community

If you’ve visited my blog, you know how much I like to chat with readers in the comments section. I’m opening up the comments on this page, hoping that we can talk about writer’s workshops here and get a little community going.

A few reasons you might want to leave a comment:

  • To ask questions about the book.
  • For advice about starting a workshop of your own.
  • To ask me or others questions about our workshop experiences.
  • To share victories or difficulties related to a workshop you’re currently facilitating.
  • To share your child’s (or your) experiences in a writer’s workshop.
  • To chat about anything else workshop-related. (If you have comments or questions about more general aspects of writing, please consider leaving them on my blog.)

 

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

AmandaXC November 26, 2012 at 12:37 pm

I’m curious about how to facilitate a workshop for kids who can’t really write – I have a 7 yr old who is just learning to read and an 8 year old who hates writing, and I think it’s because it’s tough for him physically – although he has nice handwriting, it takes f.o.r.e.v.e.r. to get a couple words on the page. On the plus side, his writing appears to me to be a comic form of illumination writing – each letter is embellished! (comic because his favorite vehicle for writing is comics) Anyhow – this may be a stupid question, but do workshops work for non-readers/writers?

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patricia November 26, 2012 at 1:21 pm

Workshops absolutely work for “non-writers”, Amanda! Parents simply need to take dictation from the kids on what they have to say! In my workshops I *encourage* parents to take dictation from kids–even kids who are able to write on their own somewhat, because dictation allows kids to express more complex ideas than they may be able to if forced to write on their own. I’ve had many, many kids bring dictated work to my workshops. My own kid at eleven still often brings dictated work.

I discuss dictation in the book, including an entire chapter on it in the Toolbox section. There’s also a month-long series on dictation on my blog: http://patriciazaballos.com/the-dictation-project/

Ultimately, I think kids who start workshopping when they’re young and unable to write much themselves are in an excellent position to develop as writers. Through dictation, they “write” some impressive stuff, and have a built-in audience with which to share it! And their writing skills develop naturally because the workshop provides such great incentive to keep growing as a writer.

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AmandaXC November 27, 2012 at 5:22 am

Good to know! I didn’t know if it would be too cumbersome, taking dictation in a workshop. I’d love to try this with our small homeschool group. I look forward to reading the book! For now I’ll head off to the blog posts about dictation – I’ve done some of that because I set up a blog for my older boy and I’ve typed what he’s written there. A bit. Thanks for your response!

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patricia November 27, 2012 at 8:40 am

Amanda, in my workshops, we don’t do most of our writing during the workshop. This differs from how workshops are typically done in a classroom setting. In my workshops, the kids do the writing at home, and we share it at the workshop. This gives kids more time to work on their writing, in a way that works for them–even if that means via offering dictation to a parent.

We do a short writing exploration during the workshop, and kids who are unable to write can either draw or dictate to an adult. But the bulk of workshop writing is done beforehand, at home.

Of course I explain all of this in more depth in the book. 🙂

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Sonya terBorg (@terSonya) November 26, 2012 at 7:02 pm

In love with this already! Thanks so much for sharing your love of writing with us. I can’t wait to pull the nuts and bolts and nitty-gritty pieces into place for my own students. A gem! Here is my ‘review’ of sorts on my blog: http://sonyaterborg.com/2012/11/26/writers-workshop/

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patricia November 27, 2012 at 8:42 am

Thank you, Sonya! It’s so interesting to get teachers’ takes on this. Linked your review on my testimonials page!

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AmandaXC December 1, 2012 at 5:57 am

I’m excited to read the book, and to start up our homeschool workshops in January. I’m thrilled with your approach (read the dictation posts and some of your homeschool posts) as there are a lot of similarities in our styles, homeschool-wise, and that gives me the hope that it will work for my kids (I think my older boy and your youngest are quite similar!). I doubt I’d have considered leading such workshops if not for you presenting it this way.

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patricia December 3, 2012 at 10:09 am

I’m thrilled that you’re planning to start up a workshop in January, Amanda!

Please come back here if you have any questions as you begin, or any victories to share.

Hearing that the book is giving you the confidence to start up a workshop pleases me more than I can say. That was my goal in writing it!

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Kate Edenborg February 1, 2013 at 11:04 am

I’m considering doing a writing workshop at a local place in my small town that offers courses to young kids (right now mostly 7 and under). Would your book on workshops be useful for a younger (perhaps even 4-6 year old) session?

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patricia February 1, 2013 at 11:19 am

Absolutely, Kate! In the book I share how, during my first workshop, the younger siblings, aged 4-7 or so, wanted to join in with what their older siblings were doing, and so they became part of the workshop! I also cover the idea of taking dictation from younger kids who aren’t fluent writers–and even having parents or other adults read their work for them if they can’t read themselves.

Workshops can be great for younger kids. Young kids are usually very enthusiastic about giving feedback, and often continue with the workshop over time, and become very insightful about offering feedback–and writing!

Please let me know if you have other questions, or if you want to brainstorm further what a workshop might look like for younger kids.

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AmandaXC February 15, 2013 at 10:35 am

Well, we had our first workshop and it was a wild success! Wild because it was almost all boys in the 7-9 yo range, but also wild because it went so well. 🙂 What a great time. We did introductions (including their favorite book or genre and “the first word you think of when you hear ‘writers workshop'”). I talked about the workshop format, then we started with one word (snow) and did associations, which led to using Rory’s Story Cubes to build a story based on the ideas they had from snow (a wizard who finds himself locked out of his house in his pajamas in the snow, who then has an encounter with an abominable snowman). Then we talked about our favorite words, which led to a Mad Libs activity. Lastly, I gave them their prompt for next week and we talked about all the silly ways we could adapt that from our first impression of the prompt…good fun! And everyone admitted that their first word association from the beginning (writers workshop) was inaccurate, and that they had a lot of fun. They’ve already asked if we can continue the story we made up in the first part of the workshop.

Thank you so much for this ebook and the inspiration to host this. I enjoyed every minute of it and I can’t wait for our next one!

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patricia February 15, 2013 at 6:13 pm

Amanda, I’m so glad your first workshop was a success! And I love that you’ve tweaked the workshop your own way, so it works for you and your particular group. You’ve inspired me to try using Story Cubes with my group too!

If you’ve got a bunch of kids excited to write more at your next meeting, you know you’re doing something good! Thanks for taking the time to share, and please keep me posted on how your group develops. I love to hear it.

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AmandaXC February 16, 2013 at 11:58 am

It was only our first meeting, so they didn’t have stuff to read…but next time we’ll do that and some neutral feedback. They also wanted to continue their group story, so I’ll find a different way to incorporate that during a break from readings.

Considering the word associations they offered for “writers workshop” included “boring”, “weird”, “stupid”, “I can’t think of anything” and “I don’t know”…I feel like it was a big success. By the end I’m pretty sure they all would have said “fun”. It really wasn’t what they were expecting…in a good way! We’ll see how it progresses. 🙂

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patricia February 26, 2013 at 9:27 pm

Workshops *are* fun! Glad they’re figuring that out!

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H.Lee March 19, 2013 at 4:23 pm

Do you have any experience doing longer single day events? I am thinking of a day during which kids meet and share work, write on their own, share and have free time to play and eat sprinkled throughout the day. This could be a stand-alone event or a culmination of a short-term summer group. What would you consider the potential benefits or drawbacks of this type of event? Do you think it would be better for a certain age group? Thanks for any advice!

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patricia March 23, 2013 at 10:46 am

I have never done anything like this personally–although I’ve certainly been to writing conferences myself that were structured this way. Also, my older kids went to a writing conference, held elsewhere, when they were 12 or 13, and they loved it. It sounds like a great idea!

Since you’ll have the time, you might want to consider incorporating reading aloud into the workshop. In the Exploration section of the book, I mention a couple of explorations based on books: Would Your Rather and My Animal Friends. Would You Rather, in particular, is silly and fun and kids love it. You could read it aloud, and then have kids write their own Would You Rathers… In a shorter workshop there isn’t always time to incorporate a lot of reading, but using great books as models really ought to be part of a workshop experience, and having a whole day would give you plenty of time for that.

You might look at the book Show Me a Story by Emily Neuburger for fun, crafty/writing activities which might be a neat diversion during a day-long program, especially during the summer.

You might want to come up with explorations that can be done outside too. Haiku in the garden, for example, can be fun.

I think you’d want to make an effort to mix up the types of activities you do, so the kids don’t get bored.

I think there’s a lot of potential for helping kids see the fun in writing at such an event. The drawback, I suppose, is that you probably won’t be able to get into nuanced workshop feedback over the course of a single day. Kids get much better at giving feedback to one another over time; when they start out, their feedback tends to be brief and less sophisticated. They also develop trust with one another over time. That’s okay–the *workshop* aspect might be a more minor part of the day, and the having-fun-with-explorations might be a more of a focus.

I think it could work for any age group. Of course, younger kids would need more free playtime, and maybe more activities rather than open-ended writing. The Neuburger book mentioned above has great ideas for younger kids. They might also enjoy writing stories *together*. Older kids would probably be able to spend more time working on their own writing, and giving more attention to feedback sessions.

Oh, I just thought of one more resource that’s mentioned in my book: Don’t Forget to Write by the writing program 826 Valencia is a fantastic compilation of fun writing activities, sorted by age–and written by writers! http://www.826national.org/826store/451/don-t-forget-to-write The activities are creative and not school-y. Really good stuff. Many of them are designed to be used over a series of class sessions, so I often struggle to incorporate them into my shorter workshops. But I think you’d find great ideas for a day-long event. (And the book proceeds go to a fantastic cause!)

Please report back, H! Would love to hear what you do!

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AmandaXC May 3, 2013 at 6:34 am

Hi Patricia,
Our writers workshop has been going strong and we’re having our last one for the spring in two weeks. We have decided to have a bookmaking party like you suggest, and the kids can sign each others copies. One thing – the pdf version of your book contains things that look like links to websites (they are different colored text and underlined) but they don’t work as links. I wanted to check out the bookmaking tutorial you suggest, by Pam Petty, and the bookmaking for kids link – could you point me in the right direction for each?

Incidentally, all the kids have asked if we can do another workshop in the fall (of course we can!). It has been really fun, and surprising too. Some of the most reluctant participants in other homeschool activities have enthusiastically joined in and always ask to be the first author to read their work. It has been great for us moms, too!

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patricia May 3, 2013 at 9:07 am

I’m thrilled that the kids have enjoyed your workshop, Amanda! I love that some of the more reluctant kids have embraced it. That’s just the reason I wrote this book: I have had such fantastic experiences with the writer’s workshop, and I wanted others to have that too. Yay!

I’m bummed about the links not working in the PDF! I will go back and see if there’s something I need to fix. (A question for you: do the other links throughout the PDF work?) Here are the correct links:
http://www.pampetty.com/bookmaking.htm
http://www.bookmakingwithkids.com

The bookmaking can be rather complicated. Make sure you make a complete sample book on your own ahead of time, and have lots of other parents on hand to help, if possible. As I mentioned in the book, Yes! Paste makes a nice smooth surface, but it can be really messy to work with. Kids can spread it fine in the book, but then it gets on their work surface, and can mess up their covers….So it’s good to have lots of extra newspaper layers to put out, and even wax paper to protect other pages when pasting. Try a book out yourself, and you’ll see what I mean! Regular white glue won’t make such a nice, professional surface, but it might be easier for kids to work with.

If you have any questions about the process, please ask. I’ll be making books with my workshop in a few weeks, so it’s good for me to keep the process fresh in my mind. Good luck, and have fun!

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AmandaXC May 15, 2013 at 3:30 pm

I just made my prototype and it turned out well, although I forgot to put in a title page…whoops! Came out great. Very excited for our bookmaking party on Friday! I am actually using my sewing machine to sew the pages, rather than hand sewing, as it is quicker and neater.

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patricia May 20, 2013 at 8:53 am

Using a sewing machine to sew the pages is a great idea, if you don’t want to sew them during the actual bookmaking session. It’s fun to have the kids sew them together, but it’s a bit complicated, and you’re right: the machine-sewn results will be nicer.

Hope your group had fun!

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Laura August 12, 2013 at 12:29 pm

A quick comment on machine sewing books: I helped in a writing class at our last co-op, and our culminating activity was making books like this. We had two sewing machines set up with white bobbin thread and another adult helper and I took kids in groups of two to sew their books together. Each kid chose their own main thread color out of our thread collections. It didn’t take too long, maybe 5 minutes per book – even with a few of the kids choosing to sew their own on the machines! You do have to have the machines prepped with correct tension to sew paper, bobbins threaded, etc. But depending on the time available and group size, definitely doable!

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patricia August 12, 2013 at 5:32 pm

Ooh, good to know, Laura! Neat that that kids got to choose their own thread color too. Thanks so much for sharing your experience here!

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AmandaXC September 26, 2013 at 1:15 pm

Hi Patricia,
We’ve started up a new workshop for fall, and tomorrow is our second meeting. I’m having trouble thinking of things to do during the workshop besides the reading/feedback. I usually plan some kind of activity that supports the writing process – sometimes we’ve done things like make lists – lists of characters, lists of settings, lists of problems, and then mix and match for story starters. We’ve done other things like descriptions, verb charades (love that one) etc. But I’m stumped now! Do you have any ideas or hints for websites where I can get some ideas? Ideally they’re things that 8 kids can do as a group in about 20 minutes. We always leave room for madlibs and story cubes, but I’d like some new ideas! Thanks…Amanda

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patricia September 26, 2013 at 8:36 pm

So, Amanda, I assume you’ve already looked at the ideas I share in the book? Do you have any of the reference books that I recommend in the final section of the book? Karen Benke’s book Rip the Page is particularly good, as the writing ideas are mostly straightforward and short–and fun! She also has a brand new book which I haven’t seen yet called Leap Write In, which also looks to have more good ideas.

You could try exploring lists some more, but try different lists, other than story lists. Last week at my workshop we made lists of Good Things/ Bad Things. It was fun to note things that ended up on both lists, or were good for some kids, and bad for others….We’ve also made lists of things to do when you’re bored in a Target, which was lots of fun. There are endless things you can do with lists, if you think about it, and lists tend to be easy for kids. There are a few other ideas in the book. Maybe have the kids help you brainstorm a list of possible lists!

I googled around for you, but didn’t see a lot online. With a resource like Benke’s book, it’s fairly easy to start there and then come up with other variations on her suggestions. I also think about what the kids are writing, and try to come up with explorations that are related. If a few of them are writing fantasy fiction, say, we might do an exploration involving writing exciting first lines for a fantasy story.

I try to keep the writing explorations fairly simple, as I think that sharing writing and offering feedback is the essential part of the workshop. We only spend 15-20 minutes on it, as it seems you do. If you feel that you’re having to work too hard to come up with explorations, maybe you could try to expand the workshop portion of the day, so the explorations aren’t such a focus. Or use your Mad Libs and story cubes as the exploration portion, since the kids seem to like them.

I’m not sure any of this is helpful, Amanda. I think it gets easier to come up with explorations as you go. You can also revisit successful explorations more than once! The kids always come up with something new.

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AmandaXC September 27, 2013 at 5:11 am

Yes, we’ve done just about everything in your book! 🙂 I’ve also used some things from Rip the Page, and I’ve got Spilling Ink, Wacky We-search and Don’t Forget to Write as inspiration also. We also do try to keep the activity simple – most of the workshop is devoted to reading/feedback, but the kids LOVE the activities we do almost as much as the writing they share. And this group has a couple new members that I really want to get hooked in. 🙂 Last time we put together a list of all the kinds of writing they could think of, so we could have a springboard for the kinds of writing they want to do over the course of the year.

I think this week we’re going to do “mugshots” – I printed off pages of pictures of faces and we’ll use them to create characters – I made a list of fun questions to ask about each person to help flesh them out (what do they like to eat for breakfast, what do they do for fun, what are they good at, what are they terrible at, etc). Then for the next writing assignment, they’ll either draw a picture or find one in a magazine or online, of anything or person to make a character out of, and then put them in a headline and write a news story about them.

I think it’s hard for me to come up with explorations because I don’t feel particularly creative about it. And I don’t want them to be too dry. Any time I ask what they want to do, it’s ALWAYS either work on their group story or mad libs. Then they have a contest to see who can come up with the most ridiculous story elements! It’s fun, but it does get a little tired. For me. 😉

Thank you!

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patricia October 1, 2013 at 10:19 am

Sorry not to get back to you sooner, Amanda. I was out of town for a few days.

Your mug shots activity sounds like a lot of fun! I’ll bet the kids enjoyed it.

It sounds like you have all of the resources I recommended. 🙂 I use them as much for direct ideas as for inspiration for coming up with my own ideas.

I wouldn’t worry too much about having the exploration ideas be creative–if they’re open-ended enough, the kids come up with the creativity, as I’m sure you’ve experienced. Some of the best explorations are the simplest ones, because that’s where the kids get to take an opportunity and run with it.

Perhaps you could have an exploration brainstorming session with the kids in your workshop. Ask them which of the explorations they’ve already done have been favorites (beyond Mad Libs and Story Cubes.) Revisiting explorations, as I’ve mentioned, is often a good thing, as kids get the exploration and can do more with it a second time. If some time has passed, all the better. You could also ask if they have ideas for tweaking some of those favorite explorations, and doing something different with them. Kids are often better at coming up with such ideas than we adults are! You don’t have to use the ideas they suggest; write them down so the kids know you’re listening, and see if you can make some of them work.

If you or your kids come up with any fun explorations, please share them here, as you did with your mug shots activity! I’ll come back and share anything fun we do (that I haven’t already mentioned in the book.) Maybe we–and others!–can inspire each other. That’s what this page is for!

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Stephanie October 9, 2014 at 2:04 pm

Need advice. We started doing Writer’s Workshop with some friends (5kids total) last spring and the kids loved it! Think it worked so well because they already trusted each other. They were writing today and were talking about wanting to share their writing at another workshop with their friends, BUT we just moved 10 hours away! Ugggg! Trying to figure out the best way to continue some kind of Workshop via Skype or email and Skype. We could try to start a local group, but it seems like such a good way to keep them connected with their friends if only we can figure out a good way to keep in going with the distance between us. Any suggestions?

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patricia October 14, 2014 at 9:41 pm

Hi Stephanie. Great question! I’ve never done a workshop with kids via Skype, but I have done it with my own adult writing group. We had a member who moved away, and we managed to continue meeting by Skyping her in. Since we’re adults who write longer pieces, we always emailed our work to each other a week or so ahead of our meeting. This gave us time to read each other’s work—and we actually wrote written comments before the meeting as well. (Something that can work nicely for teen writers.) Since the pieces were longer, rather than read them aloud during our meetings, each reader would choose a favorite paragraph from the piece to read, and then we would begin to offer feedback.

I think this method could work just as well for kids. I’d recommend emailing the kids’ work to each other ahead of time, since sometimes Skype can get a little glitchy, and it might be hard to follow the flow of a piece read aloud. You could still have the kids read a favorite paragraph, or even the entire piece–but you’d have the written work to fall back on if the sound quality is less than perfect. Then you just go about the meeting as you would if you were meeting in person. Skype can be a little frustrating: sometimes the sound cuts out, or it gets hard to take turns talking. But if you have a writing group that has worked well in person, Skype can be a great way to carry on over the distance. Our group was so happy to be able to continue meeting that we didn’t mind the occasional technical difficulties. A positive writing group is a treasure.

If you try it out, please report back and tell us how it goes!

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Jennifer December 28, 2016 at 4:50 am

I’m planning to start a writer’s workshop for my daughter (7) and some of the local home educators. I’m still trying to work out the logistics! Would you recommend charging for the workshops? Not necessarily to earn money, but to create a sense of commitment. I guess I’m not really keen for it to be a drop-in session and I’d prefer a consistent group of kids.

Also, how helpful do you think a writing activity is, over just sharing the kids’ work? I think many of the kids who would be coming would be pre-writing or early writers (my own daughter is in this category and does all her writing by dictation).

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patricia January 2, 2017 at 6:16 pm

Hi Jennifer!

Thanks so much for using the “community” page for Workshops Work! I’d love to see the page get utilized more as a forum for discussion about facilitating workshops.

I have never charged for a workshop, but that has more to do with the culture of the support group I was part of than anything else. I think it would be fine to charge–especially if you want to commit parents to regular attendance. I think it would be important for you to convey the purpose of the workshop, since sometimes people expect “results” for activities they pay for. If you convey ahead of time that the purpose of the workshop is to help kids enjoy writing (or whatever your purpose is), you should be okay. Then again, I have always had fairly regular attendance at my workshops, even without charging. The kids get so excited about participating that they don’t want to miss them!

A writing activity is definitely not essential. It can be a way of showing kids different formats of writing, and how fun writing can be. It can also be helpful to keep an activity in your back pocket, just in case the sharing time passes quickly. When I did workshops with young kids, I was lucky enough to have parents attend, so they could take dictation from their own kids during our exploration time. (So great that you’re using dictation with your daughter! Definitely encourage other parents to consider doing so with their kids.) Or, if you want to try incorporating writing activities, you could look for some that would allow kids to write or draw in their response. For example, I’ve done an exploration in which kids receive a folded paper with eight sections, and they make a record of what they might do on “the best day ever,” writing or drawing a morning activity in the first square, a mid-morning one in the next square, etc. There are no reality limits with this exploration–they can do whatever they dream up, and kids love it! There are many possibilities that kids could respond to with drawing and/or writing. You can also encourage invented spelling from kids (Spelling words however the words sound to them. Some kids like this; some find it intimidating.) Then again, you can skip the exploration altogether–or consider adding it down the road.

I’m so thrilled that you’re starting a workshop! Feel free to come back here to chat further, and I’d love to hear how your workshop goes!

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