Welcome to my first on-line unit for Kindergarten Writers Workshop. If you haven’t read my philosophy statement yet, you might want to read it quickly. Then just start here and start soon.
Start with blank paper. At the beginning of the kindergarten year, I don’t believe in lines or boxes or even a bound volume of blank pages. Just a blank paper in a plain folder will do. Blank paper, particularly at the outset, allows the children to show just what they know and don’t know. With a paper that guides them too much, you can’t be sure if they have left to right, top to bottom, concept of letter or word or sentence. I believe in starting over, getting a new paper, using the back, working on a page for more than one day or even lots of days. I believe in cleaning out the folder. Every once in a while, throw away the yucky ones, keep the good ones, show those off. On the first day, see who writes what. Choose the work offering the richest opportunity for teaching as your samples and for several days (or weeks) use those as the mini-lesson. “See what these guys are doing? You could try doing that.” Keep up this format until lots of kids are writing something. Encourage copying! “If you don’t know what to do, look around and start doing what others are doing.” With blank paper, the children can, with the appropriate lessons learn to make lists, charts, booklets and books. There is a pretty endless variety of the kind of folding that can be done with blank paper leading to a wider variety of formats that the children can use. Often the suggestion of a format alone will nudge a child into trying some new writing technique or genre, moving him into a new stage.
Build independence. The independence you build at the start of your workshop will reward the children (and the teacher) all year long. In my class children begin the year all over the ability spectrum, as they do in every classroom. Here’s how I start—first day, first thing to say:
Think Draw Write Read
These are the things you may do during Writer’s Workshop.
These you may do over and over. These never end. These never get finished. These never get done. You are never done. But when I say, you have to stop. Just for today. Tomorrow you start again and you don’t finish again. Get it?
Raise your hand.
This you may not do.
Raising your hand means, “Look at me, teacher.” I’m already looking at you! Looking at you is all I do! I was already looking at you before you knew I was looking at you. Never fear, you are getting all of the attention that you need at all times.
Raising your hand means, “I’m done.” You’re not done. I already told you, you’re never done. Do you need to hear the four things you may do again? I am glad to repeat them to you.
Teaching children not to raise their hands is invaluable during workshop time. Setting up the expectation that the children will work and continue to work until the time is up allows the teacher to check-in, redirect, suggest, conference and observe uninterrupted. Building the expectation that whatever work the children are tackling is worthwhile frees them to work uninterrupted as well.
Then you must devote yourself entirely to the Writer’s Workshop time and place. Do not run copies. Do not answer emails. Be with the children. Do only Workshop work during Workshop time. This is the most powerful indication to the children that you take writing seriously and are wholly present to address their needs.
When do I start? You might start your writer’s workshop on the first day of school. Or you might wait. Wait as long as you wish, but by all means, do start as soon as you can.
Lessons 1-5: Sit with the whole class in a circle. Ask a question of the class and let each child answer it with a complete sentence. Example: Q: What do you like to do when you get home from school? A: I like to ride my bike when I get home from school. If your population needs to spend more time working on this kind of oral language practice, do it.
I created a series of questions and hung it right next to the rug area where we sit.
I referred to it each day and picked a question I liked. (Click here to print my list of questions.) In each case, you are getting the children ready for the kind of writing you will start with.
Lessons 6-10: Depending on the behavior levels in your class, you may wish to have the Build Independence talk before or after the following lesson.
Start with the children gathered and your Blank Paper hung on the board. Think aloud with the children. “We have talked about so many things in the past few days. I would like to write down something that we’ve talked about, so that I can always remember it. What you do think I could write about? Good idea! I can write about my pet. I have a dog.”
Begin by drawing the dog (or whatever). Think aloud as you do this. “First I draw the body. The body is like an oval. A dog has a neck, I’ll draw the neck and then the head.” Keep going until you have a dog (or whatever). “Now I want to write something about my dog. I want to write, ‘I have a dog.’” Count on your fingers to indicate there are 4 words to be written. “The first word is ‘I.’ I know how to write that. The next word is ‘have.’ I don’t know the whole word. Does anyone know how it starts?” Take suggestions, but in the absence of anyone knowing, say, “That’s ok, I’ll skip that one. I leave a space here to show ‘have’ goes here.” Continue until you have all or most of the sentence written.
Tell the children they may write whatever they’d like today (and everyday). But I find that for the first couple of days, or more, I have each child whisper to me, on their way from the carpet to the worktables, what they are thinking of writing about.
Note: I spend a couple of lessons, one might be during Writer’s Workshop and others might be during other lessons, teaching my students some simple drawing techniques. We ask students to represent their learning very often with illustration, so it behooves us to take the time to make sure everyone feels confident with their drawing ability. My goal is to help kids make what they are drawing look like what they are drawing. We start with animals and ovals, pretty much every animal can start with an oval. Practice yourself and get your drawing ideas in your head before you start with the kids.
Lesson 11: For my very beginning writers, we make it ok to just put a letter or two right next to the picture. We gradually move to putting the first letter for each word we want to write in a sentence, leaving space for the letters we know must be missing. This stage lasts for some time for some writers.
Lesson 12: Inevitably there are children who feel comfortable copying words and sentences they see around the room. I let them.
Lesson 13: Kindergartners love lists. I show them how to fold their paper the long way. This could conceivably allow space for 4 separate lists. We spend a lesson brainstorming list ideas. Kindergarten favorites are: Foods I Like, People I Love, Colors, and My Favorite ________.
Lesson 14: Kindergartners love charts. I show them how to fold their paper into 4 or 8 squares to make a chart. Of course we get all sorts of number combinations when they fold on their own! We spend a lesson brainstorming chart ideas. The list ideas from above work for charts. Other favorite chart ideas are: My Friends, Flowers, and Animals.
Lesson 15: Just a blank paper folded in half makes a booklet. Put one inside another and you have more pages. Show the kids how to do this and they’ll get right on writing a book. Interestingly, prior to specific lessons on writing a story, lists and charts topics are also topics for books! It’s amazing!
Lesson 16: “Clean Out” means just that. The kids go through their folder and just throw away the yucky ones. I insist on looking at their throw away pile before they throw it away—some kids want to throw everything away!
Lesson 17: I explained my ideas about publishing in Components, but for the first month of school I take the time for a “Share Out” about twice each week. It might be at the end of a Workshop session, or not. We sit together in a circle, each child chooses something to share, they read it to the class and show their picture. This allows the infection of ideas that is so important at this time of year.