5 Essential Elements of a Successful Writing Workshop

I have always loved writing. I know that isn’t the case for a lot of the kids in our classrooms so each year I make it a goal to help kids feel confident in writing so that someday they might find that love for it…or at least confidence.


There are a lot of things that go into a supportive learning environment and effective writing workshop. Before I can effectively teach writing, I need to make sure I have all the right tools and supports in place for ALL my young authors! I will tell you 5 Essential Elements of a Successful Writing Workshop.

1. Writing Utensils that Accommodate all Learners 
First, a variety of writing utensils.  I always make sure I have a large array of writing tools for my students to choose from. I know how picky I am with what I write with, so I’m sure my students have preferences too. 
My goal in using the variety of writing tools in the classroom is to inspire kids to write and to assure that their little hands are comfortable while building that writing endurance. Now, before you hesitate and think of the arguing over materials, just establish expectations and a simple sharing plan. If you have fancy pens, they will be popular at first, but that novelty will wear off and kids will use what they need in the end.  
What does this look like in the classroom?
  • Flare pens
  • Short and tall pencils
  • Gel pens
  • Other fun pens (in colors I can read ha!)
  • Highlighters
  • Technology (keyboarding)
  • Fine motor support tools (grips, etc.)
I use gel pens to inspire those reluctant writers. They love using your special materials. If it works, goal met, they are writing. Highlighters are a great tool to help your low buddies who need a lot of help forming letters and or sentences. I will often write out a student created sentence in highlighter for them to trace over. It’s good practice for letter formation and they have something on the paper. Win Win. Technology if you have it, gives confidence to that kiddo that looks at the paper and automatically gets anxiety. We were fortunate enough to have talk to text and predictive text programs, but sometimes just typing can get those students creating. 
How do I incorporate this?
It took me a while to build up a supply of materials. I have asked parents for donations, put them on the supply list, Donor’s Choose, Dollar Tree scores and you guessed it out of pocket purchasing. Also, Amazon and Target have everything you could dream of when creating a writing tool selection for your classroom. 

2Graphic Organizers that Accommodate all Learners
One size does not fit all. I always have a handful of graphic organizers in use in my classroom. There is such a wide range in writing ability within our classrooms, so kids will need different supports. My goal is that they create a writing piece that they feel confident in and it hits the targets specific to the genre. If I focus on that as my goal, what the process looks like to get there doesn’t matter. Don’t get stuck on what kids SHOULD be able to do, if they can’t yet, how will you get them there? Let’s hope they won’t need the additional supports for long, but we have to build that confidence. These materials are always on hand and organized in my classroom writing workshop area. I also send a copy of all of these materials to parents so they can support their kids at home. 

What does this look like in the classroom?
  • Multiple line styles including colored for my fine motor kids
  • Graphic organizers with sentence starters or transitions included 
  • Picture options to help kids generate those ideas
  • Graphic organizers with question prompts 
  • Digital graphic organizers 
How do I incorporate this?
Over the years I have fine-tuned many different templates through trial and error, research and collaboration with fellow educators. I am always updating my materials to meet the needs of students. You can get my ready to go graphic organizers in my store. I have genre specific and generic templates that support all leveled learners that you can print and use same day in your classroom writing workshop.

3. Mentor Posters, Anchor Papers, Checklists Oh My! 
Checklists I don’t know about you, but I am a list girl. I cannot function without a checklist of what I need to accomplish for the day, event, whatever. Again, we should assume that some kids also have these same needs. It can be overwhelming to look at a large task and not know where to start. Also, kids can lose momentum looking and what’s left, but with a checklist they can lessen anxiety or worry seeing what they have already accomplished. 
Anchor Papers & Materials I love providing kids with samples of what they should be shooting for. Having an anchor paper of what I am expecting from them in a final piece is so important. I used to worry that kids would copy my anchor paper but then I reflected that they must need that support and I can then meet with that kiddo and have a quick mini lesson on putting thing things in their own words or I proved them with a different graphic organizer that provides some of the steps so they can focus on generating their own ideas. Another strategy is having your anchor paper on a different topic but genre specific or generate ideas that you keep on a chart up front for kids to borrow or modify. 
Another great resource is a student dictionary. My kids always have theirs out on their desk during writing workshop. It has grade level words, “juicy” adjectives, common vocabulary, word banks, sentence starters, space to write their own words they want to remember and more. 
Mentor Posters This is a lot like having anchor papers showing our students what our goals are. Mentor posters with genre specific rules, components and suggestions are great for kids to access. I have these up on my writing workshop wall all year long. I rotate out during genres and also for fun themed writing topics. I also have mentor lists I keep in my students writing workshop journals that are specific to the genre, such as genre specific transition lists. Another great resource for your writing workshop is themed adjective lists that kids might like to use in their writing. 
What does this look like in the classroom?
  • Mentor posters & anchor papers up on the walls or document camera
  • Dictionaries out on desks
  • Checklists on desk or attached to privacy screens
  • Brainstorm lists up where kids can access them or easily see
How do I incorporate this?
There are so many great resources out there to help support your students with writing workshop expectations and goals. Hop on Pinterest and instantly inspire that creativity or brainstorm with students to create collaborative and personal anchor charts. I have also created a plethora of resources that my students use on a daily basis during writing time. I have linked a few below. 

  

4. Flexible Space that Accommodates all Learners 
We all have heard of flexible seating. Writing workshop is the perfect time to allow for student choice of seating. As I said earlier, I love to write, but I can only write well in certain environments. I need small distractions; white noise is ok, and I have to write at a desk our countertop. No on the lap writing for this girl, but I am fully aware that is not true for all people. You don’t need to have fancy flexible seating furniture for this. Something you MUST have is flexible expectations of what writing workshop looks like. 
What does this look like in the classroom?
  • Kids writing on clipboards spread around the room
  • Kids laying on the floor writing
  • Kids standing at desks writing 
  • Kids wiggling or rocking as they write
  • Kids sitting at desks or tables writing 
  • Kids maybe outside the classroom in a quiet space
  • A kiddo or two at my horseshoe table or desk that need a little more support 
How do I incorporate this?
You simply have to be open to a flexible space. You have to think outside of the environment you personally need to be a productive writer. Keep expectations clear. “If you are on task writing, you can choose your writing space. If you aren’t, I will support you in choosing a just right space to be productive.” 

5. Support Tools 
First of all, I want you to know I have most of these materials out throughout the entire school day. I want kids to be able to access what they need to be in the write zone for learning. Establishing clear expectations on use of materials is a must. What I love about having support tools out for all students all day is that they become used to seeing them, anyone can use them, no one feels different and best of all it helps kids access the academics. 
Now, I have a lot of tools I use in my classroom that I have built up over the years, but the ones I couldn’t live without are headphones, privacy screens, and timers.
Headphones My all-time favorite tool is headphones. At first kids feel funny grabbing them, but by a few weeks into school all my headphones are in use. They can still hear me when I need them to, and we have a symbol for removing them. It drowns out the loud noises and also alerts neighbors that they are trying to concentrate so don’t chat with me. 
Privacy Screens I used to have home-made privacy screens and those work great, I recently upgraded to Lakeshores, and man they are durable. I have kids put these up every time during writing. It blocks off distractions and lends as a space to post support materials. Some simple paper clips can help to move important support materials out of their physical writing space and place them at eye level for continual check in. 
Timers I have always had a couple kids that love competition or have no idea how long things take them and a visual timer is so helpful. PLEASE note that I do not decide on how much time the kids get by myself. I talk with the student and we come up with a set time on how long we think they should need for a set task. If they beat it hooray! If not, we reflect and give more time. This is not for everyone. It does help a good handful of kids in my classroom. I have used sand timers, kitchen timers and visual timers where the red disappears as time goes on. 
What does this look like in the classroom?
  • A cubby full of privacy screens that kids can access at any time
  • I have a bin of noise cancelling headphones that kids can access at any time
  • I have a tub of timers at my teaching station. Kids come and check them out from me, this helps me to have a quick conversation about the goal and timer expectations 
** Kids you know could benefit aren’t utilizing the materials. I walk around with them and hand them out. I ask kids to give them a try. Most end up loving them. Some kids simply forget to grab them. 
How do I incorporate this?
Asking for donations is the biggest support of these materials. I sent out a list of some things I would love to have in our classroom to support kids. What’s the worst that could happen? They don’t send them in. I found many parents would like to help out in a room, but maybe can’t volunteer time, but maybe they can donate a material or two. I also have written many Donor’s Choose grants. Once you build up a support tool library make sure that you go over expectations to keep those materials in tip top shape and lasting you for years to come. 
Overall, the most import things you can do to ensure you will have a successful writing workshop are to be flexible, reflective and encouraging. Supporting and inspiring young writers is a lot of work and I know you can do it! 

3 Ways to Build Kindness Into Your Classroom

Kindness. Something we all expect and dream of having in our classroom communities. I have been teaching for some time now and there has not been a year where being kind to others hasn’t made our classroom rules list.
Most of the time my kiddos are kind to one another, maybe because of my “we are stopping what we are doing and talking this out mentality” when unkindness erupts or because their home community has instilled these great skills in their hearts. BUT… sometimes, our students lose sight of those compassionate ways and I am left wondering what has taken over my sweet little nuggets?
I finally took some time and reflected. I thought to myself…when were they explicitly taught about kindness? We don’t expect our kids to come in with all their foundational academic skills. So why do we expect them to come in with these important social skills?
What happens when your kids are making mistakes with material and academic standards? We reflect and reteach. So, it was time to make a plan to teach about compassion. I wanted my kids to make a solid connection to what kindness truly was. We needed to reflect on how positive it felt to make others feel good or to do something good for others without getting anything in return. 


3 Ways to Build Kindness Into Your Classroom 


  1. Kindness journaling
  2. Guided reading lessons with mentor texts 
  3. Words of kindness


1. ​​Kindness Journaling

I thought one of the best ways to teach about kindness was well... to be kind. I created a kindness journal to help my kids reflect after we did random acts of kindness around the school or at home. The journal had reflection pages, acts of kindness ideas pages, a kindness tally section, as well as doodle pages. It can easily be printed, stapled and put it right in their little hands or it can be printed to fit into those fun journals you can get from the Target Dollar Spot!

 

The random acts of kindness we did started very simple. For example, on the way to recess we all brought baby wipes to another grade level pod and wiped down their tables. During a transition to specialists we stopped to pick up scraps and tidied up a common space in our school. A larger project we did was picking up trash on campus, which was more involved with parent support or when we made craft kits for Children’s Hospital. The acts of kindness opportunities are endless. After writing a few journal entries and reflecting on our compassionate ways the kids were begging to do more. They were even asking if they could write about acts of kindness they had done at home. TEACHER WIN… COMMUNITY WIN… WE ALL WIN!

2. Guided Reading Lessons with Mentor Texts 

I love beginning a lesson with a mentor text. I don’t know about your classroom, but when I am doing a read aloud with my kids, they are tuned in and engaged. It is the perfect opportunity to deliver a lesson, message or to ignite conversation. 
First of all, I had to find the books, so I hopped on Pinterest and Google of course to find books that had valuable lessons imbedded with kindness and compassion.  I FOUND SO MANY! I was so excited that I had a huge list to choose from. I hit the library and you guessed it Amazon. 
I was so impressed with the amount of quality books that I found. Each one showcased another important skill with the theme of kindness, compassion or friendship. 


I was able to narrow down the list the following mentor texts as a kick off, or foundation if you will, for my kind classroom mission. 
  • “Do Unto Otters”
  • “Each Kindness”
  • “Leonardo the Terrible Monster”
  • “Ricky, The Rock that Couldn’t Roll”
  • “Zen Ties”
  • “We Don’t Eat Our Classmates”
  • “Enemy Pie”
  • “The Invisible Boy”
  • “Words and Your Heart”
  • “What Does it Mean to be Kind?

I am all about meeting standards but sometimes it has to be on my terms. What my kids needed was to learn important social skills, otherwise we would be wasting time tattling and problem solving to be able to access the curriculum anyway.  
So, I decided to create guided reading units that would help us learn about kindness, compassion and friendship while meeting standards and polishing up on our comprehension and discussion skills. Sometimes we were even able to complete a fun craft! 
You could pick up and read aloud any one of these books, and your kiddos will benefit from simple discussion. If you are looking for a bit more, you can check out any of the units I created by clicking on them below.

Guided Reading Units Focused
 on Kindness, Compassion & Friendship

3. ​​​​Words of Kindness

This was a simple one. Say kind things. Focus on the positive, especially for those kiddos you always find yourself needing to redirect or those kiddos who always seem to be doing what they are supposed to but, you may forget to show your appreciation. All people can benefit from hearing kind words, but we often forget to just say them. 

There are a few ways I decided to deliver the words of kindness… 

Compliment circles

A couple times a week (you could even do one) we would work in a time that we would all sit down together. We talked about how to give a compliment, what a compliment might sound like and I even provided compliment starters for the kiddos that might feel stumped. I kept the poster displayed at all times.
I made sure everyone got a chance to share and to be complimented. The kids loved this. Why wouldn’t they?! 
This is the simplest thing, takes little time, but if you don’t put it on the schedule it will slip through the cracks of our busy, overpacked schedules. We all know that the more often they do something, the simpler it becomes and after a while it was so quick to do, and the kids needed little support. 
Below you can get a FEEE copy of my compliment starter poster. It is part of my Kindness Matters Unit. Click on the poster to download it for free.




Words of kindness on display 
Besides my compliment starter support tool, I also carefully selected some great kindness and positive self-esteem quotes to have displayed in our classroom, pod and eventually the school. I made them in poster format and then made them in bookmarks, so each kiddo had a constant reminder of kindness. 
Depending on what you are looking for, I made anti-bully self-esteem bookmarks as well as reminders of kindness bookmarks. 
I printed mine in color and laminated them for the kids to keep and use all year. I KID YOU NOT, when I handed these out to students as they were silent reading around the room, the looks on their faces and their responses were priceless. It was seriously THE BEST.




I also loved displaying a kindness bunting and posters from Ashley Egger as additional reminders and support tools to help my students make the best choices when it came to kindness, compassion and friendship in our classroom.
So, what can you do today? Show your kids how much kindness means to you. Have real conversations and share personal experiences about acts of kindness or negative experiences you have had. Read books and discuss. Lead by example and pick up the trash in the hallway, stop to fix the fallen art work or let the other class go first to recess…I know the bathroom line will build up or the extra Keurig coffee might be out of the question now, but it only takes a few moments, a few examples to set kindness into motion. These things are so simple, might take a small amount of time, but they are watching you and truly look up to us. 
YOU CAN DO IT! Ha... I always picture Rob Schneider yelling that... anyway… I would love to hear how you instill kindness in your classrooms. I am always looking for new ways to support my kiddos growing social skills. 




Back to School Activities for 2nd Grade {with FREEBIES}

Hey there friends, 
I know many of you get giddy thinking of meeting your new students and planning the perfect back to school activities. For some of you it might create stress and worry thinking of how to make that first week just right. Now, I am not going to tell you my back to school routine is all fairytales and perfect behaviors, but I do have some fun and effective routines and projects that I can count on! I thought I would share five of my favorite back to school activities for 2nd grade. 
My 5 Favorite Back to School Activities for 2nd Grade


1. Supply Time {Freebie}

AGHHH sorting through supplies with kids can be crazy if you don't have a plan. They always come in with tons of materials and the chaos will ensue without activities to keep your new little kiddos engaged. I always have a couple different activities ready for kids so I can pull over small groups to go through and sort the materials. I make sure to go over expectations for behavior, how many kids at puzzle/manipulative centers.


  • I have bins set up and labeled in the front of my classroom with the various supplies. 
  • I have buckets of crayons on all the desk groups and I put out a fun coloring sheet with all my kids names on it. They love seeing their name and friends names on the sheet. You can download the coloring sheet FREE in my store. (click on the image below)
  • When kids are done coloring I have puzzles and manipulatives in different areas around the room for kids to explore.

2. Establish our back to school rules and expectations in a positive way! 

I was so excited when I discovered the book "Back to School Rules" by Laurie Freedman

I read this aloud with my kids and it helps us to create clear back to school rules and expectations in a positive way. It also lends to review various story elements and comprehension strategies. I have multiple guided reading activities I can choose from, and when we are done we do an adorable pencil craft where the kids choose their favorite new "I can" rule. It makes for a colorful bulletin board too. (Check that off the list too... boom!)


3. Read Aloud

I don't know about you, but my kids love a read aloud. No matter the group, my kids are always their calmest listening to a good story. I try to make a point of reading multiple books the first week of school. 


When choosing a read aloud, I like to be intentional with the theme in my selections so we not only read for fun, but there is a purpose. This then lends to great first week discussions and establishing classroom norms and expectations in a more organic way. 

Growth mindset, being flexible, being respectful to ourselves and others and problem solving are my favorite topics that I try to target that first week of school. 

I have created resources that facilitate these important topics in conversation, that review story elements, check in on comprehension and wrap it all up with a meaningful craft to display our learning! 

These back to school activities also help me make some informal observations of where my kids are with following directions, fine motor, focus and academics. My favorite part is seeing their little personalities really come out throughout the various projects and interactions.

Click here to check out these easy to implement resources: Establishing Classroom Expectations Guided Reading with Mentor Text


guided reading with a purpose poster examples

guiding reading with a purpose craft examples

4. Share Bags

Years and years and years (lol) ago my cooperating teacher introduced me to share bags. She sent home a simple paper bag with instructions to fill it with 3-5 items to share. The items needed to help us learn a little bit more about you. The items could be photos, toys, awards, etc. 

Every year I do this activity and it is one of my favorites. I send them home on the first day and we share the bags as they come in throughout the week. The kids love sharing about themselves, their classmates interact by ask questions and we all get to know each other a little bit better right off that bat and that is priceless. I recommend doing your own  share bag as well. The kids think it is pretty fun to find out more about their new teacher. 

5. Classroom Scavenger Hunt {Freebie}

    scavenger hunt checklist freebie
This is a fun way to  help kids get to know your classroom and where things are. I have done the scavenger hunt two different ways. I have done it either during meet and greet when parents are there to help or the first day to get kids up and moving. 

I love this activity because it's not me just talking at my kids,  it also helps decrease the questions and it gives the kids a sense of ownership and independence in their new classroom.  

I generally choose 5-8 different places in the classroom that I would like kids to discover. Some places you might add to your list are the job chart, bathroom passes, their cubby, the classroom library, extra supply drawer, different classroom materials you want them to find, etc. As they find the things in the classroom they put a check mark next to it. 

When we are all done we meet on the carpet. We go through all the different areas we had to find and I call on a volunteer to walk over and show where they found it. The classroom scavenger hunt has been a purposeful and fun back to school activity in my classroom.    
 

  • Here is a link to the scavenger hunt I use in my room. https://bit.ly/2IulZN8 Feel free to use it or to inspire your own scavenger hunt back to school activity


Good luck planning  and I hope you enjoyed hearing about my back to school activities I use in 2nd grade. Feel free to share activities you like to use in your own classrooms! 

Summer Writing Journal

Hey there friends, 

Every spring I get parents worried about keeping their child's academics fresh over the summer. They are looking for activities or programs to help support various areas of the curriculum. One area I love to keep kids working is on is their writing. I know how much the expectations jump from year to year and if there is a way I can help support that transition and growth I'm going to.

I used to use the generic composition notebooks for writing journals, but I decided a few years back that I wanted their everyday, free style writing to align with our more focused writing expectations. The more that our kids were exposed to the format, graphic organizers, checklists and other tools the better. We have seen nothing but improvement since we made this transition.

So, to avoid that "summer slump" I decided to modify my daily in class journal with a summer theme. There is a large variety of writer's tools to support all learners. This allows you to tailor your summer writing journal to exactly what your kids need or add it all!

This year I am including:

  • A summer vocab word list organized from a to z
  • Prompt ideas for stumped writers
  • "What I might want to write about" graphic organizer 
  • Writing checklists, brainstorm sheets and other graphic organizers
  • Commonly misspelled words 
  • Transition lists for: opinion, narrative, informative 
  • And of course... writing paper! 



Some years I have even offered prizes for kids that write a certain amount of stories in their summer writing journal. (Like a book, fancy pencil or pen or even certificate) They can drop them off to me in the fall or meet the teacher night. The kids love showing it off and I love seeing my kiddos again. I have gotten great feedback from not only parents and students, but summer school teachers and tutors who love using the journal to guide and support their students.

If you want to see more of the product click on the image above.

I hope you have a great summer and cheers to sunshine and relaxation.




Guided Reading With A Purpose!



Hey there friends,

I'm wondering if you have had the same dilemma as my teammates and I... A few years ago we made an amazing reading workshop curriculum map packed with the standards, themes and elements to be taught throughout the year. So great, we now knew exactly what we need to teach but...now how to really hit those standards is what we were left wondering. Of course we have a reading curriculum, but it always felt shallow and we were always left scrambling to find activities that really connected with our kids. We really needed to deepen our students understanding of the story elements and comprehension skills. Sound familiar??

So, I decided to do something about it. I wanted something thorough, focused and of course fun.

Later that week, I was talking to my good friend Megan Mitchell of First Grade Roars about this. I asked for her input because we had talked about this struggle before. Even better she had decided to do something about it over a year ago putting together an elaborate guided reading program for her first grade students. She thoughtfully tailored each week to coordinate to the standards, incorporating impactful activities, crafts, supportive mentor materials and exciting literature. She was the exact person I needed to collaborate with on this project. She talked me through her plans, how she supported the learning and how to effectively implement the activities. I was so inspired to hear about her overwhelming successes I could barely wait to start crafting my own guided reading with a purpose series for my second grade kiddos.

Here is a link to her blog post all about her first grade guided reading program: 

I started brainstorming about all the themes and units I love to do throughout the year. From there I  collected all my favorite mentor texts (who are we kidding I bought a bunch more too!) and grouped them into each theme. I was already feeling hopeful about the project especially when I could find multiple teaching points in each story.

The most important piece to remember is that we don't need to rush through multiple elements and strategies each week. What our kids need is to be able to slow down, make connections and analyze what they are reading. This leads our students to making deeper connections to concepts. Exploring entertaining text, creating fun crafts, completing themed activities and participating in focused book talks can't help but lead to memorable learning for our students.

I am so excited to finish creating and start implementing these units in my classroom. You can check out the units I already have finished and posted in my store through this link: 
Guided Reading with a Purpose for the 2nd Grade Classroom