Establishing the structure of the readers and writers workshop is one of the things I’m most excited about for the beginning of the school year. The way these early lessons are structured will make all the difference in the way students view our work, our time, and our goals as a team of learners. As such, “reading like a writer” is one of the earliest mini-lessons I teach when we return to school.
Objectives – Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge Levels: Make observations about how a writer conveys what he conveys; Apply what you learn to your own writing. Or, from the Common Core: Analyze how style and content contribute to the power, persuasiveness or beauty of the text.
Lesson – My students and I begin this lesson by discussing the notion of apprenticeship. Many of them are studying a trade–electrical work, HVAC, autobody repair, etc. They are able to quickly explain that an apprentice studies a master in order to learn how to master a particular set of skills.
I then share with students Katie Wood Ray’s excellent description of writing being a craft apprenticeship: “Like any other craftspeople, professional writers know that to learn their craft, they must stand on the shoulders of writers who have gone before them” (Wondrous Words, pp. 10-11).
Next, I invite students to turn to their newly-selected choice reading books and open to the first page. I work beside them, opening my own book. “Usually when I start a book, I’m mostly paying attention to who the characters are, when and where the book is set, and all of those usual details,” I say, thinking aloud, modeling my process. “Now, I want to re-read this first page of chapter one and pay attention to how this story is written, instead of what the story is about. I want to learn from this writer.”
We re-read, and after a few minutes, I ask students to talk with their tables about what they’ve noticed. After some time, I model once more my process. “I’m just going to take one skill I noticed this writer using and try to name it. This particular writer is using lots of repetition here on page one–see how the beginnings of all of these sentences look the same?” I’m pointing to the writing, displayed on the document camera. “I like how the repetition draws my attention to what comes next in those sentences–I think it might be important. I’d like to use repetition in my personal narrative.” I invite students to name one craft move that they might also use in their personal narratives, and to jot that skill down in their writer’s notebooks. They use each other as resources if their own books didn’t offer anything they felt truly drawn to.
Follow-Up – Following the mini-lesson, we’ll move into writer’s workshop. At the beginning of the year, we’re crafting personal narratives, and we’ll study a variety of mentor texts to help us understand the possibilities of what that genre might look like. As we do, I’ll continue to reinforce the idea of reading like writers–apprentices to the craft of writing.
What are some of your earliest mini-lessons? Share in the comments!