I love a flash of “new” in my teaching life. Finding small ways to infuse a playful spirit into writing workshop keeps me (and students) feeling excited about each day’s experience. When we tinker with new ways of approaching workshop learning routines, everyone wins! Today’s tips are focused on simple ways to play up partner time.
PARTNER PLAY IDEA 1: CHOICE CHARTS
Choice charts provide options for how partners might work together during writing workshop. Each choice represents a different game that students can play with their partners. Here are examples of a primary grade choice chart and an upper elementary choice chart.
PARTNER PLAY IDEA 2: CUT UP CHECKLISTS
A while back, I wrote about using minute-to-win-it and use-it-or-lose-it games as lesson closings. Either could be modified ever so slightly to become a partner game. For instance, you might cut up a unit checklist and put it in a mystery envelope. During each meeting, partners select a different slip from the envelope. Then, they practice rereading each other’s work and looking for that one specific feature. When students find it- done well, they provide a shout-out (“Look what you did here! You… because of that…”) When students find an attempt that could be improved, they ask questions and provide prompts, so that their partner (the writer) can power up that part. If the partnership does not find any evidence of that checklist feature, the pair collaborates to identify a possible place to give it a go… and then try it out try together. Again, the author of the piece does the actual writing. Games like this keep partners focused on providing one another with meaningful feedback. They are also a ton of fun!
The blog linked above features an example of a conventions checklist. Below, you will find an example of a spelling and vocabulary-themed checklist that was used by third-grade partners during an information writing unit (before it was cut up):
Here’s an example of a cut-up checklist featuring structure and development choices in a middle school narrative writing unit.
You can create customized versions that align with your grade-level standards and class goals. Click here for ready-to-go checklist-game templates.
PARTNER PLAY IDEA 3: TOOL-MAKING PARTIES
Partners support one another in honestly reflecting on what’s going well and what might become a new learning goal. They can also collaborate to create tools to support these next steps. I like to call these sessions “tool-making parties.” Many times, these partner-created tools resemble student-friendly versions of the charts, checklists, and reference tools you might find in a writing classroom. However, students are much more motivated to refer to and use tools when they create them with a friend. Here are a couple of examples of tools made by students. As these student-made tools show, it isn’t always about technical writing skills. Sometimes, writers also need support in developing writing identities and building work habits.
An IF/THEN chart made by a first-grader.
A middle schooler created this tool during an opinion writing unit. She then chose to read a different “mantra” each day before beginning to work.
The end of the year is a great time to experiment with new practices. Consider trying one or two of the above ideas before the school year ends. Observe partners as they work and later, ask students for feedback and ideas to improve each partner game. Decide what you will keep in place- and what you might tweak- when you try these games with a new group of students.
NOTE: If partnerships are newer for you (or it’s been a while), you may want to take some time to search the #TWT archives. A few of my favorite partner-themed posts are Melanie’s post on setting up partnerships, Betsy’s post on boosting partner success, and Lanny’s posts on strengthening partnerships (post 1 & post 2).