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
Mini lessons are an essential part of the writer's workshop. Typically they precede the independent writing phase and last between 10 and 15 minutes. During that time, the teacher focuses on those skills and strategies that serve the needs and levels of the students.
Most mini lessons fall into three categories:
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.
There are several ways to structure mini lessons. Here are some suggestions from teachers.
Include Read Alouds
When students are exposed to a rich variety of literature and nonfiction, and have the chance to participate in writer's workshop, they begin to notice and think about the decisions made by authors.
Before long, students are using some of the same ideas, features, language, etc. in their own writing.
Here a 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 1 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 leads to 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.
When teachers model their own writing for students, they are showing students HOW to do it and not just TELLING them! They need to see an expert- you- go through the process of writing. Modelled writing is an essential part of writer's workshop.
Susan Brisson uses modelled writing with her Cycle 3 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.
Read a piece from one of Susan's students here.
Use Authentic Student Writing
Cycle 2 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 these texts effectively throughout the writing process.
Authors can also be used as mentors. During the author study, the 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.
This mentor text slideshow may be of interest to elementary teachers.
Possible mini lesson topics for the elementary classroom.