Setting up Writer’s Workshop

Setting up writers’ workshop at the beginning of the year in first grade takes lots of patience!  Here’s a look at how I get started with strong writers at the beginning of the year!

We started our first week with a Frozen Time Capsule activity and a little visit from Olaf in a {{chilly}} ice chest!  And even if you’ve already been in school a bit, it’s not too late.  Last year was my first year with this activity, and my kids just loved seeing the changes they made during the year!  Such an engaging way to get kids to want to start writing!

The second day of school, we wrote about what they wanted to learn in first grade {This paper and simple activity is in my first Unit}.  Really, this is just a preassessment for me.  You can use any prompt at the beginning of the year.  I took up the papers when they were finished and sorted the papers into four stacks:
1) Super low (below basic) writers,
2) low (basic) writers,
3) proficient writers and
4) advanced writers.

This is not a formal assessment…it’s just a quick, gut reaction on where each kid is at the beginning of the year before they get much help from me.

Once I have my piles, I divide each pile into 4 groups {pink, orange, green and 1…I usually have a yellow group instead of a 1 group, but I could not find any of these silly stickers that had four colors this year!!!!  GRRR!  So, I had to settle for a “1” group! 🙂

Anyways…I give each colored dot a friend from my lowest stack until I’m out of lows….then I pass out the proficient stacks to each dot….then the advanced ones.  This gives me 4, heterogenous groups to work with.  My groups aren’t on anything fancy….just the ol’ handwritten index card with dots.  But it works!!  Monday-Thursday I conference with one of these colored dot groups.  Fridays I can conference with an additional group, a different group {like more intervention for my lows} or it just leaves it open to not conference and do some whole group writing activities.  I’ve used this system for most of my 10 years teaching and I love it!
Why heterogenous groups?  Mainly, it’s a time thing.  If I conferenced with all of my low writers one day, it would take for. ever. to finish our conferences because they need so much from me.  If I conferenced with all of my highs one day, I’d be done in 5 seconds.  So, I mix it up so that I use up just the write amount of time conferencing!

Even though I do all of that pre assessing stuff right off the bat, I don’t actually start full writers’ workshop until the 2nd week of school.  We spend the first 6 days charting what good writers do on our pencil chart!

The format is the same as Writers Workshop: mini-lesson and model write, and then independent writing time, but instead of just journal writing, we work on Silly Sentences!!

These might be my favorite thing ever!  I loved this for my ELL babies!  They have green, yellow and red cards.  They turn over one color of each card and try to turn it into a complete sentence.

So, “penguin swims school” becomes, “The penguin swims at the school.” On the first day we do them altogether.  I turn over 3 cards on our ELMO and we write the sentence together on the board and their dry erase boards.  Then, as with the Gradual Release of Responsibility, they begin to write the sentence we discuss together on their boards instead of just copying.  We do this on the first and the second day.

By the third or fourth day, they are ready to write with partners.  So, with partners they turn over the cards and write their complete sentences.  Even though the school I’m at now is not as high ESL as before, this activity was still so good for these babies too.  Each day we focused on a new mechanics skill from our What Good Writers Do pencil anchor chart and focused on that with our silly sentences.  We also were able to talk about whether the sentence could be a fiction or non-fiction sentence.  And this class enjoyed trying to turn over the cards out of order….green, red, yellow instead of green, yellow, red.  {I made my ELL babies do it in order to help them with syntax.}  It was an extra challenge for these kids to think about what order to arrange the parts of the sentence.

My kids BEG to do silly sentences every year!  It’s such a fun way to start off the year with some serious mechanics practice!  And it’s the first thing that goes in my writing literacy station too!

Grab your own copy for your ELL babies—or non-ELL babies too!  Or get my entire Common Core Unit 1 which includes this activity and other writing activities!

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