Writing Workshop is usually filled with students writing in the current unit of study genre. That is how it is now set up in many classrooms around the country. When I was first introduced to workshop, I had no official unit of study to follow. There were very few professional books focusing on just writing for students. My writing workshop resembled a workshop. When I thought of my father's workshop set up in our garage, there were various projects going on. In fact, I was even able to have a corner filled with extra wood, a few tools, and loads of ideas. My own workshop.
It is important for students to still have time to write their own individual projects. Recently, I had the chance to see a classroom full of independent projects and it brought back memories of the activities in my former second grade classroom. The room I visited was a fifth grade, but things were similar.
The teacher gave a mini lesson just like normal. This time it was a lesson that could be used in any genre. It was: Writers Sometimes Create a New Word to Fit a Piece of Writing. She used mentor texts by Lewis Carroll and Dr. Seuss for examples. The children were then challenged to try making up a word for a special purpose in their writing that day.
While students were writing, I slipped around the room and conferenced with four of them. One boy was writing a narrative, sort of a fantasy writing. His character, which he named Tyler for his own middle name, was warning everyone that the world was coming to an end due to the earthquakes happening in the ocean. We made a plan of how the story would go and he set off to save the world.
Another student was writing poetry using made-up words. After reading her poem, we decided she was writing like Dr. Seuss and we took off to find a book by him to use as her mentor text. Her plan when I left her, was to write a poem for each of the members of her family.
My last student to conference with was getting a head start on the next unit of study: historical fiction. She had decided to use the genre of journal writing for this task. She was in her notebook writing entries by her character. She had researched common slave names for the main character because her piece was going to be set in pre-civil war times. We made a plan for her story and even talked about possible mentor texts for her.
Having independent projects for children gives them a chance to write in a genre that was already taught. It might be a genre that they enjoyed but didn't have enough time to pursue it further and write more. This is the goal of writing workshop: For Children to Become Lifelong Writers! Try it when you get done with a unit of study!!!