This school year, I did something different in my tenth grade classroom. Rather than repetitively stating classroom routines and procedures during the first two weeks, I started the year using a writer’s workshop model and introduced writing centers. Students immediately practiced expectations of work time, transitions, communicating with each other, and conferencing with the teacher.
BENEFITS OF USING CLASSROOM CENTERS FOR WRITING
In addition to modeling classroom expectations, there are other advantages to using classroom centers for writing. Students are more engaged in their learning when working in centers. Activities can either be independently self-directed – leaning on student choice – or teacher-directed – stemming from a mini lesson. In both situations, students’ strengths are emphasized.
Teachers are able to easily individualize instruction when using writing centers. For instance, teachers can form small groups based on the needs of the students. This opportunity both individualizes attention and pinpoints areas where several students might need more support.
INTRODUCING WRITING CENTERS
When I introduced writing centers, students first experienced a whole-class mini lesson.
I began with a whole-class mini lesson on determining content and annotating a poem. I introduced the overall content of the poem and modeled how to make annotations. Students were asked to write their own poem using the sample text as a mentor. This entire mini lesson took 25-35 minutes.
After the whole-class instruction and poem writing, I previewed each of the writing centers with the students.
Then, students moved to their next writing center of choice.. This choice included students deciding on the genre and topic they wanted to write. Granting students choice improves engagement and increases the likelihood of students completing the task.
The size of my groups was dependent on student needs. Groups were not larger than four individuals which helped to decreased side conversations and distractions. In addition, the time spent at each writing center was dependent upon what students were being asked to do.
Each center was labeled clearly to support students during transitions. Writing prompts and instructions are always available in written form to remind students what to accomplish at each writing center. Center time should be no longer than the age of the students times 1. For example, if you are teaching fifth graders who are 10 years old, each center should have enough work to be completed in 10 minutes.
I always have a conferencing center. This allows me to individualize instruction and speak to every student about their tasks and how they are thinking. I am also able to see some writing ask questions, or provide immediate feedback.
I set up another center for peer collaboration and feedback. This was set-up with a mini lesson last week about ways to seek and give feedback and student collaboration. In the future, I will create a center that will focus on grammar skills and other areas where students need support.
TIPS TO SUCCESSFULLY IMPLEMENT WRITING IN CLASSROOM CENTERS
One of the most important steps to implement writing centers is to practice ahead of time so students know what to expect. The practice reinforces classroom expectations and reminds students how it looks and sounds to move between and among the different writing centers, and what the task at each writing center focuses on. Other tips for implementing writing centers include:
Give Students a Choice
Keep the Groups Small
Offer a Mini Lesson or Written Instructions at Each Center
Include Labels for Each Center
Include a Make-up or Teacher Conferencing Center
There are a number of ways to set-up classroom centers for writing and they should always be based on the needs of your students.