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Making Your Mini Lesson Quick and Powerful

The mini-lesson is a crucial part of running a reading or writing workshop. It sets kids up for independent work, so how effective it is will truly set the tone for the workshop time. It’s incredibly important that your kids are clear on what they learned in the mini-lesson and have long stretches of time to read or write.

4 PARTS OF THE MINI LESSON

Being a teacher and then a staff developer allowed me to give and watch hundreds (or maybe thousands) of mini-lessons. Some of them have been exceptional and some of them have left me scratching my head, thinking, “I’m not sure the kids are clear on the teaching.” I’ve given both of these types of lessons.

Here are some DO’s and DON’Ts that will truly allow you to make your mini-lessons brief yet clear and powerful:

Part 1: The CONNECTION – This part of the lesson is intended to be very quick (1-2 minutes) and set the kids up for what they’ll learn in the lesson.

DO:

  • Use a story that connects to what you’ll teach but make sure to keep it quick and make sure the connection is clear to what you’re teaching
  • Name the teaching point at the end of the lesson. We suggest saying, “Today I’m going to teach you…” There’s an intention behind this and you’re aiming to ensure kids perk up to hear what the lesson is all about. Also, if they got lost in the story, this will get them back on track.
  • Point to the chart where the teaching point is written as you introduce it
  • Share a student’s work that demonstrates the new teaching as a model of what the class will be learning. This will build your kids up and make them feel proud.
  • Share a section of a mentor text that shows the new teaching point in context
  • Review previous teaching explicitly and name things that students are doing well or are at least approximating

DON’T:

  • Don’t ask questions during this part. By asking kids, “What have we been working on?” you’ll just be setting yourself up for disappointment, and this will inevitably steer your lesson off track from the start.
  • Try to do too many things during this part. I’ve watched lessons where the teacher tells a story, then shows an example (from a student or mentor text), and then reviews previous teaching during this part. It inevitably makes the lesson too long if you try to do all of these things and you won’t get to stating the teaching point for 7 minutes.
  • Say, “You’re all doing a great job in reading/writing.” This is too general and doesn’t tell kids what specifically they are doing well, so they can do it again.

Part 2: The TEACH – This part of the lesson is intended to show kids step-by-step how to do the strategy.

DO:

  • Model it step-by-step in front of students in your own book or in your writing
  • Name the steps you followed as you tried the strategy
  • Make a teaching point sandwich. State the teaching point both before you demonstrate it and then again after you finish demonstrating. “Watch me as I… (now name the teaching point)” Model, then say, “Did you notice how I…(name the teaching point again)?”
  • Demonstrate more than once if it’s possible to do quickly but keep in mind this part should be 3-5 minutes
  • Point to the chart or where the teaching point is written when you discuss the teaching point. This will also help you to say it using the same language because you’ll be reading it off of the chart.

DON’T:

  • Ask kids to help you. Remember, you’re teaching them something new here, so most students shouldn’t know how to do it yet. Saying, “Who can help me?” isn’t a way to demonstrate or model.
  • Allow kids to interrupt you during this part of the lesson. Teach them that this is your turn and they need to be watching, listening and thinking, not participating. This will also mean that they understand when you say, “Hmmm what should I write here?” that you’re asking yourself, not them!

Part 3: The ACTIVE ENGAGEMENT – This part of the lesson is where kids are trying the teaching point out right there at the gathering area. This is your time to assess that they understood what you just showed them. They’ll do it alone, with a partner or both.

DO:

  • Set up assigned partners at the gathering area so kids can quickly turn and talk when you get to this part. Practice turning and talking and show kids how this should look and sound.
  • Make sure this part really mirrors or matches what you just showed them in the teaching. The goal here is for them to have a minute or two to try out what you just showed them.
  • Say the teaching point again before kids turn to talk or try it out, “Now it’s your turn to…(say the teaching point and point to the chart again).”
  • Give kids time to wait and think before they try it. I often say, “Right now can you think about ….(name the teaching point) and what you’ll try today.
  • Give me a thumbs up when you’re ready to share it with your partner.”
  • Move around and listen to kids as they talk. If they’re trying it alone, whisper in their ears to prompt and coach them.
  • When kids are talking with partners, position yourself behind them so you’re not joining into the group but rather coaching them. Whisper into one person’s ear with things to say or ask. This will scaffold and help them to do this later when you’re not there listening to their partnership.
  • Name back what you heard as you listened in during this time. Say, “So I heard Maya and Janelle talking and they said… Do you see how this is the same thing I just showed you a minute ago?”

DON’T:

  • Tell kids to turn and talk without giving them thinking and processing time
  • Stay seated in your chair when kids are trying it out or talking with a partner. You’ll miss an important opportunity to truly see if kids are “getting it.”
  • Join into partnerships and take over
  • Try to listen to or watch too many kids or partnerships. This part should be 2-4 minutes.

Part 4: The LINK- This part of the lesson is where you repeat the teaching point one last time and set kids up for independent work.

DO:

  • State the teaching point again and point to the chart one last time. “Remember that any time you’re reading/writing, you can…. (say that teaching point).”
  • Invite kids to try it. You can ask, “Who thinks they might try this today?” or “Who thinks this is something that will help them in their reading or writing today?”
  • Give a quick menu of options so kids understand this is NOT the only thing they can work on today. “Some of you are going to try what we learned today. How many of you are going to work on ________? How about ___________?” (Point to different strategies on the chart that you have most recently been working on.)
  • Encourage kids to do a quick turn and talk to tell their partner what they’re going to work on today as a reader/writer (If there is time and your lesson is short. This part of the lesson should be 1-2 minutes).

DON’T:

  • Ask kids to raise their hands to say what they just learned
  • Mandate or assign kids what to do today. Saying, “Today you WILL… “ doesn’t set kids up for independence or for making their own decisions as readers and writers which is a major goal of the workshop.
  • Assume that every single student will try this strategy today. It won’t fit every single student’s needs/goals as a reader/writer.

And here are a few expert tips from our literacy coaches to help you along your mini-lesson journey:

  1. Repeat that teaching point. Yes, say it again. And again, and again. Point at it when you say it — it should be on a chart or written simply on the wipe board (skill-strategy-purpose). You can never say it too much.
  2. Use those key phrases. They’ll help keep you on track and will ensure you’re using the 4 parts and also repeating the teaching point.
  3. Be careful of your language — compliment, encourage, recommend. Don’t assign or mandate.
  4. Model- model- model.
  5. It’s direct instruction and you want to make sure kids have enough time to read/write. The heart of the workshop is really kids having long stretches of time to do so. If your lesson is too long, this part will be super short. Use a timer — it totally helps!

Need support with your mini-lessons? Get in touch about a custom package.

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