Tips for Successful Writing Mini Lessons

Ideas to keep your writers engaged and learning during your writing mini lessons!

How do you teach writing? I used the writing workshop model. I did modify the model slightly to make it work in my classroom. You can read more about that by clicking HERE. I loved that this model helped my students to grow as writers, but it also got them excited about writing. That's not always easy to do!

One of the components of a successful writing workshop is a mini lesson. The mini lesson is a whole group lesson that focuses on a writing skill that you want students to practice and implement in their writing. 

I have had many mini lessons flop, but that just gave me the opportunity to learn to do them better! Here are a few tips that made my mini lessons engaging and meaningful for my writers.

Don't skip the lesson.

Due to time constraints (and possibly our comfort level with teaching writing), some teachers have a tendency to want to skip the writing mini lesson. DON'T! 

The mini lesson is your opportunity to give students valuable tools and strategies that will help them to grow as a writer. It is your time to model good writing. Giving them some paper and telling them to write, does not teach kids to write. You teach kids to write! And you do that through mini lessons! 

Keep the lesson mini!

I think that the biggest mistake I made as a writing teacher was delivering long writing lessons. It was so boring to my students. But, even more importantly, it ate into their independent writing time. That's the most important component of a successful writing program!

Mini lessons should generally be about 10-15 minutes. If your's are longer than that, you will need to have a longer independent writing time. Independent writing time should be the biggest piece of the pie!

Or, you can work on making those lessons shorter...

This may sound a little goofy, but if you want to get the mini lesson nice and short, it is a good idea to rehearse them for a while. Set a timer and give the lesson to your spouse, dog, teddy bear or reflection in the mirror. 

Are you even close? If not, you might need to break the lesson into two days of mini lessons. If you are close, then keep rehearsing. Eliminate anything repetitive. You will get faster as you practice and get more comfortable with what you want to say. You won't have to do this forever! You will get to the point where the timing is second nature.

Use mentor text in your writing lessons.

Prolific readers tend to be better writers. They have more experience with quality writing and can mimic it in their own stories. For this reason, I love using mentor texts as part of my writing lessons whenever possible.

There are tons of wonderful picture books that can be used for mentor text. Just take a look at your favorite picture books in your classroom. Do you have one with an interesting lead? Do you have one with dialogue? Maybe you have one with unique word choice. Read them to your class and point out these attributes when you teach these skills in mini lessons. (If you need book recommendations for a particular genre or skill- I highly recommend searching on Pinterest.)

I love using books, but I also discovered that short reading passages can make remarkable mentor texts! Some of the reasons that I love using passages are:
  • If I choose, the passage can be copied for every student in my classroom. This allows them to follow along as I read, read it to themselves or read with a partner.
  • The passages can do double duty by using them in reading groups. Have deep discussions about the characters, text features, main idea, etc. (Reading them in reading groups helps to keep the writing mini lesson shorter too!)
  • The passages can be written on! Students can mark them up. For example, you can have them highlight every transition word when you are giving that mini lesson. 
  • The passages can be kept in the resource section of their writing notebook to be referenced later.
I loved the passages so much that I added them to all of my writing units!

Use anchor charts.

Anchor charts can be a powerful way to help students to visualize and remember content. 

Lots of teachers are super artsy and create masterpieces for anchor charts. I am not. But my students didn't care. In fact, I would just project a slide on my white board with the skeleton of the anchor chart. Everyone in the class could see it from their seat.

I used the anchor chart to model the writing skills. Modeling is so powerful! I would fill out the chart using the skills that we were learning and that provided examples for my students. Sometimes I had them help me with the charts and other times, I just had them listen to me as I thought out loud. Change it up to keep them on their toes!

All of my anchor charts are included in my writing units.

Keep students actively involved in the lesson.

This can be tough to do when we are trying to keep the lesson short. You have to be creative and you have to practice procedures with your students.

One great way to keep them involved is with quick pair shares. "Turn and tell your partner what a subtopic is." "Turn and give your partner an example of a transition word." These types of shares should take about 20 seconds. 

I would also keep my students engaged in the mini lesson by having them fill out their own anchor chart while I was filling one out in front of the classroom. They had a smaller version that fit perfectly in their writing notebook. (Save time by having them glue all of the charts in the notebook one day during the first week of school or during morning work!)

Sometimes I would ask students to copy exactly what I was writing on my anchor chart. This was faster and ensured that they had an accurate example later when they were writing. Other times, I might fill out half of the chart and then ask them to complete the rest. Sometimes I had them fill out the chart as a planner to prepare for their own writing. Any way you slice it, my students were actively participating and engaged in the lesson.

Plus, they were creating a wonderful reference resource for later!

Ideas to keep your writers engaged and learning during your writing mini lessons!

Need more writing tips?

I did a series of videos all about teaching writing! You can watch them on my YouTube channel by clicking HERE.

I have also created a FREE email course for teachers with tips and free resources for getting writing workshop started in their classroom. You can read more about that email course and get signed up by clicking HERE.

Are you looking for lesson plans, anchor charts and mentor text passages that are ready to print and use? Click HERE to check out my writing units!

Everything you need to teach, practice and assess writing for the entire year!

Have a Not So Wimpy day!