Writing Circles Made Easy

27 12 2010

Writing Circles Pt. II

For those of you who read my post  recently about writing circles, I wanted to update with some other ideas of how this is working for me in my classroom.

Here are some points that have worked for me with my writing circles:

  • I have my writing circles meet once a week on the same day. This consistency helps the kids stay organized and they know that on Tuesdays they will be expected to share their writing with their group.
  • At the end of each session I have the students pick their topic for the following week. I also have them pick who will be the first reader (the person who will read his/her piece first next week) and the task master (the person to keep everyone on task and to make sure they listen to each other and everyone shares).
  • Before the groups meet, I have the students write three topics they would like to write about in their notebooks. Then I have them pick their top idea and write that on the notecard and bring it to the group. This way they aren’t influenced by each other’s ideas. Also it makes things move more quickly.
  • I am going to have my students pick their favorite writing and add it to their blog. Then I am going to have them comment on each other’s writings via their blog. This will enable students who are not in each other’s writing groups to be able to hear others writings and comment on them.

If anyone has tried writing circles and has other ideas that work, please share!!! 🙂


Get past the “I have NO idea what to write about!” comments

14 12 2010

Writing Circles

I have had my students work with their writing groups for some time now, and the ideas and topics of what to write about are getting redundant and dry. I  find my students are struggling to come up with  fresh topics to write about.

I adapted an idea from Jim Vopat’s book, Writing Circles: Kids Revolutionize Workshop.

I had the students think of three topics that they felt they could write something about. I told them this could be a word or phrase. I gave them examples of flowers, dogs, red, friendship, peace, I hate, boys vs. girls, baseball etc… I then had them pick the one topic that they are the most interested in writing about. They wrote their word on a notecard. Then I had them get into their writing groups and pass the cards in a circle marking each topic according to how they felt:

·         * Is they would like to write about this topic

·         ? if they are willing to try the topic

·         X if the topic won’t work for them.

They then collected the topics and the one that had the most stars was the topic that they had to write about. I give my students one week to write about the topic in any genre.  There is a little writing time in class for this, but they also may need to do some outside of class. I told them that it is not a final copy, but they must share what they wrote with their writing group. This may be a half page to one page.

Since I have done this, the kids seem excited to have a specific topic that they need to write about. It helps them get over the hump of I don’t know what to write about. There is still chouice given in this because they come up with their topics and have a voice in which topic they like. They also are able to write in any genre that they choose.

So far the students have really enjoyed the writing circle topics. Even if they get a topic they don’t care for, they write about how much they hate that topic. Since I require them all to share their writing, they are motivated to write well since they know their peers will be reading it. I heard a student say that he wanted to work harder on his topic this week because he was not proud of his writing he brought to this group! 🙂

Using writing topics will enable the students to write various genres on lots of topics and have many rough drafts. In a few weeks I will have them pick a writing that they want to take further in the writing process so that they can have a published piece.


Writing Groups

23 09 2010

At the start of each year I put my kids into writing groups ( I have them write on a card 3 people they want to work with and 1 person they don’t think they can work well with- I tell them I will put them in a group with at least one person they want to work with). These are groups where the students talk about writing, help each other with their writing and share their pieces. For the first writing group activity, I gave each group a folder with four personal narratives from previous students.  I purposely picked pieces that were awesome examples of personal narratives, to pieces that needed some work!

The groups had to read each piece and with post it notes, mark up the text with things they noticed that were good and areas where they thought needed improvement. I wanted them to aslo take note of the opening, closing, use of figurative language and senses. They then shared their thoughts with the class and each group compared what their group noticed on the same piece.

What I liked about this activity was that the students were able to look at examples of narratives and hopefully carry over some of the things they noticed to their own pieces when we begin personal narratives.

Point of View With a Twist

8 02 2010

 There are so many great books out there for teaching Point of View and perspective. When I talk to my students about point of view, I always read to them numerous picture books to show them that  a creative story can come from changing around the point of view of a familiar story, or writing a story from an unusual perspective.

I always read to my students, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka. This is a story of the three little pigs from the point of view of the big bad wolf.  They love this story!

I then have my students read the original version of Little Red Riding Hood. In groups of four they pick a character (the mom, little red riding hood, grandma or the wolf) out of a hat. They then have the re-write the story from the character’s (that they chose) perspective.

To share, I have break into groups and have all the grandma’s share, all the little red-riding hoods share, together. They enjoy hearing how other people wrote their story form the same character’s point of view.

Other good picture books I use for point of view and perspective:

The Fourth Little Pig by Teresa Celsi

Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters from Obedience School by Mark Teague

The Great Gracie Chase: Stop That Dog by Cynthia Rylant

The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry

Two Bad Ants by Chris Van Allsburg

Wolf Who Cried Boy by Bob Hartman.

Moving Forward with Writing Groups

9 12 2009

During writing workshop, I have found that my students are not giving each other good feedback when they are sharing their work with each other.  I find that they are just sharing their writing pieces, and not taking time to hear other people’s pieces, give or ask for advice to improve their work.

In writing group meetings during writing workshop:

I have my students tell their listeners to: Bless, Address, or Press with their writing.

Bless means to say only positive comments about the piece.

Address means that the writer picks one or two things that he/she specifically want help on.

Press means that the writer is in the publishing stage so give him/her everything you’ve got to make it great. The writer also tells the listeners what specifically he/she needs help on.

Even though I have the students do bless, address, press- I think I need to revisit it and remind the students to move to the address or press step.

What we have done in writing groups so far:

  • At the beginning of the year, I had my students get into writing groups and gave them written pieces (written by published authors). I had the students mine for gold and share their thoughts.
  • I also gave each group a selection of poems to read through, mine for gold and then give the writer advice on what they would change and why.
  • Once we got to the students sharing their own work I had them start by saying positive feedback only, then having them move to press.

A possible solution I am going to try:

I am going to read my own work to the class,  and go through the critique process (bless-address-press) with the students so that they can see that even my writing is not perfect and go through many steps before becoming polished. I know that students love to read stuff that the teacher writes because it is so personal. I have found that Students are more willing to share, when the teacher “exposes” him/herself.

What is Good Writing?

3 12 2009

An important lesson I want my students to take away from my class is to look more closely at writing and to appreciate writing. To start having my students think about good writing, I have them bring in their own examples of what they think is good writing. I then have students write in their writing notebooks their ideas of good writing. They get into groups and share their ideas and create one list. I then have each group share their ideas and we make a list on chart paper. I took a picture of our chart this year:

I then have the students share their examples of good writing with each other. I come back to this lesson and we look at what we feel are good writing samples throughout the year. I find it helps the students to appreciate writing when they read, and I find that they  write content with more meaning. I am always reminding them of what we agreed on was good writing, and encourage them to use these ideas in their own writing.

Writing Groups & Organizing Writing Workshop

3 11 2009


After 11 long weeks of not loving my organization system for writing workshop, I finally have found a system that works for my students and me! I have broken down my main components below:

Writing Folders:

Each student has a writing folder that they keep in the room at all times filed in a crate by their class period. Beside their works in progress and final pieces, in their writing folder is: a Books I have Read sheet, Written Piece Log, Personal Proofreading Sheet, Spelling Sheet and Writing Workshop Planning Sheet.  It may seem like a ton of papers but I have color coded each piece and they know what color to grab to get what they need. The problem I had with the writing folders was that the students were shoving them in the crate at the end of the period and they took forever to find their folder. To solve this problem I gave each  class period a color and each writing group a number. I wrote on the student’s folders their group number in the color of their class period. When the students go to get their folder, they know what color tab and what number tab they can find their folder in. I also have assigned a writing group leader for each group. This persons job is at the beginning and end of class to pass out and collect the writing folders. That way there are only 4-6 students at the crate instead of 30! The students can grab their entire hanging folder ( because it has the colored & numbered tab on it) and pass out the file folders to their groups- so far, works like a charm! I posted a picture of the writing crate above. I am going to split half of the folders into another crate because their folders are getting jammed with all the writing (not necessarily a bad thing 🙂 )

Writing Groups:

My students meet in writing groups when we have writing workshop. To get them into groups, at the beginning of the year I had them write on a note card three people they feel comfortable and would like to work with, and one person they would prefer not to work with. I then had the tedious task of putting my students into groups that worked. I guaranteed them that they wouldn’t get the person they didn’t want to work with, and said they would get at least one of the three they would like to work with.  When we have writing workshop, the group meets together to share their writing, comment on it, get help  (if they ask for it) or work on writing activities that we are doing in class. Writing groups have become a safe place for the kids to share their work and listen to each other. I have to admit that we don’t meet every single time we have WW, but I try to get them to meet at least once a week.


When students need a conference with me during WW, I have them write their name on the whiteboard in a list. Then I work my way down the list. I use this method after I have walked around the room and made sure everyone has something to start on and doesn’t have any housekeeping type questions. I have found that when the students see where they are on the list, they can estimate how long until they can get help. This helps them to go on to something else, without sitting with their hand up or constantly walking up next to me while I am working with someone else.

Revision/ Editing Student Conferences:

When my students want a  revision or editing conference. They put their name on the board and then the first two names work together, then the next two etc.. I wasn’t sure if students would like this method, but I have found that for those who want someone to revise/ edit their work now, they can get immediate feedback. Since everyone is on a different step in the writing process, If students wait for their friend to be done, they may be sitting around waiting a while. Putting their name on the board allows them to meet with someone who is on the same step as they are in the writing process.

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