When I first started teaching the writing process through writer’s workshop to first and second graders, I always used the author’s chair for students to share their published stories with the class. Student after student would sit in front of the class and read his story. Then I would let three students ask a question or share a comment, which usually ended being pretty much the same for every story. “I like your pictures.” “What made you write about that?”
I still think that there is value in letting every student share their writing. It builds confidence and gives students a chance to develop their speaking skills. They learn how to read in a voice that others can hear and understand. The students who are listening learn to be better listeners and hopefully how to ask thoughtful questions and give real compliments. However, I’m not sure how much this sharing of every published work really helps students become better writers.
A Better Method
I have since found a better use of the author’s chair. I still let every student share her published work, but on certain days when I’ve taught a mini-lesson that focuses on a writing or revising technique, I only let students who actually tried out the new technique share.
After teaching many mini-lessons and then sending my students off to write and to try out what they’ve learned, I often realized that at most one or two students even bothered to try. I would beg and plead with a young writer during my conferences to just try to write a stronger lead or to add more detail to a scene. And he would look over his story, smile and say it was already just right the way it was. No revision needed.
So at the end of my mini-lesson as I sent my little writers off to work, I started saying “Oh, I’ll be letting students who write strong leads share their work during authors chair.” or “I’m looking for writers who ‘show instead of tell’ to share at the end of writers’ workshop today.” And before I knew it I had students who couldn’t wait to show me the exciting new beginning they’d written for their story or all of the strong action words they’d used. It started out slowly with just a few students trying the new things and then getting to share, but soon more and more students were working to write something worthy of being shared with the class.
Reading aloud to the class is a great motivator in the early grades. Students began working harder on their writing just for the opportunity to share with the class and everyone benefited. The students who were sharing still got all the great benefits from sharing plus they were learning to improve their writing craft and the students who were listening were hearing student-written models of the things they were expected to try. Suddenly, writing a better lead or adding details to that scene doesn’t seem so out of reach.
If you want your students to get a little more out of writers workshop and to take some chances and try new things in their writing, give this a try. It’s amazing what they will do to be able to sit in that special chair in front of all their friends and read what they’ve written. Don’t worry if the attempts aren’t perfect. The important thing is that they are trying.