Blogstitute 2016: Establishing Routines for the Writing Workshop

July 19th, 2016

We close this year’s Summer Blogstitute series with a post looking ahead to the upcoming school year. Stacey Shubitz, the author of Craft Moves, shares her strategies for establishing routines and classroom procedures during the first few weeks of school so that students — and teachers — can maximize learning and teaching time during the entire year. There’s still time until the end of this week to leave comments or to Tweet about any of our Blogstitute posts using #blogstitute16 for a chance to win free books!

Establishing Routines and Procedures for the Writing Workshop
By Stacey Shubitz

stacey_croppedHaving solid routines and procedures for independent work increases student engagement and frees teachers to confer and work with small groups during independent writing time. But how does one accomplish this?

I believe in the Responsive Classroom approach’s First Six Weeks of School, which asserts that the beginning of the school year is a time to lay the groundwork by teaching academic routines, discussing expectations, and creating goals that will enable a classroom community to thrive for the entire year.

Here are some things to think about during the first six weeks of school so your writing workshop will function well for the entire year:

  • Create a list of writing workshop expectations with your students. This list will be different from the classroom rules you create with your class. Click here for some ideas about creating expectations for writing workshop alongside your students.
  • Invite students to create a verbal or written plan—at the end of every mini-lesson—so they will have an idea of how they’ll use their independent writing time. If students create a plan for how to use their time, they’re likely to stick to it because it’s their own. You can also refer to their plan if you find them off task.
  • Build stamina. Whereas you can launch writing workshop on the first day of school, you’ll have to build students’ stamina for independent writing. Increase the amount of time students are writing by five minutes every few days so they can reach forty-five minutes of sustained writing time by the end of the sixth week of school.
    • During these six weeks of stamina building, students will come to realize the following things about independent writing time:
      • Writers work on their own. In order for this to happen, you must teach students how to solve their own problems and carry on with their work without looking for your support.
      • Teachers help students by conferring with them one-on-one and by leading small-group strategy lessons.
    • Consider communal supplies. By providing students with access to all of the supplies they’ll need during independent
      Figure 3.4

      A writing center may contain a variety of paper, index cards, sticky notes, clipboards, interesting writing utensils, paper clips, tape, and dictionaries.

      writing time, you’ll make them less dependent on you when they need anything from sticky notes to a clipboard or a red pen.

    • Make mentor texts available in your classroom. Whether you have multiple copies of texts or provide your students with typed texts as “literary gifts” (as Carl Anderson calls them), students need access to mentor texts for ideas or inspiration at any time during writing workshop.
    • Minimize disruptions. Develop systems for minimizing disruptions. Students need to know they cannot interrupt you—unless it’s an emergency—while you’re leading a writing conference or a small-group strategy lesson. Implement a system for kids to sign out to get drinks of water or use the bathroom. Create spaces where kids can turn in their work. Develop a system for students to request a conference. Your ultimate goal is to wean students off of needing you for assistance, which will make them more self-sufficient and provide you with sustained periods of time to confer or to meet with small groups.

You don’t have to wait until the first day of school to get ready for writing workshop. Here are a few things you can do now to think about routines and procedures before the school year begins:

  • Make writing workshop a priority every day. Carve out forty-five to sixty minutes of your daily schedule, at least four days a week, for writing workshop. If you cannot find these blocks of time, sit down with your principal for assistance with scheduling so you can make daily writing a priority.
  • Put together a communal supply list and send it out to your students’ parents. In your letter, ensure parents that pooling the supplies will eliminate distractions because materials will be stored in a central location of the classroom, meaning there is less “stuff” in each student’s individual workspace.
    • In addition, if you don’t already have a place to house communal supplies, you’ll want to see if your school can help you make an investment in items like supply caddies and a storage unit for your class’s writing center. (If your school doesn’t have the money for this and you can’t spend your own, consider writing a mini-grant proposal, like this one, on org.)
  • Create a conferring toolkit you will use for your conferences and strategy lessons. Having a well-stocked toolkit close at hand will keep you focused on your students when you’re working with them during independent writing time. Items in your toolkit may include the following:
    • Mentor texts
    • Record-keeping forms (handwritten or electronic)
    • Checklists or rubrics
    • Mini-charts
    • Your writer’s notebook
    • Supplies (markers, pens, sticky notes, loose-leaf paper, and index cards)

I know it seems tempting to jump right into teaching a unit of study when the school year begins, but in order to maximize your teaching time all year long it is necessary to build a writing community and to teach students how to use materials and be self-sufficient during independent writing time. I’ve jumped in head-first and I’ve spent time teaching routines and procedures during the first six weeks of school. Lowering my expectations about how much curriculum I’d cover during the first month of school was beneficial and let me cover more units during the school year because I reaped the benefits of the time I invested in establishing routines and procedures during the first six weeks of school.

Entry Filed under: Blogstitute

26 Comments Add your own

  • 1. ANDY  |  July 19th, 2016 at 10:25 am


  • 2. Lisa C  |  July 19th, 2016 at 10:32 am

    I started using planning boxes a few years ago, surely prompted by Stacey. 🙂 Students don’t go to their writing spot until I have seen the plan, and I help them work on making their plan specific. It has made my WW more efficient, because nobody is sitting at their desk saying, “I don’t know what to do.” If they don’t know, we talk about it before I set them free. I like the written record because we can also have a short chat about how a child might have been doing the same thing for 3-4 days and maybe we need to talk about moving on. It helps me target my starting point for conferring some days.

  • 3. Stacey Shubitz  |  July 19th, 2016 at 1:35 pm

    @Lisa C: The plan boxes are life changing (in terms of the way workshop functions), aren’t they? I think it’s brilliant that you’re having conversations with your writers when you’re noticing patterns after a few days of the same kinds of plans.

  • 4. PaulaBourque  |  July 19th, 2016 at 2:29 pm

    Routines can calm anxious students, create consistent expectations, and encourage self-directed learning. I’m going to share this blog post now and again as we approach those first weeks of school. Great tips and reminders, Stacey!

  • 5. Elisa Waingort  |  July 19th, 2016 at 6:57 pm

    Thanks for your post , Stacey. I can’t wait to read your book! I agree that it’s important to establish a community of writers before launching into a full-fledged unit at the beginning of the year. There are so many structures and routines that we need to teach if writing workshop is going to flow smoothly during the rest of the year. I like the suggestion to create a list of writing workshop expectations with students. I have occasionally asked students to commit to a plan or goal at the beginning of writing workshop. I am planning to make this a daily habit. I think it’s so important to take a moment and make a decision about what the work is going to be. Works well for teachers, too! I will also help students build their stamina gradually over the first six weeks. I’m glad you mentioned The First Six Weeks of School. This is on my to re-read list before school starts. Cheers!

  • 6. Stacey Shubitz  |  July 19th, 2016 at 7:53 pm

    I’m honored you’re planning to read Craft Moves, Elisa. I think you’ll find that chapter three dovetails nicely with The First Six Weeks of School, 2nd Ed.

  • 7. Elisa Waingort  |  July 19th, 2016 at 8:11 pm

    Fantastic, Stacey! I truly can’t wait to read your book. Congratulations, BTW!

  • 8. Shelley Stahl  |  July 20th, 2016 at 6:24 am

    Teaching self-sufficiency seems counterintuitive but is absolutely key to a successful experience in the classroom and beyond! Thanks for the tips!

  • 9. Pat Litberg  |  July 20th, 2016 at 6:47 am

    I also use the Responsive Classroom approach in setting rules, and the First Six Weeks of School is a great resource! Thanks for the blogpost. I’m very interested in the concept of planning boxes to help keep students accountable, and look forward to reading Craft Moves.

  • 10. Alison James  |  July 20th, 2016 at 7:56 am

    Thank you for sharing! I am excited about implementing Writer’s Workshop this school year for the first time. Your advice will be so beneficial.

  • 11. Megan Whitaker  |  July 20th, 2016 at 8:02 am

    Some great ideas for a reading teacher to implement in the classroom as well! Thanks!

  • 12. Tracy Mailloux  |  July 20th, 2016 at 8:07 am

    I completely agree with you Stacey: those first 6 weeks are critical to the learning that happens during a school year. Routines and procedures are key to model and practice no matter which grade or subject you teach. I have used the First Six Weeks of School as my back to school resource for years and recommend it highly to new and veteran teachers alike. Thanks for the tips and reminders in your post. I transferred from elementary to middle school science last year; my goal this year is to include more writing on a regular basis in my classroom. Day by Day has been a tremendous resource in my prior experiences. I’m rereading bits and pieces of it this summer to help me with planning for the upcoming school year. Thank you Stacey!

  • 13. Gentle Eggerton  |  July 20th, 2016 at 8:11 am

    As our building is moving towards writer’s workshop framework, I’m excited to see how these points might assist with the task of management. Once expectations and routines are established, one will see the benefits of writer’s workshop. Thank you always for your helpful tips and insight through your blog.

  • 14. Chiara Bambara  |  July 20th, 2016 at 8:21 am

    I just finished reading “How’s It Going” by Carl Anderson and I am almost done reading your and Ruth’s book, “Day by Day”. I took lots of notes and this blog entry summarizes some of those ideas. I will be teaching writing again this year (5th grade) and I feel energized by my readings and all the NES I took to prepare write lesson plans to start off the year right! The biggest change for me this year would be to use plan boxes. Im a bit apprehensive about using them because I’m afraid to use up too much time reviewing them before sending kids off to write. However, what I read from people who have used them is enough to convince me to try them out. Our school has adopted the writing workshop model two years ago, but my students will come to fifth grade still new to many of the routines. I’m looking forward to the challenge.

  • 15. Amy Spiker  |  July 20th, 2016 at 8:52 am

    Excellent advice, very clearly presented. You are setting many teacher up for a very successful writing year!

  • 16. Ellen  |  July 20th, 2016 at 10:55 am

    LOVE the written student plan, and also agree with teaching procedures and developing rapport early in the year. Thanks for your post- can’t wait to read your book!

  • 17. Stacey Shubitz  |  July 20th, 2016 at 2:10 pm

    @Pat: There’s more in Day by Day about plan boxes. They take time to implement, but they’re worth the investment!
    @Chiara: Plan boxes can take three to six weeks for students to get the hang of. The idea was given to my classmates and me by Lucy Calkins (many moons ago). She cautioned us not to abandon the idea of them even if things weren’t going well with them at first. Thankfully, I hung in there and stuck with them. What was initially a 10 – 15 minute time investment at the end of every minilesson took no more than five minutes for me to check a few weeks into the school year. Hope that helps so that you’ll take the plunge and try them this year.
    To everyone else: Thank you for your kind comments. I’m delighted this post was useful.

  • 18. Julie O'Neill  |  July 20th, 2016 at 5:42 pm

    Hi Stacey! The first six weeks of school are my favorite – I love getting to know a new group of children and the processes of connecting and building a community. Reading your post filled me with joyful anticipation.

  • 19. Lisa Maucione  |  July 20th, 2016 at 9:45 pm

    These are wonderful ideas for getting writing workshop off to a good start. Going slow at the beginning of the year is necessary in order to make sure routines and procedures are in place and in the long run it will save time. I have never had my students state a plan either verbally or orally before writing. I like this idea a lot.

  • 20. Diane Anderson  |  July 20th, 2016 at 10:10 pm

    Practical tips for getting off to a good start for the new school year. I especially appreciate the section on building writing stamina. Craft Moves is one of the books I have been reading this summer for my own professional development, and I followed along the #g2great Twitter Chat. So many great ideas!

  • 21. shelly  |  July 20th, 2016 at 10:15 pm

    Every time I get to read something you’ve written, I put another fantastic tip in my toolbox. I spent part of my vacation reading Craft Moves on the Stenhouse site and, when I get home, I plan to purchase the book and begin marking it up and preparing for my new class. Thanks for this great recap of everything that is good about Writing Workshop and for being one of my Writing Workshop mentors.

  • 22. Stacey Shubitz  |  July 21st, 2016 at 12:23 pm

    @shelly: Feel free to join us for a book discussion of Craft Moves starting on August 8th. Here’s the link to join:

  • 23. Katrina Rutherford  |  July 22nd, 2016 at 6:05 am

    Thank you for sharing this incredible article! As a literacy coach, I am working with staff members on establishing their workshop structure. This is so supportive of our work. Thank you!!!

  • 24. Adam Bleakley  |  July 22nd, 2016 at 6:29 am

    I have read Craft Moves and love it! How much time to do the plan boxes take? I’m wondering how long it takes the teacher to get around to check them all. I’m also concerned that as I go around and check them, some students won’t have a plan yet and I’ll have to keep track of who I have to circle around and come back to – to see if they have their plan done. Thanks.

  • 25. Erika Victor  |  July 23rd, 2016 at 2:37 am

    I love the First Six Weeks too, but still struggle to balance starting slowly with the demands my school has. It is almost time for me to go back:)

  • 26. Stacey Shubitz  |  July 26th, 2016 at 7:49 am

    @Erika – I’ve always felt that starting with a writer’s notebook unit of study is a great way to begin to ease into the year and build stamina. Another idea is starting with poetry (See, though I haven’t tried it myself.

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