Literacy Partners

Setting Up a Writing Center: 8 Basics

A writing center is a place you go to get the materials you need as a writer. Your writing center should be well-stocked with extra pens, paper or booklets (for primary or more emergent writers), staplers, and more. These are the bare minimum things you want to have in this center, and it’s critical that kids can access these materials without you. If they need you to get these items for them, it will make it challenging for them to become independent.

Most of us truly make an attempt to make our classroom libraries look beautiful. We organize and level the books, put labels on the bins with favorite series, authors, and topics. We make it cozy for kids to say, “Reading is great!” But then we look at our writing center, and it’s just a small desk in the corner with a pile of paper. I think if we put as much love and care into our writing center, it would scream, “Being a writer is awesome! Look at all these fun tools you get to use when you’re a writer!” Take a look at your writing center and think about what you can do to make it more inviting.

Let’s get into the nitty-gritty and talk about what this writing center should have to truly promote living the life of a writer. Let’s start with the basics:

  1. Paper
    In primary grades, this means different booklet choices or paper choices that match kids’ writing ability. Since you have some writers who aren’t writing sentences yet, a paper choice with one large picture box will suffice. For writers who are writing a little, you’ll need some lines for sentences, and for more prolific writers, they’ll need smaller picture boxes and way more lines.Many of these paper choices exist in the resources section of your Units of Study kit, so make sure you register your box online. I suggest you have 3 or 5 or both 3 and 5 page booklets already pre-stapled. It will encourage more writing volume and in real life, authors write books (so these will mirror what real writers in the world do).I would also arrange loose pages so kids can decide how many pages their book will be. Maybe it will be 2, 4 or 8? Kids can choose to add or remove pages and this is where the stapler comes in.

    For the upper grades, it will be important to have regular lined paper for drafting. This can be yellow or newsprint or white. Use whatever you have excess of at your school. If you think the primary paper choices would help your more emerging writers, introduce those to a small group of them as well so that they can write with pictures and words and feel successful!

  2. Pens
    At Literacy Partners, we strongly believe in writing in pen. When kids are free to write in pen and learn to draw one line through a word they want to cross out or put a little caret in to add more to their writing, we’re able to see their revision and editing work, and their process. When kids use pencils, they often spend time erasing (which will mean less writing and not being able to see their process). Also, pencils need to be sharpened and this is a whole other avoidance issue I see in writing workshops.If you introduce pens, make them special and show kids how to use them, and how to make changes — they’ll love it! For the few kids who can’t handle it, they can most definitely use a pencil. Our favorite pens are Papermate Flair Pens. We recommend buying a bunch of blue or black for daily use. The other benefit of these pens that I learned from an occupational therapist, is that kids don’t need a lot of pressure to write, which is an issue for some kids. Also, these show up great for photocopying or scanning to save writing pieces for next year.
  3. Staplers & Stapler Removers
    This will allow kids to add and remove pages as they need. If you have concerns, teach an entire mini-lesson on how to use it, how hard to press it, and remind kids that if they don’t use it properly, they’ll lose stapler privileges. You’ll need several staplers for your class since kids will be using them at the same time. You’ll also need something to help kids remove the staples. I prefer this one to the one that looks like a claw — Stapler remover. It’s easy to use and doesn’t poke a bunch of holes into your paper. Another option is to have little caddies for each table group and place one in each writing caddy. Here are the ones I’ve used in the past in my classrooms — Writing Caddies.
  4. Flaps & Tape
    If you want to promote more revision, any trick you can use will help. Flaps are just strips of lined paper cut so that kids can tape in additional writing. This allows kids to revise at the beginning, middle or end and not have to copy everything all over to make these revisions. If you don’t want to pre-cut the flaps, you can teach kids to cut the lined paper and tape it down, then cut it again once they finish adding. These flaps can also be used for editing when you are working with kids whose writing is hard to read.Kids can rewrite sections without having to re-do their pictures or other parts that may be neater. If you decide to use the writing caddies at each table, you can also leave flaps and tape at each table.
  5. Colored Pens
    Another way to encourage more revision is to offer a different colored pen when you get to final revisions and editing. This will help you and your kids see what revision and editing work they’re doing because it will pop out if it’s in green or purple. My favorite colors for revision are purple and green. They just seem like cheerful colors and don’t remind me of the red marks all along my papers growing up.
  6. Sticky Notes
    Sticky notes are also helpful for revision. If kids are just writing a sentence or two, they may be able to do this with sticky notes and just mark it with numbers so that they can show where that insertion goes. If you wanted kids for example to try out three different leads to a story or three different endings, stickies could be great for this. If you wanted them to add in a bit of dialogue across their piece, sticky notes could work for this too.
  7. Copies of your Mentor Texts
    If we are truly using mentor texts and hoping kids will look closely at what other published authors have done to try it out themselves, it will be very important that they can access them. In my class when I taught kindergarten, we used Night at the Fair, by Donald Crews when we wrote small moments. I probably had 10 copies of this book so that kids could take it to their writing spot and look at it more closely. Tip: Having one or two great mentor texts for a unit is enough. You don’t need 10 favorite small moment mentor texts. Kids will never be able to know them well enough to study the craft moves of the writer. Having one or two will allow you to read and reread this book to your class.
  8. Mini Charts/Tools
    There are tools that you give to students throughout the year — an ABC chart, a sight word list, a mini chart of things to check when you’re done, or a list of topics to write about. We also recommend having extra copies of these charts and tools around the classroom to make it easier for kids to access.

How can I support you with your writing centers? Get in touch!

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