Instead of using a curriculum to teach writing to our kids we do Writer’s Workshop, a do-it-yourself writing system. So now we’ll explain how to plan a Writer’s Workshop unit.
The printables we will use in this explanation are part of the Layers of Learning Homeschool Planner. It’s just 99¢ in our store for an instant download, so go grab it now. Or you can also just do this on notebook paper.
Begin with a Yearly Plan
Start out by roughing in an idea of the “genres” you would like your kids to learn to write this year in your homeschool. This is not your detailed plan, just some basic ideas so you make sure you are covering the important things.
In the Layers of Learning Homeschool Planner there is a printable of Writer’s Workshop Lists that includes genres along with more teacher instructions and reminders on the writing process.
Karen has also written up a list on her Writer’s Workshop post. Some writing projects might just take a week. I can’t imagine spending more than a week on limericks or a short book report on penguins, for example. But other writing projects might last two or three, or even more weeks. If you’re writing a long fictional story or a research paper it could stretch out a long time. So on the Yearly Plan you’ll rough in some ideas of the genres you want to teach and about how long you think they will take.
You will probably not have time to cover every genre every year. That’s okay. Just try to have a mix of imaginative and expository writing.
How to Plan a Writer’s Workshop Unit
To plan your unit you will need this printable from the Layers of Learning Homeschool Planner.
You can start your writing time with a few warm-ups. We do spelling, handwriting, and a simple grammar workbook page for our warm-ups. We don’t need to plan for these on our Writer’s Workshop plan because we just do the next page in our workbooks.
Daily Mini Lesson
The real writer’s workshop begins with the mini lesson.
The first rule of mini lessons is that they should be MINI! Keep it to five minutes or less. One minute is perfectly fine for lots of mini-lessons. You will focus on one tiny little aspect of writing during the mini lesson. It should be something your kids have never learned before or something they are struggling with or need to be reminded of.
On the printable there are spaces to write in one mini lesson per day. They are arranged so that each day has a focus.
Monday – Genre Skill
This is the new skill you are teaching so that your kids can be successful with the writing assignment of the week (or month or whatever length of time). This should be directly related to the genre. Different genres are all handled differently, and sometimes we forget to teach kids these little lessons. The example mini lesson above (capitals at the beginning and periods at the end) is handling the genre of sentences. This doesn’t apply to all writing; if you were teaching poetry you could throw those rules out all together.
Different genres have different rules, and a mini-lesson is a perfect time to teach those genre rules in small doses. When we learned about fairy tales we talked about the ways they begin and end (“Once upon a time” and “happily ever after” are good ways.) On another day we also talked about how a lot of fairy tales use the magic number 3 (the 3 bears, the 3 billy goats gruff, 3 wishes, etc.).
Tuesday – Writing Skill
Here put in something that will make your kids writing better. Like choosing better, more varied words, using transitions, or varying sentence length. An excellent resource for this section is The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. (That’s an affiliate link right there!) The teacher uses this book, not the student, though you can hand it to your high schooler to read for sure.
Wednesday – Rules Skill
Grammar and conventions are important! They make it so we can all understand one another. Here is where you teach these skills. Remember, only one tiny lesson! Do not try to cram everything in at once. You have years to make better writers. You can address an issue you’ve noticed in their writing or just pull out their workbooks and talk about the skills they are working on that week.
Thursday – Sentence Fix
Write one sentence up where your students can see it — on a chalkboard, a whiteboard on your table, or on a piece of paper on a clipboard. The sentence should have mistakes in it. These mistakes should be, in part, related to the writing skill and rules skill from Tuesday and Wednesday. I like to use sentences from our current read-aloud. That way you’re practicing with “real” writing and not canned workbook writing. It only takes a minute or two to find a sentence that works well.
Have the kids fix it out loud together as a group. Let them correct each other. Don’t give them hints until they’re finished. If they still have mistakes, then show them the mistakes. Briefly point out the rules again.
Friday – Dictation
Verbally give the students a sentence to write in their own notebooks. They have to include the proper punctuation and spelling and everything without being able to see the sentence. Again, use a sentence that has elements of the lessons from days 2 and 3. I like to use sentences from books for this as well. Read it several times, slowly, until everyone has it written down. Then correct the sentence together.
As kids get older and more skilled with dictation you can introduce longer passages that include more than one sentence.
Daily Writing Task
Each day give your kids one task, one step, to complete for the overall writing assignment you are trying to accomplish. Sentences are pretty basic, but for most genres you will be thinking about the writing process as you plan your lessons. You will begin with a pre-writing activity, then draft, then revise, then edit, and finally publish.
In the example just above I wrote a lesson plan for our first week of school. It focuses on writing sentences. What we’re working on is writing better sentences. The hope is that they will carry this forward to the writing assignments for the rest of the year. I planned this week of writing lessons so that at the end they would have a couple of very interesting, sophisticated sentences as opposed to Dick and Jane writing. On Tuesday we’ll probably use this Juicy Sentences lesson.
My Daily Mini Lessons and my Daily Writing Tasks complement each other when possible.
For any writing assignment, think about the discrete individual steps it takes to accomplish them. Break the process down into writing sessions of about an hour or less (less if your kids are in 4th grade or younger for sure). Write down your day by day plan. If you need more than one week, use more than one week’s worth of printable sheets.
Evaluate As You Go
As you are working on your Daily Mini Lessons and Daily Writing Task, along with other subjects where you’re doing writing, pay attention to trouble spots or places where you think your student could improve. You’ll jot notes down in this section of the printable.
Then you use these trouble spots to plan your future mini lessons and perhaps writing projects.
Evaluate Your Children’s Writing
You must evaluate your student’s writing every time they finish a writing project. If the writing goes unevaluated then there was no point, your student won’t learn much from the experience, and you’ve all wasted your time.
In the Layers of Learning Homeschool Planner we also include a Evaluating Writing Rubric which will help you evaluate and grade the writing. You can also get the rubric on Karen’s post about the six traits of writing (which you should read in any case).
Print out a Writing Report Card for each writing project for each of your children. Fill it in using the rubric as your guide. Make sure you give positive comments at the end. Say everything they did right. You want your kids to leave every writing assignment with the impression that they are good writers who are getting better.
Plan a Little at a Time
It’s a good idea to plan one writing unit at a time as you go through your year. There are two reasons for this. First, you can adapt each unit to the problems and skill gaps you notice in your kids as they work on writing assignments. Secondly, if a writing project takes longer or shorter than you expected, it won’t destroy your previously made plan, helping you to feel less stressed about keeping to a schedule.
If you’re feeling up for giving your kids a totally customized writing program, try our Writer’s Workshop method. Let us know how it goes!
More From Layers of Learning
These are all pre-writing ideas. The sorts of things you do on a Monday when you’re introducing a new writing genre. You can find even more writing ideas on our Writer’s Workshop page.