4 Tools That Keep My Workshop Running Smoothly

When I started teaching workshop, I thought that my greatest gift to students was my vast stores of knowledge.   I had spent more years on this earth reading and writing, and therefore the best thing I could do for them was to impart all of the wisdom I had gained from my years of training.


Uh, no.


Really the best thing we can do is to keep our workshop, our classroom, and its routines economical and efficient.   We need to make it clear what we expect from students, we need to keep our own time organized, and we need to be less concerned with what we know and more interested in the tools we can share with students.

Here are 4 time-saving objects that help me give students work tools:

  1. Paper Mate Flair Pens

So much love for the Flairs. 


A colleague introduced me to the magic of Flair Pens and these trusty buddies haven’t left my side since.  The colors are bold, expressive, and friendly – yes, even the red color has a nice zing to it.  They don’t bleed through paper, and I will use them directly in writers notebooks or occasionally on a post-it note to pop in to a writer’s notebook.


How I use them: I try to choose a different color flair pen for each day or I become fastidious about signing and dating my workshop comments.   It becomes easier to see what your feedback was 2-3 days ago and whether the student has reacted to that feedback or may need more coaching on a specific strategy.   For example, if I conferred with a student on revision for possessive apostrophes on Tuesday and I can see that they haven’t followed through with that on Thursday, then I know I need to give that student another tool.

  1.  “Brotato Chip”


My beautiful gray organizer of mentor texts has a name.  I didn’t name it.  But here it stands, proudly and serenely, ready to offer mentor texts at a moment’s notice.


Brotato Chip reporting for workshop service. 

I purchased Brotato Chip at The Container Store.  TCS isn’t cheap, but there is a teacher discount program. Brotato Chip is designed for the sole purpose of handling 8 ½ by 11” sheets of paper.  Watch this majestic being at work.



How I use it: I feed Brotato Chip with unit-relevant mentor texts that I pop out at a moment’s notice during a writing or reading conference.  I’m sure other teachers have other systems of accessing mentor texts, whether it’s a binder or a pack the teacher has on person, but for me, I like the ability to float around my classroom without a bunch of STUFF at my hip, and I want to help students (and myself) minimize the clutter and noise around a whole binder full of mentor texts.


  1.  Checklists


The more open your workshop is, the more helpful checklists are to time management and self-management.  We customize our checklists week to week and give students ways to assess themselves on a specific task (not yet/getting there/met the goal.)  We’ve included independent reading goals like “I am in a book I can and want to read” as well as writing and work goals.


How I use them: Checklists are a terrific “status of the class” assessment, as long as you encourage honesty and maintain the routine of keeping and maintaining the checklists.  Then, during workshop, I can pop a peek at a checklist to get a quick sense of whether a student is in need of a book browse pile or whether a student is falling behind in another area.  It allows me to make my time and attention more fair to the students who might not necessarily indicate that they are in need of support in other ways.  I also sign and initial checklists with a Flair Pen.


  1. Screencastify (Google chrome extension)


This magical app has transformed me into a YouTube celebrity and has made my lesson plans for sub days glorious.  It allows me to “flip” my classroom easily by taking videos of my computer desktop.


How I use it: I use Screencastify for grammar and mechanics issues that aren’t relevant to whole class instruction and take several trials for student mastery.  Rather than re-re-re teach a lesson, I ask students to watch a video and then practice the technique in their own notebooks.  It saves my voice and it gains me subscribers.  

If you’re interested in what this could look like, check out my video on dialogue punctuation.

What are your indispensable tools?  Why?


Amy Estersohn is a middle school English teacher in New York.  She thinks this is a good area to note that this is not a sponsored post and the products mentioned here are from personal recommendations.  She received nothing in exchange for recommending these products. 


9 thoughts on “4 Tools That Keep My Workshop Running Smoothly

  1. […] Amy Estersohn wrote in her recent post about the tools she relies on for workshop. I’d like to add one more tool: scissors. This tool inspires strategy, and thus, our writers. I frequently tell my students that writing is made of moveable parts. So, let’s get our students moving it! […]


  2. Angela Faulhaber March 9, 2018 at 6:23 pm Reply

    Love this compact, organized list. Super smart. And I love screencastify but didn’t know it’s a chrome extension! Yay!


  3. Amy Rasmussen March 9, 2018 at 6:07 pm Reply

    I didn’t know about Screencastify either. I am excited to check it out. Thanks for a great post, Amy!


  4. Amy March 9, 2018 at 6:41 am Reply

    I, too, love the Flair pens! My staff makes fun of me because I use a different one each day to keep track of what I’ve done that day. I’m so happy to hear that I’m not the crazy one! (Or maybe not the only crazy one. 😜)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Amy Estersohn March 9, 2018 at 7:14 am Reply

      Hi other Amy! I agree … Flairs make me excited to write stuff down. It helps when you have a pile of papers to grade to look forward to the routines of grading!


  5. Pierre Lourens March 9, 2018 at 6:15 am Reply

    How often are you collecting and writing in students’ notebooks? Or are your comments made mostly during class?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Amy Estersohn March 9, 2018 at 7:10 am Reply

      Pierre – I do both on-the-spot conferences and take home work to grade. I’d say I’m assessing student writing in a formal way once every 1.5 weeks or so. I have 100 students and I’m a fairly fast grader and reader. Your mileage may vary.


  6. Gary Anderson March 9, 2018 at 5:52 am Reply

    I didn’t know about Screencastify. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Amy Estersohn March 9, 2018 at 7:09 am Reply

      Screencastify is also a gift for sub plans. You get to be in the room without being in the room.

      Liked by 2 people

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