Writing Workshop or Writer’s Workshop: How to Combine Them for Success!

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As the holidays closed in on us I had a difficult decision to make for writing workshop. I had students pleading with me to allow them to continue to develop their stories after the upcoming Christmas holidays, but these were themed stories.  What would happen to their interest and their stories  after the holidays?

My students loved to write.  

Of course, there were the occasional days that a student or two could not get started, or could not focus, but over the years writing was a beloved subject for the majority of my students.

Looking around my class, seeing students actively and enthusiastically engaged in writing always gave me a feeling of satisfaction.

Two approaches that have gained popularity in recent years are “Writing Workshop” and “Writer’s Workshop.” 

Let’s jump  into and exploration of these two methods, starting with an understanding of the differences between them. 

Then we can explore how to combine them. 

Throughout the post I will share a bit about  how to include differentiation in instruction for either approach. 

For a quick summary, the principles of differentiation are applying differences in one or more of the following areas:

1. Content

2. Process

3. Product

4. Learning Environment

For a more in depth understanding, please read my blog on differentiation in instruction,   or my blog on differentiation in writing.

In this blog I will also briefly address whether or not to provide writing prompts for students.

Lastly, because the idea of student collaboration and hands on activities create stress for some teachers, I will review some classroom management strategies as a brief reminder to help you get started.

Let’s get this show on the road! 📚

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What is Writing Workshop?

Writing Workshop focuses on the writing process.  

In other words, teaching students very specifically the technical aspects of writing.

The Structured Approach of Writing Workshop

All students are writing on the same genre and topic that has been provided by the teacher, using, for example, writing prompts.

Writing Workshop is Skills Focused

Teachers offer explicit instruction, ensuring that students acquire essential writing skills 🧑‍🏫.

What are the benefits of Writing Workshop?

Writing Workshop Focuses on the Writing Process

Writing Workshop guides students through the entire writing process, teaching them valuable skills such as brainstorming, drafting, revising, and editing 📝 . 

This structured approach ensures that students become proficient writers.

Developing Writing Skills through Writing Workshop

It helps students build essential skills such as organization, grammar, and word choice. 

This emphasis on craft and detail elevates the quality of their writing.

Opportunities for Differentiation in Writing Workshop

Writing Workshop aligns with each of the core principles of differentiation in writing:

Differentiating Content in Writing Workshop

The teacher presents the students with the genre and prompt.

The structured approach ensures that students cover essential writing skills and techniques, regardless of their developmental writing stage.

Even at the prewriting level of drawing pictures students can “edit” their work by adding labels, details to pictures etc..

Differentiating the Process in Writing Workshop

Teacher guidance through the writing stages provides support to students at different skill levels.  

However, the focus is very specifically on technical aspects of writing, drawing less on extending the various ways to process learning. 

Peer collaboration is possible, but only very strictly focused on the processes of writing, and not on the creative process.

Differentiating the Product Writing Workshop

Students produce polished pieces of writing as they refine their work throughout the writing process.  

The intention is to focus on the expression of thought through writing so there is less opportunity for learning or expressing understanding through other formats.

Differentiating the Learning Environment in Writing Workshop

There are opportunities to adjust environment through allowing collaboration in small groups, with or without the teacher, and by providing alternate seating for students to work at. 

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What is a Writer’s Workshop?

Writer’s Workshop focuses on developing the heart and passion of the personal doing the writing to lean into developing engaged writers.

Writer’s Workshop is a dynamic classroom approach that embraces creating a love for writing among young students. It’s a structured time during the school day when students engage in authentic writing experiences.

The key components of a Writier’s Workshop typically include:

1. Fostering a Love for Writing

Writer’s Workshop allows students to choose topics that interest them, making writing a joyful experience. This love for writing can stay with them throughout their lives.📝.

2. Individualized Learning

 It accommodates diverse skill levels, ensuring that every student can work at their own pace. 

Whether a student is a budding author or just starting, they can thrive in this environment 🧑‍🏫.

3. Peer Interaction 

Students often share their work, providing valuable feedback and learning from each other. They learn from their peers’ perspectives and ideas. 🧑‍🤝‍🧑.

Benefits of Writer’s Workshop

Student Choice 

During the Writer’s Workshop, students have the freedom to choose their writing topics. This autonomy empowers them and makes writing a joyful experience 🌟 .

Peer Collaboration

Students often collaborate, providing valuable feedback and learning from each other. This collaborative environment enhances their writing skills and encourages social interaction.

Teacher Guidance

Students have creative freedom, and teachers provide guidance and support. 

Mini-lessons on various writing techniques and skills tailored to students’ needs are provided.

Differentiation in Instruction and Writer’s Workshop

Because differentiation is so essential in the classroom, let’s chat about how that works with the Writer’s Workshop. 

Content Differentiation in Writer’s Workshop

Students are empowered to select their topics which fuels their passion for writing, making it a more enjoyable and meaningful experience. This aligns with the idea of involving student interest in the process 🌟 .

Process Differentiation in Writer’s Workshop

Teachers adapt their instruction based on students’ progress and needs, ensuring each child progresses at their own pace 🚀.

With the focus being on students engagement, students are provided with the means to develop their writing ideas or elaborate upon their stories through 2D or 3D art and presentations.

Product Differentiation in Writer’s Workshop

By focusing on individual growth, students produce diverse and authentic pieces of writing 📓 accompanied by the physical representations of their writing (like a poster, or a skit, or a lego model for example)..

Learning Environment Differentiation in Writer’s Workshop

Opportunities are provided to take their writing outside, or to a center with provocations, or to write with peers to provide inspiration and develop descriptive details.

Peer sharing and collaboration create a supportive and inclusive classroom culture 🤗 .

Students receive feedback on their creativity and their story lines as much as on their technical skills.

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Let’s explore how simple it is to combine the

Differentiation in Writing Workshop or Writer’s Workshop

Effective differentiation requires careful planning and consideration of each student’s unique needs. 

So, let’s elaborate upon how to implement differentiation in your workshops. 

4 Steps for Using Differentiation in Writing to Get the Best of Both Worlds

1. Understanding Your Students’ Needs (Content Differentiation)

Begin by assessing your students’ writing abilities and interests. 

This knowledge will inform your approach to content differentiation, allowing you to tailor writing prompts to match their skill levels and passions.

Prompts are appropriate, but  allow students to select from a variety of prompts within a genre.  

This elevates the level of engagement for students, while still maintaining focus on the skills required for a specific genre.

You can also provide the same prompts but with different levels of writing paper. Students are working on the same genre, but the entry level is accessible to the non-writer, and the challenge is sufficient for the fluent writer.

2. Creating a Balanced Schedule (Process Differentiation)

Allocate specific times for Writing Workshop and Writer’s Workshop, ensuring students receive a balanced approach to writing instruction. 

For instance, making creative writing for a bell ringer activities for Writer’s Workshop, where students explore creativity, and in the afternoons the students would complete a prompt for  Writing Workshop thereby focusing on refining and editing.

In my class we combined both by staying focused on the genre, but they often selected their own topics within that genre. I would know that they understood the genre by seeing the topic they had chosen. 

Some genres, such as opinion writing, I would lean heavily into prompts and structure in the beginning, and then I would gradually release control of the subject matter as they demonstrated understanding of the genre.  

3. Incorporating Hands-On Activities (Product Differentiation) 

To engage young writers, introduce hands-on activities that cater to various learning styles. For example, create visual storyboards, offer illustration stations, or incorporate art projects related to writing topics.

4. Peer Collaboration (Learning Environment Differentiation and Content Differentiation)

Peer Collaboration is useful during revising and editing, of course, and it is fantastic for creating writing engagement.

However, it is also valuable for your beginning writers if they are first creating a model or after they have created their drawings.  This creates a rich environment for developing oral language.

The benefits of peer collaboration as it relates to the development of oral language is also helpful to your ESL or ELL students. 

Foster a collaborative learning environment where students share their work and provide constructive feedback. 

Implement strategies like peer editing circles and group projects to enrich the classroom experience.

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The great news is you don’t have to make a choice!

Combining Both Writing and Writer’s Workshop

***Warning, Warning***

There will be repetition here! 

I am taking what I have shared above, and making the two approaches work together.  

I am preparing you ahead of time so you aren’t rolling your eyes at me for repeating myself.  😘

Let’s explore some specific differentiated instruction examples for how to combine both writing approaches.

1. Creative Storyboarding (Content Differentiation)

During the Writing Workshop, have students create storyboards with images and short descriptions, accommodating visual learners and providing structure to their writing.

The focus on structure will still be there in the organization, descriptive language, and appropriate sentence construction.

2. Illustration Station (Product Differentiation)

 In Writer’s Workshop, provide a writing prompt, but set up an illustration station where students enhance their narratives with drawings, catering to students who excel in visual arts.

Or better yet, provide materials for writing provocations  for building 3D models.

3. Class Book Project (Process and Learning Environment Differentiation)

Collaboratively, students can work on creating a class book, addressing different stages of the writing process and promoting a supportive learning environment. 

By providing a prompt the teacher is focusing on the structure necessary for that genre, and as the group works together the teacher will be drawing their focus to the skills required for that genre.

However, through discussion based collaboration the teacher is facilitating students who rely heavily on auditory input. 

4. Artistic Expression (Content and Product Differentiation)

 For persuasive writing, students can engage in art projects related to their topics, incorporating creativity into their writing process.

However, the teacher will be teaching directly to the skills and technical aspects fo persuasive writing.

Or take the kiddos outside, and let them use what they find there.

5. Provide a Variety of Writing Prompts for Students to Choose From (Content Differentiation)

Provide students with the beginning of a story and let them complete it. This still provides students with choice, but it supports those who need help with ideas and getting started.

Even though writing prompts are more directed they are valuable to incorporate into writing time as they serve several  purposes:

1. Throughout our lifetime we will have certain “required writing” tasks, from lists to university applications to form completions, answering an assigned prompt is a necessary life skill.

2. Keeping students focused on a genre narrows the focus and allows students to demonstrate greater mastery of the current genre. 

3. Time for writing prompts can be limited to one writing period, so they can be used for assessments, and as snapshots for parent conferences amongst other things.

There are other advantages to using writing prompts that I will elaborate upon in a future blog.

6. Editing Circles (Content and Environment Differentiation)

Have students exchange their work and help each other with editing. 

These focus on technical aspects, but students will get feedback from peers who are working at different levels and have different insights providing the different content.  

The collaborative small or whole group environment creates a different, hopefully supportive, environment that will nurture skills development and an opportunity for creative  enrichment. 

7. Revision Stations (Content and Process Differentiation)

Set up stations where students can focus on different aspects of revision, such as improving word choice or adding descriptive details.

Students would be going to these stations only during specific time within the writing process. This creates exposure to constantly varying feedback from different peers.

8. Picture Prompts (Process Differentiation)

Don’t use writing prompts!  But, But . . .  

Use picture prompts for a change.  

Show them a variety of captivating images and ask them to write a story, or share an opinion, or create a description,  inspired by  one of them.

This supports your visual learners, provides choice, and can be open-ended. 

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Just a Reminder – Classroom Management Tools and Strategies to See You Through

We all know that creating excitement during a traditionally quiet time such as writing can cause students to lose the thread. 😉.

Let’s revisit the basics of classroom management during the writing block. 

Behavioral Expectations

Clearly communicate behavioral expectations and classroom rules to create a structured learning environment.

Visual Timetables

Use visual timetables to help students understand the schedule and transitions between workshops.

Positive Reinforcement

Remember to affirm on task behavior. 

When they have a great writing block, tell them that they are getting a couple of minutes extra at recess, or to have an active break or anything that is a spontaneous reward providing immediate feedback.

Classroom Layout

Organize the classroom to facilitate smooth transitions between different workshop activities.

By integrating these hands-on activities and art projects, you not only enhance writing skills but also cater to various learning styles and interests, making the writing experience even more engaging and enjoyable for young writers.

Combining Writing Workshop and Writer’s Workshop: the Great Adventure

Combining Writing Workshop and Writer’s Workshop facilitates differentiation in writing and provides a more rounded approach to writing instruction.

These approaches foster a love for writing, encourage skill development, and create a supportive learning environment. 

With careful planning and creativity, you’ll empower your young writers to flourish as confident and skilled authors in their combined Writing Workshop and Writer’s Workshop. 

Is your  goal is to nurture a love for writing that will stay with them throughout their educational journey and beyond?

Or is it to develop proficiency in the technical skills of writing, revising and editing?

Trick question!  Because hopefully  your answer is, “Both!”

Dive into the world of Writing Workshop and Writer’s Workshop, and watch your students flourish as confident and skilled writers. 

Share a question or a comment on one of your favourite ways to create a group of flourishing readers in the comments below..

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