When Writing Workshop Isn't Working

Written by Mark Overmeyer

Getting Started

  • Ask students to write about something from their own lives.
  • Ideas could be inspired by a picture book, photo, video clip, or other artifact.
  • Help students make their experiences more concrete by acting out their personal moments.
  • Begin a discussion about the qualities of good writing.
  • Provide time for sharing and feedback.


How Can I Help Students Who Don't Know What to Write About?

  • Ask students to make a list of specific moments or memoir ideas.
  • Model the interview process and then invite pairs of students to work together to tell their stories. ("Oral rehearsal can help many students who are stuck, and it also allows all writers in the class to get a sense of their story and to rehearse it before they put it on paper.")
  • Use mentor texts to model the idea that stories come from very small moments. (i.e. Owl Moon by Jane Yolen and Fireflies by Julie Brinckloe work well to demonstrate the concept of small moments)
  • Teach students about using RAFTs in writing (Role, Audience, Format, Topic).
"Imagine you are a turkey (Role) writing to a farmer (Audience) in the form of a letter
(Format) and you are begging the farmer to choose some other turkey for
Thanksgiving dinner (Topic)."


How Do I Effectively Manage Writing Conferences?

  • Informal conferences can be check-ins with your student writers. (i.e. "What are you working on?" "Do you have an idea for writing today?" If it is a revision cycle--"How are you going to improve your writing today?")
  • Ask students to set their writing goals prior to your conference. (This will save time as you can read their pieces ahead of time and can be more focused on helping them improve their pieces during the conference.)
  • Try a "whole class" conference where you talk with one student about his/her piece and the other students listen in and think about how the discussion might help them as writers.


About the Author

Mark Overmeyer is a literacy coordinator for Cherry Creek Schools near Denver, Colorado. He has taught in grades two through eight as a teacher, Title I reading specialist, learning disabilities specialist and writing coach. He is a member of the Denver Writing Project at the University of Colorado at Denver.


Flyer created by Mary Bellavance 2013