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Effective student to student conferencing is the weakest part of my writer's workshop program. Realizing that I need to train the kids to conference effectively, does anyone out there have some activities or lesson plans to support conferencing/peer discussion skills. What kind of accountability measures work to keep it from being off-task or a waste of writing time?

I would REALLY love it if someone out there would create some videos of students talking together about their writing (and share them on this site). I think good modeling is what my kids need the most!

Any other tips on setting up the workshop environment would be great as we plan to launch another school year.

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One of the techniques I use is to have students do what I call "wonderings". After listening to a peer's writing draft, they ask questions about things they "wonder" about after hearing the writing piece. For example, after hearing Student A's story about taking her dog to the vet, Student B mights say, "I wonder what kind of dog you have?" Student A then jots the question down at the end of the writing piece. At least 2 more "wonderings" are done before partners switch roles. When both students have had a chance to get revising ideas from each other, they then decide which revising ideas will make their writing stronger.
I found Lynne's reply very helpful.

I am just starting to implement Writers Workshop this year, even though I have not been trained in the concept. I had heard about it and have checked it out online--I have learned enough to know that I want to incorporate it--to some extent in my high school composition class. I will be using with in combination with 6 Traits and the Writing Process. If you have any information that could be of help to me, please forward it to me at: mmiyasato@gwtc.net. Right now, I will be using the basic format provided by Mandy Gregory (Writers Workshop Mini Lessons: Beginning the School Year) and an article by Kristina Klein (Adapting the Writers' Workshop for the High School Curriculum). Both of these online resources provide some basics, but I am looking for more--including info on conferenceing. Please respond if you can find the time.
I am an elementary writing teacher and I don't have any materials on using Writing Workshop at your level, but I can recommend that you read books by some authors that I have found to be of tremendous help with writing instruction in general. Books by Lucy Calkins are an invaluable resource. Donald Murray, Ralph Fletcher, and Barry Lane are also experts in this area. One element of Writing Workshop I would focus on before you start is the writing conference. Conducting a skillful writing conference can "make or break" the Writer's Workshop. Good luck with your project! I think this format for writing instruction is highly effective and students love it.

mona miyasato said:
I found Lynne's reply very helpful.

I am just starting to implement Writers Workshop this year, even though I have not been trained in the concept. I had heard about it and have checked it out online--I have learned enough to know that I want to incorporate it--to some extent in my high school composition class. I will be using with in combination with 6 Traits and the Writing Process. If you have any information that could be of help to me, please forward it to me at: mmiyasato@gwtc.net. Right now, I will be using the basic format provided by Mandy Gregory (Writers Workshop Mini Lessons: Beginning the School Year) and an article by Kristina Klein (Adapting the Writers' Workshop for the High School Curriculum). Both of these online resources provide some basics, but I am looking for more--including info on conferenceing. Please respond if you can find the time.
That is a wonderfully simple idea! Thanks! Sally

Lynne Stewart-Raglin said:
One of the techniques I use is to have students do what I call "wonderings". After listening to a peer's writing draft, they ask questions about things they "wonder" about after hearing the writing piece. For example, after hearing Student A's story about taking her dog to the vet, Student B mights say, "I wonder what kind of dog you have?" Student A then jots the question down at the end of the writing piece. At least 2 more "wonderings" are done before partners switch roles. When both students have had a chance to get revising ideas from each other, they then decide which revising ideas will make their writing stronger.
Last year I created a list of questions that students asked their peer group after they read their writing to them. These questions were worded so that the students had to give specific feedback on specific traits of their writing. For example, did I have a strong lead? (organizations) Was my story confusing at any point? Did you have any questions about my story? (organization) What was your favorite part?
Students were not permitted to make any other comments. This kept them from saying, "it is perfect as it is" or worse "that story was not good". It required them to make specific comments that were constructive and gave the writer suggestions for how they could improve their work.
Thanks Susan - I've been chewing on a similar idea, thanks for giving me something to start with. Sally

Susan LaDuke said:
Last year I created a list of questions that students asked their peer group after they read their writing to them. These questions were worded so that the students had to give specific feedback on specific traits of their writing. For example, did I have a strong lead? (organizations) Was my story confusing at any point? Did you have any questions about my story? (organization) What was your favorite part?
Students were not permitted to make any other comments. This kept them from saying, "it is perfect as it is" or worse "that story was not good". It required them to make specific comments that were constructive and gave the writer suggestions for how they could improve their work.
Thank you Susan. Very useful--even for Grade 11!

Sally Ann Root said:
Thanks Susan - I've been chewing on a similar idea, thanks for giving me something to start with. Sally

Susan LaDuke said:
Last year I created a list of questions that students asked their peer group after they read their writing to them. These questions were worded so that the students had to give specific feedback on specific traits of their writing. For example, did I have a strong lead? (organizations) Was my story confusing at any point? Did you have any questions about my story? (organization) What was your favorite part?
Students were not permitted to make any other comments. This kept them from saying, "it is perfect as it is" or worse "that story was not good". It required them to make specific comments that were constructive and gave the writer suggestions for how they could improve their work.
Make time for two types of peer conferencing during your Writer's Workshop. Knee to knee peer conferencing encourages good listening for content and clarity. Side by side peer conferencing encourages more technical editing and revision.
Thats a very clever idea to differentiate the agenda through posture. I think that would really help my kids stay a little clearer on what they are supposed to be accomplishing.

Shawn Voelp Ogrodowski said:
Make time for two types of peer conferencing during your Writer's Workshop. Knee to knee peer conferencing encourages good listening for content and clarity. Side by side peer conferencing encourages more technical editing and revision.
I recently asked some fellow staff members to do a writing piece on our class topic so they could create a fishbowl discussion. I plan to have some discussion with them in the room prior to them meeting in a "peer conference". I have BUZZ GROUP guidelines that we developed in class, but find the same problem. I tried this similar fishbowl idea with literature circles and it worked well. Stay tuned....
I'd love to hear more! What a coincidence.....we used the "fishbowl" in my class yesterday. I think it went very well, but it was myself with a student. The challenge will be getting the kids to give that same interest and respect to one another. One realization that I've come to, is that my students will need repeated exposure and practice to get the conferencing skills under their belts.

Ann Anders said:
I recently asked some fellow staff members to do a writing piece on our class topic so they could create a fishbowl discussion. I plan to have some discussion with them in the room prior to them meeting in a "peer conference". I have BUZZ GROUP guidelines that we developed in class, but find the same problem. I tried this similar fishbowl idea with literature circles and it worked well. Stay tuned....
I like to give each member of the conference a post-it note to write down open ended questions about the reader's piece. The BIG rule is that the reader cannot answer the questions outloud. Instead, they must answer the question IN their paper. Similar to the "I wonder..." questions from another post. The writer leaves with post-its full of open ended questions to help them elaborate. I find it to be very helpful.

HOWEVER, I do have a lot of trouble with peer editing in 6th grade.

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