Tips for Simple Writing Conferences

If you are anything like me, you've come to the conclusion that writing conferences are hard! How do you find time for them all? 

When I first started teaching, I would send everyone to their desks to write after my mini-lessons. Then, I would meet with one student at a time to conference on their writing. This took a LONG time! I hoped to meet with four students per day, but sometimes one student took up my whole time! I may not see this kiddo again for four weeks! 

I was not giving my students what they needed. I realized this was a problem. So, I tried several new ideas, and came up with a solution that worked for me. 

If you prefer, I made a video with this same content. You can watch it HERE.

I hope these ideas will be make writing time less stressful for you and more meaningful for your students.

Why Conference?

Conferencing time is your time to differentiate and meet the needs of each of your students in your classroom. Our classrooms are not made up of students all at the same writing level.

Writing conferences offer your students guidance. You can answer questions about their writing for them, give them goals, assess their goals, and give some students a push to complete a skill.

It's important we use small groups in reading and math, so why not in writing as well?

When Do I Conference?

Writing conferences happen when the rest of your class is working on independent writing. Remember, you will need to do a lot of training with your class to be sure that they can independently write. Model! Model! Model!

You can't have students hovering over you during your conferences, and you can't be stopping every two minutes to redirect other students. Conference time is incredibly valuable, so you can't be interrupted.

Hopefully, a couple of weeks into your first unit, you'll be able to start writing conferences. You may have to keep conferences a little short at first. But, I know you can work with your students to keep building their stamina for writing, and conferences can begin to last longer.

How Do I Make Conference Groups?

I realized that I can not meet with every student individually. So, writing conferences should be done in small groups. The key is that all students in each group should have similar needs. They won't always be identical needs, and that's okay.

At the beginning of each unit, you will need to give an on-demand writing sample. Afterward, use your rubrics to assess your students' writing samples. Consider this a pretest, not a grade.

Now, use the rubrics to set the writing samples into piles based on similar needs. You are leveling each sample. Don't overthink this step too much. Students can always be moved to another group. You will want to make as many piles for as many days that you will have writing workshop. For example, I had my writing workshop Monday-Thursdays, so I made four piles.

I kept a poster for each day and laminated these. Then, I'd write all names for each group with a dry-erase marker on each day. Make sure that your groups are similar in size. 

Have a Schedule

Now you have groups with similar needs and you will only need to meet with one group per day. Each group will meet with you once per week now. This is manageable! Spend 15-20 minutes with your conference group, and you will still have time to check in with the rest of your class.

A question that comes up is; if you are meeting with a group, how do they get to their independent work? One possible solution is to know that your conferences won't always last 15-20 minutes. So, your small group may get 5 extra minutes to go back to their desk and begin the independent task. I also fit in 5-10 minutes after conferences to walk around my classroom and help my students as needed. This is another 5 minutes that your small group can take advantage of. 

If you go over with your group, it's ok! The next day, they can complete two tasks during independent writing time. The tasks that I ask my students to complete do not take up the entire writing time, so they can finish two tasks the next time.

Another solution is to have your small group work on the given independent task with you during conference time. 

Keep Them Short!

You are not going to have a ton of time. You can't read every student's piece in its entirety.  So focus on just one skill.

Maybe it's the skill you taught yesterday in your mini-lesson, or something you noticed they needed working on at the beginning of the unit. You can also choose skills based on their rubrics. Remember, you have the choice to do what works best for your groups. 

I have each student in that group read me an example of where they think they completed that skill well in their writing. They should not read their whole writing piece, just the small part that demonstrates they understand the skill you are working on in that group. So if we are working on leads, I will ask each group member to read their lead.

Reading their handwriting can slow me down. Instead, I have the writer read to me.

Discuss these examples as a group, correct and compliment where necessary, and ask for other examples of the skill. Some skills will only need one meeting to review while others may need an extra meeting. 

Writing Resources

All of the printables that have been pictured in this blog post are part of my writing units. The units also include daily lesson plans, anchor charts, mentor text passages, task cards and more. Click HERE to read more about them.

Are you looking for more tips and ideas for improving your writing instruction? I have created a series of videos all about teaching writing. Click HERE to check them out.

Do you like free resources? I have created a free email course that includes five days of freebies (including some conference materials) and tips. Click HERE to check it out.

Writing conferences are a great use of class time and very beneficial to all students. I hope these tips give you some new ideas for making conferences work in your classroom.

Have a Not So Wimpy Day!