The Clemson Virtual Professional Development Library (VPDL) for South Carolina Classroom Teachers was designed to support Professional Learning Communities (PLC). As we know, powerful learning can occur when we view teaching and analyze it together with colleagues. For this reason, suggestions for how to lead a professional development based on each module are provided. The suggestions are broken up into preparing for the session, activities to do before watching the videos with a PLC, activities to do during the viewing of the videos, and activities to do following watching the video links. These ideas are simply suggestions. We know the best ideas will come from you, the teachers in the field.

Supporting Documents:

(click on a link to download a supporting document)

Preparing for the session:

  • Read through the Architecture of Writing Workshop Page.
  • Read through the Overview of the Writing Conferences Page.
  • View all the clips from the conference module (research, decide/compliment, teach, and link).
  • Read through the “Question(s) to Consider” before each of the video clips, and consider your answers before watching each clip.
  • View all the video clips. After viewing each clip, decide on your own responses, and anticipate other possible responses from colleagues. Then, review the suggested responses in the “Facilitator Notes.” These are hyperlinked to the questions. Think about additions or clarifications that would be appropriate depending on the needs of teachers. Please note that the responses given are suggestions only. In many cases, the questions and ideas from the participants or your own insights as you view the segments will shape the most meaningful discussion relevant to the issues confronting your particular group.
  • Download and read through the Conference PowerPoint if you will be using it.
  • Download and copy the supporting documents included with the module if you will be using them.
  • Download copies of student writing from the Student Mentor Text Module to use in the session.

Before viewing the video clips:

  • Show the Conference PowerPoint. Pause throughout and discuss the bullet points on each slide with your PLC.
  • Pass out the conference video observation form for participants to use as they view the videos.
  • Pass out the conference cheat sheet and some copies of student writing for participants to use after they watch the video links.

During the session:

  • Watch the video clips in each segment of the conference structure. Request that participants watch closely and take notes on their viewing sheet as you watch.
  • After each video clip, discuss the questions that accompany each segment as a group.

Questions to consider and discuss during the session:


  • What is the purpose of the research segment of the conference?
    • The research segment is the assessment piece of the conference. Its purpose is to help the teacher know what to teach her student.
    • Many educators believe that after a minilesson on a specific writing technique, students are sent off to practice this same technique. This is not the case. We may teach leads in our minilesson, but not every child should write a lead that day. Instead, every child is working at their own pace and teachers adjust their instruction to meet each child’s needs.
  • How can teachers research or assess student’s writing in a conference?
    • Teachers will often begin the assessment portion of a conference by simply observing the student for a moment. This quiet observation allows the teacher to observe her student’s behavior and habits with writing.
    • Another key method for assessing students is to talk to the child about their work. Most teachers begin their writing conferences with a predictable question such as, “How’s it going?” Making your opening question predictable, encourages students to talk. As the teacher talks to her student, she will want to be sure to ask the child what he or she is working on that day as a writer. Then, whenever possible, she will want to follow the child’s intentions. It is important to note that many children will tell the teacher what they are writing about (my trip to the beach) as opposed to what they are working on as a writer (trying to bring my characters to life through action). As teachers we want to know both, but will generally need to teach children to provide the latter information.
    • After talking to the child, the teacher will want to read all or part of the student’s writing. Reading the child’s writing is vital to deciding what to compliment and teach.


  • What two important decisions must the teacher make at the onset of a conference?
    • The first decision the teacher must make as she assesses each student’s writing is what she will compliment.
    • The second decision a teacher must make is what one thing she will teach the child at this time.
  • Why is the compliment important?
    • One of the reasons a compliment is important is because it starts the conference off on a positive note for the student. In addition, a compliment, when done with intention, is a powerful form of teaching.
    • The compliment is also important for the teacher because it requires that the teacher begin by examining her student’s work under the lens of possibility. The teacher will want to search the child’s writing for great content. This is helpful for the teacher because it helps train her to look past surface errors in a child’s writing and find the hidden gems within.
  • Why is the compliment portion of a conference sometimes called noticing and naming?
    • As previously mentioned, the compliment is a powerful form of teaching. It is sometimes called “noticing and naming” because that is exactly what the teacher does at this time. She should begin by noticing what her student has done, or attempted to do (this is important), and then compliment the student on this work. As she compliments the child, she will want to be sure to name the writing technique the student used. By providing a label or name of the writing technique for the child, she is taking what the child did unconsciously, and bringing it to her attention. If she then ends this naming and noticing by telling the child something such as, “That’s a great idea! I hope whenever you write you remember to _________. That’s a strategy writers’ use.” This helps the child extrapolate what he or she did to future writing.



  • Why is it important to focus on teaching the child only one thing in a conference?
    • “Teach the writer, not the writing.” (Calkin, 2004). This quote seems to apply here. By focusing her teaching on one teaching point, instead of several, the teacher will most likely be teaching the child how to be a better writer, as opposed to improving the writing.
    • It is hard to focus our teaching on one thing in a conference. However, teachers will want to remember that they have all year to teach students the many aspects of being a good writer.
  • What are some important elements of the teaching portion of a conference?
    • The teaching phase of a conference should begin with an announcement by the teacher that instruction will begin. Similar to announcing the teaching point in aminilesson, the teacher will want to make the student aware that the teaching phase of the conference has begun. Often this comes in the form of a question such as, “Can I teach you something today?” It may also come as an announcement such as, “Today I want to teach you how to _________________.”
    • Once the teaching phase is announced, instruction begins. Instruction may take several forms such as guided practice, demonstration, or inquiry. The most popular forms are guided practice and demonstration. With guided practice the teacher guides the student through the new learning. She will explain how to do the writing technique and assist the student as he or she implements it. In a demonstration lesson, the teacher models the writing technique in some way (using her own writing, a piece of children’s literature, or a piece of student mentor text) and explains how to do it. Often the teacher will use a combination of methods to instruct.
    • Another important element of the teaching phase of a conference is that the student should practice the new technique with the teacher. With our youngest writers, this practice will often simply be an oral rehearsal of what they will write. It is important to get the student started doing the work during a conference. This increases the likelihood the student will use it in their future work.
    • A conference will often end with the teacher providing the student with a sticky note with the teaching point written on it. This sticky note serves as a reminder to students about what they learned that day.
  • What materials are helpful for the teacher to have on hand during a conference?
    • It is imperative for the teacher to have a form to take anecdotal notes on during conferences (see the assessment module for sample forms).
    • The teacher will find it useful to carry around mentor texts as she confers. Carrying copies of great student writing, her own writing, or pieces of children’s literature will provide her with an instant model.
    • Sticky notes to leave with students are helpful. Many teachers create multiple copies of notes based on common teaching points and keep them in their conference binder. Doing so allows them to finish each conference a bit more quickly.



  • What is the purpose of the link in conference?
    • The link in a conference serves the same purpose as the link in the minilesson (a conference is really just a mini minilesson after all). Reiterating the teaching point helps the teacher ensure she has taught a writing strategy as opposed to teaching many writing concepts. It is helpful for the student because it reminds him or her of the strategy which was just taught and links this strategy to their ongoing work. The link is often sounds something like, “So today and every day when you go to ______________. Remember to ________________.”

After the session:

  • Display a piece of student’s writing for the group.
  • Examine the student’s writing and work together to decide on both your compliment and teaching point. Using the conference cheat sheet, practice using the structure of a conference to compliment and teach the writer.
  • After you work together as a group to plan a conference, request that participants work in groups of three to plan another conference. Display another piece of student writing. As teacher’s work, circulate the room and assist.
  • After teachers plan their compliment and teaching point, request that they role play the conference. One participant should play the part of the student, another should play the part of the teacher, and the third should play the part of the coach. As the teacher confers with “the student”, the coach should observe and assist the teacher reminding her to include all the parts of the conference structure.
  • Conclude the session by allowing one or two sets of volunteers to model their conference for the group. The group should observe and search for each component in the architecture. The group should also provide constructive feedback to the volunteers.