Jennifer Jacobson believes that writers’ workshop is the answer to a thriving writing classroom where students start an assignment asking, Who is my audience? Or How can I best approach this subject? Rather than the dreaded, How long does it have to be? In order to have a successful writers’ workshop, however, you need to start by creating a space that sets the tone, supports student stamina, and—most importantly—inspires.
“Think of your classroom as studio space—an environment that supports the experimentation and utilization of many tools, models, and ideas.” –Jennifer Jacobson
Based on her experience teaching successful writers’ workshops in communities across the country, Jacobson shares what she’s learned in her new book, No More, “How Long Does It Have to Be?” Fostering Independent Writers in Grades 3–8. Here are some of her tips on creating a space that sets the stage for writing success.
The Meeting Area (Where Writers Huddle)
The meeting area is a means for modeling writing. It is an inviting space for students to come together to collaborate with comfortable, flexible seating, such as carpet or carpet squares, beanbags, pillows, etc. Have an easel ready with paper for saving anchor charts and ask the students to occasionally be the scribes. The meeting area should also be near shelves with mentor texts ready to reference when you want the students to look at examples of author craft. “During the writing time, the meeting area transforms to the place for perusing mentor texts for examples and inspiration or perhaps it becomes an isolated spot for peer conferences,” (Jacobson 2019).
For conferences, Jacobson recommends setting up a designated conference area for students to come to the teacher, rather than the teacher circulating around the room dropping in on them while they write. Students might spend more time anticipating the arrival of the teacher and preparing what to say, rather than writing. “Writing requires concentrated thinking, and that requires turning inward,” (Jacobson 2019). Consider setting up a sign-up sheet for students to schedule time to come to you. Set up a small table with some chairs and the following supplies: your writer’s notebook, an assessment binder with a divider for each student, sticky notes, and mentor texts.
When setting up a supply area, you might want to first decide if you want students to write longhand on paper, or on a digital device. Many teachers are split on this topic. Jacobson has a list of pros and cons of using only paper or only technology in No More, “How Long Does It Have to Be?” You may want to give students a choice. Other supplies to consider are: extra paper, sticky notes, graphic organizers, scissors and tape, editing pens and pencils, highlighters, egg timers, rubrics, USB drives, and other reference resources, such as a thesaurus, topic grids, etc.
This is only a fraction of the wonderful ideas from Jacobson’s book that you can use to support writers as they discover their voices and take charge of their own learning. For more about how to start successful writers’ workshops that foster independence, go here to pick up No More, “How Long Does It Have to Be?”
If you're looking for ideas about how to foster independent reading in your primary students, check out Jacobson's previous title, No More, "I'm Done!"
Jacobson, Jennifer. 2019. No More, "How Long Does It Have to Be?" Fostering Independent Writers in Grades 3-8. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.