Why I LOVE Writer’s Workshop - Queen of the First Grade Jungle

Why I LOVE Writer’s Workshop

As you all know I am at a new school this year.  In changing to a new school, I have brought many of my practices and routines with me.  My new school is a little bit looser in terms of HOW we HAVE to do things so I have complete control over what my day looks like.  I have come to the conclusion that if the practice made the “cut” it must be something I am pretty passionate about.

Writer’s Workshop is one of those things I just can’t give up.  To give you a little background about me as a writing teacher: 

-I taught seven years at a school which valued writer’s workshop.

-We used Lucy Calkins Units of Study to guide us, but supplemented with Opinion writing resources to meet the Common Core.

-We had an hour a day to teach writing in addition to our ELA block of instruction (yes friends- between reading groups, ELA instruction and writing it was THREE hours).

-Students started Writer’s Workshop within the first month of school in Kindergarten so when they came to me in first grade, Writer’s Workshop was a very familiar idea to them.


When I got to my new school I gradually began to realize that I was a very different writing teacher then what my students were used to having.  Here I am talking about “painting pictures in your reader’s mind” and “small moments,” and my kids were looking at my like I had five heads. It was time to stop, reflect, and come up with a new game plan.


We talked and talked and TALKED some more about focusing on small moments.  The hardest habit to break in a writer is the LIST story. You know the kind “and then, and then, and then” finishing up with a big ole “and then I went to bed!”

photo (73)

“I’m done” quickly became an outlawed phrase in my 2nd grade classroom.


After learning to focus our narratives, I taught them all about their Writer’s Eye.  What do you know the kids didn’t know they had one of those things Smile .

I am the kind of teacher that gets hung up on things.  When I am stuck on how to fix things in my classroom, it consumes me.  I took the picture below on a beach trip with my family because I just knew it would serve as a PERFECT illustration of how to use our Writers’ Eyes.

photo (75)


Along with using our Writers’ Eyes, we focused on our five senses.  I wish I could have videotaped the next mini-lesson.  I had the kids close their eyes and imagine walking into their kitchen to mom frying bacon! Now if your kids can’t taste, smell, hear, touch, and see bacon sizzling in a hot pan—they may be a lost cause. I got some of the best descriptions out of them!  They kept closing their eyes and describing what they imagined.

Sad to say I had to two sweet friends who said they had NEVER eaten bacon.  Needless to say, those two kiddos went home with some homework Smile.

With my new Workshop babies I had to explore lots of different forms of prewriting to see what worked best with them.  They really enjoyed Circle maps- small moment in the middle with detail words all around.

photo (76)

I have to admit though that one thing has helped my kids plan their writing better than anything else. 


My kids are INCREDIBLE artists, but most importantly the details in their drawings are exactly the kind of details that need to be included in their narratives.

photo (67)

For example, below:

photo (66)

This child had the skeleton of a great personal narrative, but her Beginning-Middle-End prewriting sketch included details that her story did not. When I conferenced with her I was able to help her better paint the picture in my head that I wanted.


One of my colleagues that I reached out to reminded me of the importance of author’s chair (a staple in Writer’s Workshop). If you haven’t ever checked out Susan’s blog The Wonder Teacher what are you waiting for?!?

Everyday I snatch four or five journals from my students and brag about their writing to the class.  I specifically seek out these narratives that showcase some skill that we have been working on EVEN IF it is one simple word.  I try really hard to make all my writers feel important while at the same time keeping my students focused on our goals.

photo (70)photo (71)

I also post student work in the room with specific feedback to my students.  This serves two goals: praising a student and reminding my students what I need from them.

photo (74)

My students are also beginning to explore conferencing and editing together in partners. I was thoroughly impressed by the suggestions that they offered to each other.

photo (77)

This week it is all about publishing a few narratives before we move on to Information Writing!

Phew--are you still with me?

I hope you got something out of this post!  I genuinely, truly with all my heart believe that writing is the key to making my kids thinkers.

your photo name


  1. GREAT post! It's so awesome to see how far your young writers have come in such a short amount of time! (And can't wait to see how far they go.) PS- thanks for the shout out! Too kind of you! :-) - Susan

  2. Oh- and that circle map is an awesome strategy!

  3. Okay...this ALMOST makes me want to go back to teaching...I taught 4th grade for lots of years after going to the writing workshop...Loved teaching writing!
    Have a great day!

  4. Love this post! I am at a brand new school and all the kids seem to have different backgrounds in writing! I have some wonderful small-momenters and some chronic listers! Thank you for the idea of implementing the circle map! Thinking Maps have been universally new to all the students so that will be a great jumping off point! Thanks, girl!

    Hardcore Teacher Resources

  5. Loved this and all your great ideas! I also love illustrating and circle maps for prewriting!

  6. Great post! Question...are these comp books (that the circle maps, sketche, etc., are in) their Seed Notebooks? And when are you introducing them to students? And are you following the 20 day writing cycle from TCRWP to take one piece through the writing process? Am investigating how primary teachers "do" the writing process with Lucy materials. Our school just purchased Lucy's new units of study aligned to the Common Core and we are excited.

  7. awesome post Katie! I'm jealous...of your love of teaching writing! It's not my thing...I'm working on it! You are an inspiration!

  8. We just got writer's workshop this year at my school.....we are so overwhelmed and don't feel like we are doing it "right". We didn't receive much guidance and are struggling because our first graders will never be exposed to it until they come to us. So many days my kids do look at me like I have 5 heads because they didn't hear it in kindergarten...

  9. Great post! I am also very passionate about writers workshop. My first graders have been working on taking their small moment and then exploding it. Wow...can't imagine what I would do if I had a hour for writing! Did you use the circle maps when you taught first grade?
    Two Friends In First

  10. This year is the first I have truly embraced WW and I absolutely LOVE it!!! It's the first part of our day and definitely my favorite. I feel like I need to work on conferring with my students. I would love for you to write a post on that : )

    For the Love of First Grade

  11. Awesome!! thank you so much for sharing this beautiful post!! The pictures are mind blowing!!
    signs sheffield

  12. Hi, what you said about children and their lists is exactly what my students are doing. I'm going to give them the cirlcle map and build off that. I noticed your students had a clear idea of what a sentence is....my students' stories are all composed of one single sentence. I'm wondering if you had this issue and how you approached it


Back to Top