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Writer's Workshop: Free-Write Fridays


I've wanted to be a writer since seventh grade.  Before seventh grade, writing felt long and laborious. I remember being made to keep a daily journal in sixth grade. That assignment was laughable. My peers and I were at that ugly and brutal age where girls moon over the boys and write about crushes and each other. Boys wrote about who was cute...and who wasn't. 

Then there was the time my frenemy stole my journal and passed it around for all to read. I can still see the look on her face, triumphant and sneering. Don't worry. I had my revenge. I had to write 200 sentences, "I will keep my hands to myself," but she never did it again. 

Beyond basic conventions lessons, I don't remember ever being taught how to write. But then in seventh grade, I had a teacher who gave us choice.  Suddenly, I could write poetry or a research report on Pompeii. I could write short stories and plays. There still wasn't a lot of direct writing instruction, but I was given choice for the first time ever, and it rocked my world. 

Choice...a little word with such big possibilities. 

I think that the writing is important. We want to encourage a lot of low stakes writing, and by low stakes, I mean writing where they're not being graded, corrected, assessed. Nobody's casting a critical eye on them, but they're using writing as a way to think loud and push their thinking on writing.
                                                                     -Ralph Fletcher

As a classroom teacher, there are two practices I've added to my writer's workshop that are game changers. Both hinge on students having choice and low stakes writing opportunities. 

Free-Choice Fridays

In my school district, we use writing units developed by our ISD. Our units are designed for a workshop approach and influenced by Lucy Calkins' work. Students have choice of topic throughout our units of study (memoir, nonfiction writing, persuasive essay, literary essay, and a research writing unit). However, I wanted to give my students a chance to have choice over genre, so I implemented free-write Fridays. One of the reasons I did this was that I wanted to my students to apply the learning we did in our writing units to their independent writing. 

I wanted my students to think and make decisions like writers. It wasn't that they weren't doing this in our unit lessons, but they needed to see that those skills transfer, regardless of the genre. When I tell my students that they can write whatever they want, their faces light up. "Whatever we want?" they ask, in disbelief. Since I began free-write Fridays, I've read student-authored comic strips, sportscasts, poems, plays, reader's theaters, fantasy fiction and informational books about mummies and mythological beasts, songs, and on and on and on. When given choice, my kids rise to the occasion. And guess what? They take their writer's notebooks home to work on their free-writes throughout the week, again by choice. 
Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a title list, a character sketch, a journal entry. Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up."
                                                                               -Jane Yolen


We begin our free-write session with small group sharing. I arrange my students into groups of 4 or 5 students. During this time, students read their work to each other. I've taught them to ask for specific feedback. For example, before I read my writing, I might ask my group to pay attention to my descriptions. Are they strong enough? Then, I read my writing or a passage from it, and they give me feedback. I make notes while they give me feedback. After the share session, which is about 15-20 minutes long, then we write independently. I confer with my writers at that time and have craft conversations with them. 

Which leads me to the second practice I implement during free-write Fridays: I write with my students. I bring my writer's notebook to school. I ask them for their feedback when I share, and I ask for their criticism. I make myself a participant and use that role to model my thinking about my writing. 

Recently, I shared some chapters of a juvenile fantasy fiction novel that I'm writing. I told them I was struggling with the villain character. I didn't want the villain to be human because it was set in an alternative world, but the I didn't want to vilify the animal characters. My kids helped me solve my writing conundrum, but more importantly, the conversations they had about fantasy books they had read and the decisions various authors had made in their writing were thoughtful and inspiring. They were helping out a fellow writer...me.  

Teaching writing is probably one of the hardest subjects to teach because it demands complexity from the teacher and the students. It takes planning, talking, debating, knowing when to support and when to back off, but it is also one of the most rewarding skills to teach.

Free-write Fridays has been one of the most effective ways I've found to motivate my writers. 


If you're looking for workshop materials to support your teaching, click the pictures below!










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