Bright Ideas Blog Hop: Small Group Writing Conferences

I'm so excited to link up with Shelley for the Bright Ideas Blog Hop! I cannot wait to start checking out all of the classroom tips and tricks my blogging buds are posting about today!

I've been tinkering with my Writer's Workshop for a little while and wanted to share a new conferencing strategy with you - small group writing conferences!

Admittedly, this is not my idea. I first read about it in the new Lucy Calkins materials our school purchased this year. I will, however, be the first to admit that I don't do things "Lucy's way." As teachers, we have to put our own spin on things to feel comfortable and confident trying something new, and I would definitely encourage you to do the same after reading this. :)

Here goes!

Our Writer's Workshop is a bit compacted because we departmentalize. On most days we have about 45-50 minutes and it looks a bit like this:

It's pretty jam-packed, but it works for us!

I don't pull small group conferences every day, but I do use them 3 or 4 times a week to reinforce skills I notice are missing in my students' writing. I'll also invite students to come to a small group if I'm teaching a new or particularly tricky skill.

Here are a couple of key "tips" that have made small group conferences work well for me:

After a couple of initially frustrating small group conferences I used some words of wisdom from my incredibly talented teaching partner, M:

 "If you don't have anything on your paper, I don't know how to help you."

I had several students consistently coming back to the carpet with nothing on their paper and the same complaint, "I don't know what to write." UGH. To alleviate this, I started giving kids 5 minutes of Get Started time. During the first five minutes of independent writing, that's exactly the expectation. I walk around, get my conferring materials together, and look to see who might want to come with me for a refresh. It worked like a charm. My kids know that they have to have something to work with in small group, so if they don't have anything on paper then small group is not an option for them yet.

Use those marker boards (or shower boards if you're a Home Depot fan like me)! You and I both know how much our kids love dry erase markers. When we're working on a skill (like quotation marks in the picture above), I have the students copy a sentence they already have in their notebook. Then a simple swipe or carat can help them to add or remove what they need. When I've checked their work, they have a convenient model to look at when they make corrections in their notebook.

I might call specific students back if I'm reviewing a skill I know they need to work on (capitalizing proper nouns, end punctuation, etc.). However, many times I'll announce what I'm going to work on in small group that day and invite kids to come back if they want extra help. You'd be surprised at how many of your kiddos will be honest with themselves (and you!) when help is offered instead of enforced. :)

Now, I do get the occasional "Needy Nancy" who only wants a bit of affirmation that they are doing the right thing. But it doesn't take long to glance at their board, give them a thumbs up, and send them back to their seat.

I usually see anywhere from 5-8 kids in a small group. We meet back on the carpet in a circle so that I can see everyone at once. I usually model and reinforce for 1-2 minutes. Then I give them a short a simple task:

"Find a sentence in your story that you think contains dialogue. Copy it and hold it up when you are finished."

I look to check their work so far. As they finish, I give them the next step:

"Add in quotation marks. Don't forget to include a comma and end punctuation where you need it."

Breaking the steps down this way makes it much more manageable for them! It also gives me time to work with kids as they finish, whether they are working quickly or not. After we're finished, I almost always have time to work in 2 or 3 more individual conferences. The key to conferring is to keep it focused and short. Don't try to attack everything at once. Focus on one issue at a time - you'll meet with more kids this way!

This is probably my favorite thing about small group writing conferences. I have seen my kids' confidence as writers grow so much! They are working and sharing in a small group with other friends who need the same kind of help they do. It helps them to see, "I'm not alone. There are other kids who need a little more help too." What makes my heart burst is when one of my kiddos from small group brings their notebook to our closing circle to show off what they worked on that day. Being able to fix your mistakes is a celebration on its own. Holding up your notebook and saying, "Look what I learned today!" is worthy of medals and song in Room 3! :)

I hope I've shed some light on small group writing conferences today! Don't forget to keep hopping through.

Shelley at The Perks of Teaching Primary has some more bright ideas for building vocabulary waiting for you!


1 comment

  1. LOVE! This idea! Especially as class sizes get bigger and conferences get more difficult! And as a side note, I love the tip on the photo on the notebook clip art- so eye catching! LOL!