Creating a Community of Readers and Writers Through Immersion

In my last message, you learned all about why and how to start with workshops on day one. If you missed it, you can find it here.

In that message, we discussed how to set up this year’s class with the expectation that you’re a community of readers and writers. And to do this, we suggest starting with immersion.

Immersion is a key component of the writing workshop. The immersion period takes place at the beginning of a new unit and usually lasts from 2-5 days. During this time, students are immersed in examples of the new writing genre. When done thoroughly, the immersion period sets up clear expectations for the students and helps them to see the whole of the writing before the teacher goes in to teach it part by part.

In our work with clients, we’ve found that it sets students up to be more successful in this type of writing right from the beginning. Also, remember that after any immersion ‘mini lesson’, students should be sent off to write (for the same amount of time they’d typically write during workshop).

They could write in the new genre (approximating how it goes since they haven’t learned how to write in this style yet). They could also write in a previously taught genre, or if you’re comfortable with giving them more choice, you could let them do any type of writing they choose. Remember, the goal of writing workshop is to build students’ confidence and get them writing!

Here are five ways you can immerse your students in a different writing genre:

1. Read aloud a mentor text in the genre you will be studying.

While reading lots of texts in the genre you’re studying is a great idea, for immersion, we recommend you choose one mentor text that you can go back to over and over to highlight different strategies and craft moves the author uses. For example, if you’re studying narrative, choose a book that has a great beginning, dialogue, bit by bit action, is focused on a small moment, etc.

If you’re studying informational writing, choose something that has the text features you’d like your students to use (table of contents, captions, diagrams, etc.), as well as craft moves like catchy subtitles, interesting beginnings, etc.

If you’re studying opinion/persuasive writing, you may look for books that clearly state an opinion, elaborate with different reasons, etc.

Read aloud a mentor text in the genre you will be studying.     Read aloud a mentor text in the genre you will be studying.     Read aloud a mentor text in the genre you will be studying.

2. Create a chart with the characteristics of the genre students will be writing.

This chart can highlight the key features of the genre and, most importantly, makes expectations very clear to students. Some examples:

Create a chart with the characteristics of the genre students will be writing.      Create a chart with the characteristics of the genre students will be writing.

3. Create a shared writing piece based on a shared class experience.

During immersion, shared writing happens together as a class in which the students help to create a shared message about a topic or experience that the whole class is familiar with. It could also be done in small groups once the unit begins to support your less sophisticated and/or your language learners.The teacher then acts as the scribe, recording the message that the students create. Before beginning your shared writing decide on your purpose:

    • to create a “bare-bones” piece that can be used throughout the writing unit to develop and revise. You can go back to it during active engagements and give students opportunities to practice new strategies taught during mini-lessons.
    • to create an exemplary piece that you can annotate to highlight features of the new writing genre. When creating an exemplar, guide students to use craft techniques as you scribe their ideas.

Create a shared writing piece based on a shared class experience.

4. Share an exemplary student sample that demonstrates what you’d like your students’ writing to look like at the end of the unit.

Again, the purpose of this is to set clear expectations for your students. We suggest that you not only share the sample with the students but also highlight what makes it good — use post its or highlighter tape to do this. Below are examples of how this might look.

Share an exemplary student sample that demonstrates what you’d like your students’ writing to look like at the end of the unit.     Share an exemplary student sample that demonstrates what you’d like your students’ writing to look like at the end of the unit.

5. Give students the on-demand pre-assessment for the genre.

These are available in the Writing Pathways book in your Unit of Study kit. They are also in the “Welcome to the Unit” Section of your spiral-bound units. Presenting this assessment as a positive opportunity for you to see what students are already doing can help alleviate any students’ anxiety about this task.

Giving this assessment at the end of the immersion period gives students the chance to show you what they understand about this new genre before you begin explicitly teaching them strategies. You can also use the checklists in the Writing Pathways books to look for what your students are already doing, what they are beginning to do, and what they’re not yet doing. Having a clear understanding of this will help you to ensure that you plan mini-lessons that build on what your students already know.

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