Quick Tip Tuesday: Creating a writing routine

January 6th, 2009

“Beginning anything is never easy,” writes Ann Marie Corgill in her new book, Of Primary Importance. This is especially true when it comes to creating a community of writers in a primary classroom. Every teacher knows the chaos, uncertainty, and confusion those first few days or even weeks and months of a writing workshop can create. Ann Marie suggests that while the chaos is inevitable, creating a writing routine from day one is essential. Here is how she does it:

In order to create a writing routine in your classroom with your students, the most important thing you can do as a writing teacher is begin on day one—give the kids paper and pencils and crayons and markers and say, “We’re going to have writing time every day in our class, and it’s going to be really great.” Or you might say, “Just Write! Our writing time this year is going to be lots of fun!” No doubt there will be lots of talking and lots of questioning and lots of chatter in the room—“I don’t know what to write” or “I’m finished. What do I do now?”. Lots of “Where are the crayons?” and “Can you sharpen my pencil?” and “How do you make the stapler work?” There will be broken pencil points and crayon marks on the tables and glue sticky hands and paper covering the floor. And, yes, you may seem a little fried and overwhelmed at the end of it. I know. I feel that pain every August or September (and even into October!), and it’s normal. But don’t give up. Establish a writing routine on day one and stick to it.

Our classroom writing routine lasts approximately one hour and always includes a focus lesson, independent writing and conferring time, and writing share. The routine is the same every day except for differences in the time allotment of that hour over the course of the year. At the beginning of the year, we tend to need more time for focus lessons and settling in to our writing at the beginning of the workshop period as well as time for cleanup and share at the end of the workshop period. The children need longer amounts of time to practice the routines of passing out writing folders, finding appropriate materials for work, and settling in to their actual writing. We also need extra time for cleanup at the end of the period, so that children can make sure that their writing work and all materials are in their proper places and ready for the next writing day. At this point in the year, although settling in to write and cleanup take more time, we need less time for actual writing and conferring until the children build writing stamina and can focus their attention on the writing work. As their stamina increases and they develop strategies for writing and producing pieces, the length of the workshop increases.

At the beginning of the year, our independent writing and conferring time lasts around twenty minutes, and by the end of the year, we have built up to at least forty minutes of independent writing and conferring time As you live and work through these days of writing chaos at the beginning of the year, try to take a step back and really listen to the questions being asked and what caused the chaos at the writing materials area or during your conference time with a student. Everything that’s happening is an opportunity to teach (and then go home that afternoon and have a glass of wine!).

It’s in these early months of writing workshop that I can just hear myself saying (in a very strong and serious voice), “I am trying to hear your classmate read his writing, but you’re making it very difficult for me to hear!”

I can’t count the times I’ve said, “I’m shocked that you don’t care enough about your writing work and fellow writers to use a quiet voice.” But we are teaching five- and six- and seven- and eight-year-olds who make sense of their world through talking, and the more we let them in on the problem solving, the more respectful and productive they will become. “What can we do about those times when I’m conferring with a classmate and I can’t hear him over the room noise?” “What can we do to respect the other writers in this class during workshop time?” “What does a productive writing workshop look and sound like? Do you think we can try that today?”

You can read more about Ann Marie’s classroom on the Stenhouse website.

Entry Filed under: Quick Tip Tuesday,Writing

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Terri Devlin  |  January 6th, 2009 at 10:01 pm

    I teach 8th grade language arts and my students also have a time set aside each day for writing. Students are given a prompt each day that they respond to. Even 8th grade students show confusion and even frustration at the beginning of the year. However, it does not take long for them to get settled into the routine of daily writing. Most students actually seem to enjoy writing and look forward to it once they get going.

    Students are required to date each entry and to start out their writing by restating the prompt. Journals are collected randomly by tables and students are expected to have all entries up to date when their journals are collected.

    This is the second year I have incorporated this type of daily writing in my classroom. I have noticed a great improvement in students’ writing throughout the year. Students also improve their ability to quickly respond to any type of prompt, which is a great skill to have when it comes time to take standardized tests.

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