Writer’s Workshop for high school

Cultivate creativity with writer’s workshop for grades 9-12

Writer’s Workshop with my high school students will be coming to a close next Wednesday. We started our Writer’s Workshop at the beginning of the second quarter. Currently, my juniors are wrapping up their second drafts of the eight projects they’ve chosen from a menu of ten listed on their project sheets.

Our workshop routine goes something like this:

  1. Brainstorm/plan/outline to get started on a project. Reference instructions and mentor texts for each project in the folders at the front of the classroom.
  2. Write a first draft. 
  3. Using the correct responder sheet, have a friend, parent, or someone else respond to your writing. They must answer four to six questions from the sheet, writing their suggestions and feedback in the blanks on the back of the responder sheet. Your responder must give you suggestions and advice. 
  4. Revise and/or rewrite to create an improved second draft.
  5. Print out a second draft and put in the WW  box for me to read. Your second draft must contain significant revisions or it will be returned. Include these with your highlighted second draft:
    1. First draft
    2. First draft responder sheet with feedback 
  6. Give me up to a week to return your second draft.
  7. Make final revisions and edits and print out a final draft.
  8. Keep the following with your final draft until the day you turn all projects in:  brainstorming/pre-writing(if you have it), first draft, responder sheet, second draft. Staple all of these together, placing your final draft on top of the stack.

So far, this process works for my classes. I’ve used this basic framework with both middle school students (7th- and 8th-graders) and high school students (both juniors and seniors).

A high school students writes during Writer's Workshop.

One change I made this year: I did not require a “turn in half of your projects” checkpoint mid-way through the schedule. Instead, we talked briefly about how it was their responsibility to budget their time, making sure on their own that they were on track to turn in a completed portfolio next week. I think it’s good to allow students to organize their own time, and really, most of them are able to do that. After all, many already have part-time jobs and extra-curricular activities to work around.

I love writer’s workshop because it allows me to get to know students on a deeper level when we conference. I really enjoy reading about their lives, their goals, hobbies, and their beliefs. I’m convinced that a strict schedule of academic writing does not allow that kind of interaction.

For example, my students are writing…

  • How-to Articles on: barrel racing, dirt track car racing, chess, professional eyelash application, mowing hay, bee-keeping, baking a melt-in-your-mouth pumpkin pound cake
  • Reviews of: favorite books, new and classic movies, and area restaurants (one of which needs some serious customer service training)
  • Narratives about: sports tournaments, house fires, rodeo competitions, close calls on thin ice, beloved grandfathers, poor decisions
  • Poetry that celebrates: Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, a prized saddle, a grandmother’s necklace, a trusty racing helmet
  • Arguments about: the dangers of stereotypes, the ethics of working hard, community pride,

These topics reveal my students’ personalities and show them a more personal side to writing. A variety of writing tasks has the potential to show students how fun, expressive, clarifying, and even therapeutic writing can be.

A variety of writing tasks has the potential to show students how fun, expressive, clarifying, and even therapeutic writing can be.

To achieve variety in my Writer’s Workshop project list, I’ve experimented over the years, usually keeping a few tried-and-true projects while swapping out some tired ones with fresh assignments.

Here’s my current menu of Writer’s Workshop projects:

  1. Treasured Object Free-Verse Poem (poetry); min. 10 lines
  2. Memoir (narrative); This can be based on an existing “Essay of the Week” narrative; 750-2,000 words
  3. Movie/Game/Book/Restaurant Review (argument); 500-1,000 words
  4. Slice of Life (narrative); 250-350 words; focused on one ordinary moment
  5. How-To Article (informative); 500-1,000 words
  6. This I Believe essay; (argument); 750-1,000 words
  7. Ekphrastic Poem; (poetry); min. 20 lines 
  8. Fictional Short Story (narrative); 750-2,500 words
  9. Your Choice Prose: argument, narrative, informative; no specific word count requirement
  10. Social Change Lit Reveal; (informative); 500-1,000

This list purposely includes a balanced mix of writing discourses: poetry, narrative, informative, argument. In addition, the Social Change Lit Reveal, a new project, is actually a detailed presentation that students can create using Google Slides, Prezi, or another application of their choosing. (Since this is a new project, I will be sharing this in a future blog post. Stay tuned by becoming a follower!)

My Writer's Workshop project sheet alongside writing by high school students.
This is the printed project sheet for my version of Writer’s Workshop. The full step-by-step process is listed on the back for students to reference. All materials, including explanatory sheets for each project, are maintained in the classroom and online in Google Classroom.

I must give credit where credit is due

I must make sure to tell you that Corbett Harrison of Always Write is my Writer’s Workshop guru, and I’ve borrowed and then tweaked his materials and basic procedure, which he outlines at his ridiculously comprehensive website. Seriously, this site is amazing and one to check out as soon as your schedule allows.

Read about how I’ve customized Harrison’s workshop procedure in these two posts: Here’s What Writer’s Workshop Looks Like in My Middle School Classroom, and It’s a Wrap: Three Take-Aways from Writer’s Workshop.

Timing is everything: The 2021 Scholastic Writing Awards are coming up

I have another motive for Writer’s Workshop. I use it as a way for students to create work suitable for the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. The entry deadline for the competition in our region is in early January; however, my students will submit their entries before the holiday break. A few have already created their online accounts to do just that. All that’s left is to upload their entries and send in the entry fees ($7 per entry), which my school pays.

During Writer's Workshop, my high school students write articles and stories for the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.
A screenshot of the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards website. Visit this site to learn how to enter your students’ best writing Writing contests build writing confidence!

It took me a few tries (like about three!) to finally figure out how to utilize Writer’s Workshop in my middle school writing classroom several years ago. Since then, I’ve refined it and adapted it to older students in my current high school position. I wouldn’t consider teaching ELA without incorporating one full quarter to the Writer’s Workshop. It allows students to experience the more personal, “non-academic” side of writing that they miss in a system that elevates standardized test scores at the cost of creative expression.


Need a new poetry lesson?

Enter your email below and I’ll send you this PDF file that will teach your students to write treasured object poems, one of my favorite poem activities. I know your students will enjoy it!

A sheet that explains how to write Treasured Object Poems.
Treasured Object Poems

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Published by Marilyn

Writes | Teaches | Not sure where one ends and the other begins.

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