Writing Strategy Groups

MGES Literacy Coach Newsletter April 2015

By popular request from the March survey, this month's newsletter is about going beyond one on one conferences to get more bang for your buck in writing workshop! We hope you enjoy learning more about pre-planned strategy groups and peer conferring.


Morris Grove staff, find the link in the newsletter to a short survey about. All MGES staff member who complete the survey will be entered into a drawing for a $5 gift card of your choice to Target, Harris Teeter or Flyleaf Books.

"The question I always ask is, How is what you are doing helping kids become more proficient and independent- and joyful- writers? We need to be thinking about why we're doing what we're doing. "

p. 72 "Writing Essentials" by Regie Routman

Strategy Group Format

Strategy groups are effective for all writers. Whether they are working at, above, or below standards, gathering your students together to help them stretch their skills is important!


Page 68 in Writing Pathways K-5 describes an effective structure for small group writing instruction. Note that this is only about a 10 minute session. Keep it brief! You are not trying to hit every teachable moment.


1 - 2 minutes: Teacher briefly introduces reason for small group

Be as direct as possible in explaining why students have been gathered together. Using language such as, “I think your writing will get a lot stronger if you…” helps children understand what is expected of them.


If you refer to a mentor text, be sure it is familiar. Do not introduce a new text within this format.


5 - 6 minutes: Children work (together or individually) as teacher coaches students

As you coach students while writing, “Aim for your commentary to lift their level of work a notch but not for it to solve all the problems you can possibly find.” Stay focused on the reason you’ve gathered students together and be encouraging in helping students persist while working. “You aren’t trying to make writing perfect; you are trying to help the writers practice more skilled work on the one trajectory you’ve chose to address.”


1 minute: Teacher concludes group

Encourage students to do this work across multiple texts. They should return to their other writing to continue this strategy.

Ways to determine when to have a strategy group


  • As you hold individual conferences, look for patterns across students. Create a strategy group for students with similar needs.

  • You can use the student checklists in our writing units as a quick reference to consider the skills students should master in a particular genre.


  • Review the grade level CCSS and the point based rubrics from our writing units to consider more deeply the skills students need to master and where you see pockets of children who need additional support to meet those expectations.


  • Consider the CCSS and the point based rubric for the next grade level, or beyond as needed, to look for ways to push small clusters of students who have mastered the grade level expectations for the genre.

Conferring Resource for Strategy Groups & Individualized Conferring: If... Then... Curriculum Books

The If...Then... Curriculum books from the writing kits contain three sections of possible conferring scenarios. These are divided by genre. Within each genre, there are suggestions for conferring related to structure and cohesion, elaboration, language, generating ideas, drafting, revision and editing.


Check out the Table of Contents in your If... Then... Curriculum guide to see brief headings for all of the conferring scenarios that are included.

Writing Strategy Groups & Guided Reading: How are they similar?

As in guided reading, this is a time when the teacher is focused tightly on a small group of learners. During this small group time, the teacher can provide link ups to mini-lessons shared with the whole class and give an opportunity for the writers to engage with the mini-lesson concepts while the teacher is close by to guide and support.


Guided Reading and Writing Strategy Groups: Core Understandings

Small group instruction

Teacher leads

Focus on a specific teaching point

Match instruction to developmental level

Model, teach, link up to mini-lessons

Students individually interact with print

Students take responsibility to apply the learning

Guide reflection on the learning
Connect to personal use of the strategies

Teacher assesses


Excerpted from "Guided Writing" by Linda Hoyt.

Using Charts to Support Strategy Group Work

The charts you create in whole group mini-lessons that summarize the strategies/processes children are learning are key resources to refer to during small group writing instruction. Additional modeling and practice with the key ideas taught and charted in mini-lessons is key for some of our most fragile learners to become proficient enough to transfer the skills into their own writing work.


Using an anchor chart as a reference point in small group instruction increases the likelihood that children will understand how it relates to their work as a writer and that they will be able to refer to it effectively as they work independently.

Strategy Groups in Action!

Peer Conferring: Critical Friends Group

This strategy has some similarities to the coaching labs we have used in our literacy trainings. A small group of children convenes to give feedback to an individual writer.


Step #1: Everyone reads the same piece of writing. Alternatively, each child could have a copy of the writing and the writer could read the piece aloud as participants follow along.

Step #2 The writer listens silently while the group discusses positive feedback.

Step #3: The writer listens silently while the group discusses constructive feedback.

Step #4: The writer shares by clarifying their thinking, disagreeing, and/or asking for additional information from the group.

Step #5: The writer makes goals, based on the feedback and discussion, about how they will revise their writing.

Step #6: The students return to their writing work. The writer whose piece was being discussed begins revising based on the goals determined in step #5.


Practicing this strategy in a fishbowl setting would give students a foundation to then try this more independently. A teacher could sit with a group, participating primarily to guide students through the process, as needed.

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Two Stars and a Wish Peer Conference

This is a helpful format to provide structure to a peer conference. A student shares their work with a partner. The partner then provides two pieces of positive feedback (stars) and one way they think the piece could be revised to be stronger (wish).


The stars and wishes can be also be recorded in writing during the conference.

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Receiving the Piece: A Structure for Peer Conferences from Donald Graves

This structure for peer conferences was pioneered by Donald Graves, one of the original gurus of writing workshop. In "Receiving the Piece", partners provide one another with feedback on their pieces.


Step #1: Listen Very Carefully (a writer reads their work to a partner)

Step #2: Repeat the Story (the partner recaps the work the writer just shared)

Step #3: Ask a Question (the partner asks the writer a question about something they are wondering about)

Step #4: Make a Suggestion (the partner makes a suggestion about one way the piece could be improved)

Step #5: Praise the Writer (the partner praises a strength they noticed in the writing)


The link below takes you to a page with a video that is an in depth look at how to use this strategy and includes examples of students engaged in the peer conferring using this structure.

Strong Questions Students Can Use in Peer Conferring

  1. What's the best part? What's so good you wish you'd written it? What word, phrase, sentence, or part do you think the writer should leave alone because it's already good?

  2. What do you want more of? What did the writer start to mention but not give enough information about? What details should the writer add to his writing? What parts left you with questions?

  3. What's fuzzy? Are there any confusing parts? Is anything written in a weird or awkward way? Did you get lost anywhere?

  4. What do you want less of? What word, idea, or phrase should the writer use less of? What parts are off-topic and need to be cut? Is there any part that moves too slowly and needs to be written more concisely?


Source: http://www.smekenseducation.com/making-peer-revision-meaningful.html