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Writing Time is NOT Over! How to Increase Writing Stamina During Writer's Workshop

"I'm done!"  During the early weeks of Writer's Workshop, these cringe-worthy words echo through my classroom.  "Really?" you think to yourself.  "We're only about five minutes into our workshop!"  Then I remember that every fall it's the same students have not yet built up a healthy stamina for writing.  I take a deep breath and relax, because I know that in a few short weeks, they will be utilizing every moment of their writing time, and begging for more!  How do I accomplish it?  Here are some tips that have worked with even the most resistant writers...

1.  Set a class goal and work daily to achieve it.

Decide how long you want your students to be able to write in the long-term.  I usually expect my third graders to be able to write independently for 30 minutes (or longer) by the time workshop is in full swing.   But I build up to that amount the same way I do for independent reading.  I might start with five or ten minutes, but that usually depends upon the needs of my group.  It is fun to celebrate each day by coloring in a chart that shows their progress, and looking forward to their goal for the next day.  It is such a simple idea...but it really works!

2.  Create an atmosphere for writing

When you walk into my classroom during writer's workshop, you will notice that soft music is playing (usually the non-lyrical kind...research shows that is best) and you will hear the soft chatter of students working.  Supplies are readily available including sharpened pencils, loose-leaf paper ready on shelves, writing folders loaded with student tools and strategies, a writing board that has topic ideas and other resources.  The classroom becomes a cozy space that is safe for writers to put their thoughts into words.  I like to give students the choice of where to sit as well.  This may not work for all students or teachers, but I found that when students can choose their writing spot....their writing stamina is much better.  I know that as an adult writer...I am quite picky about my writing space.  If I'm not stamina suffers.

3.  Allow for collaboration

I love a nice quiet classroom...I think most teachers do.  But it's time to face the facts...the BEST learning happens when students collaborate.   They need to TALK about their reading, their math thinking, and yes, their writing!   When students share and talk about their writing with peers, magical things happen.  They get topic ideas from one another, they offer friendly suggestions, they help with editing, they give compliments, and they lend a listening ear when the adults are too busy.  There really is no end to the benefits when writers collaborate.  I'll share a little secret too...when you allow students to talk during writing makes it go by faster.  Nothing will kill your students' writing stamina quicker than demanding that the classroom be silent.

4.  Chunk your writing time

If many of your students are struggling to write independently for 30 minutes or more, you might try building in short breaks.  For example, Lucy Calkins has "mid-workshop teaching points", which are a great way to have students stop for a breather, while you offer them a tip to keep them going for another few minutes.  Another idea is to stop and have a few students share what they are working on, which can help students who are stalled out to get their juices flowing again.  I will often have students do their partner work in the middle of workshop instead of waiting until the end.  This bit of collaboration is often just the little brain break that is needed to keep students writing for another 15 minutes or more.

5.  Warm up with quick-writes

A quick write is a set amount of time (5-15 minutes) that students will write without stopping.  The idea is for students to write as much as they can without planning first.  It is generally done to build writing fluency, but also helps with stamina.  Once or twice per week I like to start writer's workshop with a quick write as a warm up.  It is a great strategy for extra-squirrelly students (after a day of recess drama for example).  I will give them a very general topic (winter fun, a scary time, my hero, etc.), set a timer and zip my lips while they write.  You will be surprised at how much students love this...and they always want to share what they wrote, so choose a few volunteers to share or have them share with their partners.  This quick writing warm-up will get your students focused on writing very quickly and really helps to extend their writing stamina throughout the rest of workshop time.  (You can find some great Quick Write topics in my TPT store).

6.  Model strategies that writers use

All writers struggle with stamina....we have all spent time staring at the blank page or screen, wishing we were doing something else.  As a writing teacher, I like to share with my students strategies that I have used to get back to the task at hand when I am distracted and just can't seem to write.  If I find that my students are struggling with stamina, I will model these strategies as mini-lessons, within the context of whatever unit I am teaching.  Some examples of these include:
  • Revisit a mentor text to get an idea for something I want to try in my writing
  • Stretch - Fingers, arms, neck, etc.
  • Focus on one tiny part of my writing piece and working to add descriptive words and details
  • Take a break from a certain piece of writing to work on something different
  • Sketch - a new writing idea, a part of a piece I'm struggling with, a character, etc.
  • Share my story with my partner to get feedback, or read my partner's story stamina is starting to dwindle...time for a coffee!  I hope you find success with these strategies and hear your students singing, "What?  Writing time is over already?!!  I'm not done yet!!"  Be sure to check out the other posts in this series:  {Frustrating}Student Writing Problems and How to Solve Them.  

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Love and peace,

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Land that plane! When students write TOO much {and a FREEBIE}

If you have been following this series...I have to start with an apology.  I got off track big time.  I started a new role in my school district, and I have been learning the ropes.  I have been a classroom teacher for 26 years and decided to step out of my comfort zone and accept a position as a literacy coach.  It has been quite a ride so far, and I can tell you that learning something new is both rewarding and extremely challenging!    I was very comfortable (very, very comfortable) teaching third grade.  One could say that I was too comfortable and needed a challenge, so I took the leap!  Not sure how this will all pan out for me, but the change is refreshing and I am so proud of myself for taking a risk.

I have been thinking about this blog series {Student Writing Problems and How to Solve Them} A LOT, but have not had the chance to sit down and write it!  Finally it is winter break and I am ready to hunker down and get back to it!

My last post was about students who just won't write...a very common, and frustrating problem.  However, just as problematic is the student who writes pages upon pages and just can't seem to land that plane!  You know the ones....they proudly run over to you with their "chapter book" and say, "Hey, want to read my story?"  Your heart gets real happy for a moment when you see all those pages.  Then they start reading to you, and they keep going....on and on and on.  Their story has no real beginning and no ending in sight...and the body of their story has no real point at all.  They finish reading to you {you stopped really listening about 10 minutes ago} and you are suddenly rendered speechless as they ask you what you think of their story.  Ugh!  What do you say?

Third graders are notorious for equating quantity with quality.  They have somehow gotten the message that writing A LOT is what makes them a good writer.  Where did they learn that?  Of course, they learned it from YOU!  You have been working so hard to build their writing stamina, trying to get them to write MORE, MORE, MORE!  Now it is time to give them some strategies to add to their tool bag....strategies that will help them to focus their writing and yes, shorten it up a bit.


The solution to this problem actually starts BEFORE they start writing their story...when they are brainstorming topic ideas.  If they are working on a narrative...they need to be taught how to choose a SEED idea, rather than a huge "WATERMELON" topic.  You know the ones...."My trip to Disney" or "My Camping Trip."  Those large, all-encompassing topics can get out of control really, really fast.  If they are writing expository text (non-fiction), it is a bit easier to keep their writing focused, but I still encourage students to narrow their topic as much as possible.  For example, instead of writing about "dogs", they could focus on "beagles", or "dog training" or "choosing a dog".  Third grade is a perfect time to start showing young writers how to do this.  You will have to model for them, as much as possible, by choosing your own "watermelon" ideas and showing students how you can mine many smaller, more focused ideas from that larger idea.  {Check out this FREEBIE for a resource to help with this).  Create class topic charts that are organized by a large writing territory (i.e., Vacations, Pets, Family Stories, etc.) and then add bullets for smaller ideas underneath.  Students can use this as a reference when selecting writing topics.


Teach a few lessons on audience and writing purpose.  Students need to have an idea about WHO will be reading their story and WHY they will read it.  Is it a "how to" book where they will teach their classmates to do something?  Is it a story intended to teach their younger sibling a lesson?  Or is it a letter for their convince her to buy a hamster for them?  Your students need to decide who their audience is during the planning stages.  This will go a long way to give their writing more focus.


During the prewriting stage, as students are rehearsing their story ideas and creating their story mountains, have them decide what their story is REALLY about...what is the message or "heart" of their story that they want their reader to take away?  Maybe they want their story to teach a lesson about honesty, or send a message about the importance of family.  Maybe the point of their book about snakes is to convince their readers that snakes are not so scary after all.  We spend a lot of time during our READING lessons, teaching students about the author's message, but too often we don't connect this with our writing lessons.  You need to constantly insist that their writing ALWAYS has a point or a purpose.  It is worth spending several lessons modeling and practicing how to go about planning the "heart of the story" or the purpose of their opinion/information pieces, and it will help students to weed out the unimportant details and focus on the ones that really matter in their writing. {Check out this FREEBIE for some ideas}.


Let's just say you did all of the above....and it just didn't sink in for a few students and they came to you with their really long {and pointless} stories.  It's not too late to help them to revise their writing to give it more focus.  It is really important to start the school year by creating a community of writers that value the writing process...and that REVISION plays a huge role in that process.  In fact, it is the part of the process where writers should spend the longest amount of time.  If students have jumped in and written a lot of pages...that's great!  Now encourage them to find the point, purpose, focus, message, heart of their piece.  Have them decide what it is REALLY about and then have them highlight all the sentences that support that idea.  This is don't expect perfection....experiencing this process is what's most important.  They can cut up their story and re-write certain parts to make it more focused on their message.  Make it fun by providing tools like highlighters, colored pens, scissors, tape, etc.  Model this process for them with your own story or a class story.  They will soon learn that revision is SUPER COOL because it gives them the freedom to take risks in their writing (because they can always change it later).


The most important thing you can do for your young writers is to always expect their best work.  Too often, we listen to that long, boring story and just let it go because it is too exhausting to deal with.  "Well, at least they are writing a lot," we say to ourselves.  If we don't take the time to teach them new strategies for making their writing better, and then EXPECT them to to use those strategies, they will continue to do more of the same.  This takes time and patience...and it does not produce overnight results, but eventually you will see your students using many of the tools you have helped them to acquire.


Usually, you will have a handful of students who need to work on a particular strategy....such as narrowing their writing focus.  Make it a habit to read your students' writing on a regular basis, so that you know them as writers.  Use this knowledge to form strategy groups to build upon their strengths and address their areas of need.  Pull them together and review a single strategy that can help them to move forward in their writing.  If you notice that all of your students are struggling on one particular thing...then make it a whole-class strategy group!

I hope this post helps give you some ideas for how to help your students to "land that plane."  Please feel free to post your comments and questions below...I'd love to hear how your year is going!  If you didn't have the chance sure to check out the printables in this FREEBIE to support you with your writing instruction.

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If you need some great resources for teaching your fledgling writers...check out my TPT store.  My latest unit on Personal Narrative Writing has some great lessons including choosing seed ideas, how to find the heart of the story, revision strategies and much, much more.  This was a pet project of mine and you just have to check it out!!

Love and peace,