Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Workshop & Grammar in Context - #33

I'm a Dreamer commented that she was curious as to what I did to teach grammar in context.

Let me just say, I am NOT an expert at this and do not pretend to be. Last year was my first attempt, and I wasn't entirely by-the-book. No matter, I am not disheartened. AP Conference has given me hope and determination to do a little better this year. If you have suggestions or recommendations to add to my mad methods, leave a comment!

Writing Workshop
What I did: I implemented writing workshop for the first time last year, and basically followed Ralph Fletcher's format in his Writing Workshop guide, but we only had time for once a week. I had to establish a "due date" periodically, otherwise students would just play around/dilly-dally on their pieces. After a piece was checked off as "published," students put it in their writing workshop folder; this folder stayed in my room and held copies of current drafts and published works (I didn't make them keep the rough drafts once they were done with the published work...just too much paper). At the end of the year, they chose their favorite pieces to put in a portfolio. For each piece, students wrote a short reflection discussing the process of that piece. They also had to write me a one-page reflection on the portfolio as a whole, which were wonderful to read -- and I'll get to that later. This was perhaps my favorite project ever because by the time I receivved the portfolio, I had read everything in it (except for the reflections). I basically graded whether or not the pieces were there and whether it was professionally/creatively put together. Piece'a cake!

What will change: After the AP Conference, I wondered if I needed to talk about the different modes of writing more (expository, persuasive, etc.). They are familiar with them, but mostly with persuasive and narrative. Last year, they could write on anything in WW. They wrote fiction, nonfiction, letters, editorials, poetry (oh, friends, the bad poetry I read!)-- nearly any form was fair game. But if they need to know more about the different modes, I might need to structure writing workshop more, dictating specific forms. Instead of "work on whatever you want and I'll check for a published piece in 6 weeks," it might have to be "work on your persuasive piece and we'll check it for the next 3-6 weeks." The former option has the freedom of choice, and students work at their own pace (good & bad). The latter ensures that we're all working at the same pace and people are getting "the steps," but they wouldn't have as much freedom in selecting the form. I can't decide right now.

What I did: Confession: I wasn't great about grammar-in-context. I intended to teach grammar mini-lessons each Friday, then have students go back into their journals and find a piece they could edit for that grammar focus. just fell by the wayside, and I fell back on grammar drilling worksheets. I can't remember why I stopped...maybe I was pressed for time a couple days, I don't know. I just did. By the end of the year, I would teach a mini-lesson, giving a worksheet (or do an activity), and then say, "When you're done with that worksheet, you may start working on your writing workshop piece. Think about [That Grammar Concept] while you write and revise today." Obviously, just saying it isn't enough!

What will change: This year, I'm going to be much more intentional about grammar-in-context. I'll give them a prompt/freewrite for about 5-10 minutes, then do a grammar mini-lesson, followed by going back to their prompt/freewrite and editing it for that grammar. Either that or do the mini-lesson first and then the freewrite. I want to do more throughout the week with that grammar, too: maybe do a written response on something, then give it to someone else to edit for the most recent grammar structure. It means I need to do more SHORT writings in class, so that's a change, too. I feel really hopeful about this change.

Too much grading?
If you think writing workshop/grammar-in-context means more grading of writings, I want to say: NO. Do not think you have to grade every activity. They may want you to, but remind them that you're doing this for practice so they can learn. Just because it's not graded doesn't mean it isn't a valuable experience. If you do grade a writing, grade it only on the things you've taught! Sounds simple, but often we grade them on EVERYTHING in a paper -- break that habit and focus on a few things. Tell them ahead of time you're focusing on only commas and subject-verb agreement and then grade only on those. It's so tempting to mark up the other mechanics, but don't. (Confession: I still circle spelling or typos, but I don't take points for it)

If you've never done Writing Workshop or taught grammar-in-context, I hope I haven't intimidated you. It might be a change from what you're used to, but I promise it's worth it. Remember those reflections students had to write in their end-of-the-year portfolio? A considerable number of my students remarked in the overall portfolio reflection that they didn't think writing would be fun, they thought it would be hard (you've heard it all)....but ultimately they were pleasantly surprised because they ENJOYED this writing process, and it was cool to see works take shape. Reading those wonderful affirmations made all the headaches worth it. Basically, I want to encourage you: even if you're scared to do it, even if you don't go by-the-book, even if you mess up or make's okay. Be daring. Do it. It CAN (and will) be worth it!

And if you've done any of this and have suggestions/recommendations of any kind, please share!

sources: Mechanically Inclined by Jeff Anderson, Writing Workshop: The Essential Guide by Ralph Fletcher, AP Conference Facilitator John Williamson


  1. Thanks for posting this! (And sorry I'm so late on reading it - I was out of town this weekend.) I like the specificity and structure of quick write / mini lesson / edit quick write for focus. I might just try that this year myself.

  2. I have followed so many links, I'm not sure how I got to your blog. But once I got here, I followed many more. Very entertaining. I've no idea how to contact you, and have never commented on a blog. Since this is made on an old post, will you ever see it? I'm about to start teaching adults grammar and writing skills, and although I'm an English major, teaching this to adults is new to me. I think I got to your blog while looking for comics about grammar. Anywho, I've got 2 Qs. 1) I love the C&H comic . . . did you have to get permission to use it? Or does one hope for the best? My company will want to do the right thing.. . 2) do you have any suggestions for freewriting prompts? Thanks! Love your blog and the link to the bread recipe.

  3. Karen - thank you for your positive feedback! It is always great to know that someone is reading & finding my trial & errors useful. :)
    1. I guess technically using the C&H comic here might be a tad in-fractious. HOWEVER, if you plan on using it in the classroom, you have some leeway. At our school, they brief us about copyright issues, and it boils down to this: if you are looking at the work in a new way and bringing an educational perspective to it, you have license to use it. For example, the difference between showing a movie in a classroom WITHOUT copyright infringement and showing a movie WITH infringement is whether or not there is educational value. Are you just showing it to the kids for pure entertainment? If so, you need to get purchased copyright permission. If, however, you and the kids are analyzing the movie for irony, dialogue, directorial interpretation, etc. then you have permission to show it. Similar with other things, like the comics.

    2. Suggestions for freewriting prompts-- Gosh, where to begin? There are some great, purchase-able books out there. I honestly just go the free route and check online. I like, imagination prompt generator (, and Brother Tom's (

    This one also looks good, especially for adults

    Hope this helps. Thanks for stopping by!!