It’s always smart to start your reading or writing workshops on day one. To understand why, read this article – Yes, You Can Start Workshop On Day One! This article discusses how to set up your class with the expectation that you’re a community of writers. It’s important to start during a new unit in reading or writing.
To really hit the ground running, help your students build confidence, and set up kids to be successful in the new unit of study, it’s important to start 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 2 to 5 days. During this time, students are immersed in examples of the new writing genre. When done thoroughly, the immersion period sets clear expectations for students and helps them 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 immersion sets students up to be more successful in any 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 your writing workshop.
Here are some options to build students’ confidence and get them writing:
- Students could write in the new genre (approximating how it goes since they haven’t learned how to write in this genre yet or they are just getting reintroduced to it).
- Kids could also write in a previously taught genre.
- If you’re comfortable, give students more choice and let them do any type of writing they choose.
Here are five ways you can immerse your students in a writing genre:
- Read aloud a mentor text in the genre you’ll 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 with a great beginning, dialogue, bit-by-bit action, or really on that really focuses on a small moment.
If you’re studying informational writing, choose something with the text features you’d like your students to use (table of contents, captions, diagrams, etc.), as well as craft moves like catchy subtitles or interesting beginnings.
If you’re studying opinion/persuasive writing, look for books that clearly state an opinion and elaborate on different reasons.
At the start of the year, it’s also helpful to read books about characters who write (Ralph Tells A Story is one of our faves!)
Create a chart with the characteristics of the genre students will be writing.
This chart can highlight the genre’s key features and, most importantly, make expectations clear to students. Here are some examples:
- Create a shared writing piece based on a shared class experience.
During immersion, doing shared writing will be one of the most powerful ways you support your writers. During this time, you’ll gather your students and create a shared piece of writing in the genre you’ll be writing. Keep in mind that it will take a few days to develop this writing piece so keep this experience short (15-20 minutes max). Creating this piece will support reluctant writers and English Language Learners as it will give them a topic and idea they can try independently.
For shared writing, the teacher acts as the scribe, recording the words students want to use to develop that writing piece. As the teacher, you can lift the level of the writing when students’ suggestions are very basic. For example, if the class is working on small moment/personal narrative stories and kids say, “One day we were…” You can say something like, “What if we started this story with dialogue? Was anyone talking at the beginning of this moment?”
Another thing to consider when developing this shared writing piece is your purpose. Is it…
- to create a “bare-bones” piece that you can use throughout the writing unit to develop and revise? In this one, you can go back to it during active engagements and give students opportunities to practice new strategies in this writing piece.
- to create an exemplary piece that you can annotate to highlight features of the new writing genre? If so, then make sure to guide students to use craft techniques as you scribe their ideas. For example, in small moment/personal narrative stories, make sure the piece has an interesting lead, the story is focused, interesting and with varied details, and it has a close ending.
- Share an exemplar student sample that demonstrates what you’d like your students’ writing to look like at the end of the unit.
Again, this purpose is to set straightforward expectations for your students. We suggest you not only share the sample with the students but also highlight what makes it good – use sticky notes or highlighter tape to do this. Below are examples of how this might look:
- 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 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 allows students to show you what they understand about this new genre before you explicitly teach them strategies. It will help you tailor your unit towards what kids really need. To plan for your teaching, you can use the checklists in the Writing Pathways books to look for what your students are already doing, what they’re beginning to do, and what they’re not yet doing. A clear understanding of this will help you to ensure that you plan mini-lessons that build on your students’ knowledge. Sorting these on-demand assessments can also be a great way to create small groups and decide which students to follow up with during one-on-one conferences.
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