Writer's Workshop in My Classroom (Part One)

I may have mentioned this before... but I l-o-v-e teaching writing to first graders.

Although it can be painstaking at times, the progress made by the end of the year is truly remarkable. I was asked by a follower last week how I ran writer's workshop in my classroom so I thought I would share in case anyone else finds this information useful!

Before I start, I will say that while I love teaching writing, I am by no means any type of expert in this field. In fact, I am pretty hard on myself when it comes to what my students produce as young writers. I am always going to workshops, reading professional books, and talking with other teachers to get their input on teaching writing. What I write in this post is just what has worked for me over the past few years. Please feel free to share what works successfully for you while teaching writing to the primary grades! I am always looking for new tips!

The Beginning:
At the beginning of the year, the writing process is pretty simple. I spend the first month of school reviewing handwriting, asking my students to produce simple sentences, teaching them how to "free-write" while building their stamina and all the while I am assessing their work. I like to know exactly where each of my students are by the end of the first couple weeks. Using plenty of writing samples, I split my students into groups.

Group 1: 
Need help with letter formation and/or still identifying letters (names or sounds).

Group 2:
Know all letters and sounds and working on producing simple sentences. Ex: I like to run.

Group 3:
 Can produce simple sentences and are working on making more complex sentences. Ex: I like to run outside with my friend.

Group 4:
Can produce complex sentences and are working on making sentences "juicier" as well as adding more to their writing. Ex: I like to run outside with my friend, Julie. We love to race and play tag during P.E.

*Note: I wrote my example sentences with correct spelling, but I do not expect my students to at the beginning of the year. I am a huge advocate of inventive spelling in first grade and I find that the less I stress correct spelling, the more willing my students are to let loose and enjoy writing.*

Naturally, I don't call my groups by a number, but instead I make up fun names for them (generally I choose jungle animals). As the year progresses these groups change and students are constantly moving from group to group. Throughout the year the groups progress in skill as well and the "high" group begins to work on paragraphs and longer papers, while the lower groups may be working on some basic mechanics. Before Christmas break, I may even have 5 groups. This happened last year when I had two particularly high students who were working on forming paragraphs and 2 new students who were still struggling to learn their alphabet. Whatever the case, I am very flexible with my groupings and I am constantly looking at my students' work to determine what they need from me the most.

Meeting Place:
Everywhere & Anywhere.
For real.
At the beginning of the year, I call my groups back to the kidney table so I can be up close and personal and we can get used to working together. For some lessons, like sustained writing, I find that this method is best. Sometimes, I will call over my group to the mat and we will sit and share parts of our writing. We will confer together and discuss when and where we could add details to a classmate's writing. Then I will send them on their way back to their seats to practice adding details to their own papers. Other times, I will walk around the classroom with a clipboard and look for specific things I have taught that day (punctuation, capitalization, adding details, etc.). These times I will either walk right over to a student and have a mini one-on-one conference, or I will make an impromptu group and get together somewhere cozy to re-emphasize a lesson. 

Keeping Track (Conferencing):
My goal each and every week is to meet with every student at least once. That being said, I try to meet with each student more than once per week and I like to meet with my lowest group every day. As optimistic as I am, I know that doesn't happen each week so as long as I have spent a few minutes with each student per week, I can tell myself I didn't totally fail :)

This past year, I participated in a year-long research study revolving around teaching writing and I picked up some great tips on how to keep track of your conferences with students.

Folder with index cards:
This system is easy to write quick anecdotal notes when you conference with your students and it saves space! I just  write down the date I met with a student and a quick note about what they are working on, getting better at, or still struggling with. I used to use a binder with a page for each student and I would write paragraphs every time I met with a child. I liked my cute little binder but this method is a lot faster and helps me get right to the point when I am meeting with parents to discuss a student's work.

My friend, Michelle, teaches 4th grade and she uses this system in her class. She wrote a little bit about here if you want to see how she does it!

I mentioned this one above and I only use the clipboard method for specific skills. For instance if I had been teaching mini-lessons on using correct ending punctuation, I would walk around with my clipboard during the writing block and quickly assess each student. I made an editable version of my checklist for you. Here is an example:
Click here to download the editable version.

What are some ways you organize student notes during conferences??

I realized this post is going to be very long, so I added "Part One" to the title of this post and I will be back in a couple days to share more of what writer's workshop looks like in my classroom.

Up next:
Keeping track of student work
My writing block broken down (read aloud, mini-lesson, teacher modeling, guided writing, independent writing, & sharing).

If there are other things you want to know about, leave a comment and I will do my best to include it in my next post

*Part two is up and available to read, HERE*


  1. Love this and am so excited to see part 2! Do you have a TPT item for writer's workshop or one you would recommend?


    1. Hi Kelly!

      I primarily teach writing using my two TPT bundles - one is for the 3 main common core writing standards: http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Common-Core-Writing-for-1st-Grade-Narratives-Informative-Opinion-Bundle-487663

      The other is my writing through the seasons which have tons of seasonal prompts aligned with the common core:

  2. This is great information, Susan! I am so glad you are sharing:) I was looking into purchasing Lucy Calkins writer's workshop, and still may, but I really wanted to add to my current system this year (which is the district-approved system, anyway) before spending even more out-of-pocket! Thanks!!

  3. Thanks so much for this! I'm always looking into ways to improve my writing workshop. :-)

    Teaching Little Miracles

  4. Your post was so helpful and insightful! Thank you for sharing! I look forward to reading Part 2!


  5. I love teaching writing too! Last year, I used post-it notes and kept them in two file folders, sorted by student. The only issue was that the post-its would lose stickiness and fall off. I like the index card idea a lot though! Thanks for sharing! Can't wait for Part II!
    Teaching in the Valley

    1. I am a post it queen, but the same thing always happened to me too!

  6. Pinning this! What a great post. I love teaching writing to those firsties. Their writing is so precious. I love how you organize. Thanks for sharing:)

    Sarah's First Grade Snippets

  7. Thanks for sharing. I tried writers workshop last year for the first time. I have a lot to work on. I look forward to part 2!


  8. Thank you for posting!! Looking forward to the other parts!!

  9. Hi Susan. This may be a silly question but this is an area I really struggle with getting in daily. How much time per day do you work on writing? I know it should be little lessons each day but I was just wondering. :) Trying to improve my writing this year!!

    Thank you so much!!

    1. Great question! Our writing block is 50 minutes every day - I will share in my next post how I break it down!

  10. Pinned this post. Thank you for providing guidance on how to form guided writing groups.

  11. This is such a HUGE help to see how writer's workshop works in an actual classroom. Can't wait to read part 2. Hope you include how much time you allow and how it's broken down. Thanks for sharing!

    For the Love of First Grade

  12. Love the idea of using anecdotal records on index cards! I think I will adapt this idea but try using the Evernote App on my iPad to compile digital notes. Looking forward to part 2!

  13. Loving the index card method! Works so effectively! I also like to put the dates of the individual conferences by the names on the outside of the index cards so at a quick glance I can see who I need to work with.
    Great Post! Thanks for the shout out!
    from Well, Michelle?

    1. Yessss - good idea, Michelle!! and of course you get a shout out!

  14. Can I please just say a huge THANK YOU! This will be my second year teaching first grade, and I felt that I really struggled with writing and writing workshop last year. I absolutely love your idea of ability groups (not just for reading!) and the way that you track your observations. I can't wait for Part Two!

    Teaching with a Smile

    1. I'm so glad it could help!! Thank you :)

  15. I could teaching writing with you all day everyday!!! We'd jive so well! Excellent post my friend!

    ❤ -Stephanie
    Falling Into First

    1. I could teach everything with you all day long! Thanks for the love!

  16. I love your writing conferences record. I've been trying to tweak this for a while and this might just be what I need! Thanks for sharing!

    P.S.- I'm your newest follower!

    Check out my blog if you get the chance.

    Colleen Patton
    Mrs. Patton’s Patch

  17. I love the idea of using the index cards to keep organized with conference notes!

    Carolina Teacher

  18. Thank you for taking the time to share all your great ideas. I will definitely use!!

    Grisel Lopez
    Jacksonville, FL


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