Teach One Skill Across 3+ Days
Students don’t learn everything in one 15-minute mini-lesson. Consequently, plan multiple mini-lessons to teach a specific skill. This will require teachers to slow down to allow students a chance to recognize the skill and try the skill before expecting them to apply the skill within their own writing. As always, be sure to link the skill to one of the 6 Traits of Writing and update the yearlong display to include it.
With this approach, each day of a mini-lesson series serves a different instructional purpose.
First, reveal excerpts of authentic text where the skill appears. Think Aloud about how the excerpt impacts the reader’s comprehension. Point out the distinguishing characteristics of this skill and how the writer achieved it. This is the concept of Notice & Name It. If students don’t recognize the skill in action, then they can’t apply it on purpose.
If the focus of the mini-lesson is on seeing the skill in action, then today’s independent writing time should be parallel. Put students in pairs/groups to find additional examples of the skill executed in additional authentic text.
The mini-lesson on Day 1 focused on Notice & Name the skill as a reader. Then, Day 2 transitions to Try It as a writer.
This mini-lesson must include the teacher modeling how to return to a previous draft and insert the skill in context. This will require Thinking Aloud during the lesson. Students must hear how an expert discerns when, where, and how to incorporate the skill within his own writing. This, in turn, is the substance of the independent writing time, as well.
Notice that Day 2 mini-lessons require writers to have previous drafts, partial pieces, quick writes, etc. on hand. This is essential for two reasons. Returning to previous pieces:
- SAVES CLASS TIME. Without previous writings, students cannot immediately apply the skill into their own writing. Rather, they have to first identify a topic and draft a piece of writing in order to then play with the skill. This takes several minutes (and even days) for some students. After teaching a skill, the teacher must provide for immediate try-it opportunities.
- SAVES MENTAL ENERGY. Without previous writings, students expend a lot of brain power generating a piece of writing in order to finally try the skill. However, returning to a previous product allows them to focus solely on when, where, and how to include the new skill into their own writing.
The third day of a mini-lesson series begins the transition to lifelong acquisition. The goal is that students can independently incorporate the skill while composing a first draft (rather than as a revision technique, as practiced the previous day). This kind of automatic application demonstrates mastery.
Again, the teacher’s mini-lesson must break down the thinking process, showing students how best to Apply It within a new sentence, new paragraph, or entire new piece. Don’t make this look easy; writing is not easy! Students need to see and hear the teacher wrestling with the skill while composing something right in front of them.
Follow this mini-lesson with an independent writing time that then expects students to do the same. Then, after some experience and practice, the skill should be added to the instructional writing rubric. Students are now accountable for the skill’s accurate and appropriate application.