Writing Workshop Series Post #2: Schedule and Story Tees

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Writing Workshop Schedule
In my classroom, I try to devote 45 minutes to 1 hour on writing workshop each day.  Now, when I say writing workshop, remember that I'm using that term loosely.  I began my teaching career with a strict writer's workshop and, like everything else, it has received its own twist to find exactly what works for me.  This is the benefit of having been lucky enough to have taught the same grade (2nd) for 15 years now.

My typical writing schedule looks like this...

Writing Mini-Lesson - 5-15 minutes
This is when I model a skill or strategy through my own writing.  This is often a shared class experience.

Student Application - 15-20 minutes
Students go back and apply what was taught in the mini-lesson to their own writing.  Often this is a specific genre piece that they are working on for the specific unit we are in at that time.  (Often, students finish this more quickly and just go ahead and jump into their free choice writing.)

Student Free Choice Write - 15 minutes
Students work on taking writing pieces of their choice through the writing process.

Author's Chair Sharing - 10 minutes
Students share writing with the class and receive feedback using the "2 Pluses and a Wish" method or the "3P" method (plus, ponder, polish).

In the beginning of my career, the student application and free choice were combined.  I didn't teach through writing genres, instead I had a truly open writing workshop where students worked on pieces of their choice at all times.  However, I quickly found that my students were at a level that they really needed to be learning about the different types of writing....and have experience writing all of those!  

I don't use a specific writing program.  I love Lucy Calkins, but feel most of her programs are geared more toward K and 1.  My students were just beyond that (although I do pull in a few aspects).  I do use 6+1 Traits of Writing.  In fact, my first year using that, I actually taught little "units" of each trait.  But, I found that students quickly forgot "voice" once that unit was over, or they only focused on "word choice" during that specific unit.   

So, I sat down with my state standards - they were pretty general.  They required a few specific writing types, but not many.  Most of the writing standards could be taught through any type of writing (the same is true as we switch over to common core).  Therefore, I planned out the genres I wanted to teach, making sure that all of the standards were met, and I integrated each of the traits into each of the units I planned.  (I do not have my actual lesson plans to share (that's always a big question) but I do encourage you to sit down with your standards and think about your students' needs/abilities to write a unit.)  These are the writing units that I teach (see my long range plans here).

1. Sentences and Paragraphs (a foundational unit)
2. Story Writing
3. Friendly Letters
4. Descriptive Writing
5. How-To Writing
6. Persuasive Writing
7. Writing Dialogue
8. Tall Tales
9. Memoirs
10. Poetry

After the foundational unit, I like to dive into Story Writing.  This is great to do first because 1) I can use it to get them REALLY excited about writing time, and 2) once they have the basics of writing a story (with all of the elements) they'll be better equipped for that "free choice" writing component.

During this story unit, I really want them to understand about main characters, supporting characters, setting, problem, and solution.  We read several books during this unit but a couple of my favorites are

These books really lend themselves to my focus - I have the students choose an animal that is unique in someway.  (For example, elephants have trunks, beavers have large teeth, giraffes have long necks, etc)  We brainstorm as a class and make a chart of their ideas.  Then, each student chooses one animal to be the focus of their story.  We go through the stories step by step together to ensure that students understand and are including all of the elements.  

The gist of this writing is that they introduce their animal in its natural habitat (setting) and life is wonderful...except the animal gets made fun of by the other animals living nearby because of its unique characteristic.  Then, there's a problem in the story that, ultimately, ends up being solved by the animal's unique characteristic and he/she becomes the hero/friend.

We're usually doing (or have just finished) an author's focus unit (during read aloud time) on Robert Munsch and we incorporate a lot of the "fingerprints" we learned from him - repetition (the problem is attempted to be solved several times but it doesn't work), onomatopeia (the kids love using sound words in their writing!), humor, and even streeeetching out words.
I'm usually very happy with the final products at our first attempt at story writing, and so are the kiddos!  We end up publishing these in a very special way.  We create STORY TEES!
Aren't they adorable?  The kids are soooo excited to wear them and show them off!  Our librarian makes a BIG DEAL about them and how they are authors.  Some of them wear them to school several days in a row at first...I'm sure until mom or dad just puts their foot down and says they MUST be washed now! :)

How to Make Story Tees:
1.  I have the students type their own stories in Microsoft Word using a template that I have created for them (with the correct font size and spacing)
2.  I edit these stories with the student to fix major mistakes (you'll see that I don't always do this, but I do for these since they're being published on a t-shirt)
3. I "flip" the writing in Word and print the stories on T-Shirt Transfer paper
4. Students are given a half sheet of paper to draw an illustration that also includes the title and author (I require them to fill the entire space with color, use markers to trace/draw outlines, fill in color with crayons - bright or bold colors work best!)
5. I scan these drawings, flip them, and print onto T-Shirt Transfer paper
6. I iron have Mr. Madden press the stories to the backs of Tshirts and illustrations to the front using a heat press at his work (usually you would just iron these on...or have parent volunteers do it!)

That's it!  It is a pretty involved project that can get very pricey if you try to do it all on your own.  I suggest having students bring in their own Tshirts, and putting all of the other supplies on your "wish list" at Meet the Teacher (you know, when parents are eager to help with donations) and just save them until you need them.  That helps cut down on the expense GREATLY!! 

I hope you enjoyed this project, and will consider doing it with your class.  It's a great way to get them excited about writing stories!! 

I'll leave you with a few examples of their stories.  They're all similar in style since it is a guided writing, but it really gives them a foundation for writing a story that they can take and use in their free choice writing for the rest of the year!
See you back tomorrow for another writing post!

All posts in this series:


  1. The t-shirt idea is extraordinary. I can see how kids eat it up.
    ❀ Tammy
    Forever in First

  2. OMG!!! I am innnn love with this! I'm not the strongest process writing teacher. I've been searching for something that is easy to jump into on my own. Thanks for the wonderful insight. I'm looking forward to the next installment! and those story tees...well consider that idea "teacher-lifted" :D

    A Passion For Primary

  3. great post. I've followed along on your website for years, but this helps a lot! Are you changing anything because of common core? Just wondering cause I am surely stealing this!

  4. I love this idea! Kids will definitely get excited about having their stories and illustrations on a shirt.

    Writing is an area I always struggle with even though I have been teaching 20 years. I am looking forward to seeing all of your other ideas.

    P. Cypress

  5. I LOVE the shirts! What a great idea. I can see why the kids loved it! Thanks for sharing this!

    Third Grade All Stars

    First, I am implementing Lucy Caulkins this year. When you said it seems as if it's more for K-1 I tend to agree. I do have units created for 2nd that I received through administration.
    I too like the 6 traits, but I can see how your students forgot about past lessons. I want to thank you for helping me see your day and how you put it all together! I appreciate the time you took to think this out and write about it. I also like the samples you gave.
    Thank you again. I am copying this post for my own records. I hope you don't mind:)
    Where Seconds Count

  7. Wow, what a terrific idea! Love it!

    The Teaching Thief

  8. So glad someone is finally doing a SC blogger meet-up. Saw your post on the 2nd Grade Shenanigans site. Hoping that you'll still be able to come to Palmetto soon:)

    Make sure you stop by and enter my giveaway.

  9. Oh wow! I love the idea of story tees!! I am pinning that so I can remember it for next year. What a great idea!! :)
    Learning Is Something to Treasure

  10. Love the shirts! I'm passing the Liebster Blog Award to your super cute blog!!! Stop by to check it out :)
    Totally Terrific in Texas

  11. Wow, what a lot of terrific ideas! Thanks for sharing.

  12. I absolutely love the story tee idea. What a great idea!

    Teach on a Limb

  13. I L-O-V-E love your t-shirts!!!! I am definitely going to have to try and incorporate this this year!

    :) Nicole
    Tadpole Tidbits

  14. Thank you so much for sharing your writing ideas! I am overhauling the way I teach writing and I am going into something kind of like what you are doing. I noticed that when I find a book about teaching writing it's either geared towards k-1 or 3+, that leaves 2nd grade teachers trying to figure things out on their own. I'm glad I found you!

  15. These shirts are too, too cute! I absolutely love it! I'm looking to improve the way I run writing this coming school year, so this entry was really helpful. Thank you for sharing it!

    I'm curious as to what grade you teach?

    Thank you for the follow. :)

    Teach With All the Colors of the Wind

  16. I love this T-Shirt idea and my students will love it. The problem I have is that I am not sure how to "flip" the text in word. Could you please talk me through how to do this. Thanks ahead of time for your help.

  17. Amanda, we just saw your T-shirt story idea shared on another blog. It is a fabulous idea! Thanks for sharing it!! We definitely want to look into making them! It is an awesome way to celebrate writing!

    :) Tamra and Sarah
    First Grade Buddies

  18. Amanda,

    Here's my post about the t-shirts. Thank you again for letting me share your idea. It's a brilliant one!
    ❀ Tammy
    Forever in First

  19. Can you tell me the name of some of the other books you read to the students when you do this unit? Thanks!

  20. A co-worker & I are frequently checking your blog, as we are anxiously waiting for your next post on reading through genres series & came across all of your writings blogs! You are amazing!!! Thank you so much, you are making such a difference in our classrooms this year!


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