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Writer’s Workshop Curriculum Guide

Writer's Workshop Guidebook cover

Layers of Learning’s Writer’s Workshop isn’t just a curriculum; it’s a mindset. It’s a lifestyle that will change writing from a chore to a joy as your whole family grows as writers together, family-school style. To get you started on the right foot in this new mindset, we invite you to read the Writer’s Workshop Guidebook. It is written specifically for the parent or writing mentor. It will give you a clear picture of what Writer’s Workshop looks like and set you up for success. After many, many years of teaching writing in this style, we share our best tips and an overall picture of what has worked well in our homeschools and co-ops, as well as provide detailed instructions for setting up a Writer’s Workshop and getting started with the units successfully.

Genre Units

Writer's Workshop Jump Start cover

The program is divided into units based on different genres of writing. Each genre unit is intended to last for about a month in your homeschool. You will pick and choose the parts you want to do, then be able to reuse it in subsequent years by choosing other Exercises and Writing Projects from the same genre. Each unit can be used again and again in your family. Here are the units you’ll have to choose from:

  • Writer’s Workshop Jump Start – We recommend using this at the beginning of each school year. It’s full of short writing exercises that are meant to spur on ideas and get kids in a creative, thoughtful groove. It also teaches the Writing Process and helps writers get settled into their Writer’s Notebooks.
  • Sentences, Paragraphs, & Narrations – This unit will get writers off on the right foot to crafting strong sentences and organized paragraphs. All of the content in it can be directly applied to what you’re learning about in other school subjects, so if you’ve been hoping to create greater unity between writing instruction and history, geography, science, and art, this is a great place to start. Along with learning how to write narrations, kids will learn how to write for tests.
  • Descriptions & Instructions – In this unit, you’ll get into the meat of what makes writing powerfully captivating. By using exact language, strong verbs, and sprinkling in figurative language, young writers will be able to capture interest in new ways. In addition, they will practice writing with precision.
  • Fanciful Stories – Fairy tales, superhero stories, fables, tall tales, and every other imaginary story falls into this really fun unit. Besides learning the structure and elements of a story, writers will also focus on surprising the audience and weaving in a theme, all through the lens of fiction.
  • Poetry – Together, you will read and write poetry and play with words. Both formula poems and free verse will accompany your study of poetry terms, vivid language, and painting a picture with words.
  • True Stories – The flipside to fanciful stories, in true stories you’ll learn biographies, autobiographies, articles, and personal narratives, You’ll also create an All About Me book and learn to journal about your life more effectively.
  • Reports & Essays – This unit will sharpen your skills as a serious writer. You will both research and share your own ideas as you learn to share the true things you know about. You’ll explore everything from animal reports to the ever-valuable five-paragraph essay and master what it takes to share true information in an organized way.
  • Letters – The Letter genre actually covers a lot more than just friendly letters. You’ll learn how to write and send e-mail, create a resume, fill out forms, and write a letter to the editor, among other skills.
  • Persuasive Writing – The art of persuasion will be practiced through lots of forms in this unit, from convincing your parents to let you stay up late to writing a full-blown persuasive essay. You’ll learn the tricks to writing in a convincing, memorable way.
  • Research Paper – The Research Paper unit is the only one that is written specifically for teens. This step-by-step guide will teach teens how to write a full-blown research paper, one bit at a time.

Inside Each Unit

Writer's Workshop Jump Start sample pages

Exercises

Within each unit, you will find Exercises – short writing assignments that help you develop specific writing skills. None of the exercises will be graded. They are practice. Most of these will be kept within a Journal that is personal to each writer. Creativity and freedom of expression are hallmarks of a successful Writer’s Workshop.

Mini Lessons

Accompanying the Exercises, there are sidebars within each unit that share Mini Lessons, short daily lessons to help teach grammar, punctuation, the writing process, genre skills, and more. Mentors are also encouraged to be an active member of the Workshop, noticing skills that need to be taught and tailoring the program to help growing writers. In addition, within the Layers of Learning catalog, you can click on the unit you are using and have access to more links, the unit’s YouTube playlist, and the Writer’s Workshop Pinterest board.

Project Ideas Banks

During the course of each unit, one project will be chosen and the writer will take that one piece all of the way through the writing process – prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing. Every unit includes idea banks to spur on ideas and keep pens to paper. The monthly project will be the only graded writing, and its evaluation includes a rubric that addresses specific skills learned within the unit.

Printables

Every single Writer’s Workshop unit also includes a printable pack full of printables used within the Exercises and Mini Lessons, as well as printable idea banks and rubrics.

Word Work

Of course, Writer’s Workshop includes spelling, vocabulary, and grammar, as well as writing stories, essays, poems, and more. We start our Writer’s Workshop with a short session of Word Work – spelling, vocabulary, and handwriting or typing practice. Word work allows us to master the words that will be our medium for sharing the ideas we have. In the future, more Word Work helps and resources will be available. Currently, the Guidebook is the best resource to get you started with Word Work.

The Goal of Writer’s Workshop

Mom reading to kids

Writing in our homeschool happens in short bursts throughout our day.  We use it to show what we know and add our own ideas and contributions to the world’s body of knowledge.  Writing is empowering!  Rather than getting caught up in mechanics and mundane exercises, we focus on ideas first.  We use writing to communicate, to share a part of ourselves and our ideas.

Process Over Product

As we write, we focus on the process, not just the product.  Writer’s Workshop Jump Start will help kids practice the writing process, which they will continue to use as they write.

  • pre-writing
  • drafting
  • revising
  • editing
  • publishing

Just to be clear, these steps don’t all happen in a day, and sometimes they don’t all happen in a week. I teach mini-lessons just about every day. We write in our writer’s notebooks until we have something we want to turn into more.  Sometimes this happens spontaneously (like my son’s series of Super Monkey books about a superhero monkey who saves the world from a variety of evil-doers).  Sometimes it happens because I assign something; “Okay young authors, your biography is due on Friday. . . no more dawdling!”)

The kids write, wherever they are at in the process, until we are ready to move on to something else.  Then they just put it away and pick up where they left off the next day.

Some Quick Tips

  • Open creativity is awesome, but I’m also a believer in providing clear direction.  There’s nothing worse than being told to write anything at all when no ideas seem to be coming.  Some kids will come up with their own ideas, but you should also have assignments, story starters, fun ideas, and specific directions on hand for those writers who don’t come up with topics and ideas well on their own.  The Writer’s Workshop units is a go-to source of inspiration for those tidbits of fun.
  • The physical act of writing can be quite a chore for some kids.  Don’t take the burden away entirely, because the way they will build writing endurance is by writing.  At the same time, you can lighten the burden.  For example, taking a story all the way through the writing process can involve 3 or more re-writes.  Have them do it once, but then you can pitch in and type up the story.  With little ones, you may even do some of their writing on the first draft to help them get their ideas down.  But don’t ever take over and do all the writing if you want them to grow as writers.
  • Pre-writing is an important first step in the writing process.  Talking about ideas, drawing a picture, creating a character sketch, or making a web or outline can make an overwhelming assignment manageable.  A fun pre-writing activity is a great mini-lesson with each new genre you start.
  • Intersperse writing assignments with AUTHENTIC writing experiences.  Kids can write to grandparents, penpals, people in the community, companies, authors, and politicians.  They can write shopping lists and to-do lists, or send e-mail.  Consider submitting essays to essay contests, writing online book reviews, or keeping a family scrapbook.
  • Every day is different and variety is key.  Sometimes we’re quietly writing at desks.  Sometimes we’re outside listing as many things as we can see in our yard together.  You may find me typing up a story with a kid at my side as we talk about how to make the writing better.  You may see us all sitting together writing a collective story, with Mom as scribe.  Sometimes we’re reading silly poems together.  We could be playing a game about nouns or watching Grammar Rock videos.  We’re always reading, writing, and talking about writing.  In the messy process (and about an hour a day), we become better writers by doing Writer’s Workshop.

We Hope You’ll Join Us!

Writer's Workshop Icon

We write all throughout our day, whether we’re writing what we learned about an artist, explaining a math concept in a journal entry, writing up an experiment, or creating a passage in our world explorer journals. Our Writer’s Workshop gives us the flexibility to write about anything we have big ideas about.  As we master the writing process and learn how to be better writers, we get to use those skills to better share the ideas we have. Through Writer’s Workshop, we grow! We hope you’ll join us in creating a Writer’s Workshop in your homeschool. We can’t wait to see the ways you grow too!

Writer’s Workshop in a Podcast

Karen’s daughter, Elizabeth, starting her life as a writer out young. If writing is taught in bits and pieces instead of huge chunks, it can even be a joy for little ones!

Want to hear Karen and Michelle chat about Writer’s Workshop? Listen in on their Writer’s Workshop podcast episode. Michell picked Karen’s brain a bit about how Writer’s Workshop came about and what it looks like in her homeschool.

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