Using Small Group Instruction to Teach Big Writing

Small group instruction is heavy on the minds of many teachers.  And a lot time is spent forming them, planning them, and gathering resources for them.  The problem?  Almost all of that time and effort is spent on small groups for reading.  But what about small group writing?  

Given that writing is incredibly supportive of reading, and is an important skill in its own right, there’s a need to balance our small group instruction–reading and writing are equally important.  Steve Graham, a recent guest on Jennifer Serravallo’s To the Classroom podcast, talked all about the reciprocal nature of reading and writing, and how they each highly supports the other.

Both Dr. Graham and Serravallo also talk about the unfortunate way that writing instruction is too often pushed aside, especially with the latest wave of mandated, scripted reading curricula. And more often than not, when writing is included, it’s just assigned writing tasks, not actual writing process instruction.  And it’s this deeper work that matters most for student learning.

“Writing is an extremely complex skill , and learning how to write requires time and good instruction.”  

Dr. Steve Graham, Changing How Writing is Taught

There’s so much that goes into it:  motivation, idea generation, planning for organization, audience, and word choice.  And then there’s drafting, revision, and editing.  There’s a LOT to true writing, which is very different from not just responses to prompts that are written.

Small group writing instruction.
Small group writing for big impact! @Depositphotos

Because of its complexity, and because most of us have never ourselves received strong writing instruction, teachers often fear it.  They often aren’t even sure where to begin.  

Which all begs the question:  we have loads of data for reading to drive our small group instruction, but really nothing for writing.  What to do?  

Well, all decisions about small group instruction begin with data.  

But how can we gather the sort of data about students’ writing that will be useful?  And in a way that doesn’t take much time?

With the power of a checklist!  A checklist is simpler than a rubric, and can actually capture a lot more data.  You might have a great checklist already in place, or it may just need a little bit of tweaking to get at all that’s entailed in the writing process.  

If not, it begins with creating one.  I’m not into creating things if I don’t have to, and I’d venture to guess you aren’t, either.  Great news!  You don’t have to!  Serravallo has a totally free tool you can use for this exact purpose.  It’s her student self-reflection tool.  While it’s meant for students to self-assess their strengths and needs (which is always a good idea), it can also be used for you to quickly assess where students are across the writing process.

Jennifer Serravallo's student self-reflection tool for writing.
Jennifer Serravallo’s writing checklist via Heinemann

This can easily and quickly be completed through a combination of conferring with students, kid-watching, looking through their in-process writing, and doing a quick on-demand writing assessment.  Using a combination of methods across a week or two to spot-check where kids are will take you far less time than it would take to painstakingly read through tons of student work. 

It will give you a more full picture, too.  You can’t gauge focus, idea generation, or engagement without observation, for example.  You also won’t need all of the checklist at one time–just use the parts of the writing process that work for your purposes at that time.  

Then, viola!  You now have all kinds of real data about authentic, real writing that you can use to drive your small group instruction.  With this simple data collection tool, you can form small groups for writing in a snap!

Could you use a thinking partner to help you quickly form small groups for writing that will have big impact for students? I’m here for you!  Click here to contact me, send me a DM on Instagram, let me know in the Facebook group, or simply leave a comment below this post!

Related Posts:  Small Group Writing Planning Made Easy, Keys to Improving Student Writing, Boosting Student Growth:  Writing Volume and Choice, How to Revolutionize Your Writing Workshop, How to Quickly Assess Student Writing

Who is Coach from the Couch??  I’m Michelle, a 24-year veteran educator, currently a K-5 literacy coach.  I continue to learn alongside teachers in classrooms each and every day, and it’s my mission to support as many teachers as I can.  Because no one can do this work alone. I’m available to you, too, through virtual coaching calls

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