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Support writers when they need help

May 13, 2019

The term “independent writing time” can seem like an oxymoron when your writer’s workshop is void of the right procedures. While it’s natural for students to have specific questions and need individualized help during writing time, offering support to the entire class requires some savvy management. In fact, without an established procedure, students will cease writing completely while waiting on help from the teacher.

To tackle this problem proactively, introduce the Help! Tent. Download versions for K-2 (Virtual | PDF | Word) and grades 3-12 (Virtual | PDF | Word). (Download printing instructions.)

Provide each student a personal copy of this writer tool and explain that when in need of help, they simply display it on their desks. This will communicate to the teacher the student has a question.

Help! Tent I have a question but I can keep writing - Sample

However, the key to this procedure is that the Help! Tent has a backside. The side facing the student includes a list of strategies to keep him writing while he waits. This keeps the student focused during writer’s workshop while buying the teacher time to get to the individual.

During this procedural mini-lesson, discuss each option listed on the Help! Tent. Explain that if the student accomplishes one task and the teacher is still busy, he should choose another one. Common strategies might include:

  • Quietly ask another student for help.
  • Skip a couple of lines and keep writing.
  • Reread and add three details.
  • Replace 3 weak words for purple words.
  • Work on a previous writing.
  • Start a new piece.

It’s imperative that the while-you-wait strategies are well known and familiar to the students. If they don’t know the skill, they can’t do it independently.

Help! Tent Primary Example Photo

For those working with ELL, special needs, and/or primary writers, be conscious that the Help! Tent depicts each task pictorially. In addition to simplistic language, provide a visual (e.g., clip art) that demonstrates what that task means.

Conclude the introduction of the Help! Tent, noting that none of the options include Sit and do nothing, Roam around the classroom, or Distract other writers. Again, the aim of this management procedure is to keep the student moving forward while he waits on teacher support.

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