MINI LESSONS

We present mini-lessons in a number of ways - in read-alouds, through discussions of an author’s craft, by modeling the writing process, and even by sharing conventions of good writing.

Marybeth Alley & Barbara Orehovee.

Revisiting the Writing Workshop: Management, Assessment, and Mini-Lessons. Scholastic. 2007. (57)



Mini lessons are an essential part of the writing workshop that typically precede the independent writing phase. During that time the teacher focuses on those skills and strategies that serve the needs and levels of the students, connected to something that was noticed or observed in the classroom.

Most mini lessons fall into three categories:

  • Procedures and management of the writer’s workshop

  • Strategies for producing texts through all of the stages of the production process

  • Qualities of good writing including writer/producer’s craft, techniques and conventions of language.

IDEAS FOR MINI LESSONS

Many of the best mini lesson ideas come right from your own classroom. What are your students writing? Are they able to come up with their own topics? What are they struggling with? What do they need help with right now? Your observations of authentic student writing can become powerful learning and teaching opportunities.

Include Read-Alouds

Reading short texts aloud, in conjunction with a think-aloud focusing on an aspect related to writer/producer’s craft, makes the teacher’s thinking visible. As students are exposed to a rich variety of texts, and have a chance to participate in writing workshop, they begin to notice and think about the decisions authors make.

Before long, students are using some of the same ideas, features, language, etc. in their own writing.

Here an elementary Cycle One student tries out some of the codes and conventions of graphic novels used by one of his favourite authors.

Rereading a class favourite, No Two Snowflakes by Sheree Fitch, Cycle One teacher, Catherine Goodwin focuses on the way Fitch uses carefully selected words that engage our senses and help us visualize and recreate the winter scene. Many of Catherine’s students then begin to write their own poems and stories trying to choose words through which their readers can see, feel, taste and remember or connect to their work.

Read alouds can also be used during a mini lesson to help students find topics for writing. One book that often inspires writing is The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant. Books like this one trigger memories and help students find new ideas for writing based on their own memories and family experiences.

Model the Production Process

When teachers model their own writing or production process for students, they are showing students how to do it rather than telling them. This helps students:

  • See a more experienced writer grappling with production decisions

  • Understand that the process is recursive and takes time

  • See the importance of revision decisions to strengthen the text


Susan Brisson uses modelled writing with her Cycle Three students. As she writes, she talks explicitly about the thinking behind her piece of writing and articulates her writing process. Modelled writing and thinking-aloud are powerful tools to use with students at all levels if we want them to become purposeful and reflective writers.

The examples show how Susan helps her students understand how she finds inspiration for writing from a photograph, how she uses her writer’s notebook to get her ideas down and her thinking as she begins to draft and revise her final text.

Use Authentic Student Writing

Teacher Barbara Palcich often uses examples of student writing during mini lessons to teach editing strategies to her students. Barbara’s students understand that composing and editing are separate and for that reason they are not afraid to use interesting words and phrases that children of their age may not yet be able to spell correctly. They are excited to have their work used during these lessons on editing i.e. the spelling, punctuation and grammar. Using chart paper or a white board, Barbara and her students work together to edit a piece of writing. During these mini lessons, the students are learning and practicing strategies they will use more independently in their own writing.

Use Mentor Texts

Mentor texts are those pieces of writing that help our students become better writers. For example, if we want students to write persuasive arguments, we need to provide them with examples of persuasive arguments to read, analyze, discuss, and emulate. During mini lessons students are taught how to use mentor texts effectively throughout the writing process.

Authors can also be used as mentors. During an author study, students look at the author’s craft and think about the decisions the author made when creating the text. They consider possiblities for their own writing.

Even the youngest students can benefit from listening to and talking about mentor texts. For example the way Bill Martin uses repetition in Brown Bear, Brown Bear.

Mentor texts can be books, short stories, excerpts from novels, articles or poems, and are used to teach the conventions of genre, writer’s craft, style and structure.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Secondary teacher and author, Kelly Gallagher, tells us that "We must teach students to imitate model texts, before they write, as they write, and as they revise." Gallagher, Kelly. Making the Most of Mentor Texts in Educational Leadership. April 2014, Volume 71. No. 7. pp. 28-33.

Penny Kittle explains and illustrates the use of mentor texts. Here you’ll find a list of possibilities for classroom use.

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