Writing Workshop

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For more general discussion of Writers Workshops and similar gatherings, see Writing circle.

Writing Workshop is a method of writing instruction developed by Lucy Calkins and educators involved in the Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University in New York City, New York. (Calkins, L (2006). A Guide to The Writing Workshop, Grades 3-5. Portsmouth, NH: First Hand). This method of instruction focuses on the goal of fostering lifelong writers. It is based upon four principles; students will write about their own lives, they will use a consistent writing process, they will work in authentic ways and it will foster independence.

Writing Workshop is designed for use in all grade levels. Each grade level has specific units of study tailored to meet developmental and curricular needs. Students have a large amount of choice in their topic and style of writing. The teacher acts as a mentor author, modeling writing techniques and conferring with students as they move through the writing process. Direct writing instruction takes place in the form of a mini-lesson at the beginning of each workshop and is followed by a minimum of 45 minutes of active writing time. Each workshop ends with a sharing of student work.


Establishing a consistent writing process that the students work through is one of the main principles of the Writing Workshop. Each student will move through the process at their own rate, however it is best to set a deadline for each step so that each writing unit is completed in a timely manner. Each unit takes about 1 month to complete.

  1. Generating Ideas (1–2 days)
  2. Collecting writing entries (5–10 days)
  3. Choosing a seed idea (2–3 days)
  4. Planning the draft (1–2 days)
  5. Revising to change the content and quality (1–3 days)
  6. Editing to improve grammar (1–2 days)
  7. Publishing the piece to share it with the world (1–3 days)
  8. Writing Celebration (1 day)

Structure of the Writing Workshop[edit]

1. Signal the beginning of Writing Workshop

2. Direct, explicit mini-lesson (See mini-lesson information below)
3. Writing time

4. Sharing of student work


Mini-lessons should be about 10–15 minutes in length. They follow the same structure each time; Make a connection to a previous lesson, teach a new writing technique, and have the students practice the technique right there with your guidance.

Possible Mini-lesson topics are:


Lucy Calkins (1994) has described conferring as, “the heart of our teaching” (p. 189) in the Writing Workshop. Conferring in the Writing Workshop takes place during the time when students are actively writing. The teacher circulates around the room, meeting with individual students or student groups to discuss their writing progress. The conferences are often short, typically lasting anywhere from two to seven minutes (Ray, 2001, p. 158). Calkins (1994) has described a three-step process for facilitating these conferences: “research, decide, teach” (p. 224). The teacher begins the conference by asking probing, open-ended questions to ascertain the student’s current focus in his/her writing work. Once the teacher has identified an area of need, the teaching can begin. The teaching often includes critical feedback for the student, a short time in which the student and teacher practice the new skill or strategy, and a link to how the new skill or strategy will improve the child’s future work as a writer (Anderson, 2000, p. 26). Another component of the conference is record keeping. The teacher, and sometimes also the student, can make anecdotal notes about the content of the conference. This will allow the teacher to refer back to previous notes and monitor students’ growth as writers.

“The interesting thing is that in teaching writing, we often unmask our own processes in readers and writers, thinking aloud in front of our kids so they can learn how good readers and writers think about texts (Calkins, Hartman, White, 2005, p.62). The teacher knows it is important while facilitating the start of the conference to begin with a positive comment about the student’s writing piece. Calkins believes that the instructor reads the student’s writing and then focuses on an area to give feedback about. One way to get better on forming instructional needs is to take time to look at “ student work outside of class time and thinking about the decision you might make for this student” (Calkins, Hartman, White, 2005, p.62). —

Writing Workshop Aligned with the Common Core[edit]

Lucy Calkins and her colleagues from The Reading and Writing Project at Teachers College have recently written a new guide called A Curricular Plan for the Writing Workshop ( Heinemann, 2011). This aligns the units of study she has recommended in the past with the new Common Core State Standards. “ This curriculum reflects the genres for writing that are spelled out by the Common Core Standards and gives children several opportunities to write in those genres: narrative, persuasive, informational, and poetry. “ (p.2 A Curricular Plan for the Writing Workshop). The new units demonstrate more of a focus on informational, persuasive writing, and revision than the original unit plan developed by Calkins. Written by grade level, this resource takes the school year month by month and guides teachers towards instructing with a balance of narrative and nonfiction writing. Minilesson ideas, additional resources and celebrations are discussed as well, with a focus towards “lifting the level of student work” in every unit.


Website for additional information: rwproject.tc.Columbia.edu