a high school science teacher looking for ways to boost the science reading & writing in my classroom to help prep kids for AP Biology, college sciences, life skills, etc. so I really want to incorporate reader's & writer's workshop but I'm at a loss as to how often I would need to do these in order for them to be effective. We have a mega boatload of content to get through in the science courses
but I truly believe shifting to a workshop model will improve content understanding too so I see a good trade-off. How often would you think I'd need to run a writer's workshop & reader's workshop to make an effective impact on high school students?

Shelby Scoffield's picture
Shelby Scoffield
High school English teacher, online instructor

Hi Robert! Thanks for the response. I completely understand about having to get through a lot of material....especially AP Biology. In my AP classes we have the workshop every four weeks. Because it is a writing class, we are constantly reviewing writing structure, word choice, etc.

However, it would be a little different for you. A colleague of mine is implementing the workshop once a semester-- and she teaches Biology. She does one major paper/semester and that is how she is able to work it in. I think it the more workshops you can implement the better..... but in the end it is completely up to you and what you can fit in. Maybe you can have a mini writers workshop every time you do a lab? It is possible to do this on a much smaller scale.

Cheryl Green's picture

This is a great article and something advocated by the National Writing Project for years at the writing workshop model but with a "new" kick with the rotation stations. The collaborative climate is what has always made this pop. Thanks for reminding me what I need to be doing--I've fallen off the wagon.

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