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Unit of Study 1
Launching the Writing Workshop

by Lucy Calkins
with Marjorie Martinelli, contributing author
Annotated Table of Contents | Contents: Narrative Format
Annotated Table of Contents
  1. Starting the Writing Workshop
    In this session, you'll invite children to become writers, and you'll teach a strategy for generating personal narrative entries.
  2. Generating More Writing
    In this session, you'll teach children that writers sometimes think of a meaningful place, list small moments related to it, then select one and write about it.
  3. Qualities of Good Writing: Focus, Detail, and Structure
    In this session, you'll teach children that writers focus their stories, and that we tell stories in scenes rather than summaries.
  4. The Writer's Job in a Conference
    In this session, you'll introduce children to the structure of a writing conference and teach them ways writers talk about our writing.
  5. Building Stories Step-by-Step
    In this session, you'll teach students that writers unfold stories bit by bit rather than summarizing them.
  6. Choosing a Seed Idea
    In this session, you'll teach children that writers reread our notebooks, selecting and committing ourselves to an idea we'll develop into a finished piece of writing.
  7. Revising Leads: Learning from Published Writing
    In this session, you will teach children that writers deliberately craft the leads of our stories. You'll show children how to learn techniques for improving their own work by studying published writing.
  8. Writing Discovery Drafts
    In this session, you will show children that one way writers draft is by writing fast and long in order to get a whole story down on paper as it comes to mind.
  9. Revising Endings: Learning from Published Writing
    In this session, you will teach children that writers deliberately craft the endings of their stories. You'll show children how to learn techniques for improving their own work by studying published writing.
  10. Taking Charge of Our Writing Work: Starting a Second Piece
    In this session, you'll emphasize that writers make decisions about their own work, including when to finish pieces and to start new ones.
  11. Timelines as Tools for Planning Stories
    In this session, you'll teach students that writers can use timelines to plan and structure our narratives.
  12. Timelines as Tools for Developing Stories
    In this session, you will show children that writers can develop seed ideas by choosing one dot from a timeline and expanding that event into a new timeline.
  13. Writing from Inside a Memory
    In this session, you will teach children that writers replay life events to write in ways that let readers feel the experience.
  14. Writing in Passages of Thought
    In this session, you'll show children how writers can bring out more of our stories by writing whole paragraphs from single key sentences.
  15. Developing the Heart of a Story: Revision
    In this session, you will teach children that writers revise by asking, "What's the most important part of this story?" and developing that section.

  16. View Session 15
    View this sessions support resources from the Resources for Teaching Writing CD-ROM
  17. Using Editing Checklists
    In this session, you will remind children that writers edit to make writing exactly how we intend it to be for readers. Checklists can help.
  18. Publishing: A Writing Community Celebrates
    In this session, you'll celebrate being a community of flourishing writers and share the writing with the public in the form of a bulletin board.
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Contents: Narrative Format

We start the year by teaching children some of the biggest lessons they'll ever learn. First and most important, we teach them that their lives and their thoughts are worth writing about. We help children realize that the small moments of their lives can be compelling stories, and we help them feel committed to capturing the truth of their experience in words.

The first lessons in this unit center on topic choice. We teach children a number of strategies they can draw on in order to generate their own ideas for writing, and we set them free from a dependency on the teacher. Children will benefit from knowing that writers think of a person, then brainstorm moments they've spent with that person, choose one moment, and write the story. Writers similarly think of places that matter to them, brainstorm moments that occurred in those places, choose one moment, and write the story. Writers know that objects and photographs from their lives hold stories and that by listening to the stories of others, they can recall their own stories. Naomi Nye's beautiful poem "Valentine for Ernest Mann" reminds writers that "poems hide . . . in the shadows of our room they are hiding." Stories hide too, and with just a few minilessons we can be sure that all our students know where important stories are likely to hide.

Many teachers find that in this first unit, it helps to celebrate the fact that stories of significance can be found in the smallest and most ordinary occasions. Perhaps after children throng back into the classroom after lunch, we will want to help them choose one small story from all the many that occurred while they were eating and tell that story as well as possible to their partners. In this fashion, we can teach students to reexamine the everyday routines of their lives in search of stories that have humor, beauty, and drama.

Meanwhile, during this unit children learn the essentials of narrative writing. They learn that narratives are just that—stories. In a personal narrative, one character (presumably the writer) experiences one thing, then the next, then the next. These texts are usually chronologically ordered. Children also learn that their narratives will be more effective if the writer has zoomed in on a small episode, written with detail, expanded the heart of the story, made their characters talk—and above all "made a movie in the mind" and then recorded that movie on the page. As children learn to write in ways that reflect all that they have already learned about focus, detail, strong leads, and so forth, their writing will improve in very noticeable ways. The improvements in children's writing should prove to them that learning to write well matters and thus launch them into the year.

One of the few nonnegotiable qualities of effective narrative writing is the hard-to-describe (and hard-to-achieve) quality that some teachers refer to as "writing in the moment" or "making a movie in your mind." If a child talks all about an event—summarizing it with sentences like "It was a good baseball game. We won 6 to 2. I got a lot of hits."—then the child is commenting on the game rather than telling the story of it. The child has not yet grasped the idea of writing in a storyteller's voice. If, on the other hand, his piece begins, "I grabbed a bat and walked up to the plate. I looked at the pitcher and nodded. 'I'm ready,' I said," then the child is writing a story. Most children need to be reminded to make movies in their mind and to write so readers can picture exactly what is happening. As the year unfolds, we will let children in on the fact that stories are not shaped like those we teach children to write in this unit, but for now, children find that they've got their hands full.

During this unit, many children will profit from learning a very simple form of focus. For example, a child might initially plan to write a page-long piece depicting his whole day at the beach, but because of our teaching, he'll write instead about body surfing on one wave. Another child will decide that instead of retelling the entire trip to Grandma's house, she will focus on how she accidentally let the pigs loose. As children narrow the time span of their stories, it is crucial that they then elaborate on the portion of the event that remains in their spotlight. In other words, the main reason to "zoom in" or to "write about a little seed story, not about a big watermelon topic" is that this makes it more likely that the writer will relive an episode with enough detail that the reader, too, can experience the event.

As children learn about narrative writing, some of the lessons will be explicit, taught in minilessons and conferences. But some of the lessons will be implicit, gleaned as children are immersed in texts that sound like those we hope they will soon write. It is not always easy to find published personal narratives, so we also share realistic fiction, especially picture books and short stories that resemble the stories about small moments the children will write. Even just one dearly loved and closely studied text can infuse a writing workshop with new energy.

This unit of study is designed to launch a writing workshop that is well-managed enough that children can proceed with some independence. Children learn the structures and rituals of a writing workshop. They learn to gather for a minilesson, to sit and listen throughout most of it, to "turn and talk" with a partner at the designated moment. They learn that they can get themselves started on writing, work past the hard parts, rely on one another as well as on themselves, share their writing, and so forth. Soon children will be able to get themselves started writing new entries without needing any input from the teacher; this means that during one day's writing workshop, they'll write one entry after another, working with independence.

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Also Available
Units of Study for Primary Writing: A Yearlong Curriculum, K-2
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