The mini-lesson is a period of direct and explicit instruction. Teach only one literacy objective and be explicit in explaining how learning this teaching point will help your children as writers.
Writing Workshop Mini Lesson - Writers Start With A Feeling
Use a gradual release model, where first you demonstrate the teaching point and then the children practice it with your guidance. The mini-lesson supports children in seeing the teaching point in action and then practicing it. Linking the work they just did with you to the work they will do on their own helps prepare them for writing independently during work time.
Gather the children together in the whole group meeting area for your lessons and their sense of themselves as a community of writers will develop as well.
Writing Workshop begins with a mini-lesson which allows you to offer your children direct instruction on a writing skill, strategy, or behavior that the majority of them need. There are four distinct parts to a mini-lesson. This formal architecture makes it easier for you to plan and easier for the children to know what is expected of them and what will take place. The four parts are:
Set the context by describing the learning that has been taking place. Explain what you’ll be teaching them (that is, what the literacy objective is) and why it will help them as readers.
In this part, blend together explanation and demonstration. Explain what your demonstration will be, then model the behavior, skill, or strategy. Additionally, in order to help children “see” what is happening as you write a piece of text, for example, think aloud about your process.
Give the children hands-on practice with the teaching point and assess their understanding. This takes place while the children are still in front of you in the large group meeting area.
Restate the teaching point one more time. Encourage the children to plan and commit to applying it in their independent work.
Remember, the mini-lesson is designed to be brief in order to make sure that the majority of time during Writing Workshop is devoted to children writing. By sticking to this architecture and keeping questions and discussion to a minimum, you’ll be able to do just that. Offering consistent language scaffolds throughout will ensure that your language learners are included and supported as well. Let’s explore each part of the mini-lesson in more detail.
The “connect” is the first part of the mini-lesson and important because it sets the stage for children’s learning. Consider the language your children will need to know or be familiar with in order for the lesson to be successful, and the scaffolds you can use to support them.
Start by contextualizing the lesson.
Are you sharing a new skill or strategy that is part of a larger unit? If so, let your children know. For example,
- “We have been working on adding details to make our writing more interesting. Today I want to share a new strategy with you that you might find helpful.”
Have you noticed many children exhibiting the same need and you want to address that need in your mini-lesson? If so, state it here. For example,
- “I noticed many of you are having difficulty thinking of a title for your piece, so let me share with you one strategy I use when I want to give my writing a title that will grab my readers’ attention.”
Did you see one child doing something new or extraordinary during work time and you want to share it with the rest of the class? If so, tell the children about it here. For example,
- “I noticed Simone solving a problem all by herself. She ‘read the room’ when she wasn’t sure how to spell a word. Let me show you all how to do that.”
You can tie this lesson to the learning that has been taking place in other areas of literacy or content area instruction. For example,
- “Writers, today I was reading I Dissent [show the book] to you and while I was reading it, I was thinking of questions I would ask Justice Ginsburg if I were writing her biography. I realized that even when you have a whole book filled with information, you can still come up with more questions!”
Then name your teaching point simply and explicitly. Explain why you are going to teach this idea. This allows the children to understand the importance of the skill or strategy. Cue your children so they get ready for the teaching point. Use familiar language such as, “Today, I am going to teach you,” or “Today you will learn…” Also, address language supports that will be needed to implement the teaching point for your language learners. For example,
- “Today, I am going to teach you how thoughtful writers decide what to write about. Choosing a topic wisely is important because we need to make sure we have enough to say about a particular topic! Since we will be writing All About books, we need to be able to give our readers lots of information about whatever topic we choose.”
During the mini-lesson you have the opportunity to let children “see” what your teaching point looks like. Through a combination of explaining, demonstrating, and thinking aloud, you can help make the implicit decision (an author’s decision while writing) explicit.
|Strategy||What this means||Example|
Describe the specific skill, strategy, or behavior you want the children to learn.
Carefully consider the language you use in your instruction.
|“One way that writers choose a topic to write about is by thinking about topics they know very well. Good writers write about what they know. When we choose our topics for writing, we need to spend some time brainstorming – or coming up with ideas about – things we know a lot about.”|
Use familiar cues such as “Let me show you what this looks like…” or “Let me show you what I mean…” to signal to the children that they need to get ready for your teaching demonstration.
Model the skill, strategy, or behavior.
Often, previously written modeled or shared writing, familiar books, or mentor texts are used in the demonstration. Texts children are familiar with allow them to focus on your demonstration.
When using a mentor text you lower the anxiety of your language learners because they already have experience with the text and some level of success understanding it.
“Let me show you what I mean. I first need to brainstorm and make a list of things that I’d like to write about. But before I choose one, I want to make sure I know a lot about my topics so I will be able to make it interesting for my readers. [Create a list titled: What Can I Write About?] Hmm. Let me think. Well, I know a lot about planting gardens, so I’ll put ‘gardens’ on the list. I also know about trees (I know about their parts and what they need to grow), so I’ll add that, too. Remember when we had butterflies grow and we released them? I learned a lot about butterflies then, so I’ll add butterflies to the list. And of course, since I am a teacher, I know a lot about teachers. I can always add more to my list if I think of more topics later on.”
“The first thing on my list is gardens. [Create a web to display details about the topic.] In the middle of my web, I’m going to write my topic, gardens, and then I’m going to write what I know about gardens all around the edges. First, I know that gardens are for growing fruits and vegetables. I’ll write that here on the first spoke of the web. Next, I know that gardens can be big or small. That will go on the next spoke of the web. I also know that worms and bugs live in gardens. I know you need seeds to grow things in a garden, and I know that you need to water the garden to keep the plants growing. I think I know enough about gardens to write my All About book about gardens.”
When you think aloud, you are describing the thinking that is going on inside your head as you do the work of writing. Simplifying and being explicit about your thinking process can be especially important for language learners or struggling readers in your class.
“Did you see how I first made a list of things I know a lot about before beginning to make a web? I like to give myself some choices, so I can pick a topic that I really know well and that I like. This will make my writing stronger and more interesting for my readers.”
In every mini-lesson, you will want to give children guided practice with the teaching point. This active engagement portion of the mini-lesson, also called “have-a-go,” occurs when the children are still gathered together in close proximity on the rug and should only take a few minutes. Remember to match the have-a-go to your teaching point so the children have some hands-on practice in preparation for their independent application of the skills or strategy later on. For example, if you demonstrated for the children how to capitalize proper nouns in a letter, then the have-a-go will allow them the chance to identify words that need to be capitalized in a letter. This important component of the lesson ensures that children have an opportunity to apply the new strategy with guided support. Trying it out helps children remember what you taught so they can use this strategy or technique during work time or at some later point when they need it. Sometimes, it makes the most sense for children to have-a-go by looking at their own work. In this case, make sure to invite children to bring their writing folders or notebooks with them to the carpet when you gather them for the mini-lesson.
There are several ways to hold a have-a-go:
|What the Children Do||Why||Example|
|Try it out||Give the children a brief experience trying out a new skill or strategy, separate from what they might go off and do in their independent work.||“Now that we have learned that one way writers hook their readers is by using a piece of dialogue, think of something you said to another person in your narrative. Share that quotation with your partner, and explain what was happening when you said it. This will help you think about what kind of dialogue you might try to include in your work, both as a hook and to make the writing come alive.”|
|Think, turn, and talk||Give them time to process their learning.||“Now that we have learned that writers think about what they know before they choose a topic, think about what you know a lot about so that you are ready to begin your list once we get back to our notebooks. Now turn and talk with your neighbor about what you might put on your list. You can start by saying “I know a lot about… ”|
|Make a plan||Give children time to plan for their independent application of the skill, strategy, or behavior.||“Look at the lists you made yesterday in your notebooks and choose the topic you think you know the most about. Begin to brainstorm the details you will write on the spokes of your web.”|
Be sure to circulate among the children during the have-a-go. In this way, this guided practice time also offers you a quick assessment of how they are managing this new skill, strategy, or behavior and you can identify individuals (or groups of children) who may need extra practice.
As you consider the diverse needs of your children, remember pairing as a possible support structure for children to begin to master the new strategy or technique.
Before you send your children off to work independently, offer them some guidelines so they feel prepared to begin the thoughtful work of active writing. Make sure to reiterate your teaching point and direct the children to think about how they can use the teaching point that was made.
Restate the teaching point.
Use the same language in the link as you have in your connection and teaching. Consistent language with identified scaffolds (for example, key vocabulary with visual cues, sentence frames, etc.) will assist children in understanding what is asked of them. For example, if you called your teaching “hook your readers” in your connection, then restate it the same way in your link. Consistency in your scaffolds will also ensure all children know exactly what supports they can access when working independently.
Direct children’s independent work.
It’s important to remember that not every child in your class has to commit to working on that specific skill or strategy. For example, if you taught your second graders to add details, not every child may be finished their initial write and ready to add details yet. However, this is a tool that they now have exposure to and they can add to their writer’s toolbox to pull out when necessary. We can convey the expectation that children should try this at some point – in the next workshop or during the following week. Oftentimes, children are motivated to try what we taught when we end the mini-lesson by saying, “If you try this strategy today, please let me know.” Be sure you have provided an alternative for what they can do during their independent work.
- You can ask the children, for example, to give you a “thumbs up” if they feel ready to use the new skill or strategy, or a “thumbs down” if they have a few more questions and would like to talk more with you on the rug before beginning their work.
- Ask for a show of hands. “Raise your hand if you think you can try this strategy in your writing today.”
- Suggest that children incorporate what you’ve taught into their plans. “If you plan to try this today, write a note to yourself at the top of your page (an ‘assignment box’) to remind you to work on that.”
Then, dismiss them from the whole group meeting area to their writing spots. Make sure to be consistent in this transition so it occurs in a smooth and orderly fashion.
Be aware that language learners may not advocate for themselves in the ways suggested above; therefore, make sure you have embedded extra check-ins with them during work time.