Writing Workshop Architecture Assessment Mentor Texts and Charts Sample Lessons
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“Assessment is the thinking teacher’s mind work. It is the intelligence that guides our every moment as a teacher.”Calkins

Assessment is thoughtful work that informs all teachers do. Working with kids each day involves constant assessment. Teachers examine students’ responses to their instruction; then they use this information to make changes to their teaching. This kind of on the spot instructional decision making is known as formative assessment. In the book, Writing Pathways, Lucy Calkins (2013) states, “The research is clear that the one factor that matters more than anything in determining whether students’ levels of achievement accelerate is the quality of your teaching. You need to teach responsively” (p.3). In a writing workshop classroom, the primary time teachers assess is when they confer. One way teachers can ensure they are teaching responsively is to bring everything they need to instruct students with them as they confer.

Conferring Toolkits

To respond quickly to the needs of students in a conference, there are certain items teachers will want to carry with them. In other words, teachers will want to create a conferring toolkit. A conferring toolkit includes some or all of the following items:

  • Record Keeping System (a must-have)
  • Cheat Sheets
  • Mentor Texts
  • Visuals
  • Tools

Record Keeping System

The most important component of a conferring toolkit is the record keeping system. Keeping records helps teachers tailor their instruction to meet the needs of every child, ensures they are meeting with all of their students equitably, enables teachers to group students with similar needs together to form small groups, and assists them in determining upcoming minilessons for the group.
Keeping records is highly personal. A system that works for one teacher may not be useful to another. Teachers who are new to keeping anecdotal notes or unhappy with their current system may want to examine the various forms linked to this module (see Facilitator’s Notes).

Record Keeping System

The forms we have included are designed to support handwritten notes. However, many teachers prefer to use a digital record keeping system. Some applications that are popular for this include:

Evernote https://evernote.com/

Onenote https://www.onenote.com/

Confer https://www.conferapp.com/

Some of the advantages of a digital record keeping system include the ability to take pictures of student’s writing and save it in the application, a device to record students reading their writing (to review later or share with parents), and the ability to share records with other teachers (very helpful to coaches).

Cheat Sheets

Conferring is considered by many teachers to be the most difficult part of workshop teaching. Knowing how to structure a successful conference and what content to teach is tough. One way teachers can help themselves is to carry cheat sheets to refer to as they work with students (see Facilitator’s Notes for links to cheat sheets).

Structure Cheat Sheet

As mentioned in the Conference Module, most successful conferences follow a predictable structure. This structure has five distinct parts: research, decide, compliment, teach, and link. Carrying a cheat sheet, such as the one below, helps remind teachers to include these parts every time they confer.

Conference Cheat Sheet


  • Begin a conference with an open-ended question that invites the student to talk about his or her writing work (“How’s it going?” “What are you doing as a writer today?”)
  • Ask the child a question (and follow up on the response) to learn more about his or her writing work. If the child says he or she is doing something say, “Show me where you’ve done that.”
  • Look at the student’s writing to gain a deeper understanding.
  • Learn what the child is planning to do next.
  • As you talk with the student, you are trying to understand what the child is trying to do and has done, and to ascertain how you could be most helpful.


  • What will your compliment and teaching point be?

COMPLIMENT (Notice and Name)

  • Name what the child has already done (or has gestured towards doing) as a writer that you hope he/she continues to do. Make this a very clear, personal, intimate compliment. Make a whole paragraph out of your compliment.

TEACH the writer something, following the architecture of a mini-lesson

  • Choose one teaching point to stick to.
  • Ask yourself, “Based on what I’ve learned so far in the conference and in my work with this child, what can I teach this student that will help him or her become a better writer?” Remember your goal is not just to improve the writing, but to improve the writer.
  • In some conferences, you’ll decide to lift the level of what the child is already doing or trying to do. In other conferences you’ll acknowledge what the child is trying to do but recruit the child to work on something different, and then you’ll help the child get started on the new work.
  • How will you teach? Demonstration? Provide an explanation and an example using a mentor text? Engage the child in guided practice? Support the child in shared inquiry?

LINK: Rearticulate what you’ve taught and encourage the child to do this often as he or she writes

  • Restate the strategy you’ve just taught by saying, “Today, and every day, whenever you’re writing, you can …” This is something writers do ALL the time …”

Based on How’s it Going? By Carl Anderson, (Heinemann, 2000).

Content Cheat Sheet

In addition to knowing how to conduct or structure a successful conference, teachers will also need to know what to compliment and teach in conferences, or how to address content. The following writing qualities are important to teach:

  • Meaning
  • Structure
  • Elaboration
  • Craft
  • Conventions

A cheat sheet filled with questions about these writing qualities is a helpful resource. Teachers may want to consider these questions as they read a child’s piece and are determining their compliment and teaching point. If the teacher reads the questions and comes to one where the answer is “no”, then she may want to consider if this would make a good teaching point (she should always try to follow the child’s lead first). If she reads and finds the answer to a question is “yes”, then this may be something she might consider as a compliment for the child. Teachers should note that conventions are last on this list because there is a lot more to writing well than correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Teachers should focus on the most important writing qualities first.

What to teach in a conference?


  • Is the student writing about one small moment, event, or idea?
  • Am I able to determine the writer’s message?


  • Are students including key elements of the genre?
  • Are students including the most important events or factors?
  • Are students excluding extraneous events or factors?
  • Are students grouping their ideas in meaningful ways?
  • Are students drawing readers in with their lead and wrapping things up with their ending?


  • Are students elaborating important scenes or stances?
  • Are students using specific details?


  • Are students writing in a way that will help the reader envision or enjoy the writing more (audience awareness)?
  • Are students using figurative or sensory language?


  • Are students using all they know about spelling to spell words?
  • Are students using internal and external punctuation?
  • Are students using punctuation to add meaning to their writing?

Taken from Learning from Classmates: Using Students’ Writing as Mentor Texts By Lisa Eickholdt, (Heinemann, 2015).

Mentor Texts

Once a teacher has determined the most powerful thing to teach a student in a conference, she must be prepared to show the child how to execute this new writing technique. One simple way to demonstrate is to use a mentor text as a model. There are several types of mentor texts teachers can use including children’s literature, examples of the teacher’s own writing, or a piece of student mentor text. As teachers prepare this part of their kit, they will find it helpful to use sticky notes to label the craft in key parts of their mentor texts. These labels will allow them to quickly find their examples when they need them.

Mentor Texts    Dollywood by Payton Findley    Example

Visual Aids

Once the teacher decides on her teaching point, she will want to name and explain it to the student. As she is explaining the writing technique, she may want to use a visual aid to help clarify her instruction. Mini-charts are a useful tool for this. Mini-charts are often smaller versions of the anchor charts teachers have posted in their classrooms. However, carrying a mini-version ensures quick accessibility for teachers and better visibility for the student. Many teachers use an artist’s sketchbook to create and store their mini-charts.

Visual Aids 01    Visual Aids 02    Visual Aids


In addition to having items to assess and instruct, the teacher will also want to carry some common writing tools with her to help students work on their writing. Common supplies include:

In a conference, the teacher will want to get the child started doing the new work. Having the right tool at her fingertips (perhaps in a small caddy or in a clipboard with storage inside) makes this job quicker and easier.