Tag Archives: workshop model

Is NaNoWriMo In Full Effect? by Sarah Krajewski

Last month, I shared the preparation my seniors and I were doing to get ready for National Novel Writing Month. My goal was to help them creating writing routines to increase the volume of writing that they do. Now, we almost halfway through the month of November, but I’m just not seeing much of an increase in volume yet.

We Should Have Planned More

I thought we were ready for NaNoWriMo, but in actuality we were just ready for those first few lines. How am I discovering this? Through my own writing for NaNoWriMo. When I began writing, I thought I had a great idea, but after a page or two, I got stuck. The little basic planning page we did wasn’t enough to guide my thinking. I needed more of a structure for my story, so that meant my students probably did too. It was time to make some changes.

Some additions I added above my NaNoWriMo draft.

I started by noting what has been helpful to me during the writing process. We teachers really won’t know what our students are going through unless we are writing ourselves. The yellow “Reminders” box to the left was on every student’s draft page, but the blue “Characters” box wasn’t. I realized that I needed a place to write my characters so I could remember who is who. Sure enough, when I showed it to my students, a lot of them did the same thing. I also found that in order to get “unstuck,” I had to plan out my ideas more so each scene had a purpose, and I needed my students to see this too.

Some single-scene planning, so each one has a purpose.

Enter YA novelist J. Elle, whose first book, Wings of Ebony, comes out in 2021. She loves sharing writing tips with up-and-coming writers, and she was kind enough to make a video with some writing tips for my students. Yes, I could have shared some of these tips, but it means so much more when a published author shares them. Even before J. Elle suggested it to my students, they were taking notes! Her ideas made so much sense to them, so many reluctant writers had their creative juices flowing again after this video. This worked out so well that I am already looking to bring in another local author.

Other Road Blocks

Besides planning, some students just didn’t see themselves as creative writers. One senior’s comment summed up many of their feelings quite well when she said, “Mrs. K, can you just give us another essay to write?” That was proof that they needed the NaNoWriMo experience more than ever. They were so used to those five-paragraph-test-prep essays that they didn’t know how to write anything else. They were scared, and as I shared with them, so was I. This was my first time writing a story of this length too, so I knew my students needed see all my struggles to know they were not alone. I shared when I got stuck, and when I saw a need to rearrange scenes. I shared a picture I added to help me imagine my setting, and a scene I hated so much that I deleted it. I showed my real struggles, hoping my students would see me as a writer just like them.

Inspired by Pernille Ripp’s “Reading Action Plan”

As we ventured into NaNoWriMo, I also discovered that some students didn’t write outside of class. After conferring with them, I found out that many students just didn’t have a computer or device to write at home. We discussed how this writing time could happen during school hours (besides just in class). We began creating our own writing action plans that worked for us. For me, all of my writing was at home, since I spent in-class time conferring. My students found writing time during their Homerooms, after school, and in study halls. I even encouraged them to write during their mentor time with freshmen, since the 9th graders would benefit from seeing their mentors as writers. For those students that still struggled to find time with a device, I encouraged them to hand write.

Next Step: Keeping Up with Communication

For the rest of the month, I will only see students four more times. I know it’s only November 13th, but that’s because I have two workshops, one being NCTE and ALAN. We also have parent teacher conferences. Yes, I’m not going to be in the classroom much, so I need a way to show my students that they can still communicate with me. We use the Remind app, so I send daily writing reminders to them. I also encourage them to use the “private comment” function in Google Classroom, since their stories are all there. Students will also have “accountability writing partners” (thanks to Debbie Myers for the idea). They will have someone who will try to push them to write, and thus hold them accountable for reaching their goals. My hope is that, with these communication tools in place, more writing will occur.

Sarah Krajewski teaches 9th and 12th grade English and Journalism at Cleveland Hill High School near Buffalo, New York.  She is currently in her 18th year of teaching, and is always looking for new, creative ways to help her students enjoy learning, reading, and writing. At school, she is known for dedicating her time to helping students become lifelong readers, and for being a devoted reader herself who “knows her books.” At home, she is a proud wife and mother to three readers.  You can follow Sarah on Twitter @shkrajewski and her blog can be viewed at http://skrajewski.wordpress.com/.

Defining Readers-Writers Workshop

“I need a visual of a ‘workshop.’ That word confuses me still.”

This is not the first time I’ve been part way through facilitating professional development and a participant has made a similar request. There’s a lot for me to learn here.

Before we can begin really sharing the excitement and benefits of a readers-writers workshop model of instruction, we must get on the same page as to what we mean by Workshop. I’ll try to do that here.

Let’s start with the dictionary definition of workshop and zero in on #2.

workshop definition

Based on this definition, let’s consider this essential question:

How do we create open spaces where the children we teach can grow as readers and writers?

To me “open spaces” equates to “workshop.” Open spaces means teachers let go of control, remove themselves from center stage as the holders of the knowledge, and invite students into a space of curiosity and discovery. It’s a space where students thrive in a community of trust and sharing, where they talk about their identities and experiences as readers and writers, where they play with language and take risks as they explore what it means to develop their comprehension and analysis skills — and their craft as writers.

Opening spaces requires planning. It is not willy-nilly choice in books or topics, or stations without specific guidelines and instructions, or seats moved from rows into small groups without modeling the thinking that makes it possible to “engage in intensive discussion and activity” around our content. Teachers must model what this looks like. And we must trust that our students will engage and learn in this model.

They will — if we let them.

Readers-writers workshop is a method of instruction that often requires a paradigm shift, a shift from the teacher making all the choices and telling students what to learn within a text, to students making choices, and through practice and application of skills-based lessons, learning as they read and write.

I’ll return to some definitions found online to help clarify:

“The Reading Workshop is a teaching method in which the goal is to teach students strategies for reading and comprehension. The workshop model allows teachers to differentiate and meet the needs of all their students.”

For our readers, we open the space for students to choose the books they read. By doing so, we meet students where they are in terms of their interests and abilities. The teacher becomes a coach, teaching skills specific to the needs of each learner. This requires time. We must reserve time for students to read when they are with us in class, and we must confer with students about what they are reading — and how they are reading it. This is reading instruction in a workshop model. We teach the reader, not the book. Readers must predict, visualize, infer, comprehend, analyze, and evaluate. These are all skills we model and teach in readers’ workshop.

What about writer’s workshop?

“As in a professional writer’s workshop, each student in the class is a working author. The teacher is a writing professional and peer coach, guiding authors as they explore their craft. … Teachers write with their students and share their own work as well.”

To teach our writers, we must be writers ourselves. We must model the moves writers make as they use language to craft meaning. We must validate our writers and help them recognize what professional writers do to think of ideas, organize those ideas, and convey those ideas in a way comprehensible to readers. In a workshop classroom, we use mentor texts:  sentences, paragraphs, passages, essays, poems, stories to teach writing skills that students apply to their own writing. We teach the writer, not the writing.


So, what do I mean when I say “workshop”? I mean students doing the work of readers and writers, “engaged in intensive discussion and activity on a particular subject” — specifically related to growing as readers and writers. This work happens because teachers open the spaces in their classrooms which allow for it.

Questions about your move to a workshop model of instruction? Please ask in the comments.

Amy Rasmussen lives in north Texas and teaches AP English Language and English 4 (new prep in ’17. She loves talking books, daughters’ weddings (two this year), and grandbabies (five). She also loves facilitating PD for other teachers making the move into a workshop pedagogy. Amy adheres to the words of Emerson: “We aim above the mark to hit the mark,” and Jesus: “Love one another.” Imagine a world if we all aim higher. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass. And she really hopes you will follow this blog!



“Why Should I Trust You?”

return and talkThis summer, we’d like to return and talk about some of our most useful, engaging, or popular posts.  Today’s post, written by Erika in 2013, reminds us that the real reason for so many of the non-negotiables of workshop (conferring, feedback, reading, writing) is to build trust.

Please return to this topic and talk with us in the comments–how does the workshop model help you cultivate rapport and trust with your students?

Our Compass Shifts 2-1Every year at this time just as I’m about to focus on, and plan for, this upcoming school year; I remember a very powerful moment I keep with me – always.  This moment, and more specifically this very innocent yet profound notion, continually resonates with me.  I make sure to put myself back in my Day One shoes, standing in front of my class comprised solely of eager male high school freshmen looking to challenge me, test me, but ultimately, accept me (as their educator).


“Good Morning!  I’m Ms. Bogdany.  I am…”

(And we’re off!  This introduction (being oh-so-carefully crafted and rehearsed) had a very distinct mission: do not lead on to the fact that this moment marks your very first day educating in Brooklyn, one of the five boroughs of New York City; the most comprehensive public school system within the United States.  Breathe.  Just keep breathing!  You’ve got this!)

As my introduction was coming to a close, it was time.  Questions.

“So, does anyone have any questions for me?”

At that, I see one particular student’s hand confidently emerge into the air.  This unique student coolly, and wildly presuming, asks:  “Why should I trust you?”  (Wait, Wait, Wait.  Wait!  No one prepared me for this!  Ok.  Just keep breathing, Erika…I mean Ms. Bogdany.  I mean…   Breathe and answer the question.  Quickly, all eyes are on you.) 

I found myself simply replying, “You shouldn’t.” (Did I just say that?!)

 At that, he put his hand down, smirked, and the weight in the room (for all of us) lifted.  The truth surfaced.  I realized what I just admitted.  This unique student was satisfied.


Throughout the years, I’ve come to realize that Day One truly defines and shapes the journey we all embark on together as a class community, so I need to be ready.  While each year presents unforeseen opportunities and obstacles, I ask myself endless questions before the school year even commences; before I know who my students are; and way before I know how our community is going to function as a whole.  Annually, I will probably continue to do so; yet I always end up finding my way back to this guiding, eight-year-old question, “Why should I trust you?”  Once this question rests its reassuring presence on my question-filled mind, I settle back into the comforts of the same revelation: It’s simple, in order for students to trust me, I need to trust myself.

Disclaimer:  Starting the school year needs to feel authentic…for students and educators alike.  In answering my student’s question for him and the students in that same class; and for all of my students to come…I am not certain of much, but I am certain that the following three intangibles prove to create trust among all of the communities in which I have been fortuitous to be a part of.  For me the most authentic success resides largely within the art of teaching, not the science. 

Create the classroom you’ve always dreamed of!

See beyond the institutional green walls and peeling paint.  Do you see the mismatched desks, tables, chairs, bookshelves…?  You shouldn’t.  This is your canvas so paint it.  There are limitations to all of our working environments, and we know it.  Take charge…change it around…move things…turn things upside down…whatever it takes.  Students know when we’ve invested our time and energy into our shared space; and they are appreciative of it.

Students are less resistant to become a part of a class community when they know educators are doing the best we can to make them feel welcomed in a space that lends itself to learning, teaching, challenging, questioning, struggling, and movement.  Give them the paintbrush, they’re sure not to disappoint.

Where’s the library?!

The inquiries students have about the world never cease to amaze me.  They internalize their own struggles, or struggles of their families and friends, and don’t often know how to process what they’re experiencing.  Hill Harper guides our young men and women via Letters to a Young Brother and Letters to a Young Sister as Esmeralda Santiago does in When I was Puerto Rican.  Other times students want to explore worlds beyond their own; they want someone to guide them through the land, culture, religion…differences.  The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho takes them on quite the journey.  Sometimes students want to just escape; don’t we all?  Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is comical, relative to students’ lives, and wildly crafty.

Despite the content area in which we educate, it is powerful beyond measure to have literature lining our walls, stacked on tabletops, and accessible to students.  Teaching math this year?  Stock up on biographies of mathematicians such as Emmy Noether: The Mother of Modern Algebra.  Science educators, have you thought about The Hot Zone by Richard Preston or The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch?  Art and Music educators, books with visuals, lyrics, memoirs, and struggles of artists (of all kinds) are empowering for our young emerging artists; it makes it real.  Howard Sounes takes on an enlightening journey with Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan.  History.  Non-fiction heaven!  Night by Elie Wiesel, A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah, The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley.  There are more…

Make a decision! 

There are so many unknowns we face daily as educators: We take risks before we even realize we’re doing so.  We find ourselves as the ‘go to’ when we know we don’t have answers.  We internally battle if students should leave their ID card in return for a writing utensil.  We wonder when to push a student verse when they have truly reached their limit (for the time being).  We grapple with riding the waves of a ‘teachable moment’ or tossing aside our planned lesson.  We all know, the list is endless.

Rest assured.  When we allow ourselves to make decisions we are giving ourselves permission to trust ourselves.  We are setting the tone for students that while decision making can be difficult, we must trust ourselves in the process, and make students privy to the journey through this process.  Because here’s the reality, when we model our own decision making, students start to follow our lead.  When we exhibit our ability to be independent thinkers and change agents, students are inspired to do the same.  Before we know it, students are showing us the way.

And so, as we all gear up and find ourselves in the midst of the ‘get ready whirlwind’; let’s think about how we can answer (so our students don’t have to), “Why should I trust you?”

7 Moves in My Workshop Schedule

return and talkThis summer, we’d like to return and talk about some of our most useful, engaging, or popular posts.  Today’s post, written by Amy in 2015, reminds us how we might structure our days in a workshop classroom.

Please return to this topic and talk with us in the comments–what are the moves in your workshop schedule?

Quite often teachers ask me what the daily schedule looks like in my workshop classroom.

This is a hard one. I think mainly because it is not about the schedule as much as it is about the routines we start putting into place at the beginning of the school year.

I’ve had a lot of adapting to do this year. Moving to a new school and adjusting my lessons to fit 85 minute class periods where I see my students twice a week for sure and every other Friday (sometimes.) This is quite a change from 50 minute class periods where I saw my students five days a week.

Our normal routines  — and these are non-negotiables that make workshop work — consist of reading, conferring with readers, talking about books, writing in our notebooks, revising in our notebooks, sharing a bit of our writing, and learning or reinforcing a skill, then….it all depends on our workshop task. That’s why writing about my daily schedule is hard.

Here’s the best I can do without going into a long explanation.

READ — 10 to 15 minutes. This is sacred and silent reading time. Students choose books that interest them. I CONFER with my readers, most often with a specific focus, depending on my reader.

TALK about books. Sometimes I do a book talk, reading a few pages of the book, or holding


Fabian was so excited to share an insight from his book I could not get the camera to take the photo fast enough.

a book interview like Erika does. Sometimes a student does a book talk, if I’ve talked to her first and know she’s passionate about the book she’s just read. Sometimes I ask my students to just talk about the books they are reading, then ask them to write down any titles they think they might like to read next. Shana wrote about the Value of Talk, and I agree completely: “Talk is one of the most valuable tools at work in my classroom.”

WRITE in our writer’s notebooks. Everyday we need to have our students thinking on paper. When I forget, or think we do not have time to open our notebooks and write — in response to a poem, or a video, or a story, or about the books students are reading, or about whatever — I regret it.

Discussions are richer when we write first. Discoveries are more insightful when we write first. Writing is better when we write, just thinking about our ideas, first.

Then, something I learned from Penny Kittle, we always read what we wrote and REVISE. Penny modeled revising with a different color, and I ask my writers to do the same. I simply say, “Read over what you just wrote. How can you make your writing better? Maybe add a phrase or two that develops your thinking more. Maybe change a word or two that adds a punch. Maybe you can remove some words and make your thinking more concise. Where can you add figurative language or a list or an interesting style move?” (When I check writer’s notebooks, I always look for evidence of revision. We work on establishing the habit of revision, daily.)

SHARE some of our thinking. Sometimes we pair up and read our writing to a shoulder partner. Sometimes I ask for volunteers to share out their writing with the class. Sometimes I randomly call on someone (and I usually allow them to opt out at least once if they are uncomfortable reading aloud). Sharing is an important part of our community, and from the first day of school, we work on establishing a safe and respectful community where we can all grow as readers and writers.

Learn, or reinforce, a skill via MINI-LESSON. (If I introduce something totally new, like one of the AP English Language exam prompts, obviously, the mini-lesson will not be so mini. On these days, the mini-lesson time and the workshop time allotment swap places. Sometimes I need the focused direct instruction time because it saves time in the long run.)

Our routines usually take about 35 to 45 minutes. That leaves us about half the class period to hold a workshop. This might be a readers workshop if we are practicing close reading or if we are preparing for a Harkness discussion. This might be a writers workshop if we are composing a piece of writing or studying the moves of a favorite author.

Of course, if we are writing, I change my hat and confer with my writers.

I would love to know the workshop routines you establish with your readers and writers. Please share in the comments.

©Amy Rasmussen, 2011 – 2015

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