Strategy

Mini-Lessons for Writing

mini-lessons

UDL 5.3

Mini-Lessons for Writing are a part of the writing process in which a teacher provides instruction about a relevant writing skill (e.g., citing textual evidence) because several students need specific, timely support in order to continue working effectively on a larger writing task. Teachers determine the topic for a whole class or small group Mini-Lesson based on observations of recurring student challenges or questions. During a 5-30 minute Mini-Lesson, the teacher explains and models a writing skill, provides supporting resources (e.g., exemplars, writing checklists), and leads students in guided practice. Instead of repeating individual instruction when students have problems with a similar writing skill, teacher and students work together to analyze exemplars and share and apply writing strategies to solve problems or face challenges that occur during the writing process. Mini-Lessons for Writing provide relevant instruction right when students need it through short, applicable lessons.

Implementation Tips

Analyze Exemplars
Analyze exemplars that model the presence of the focus skills (e.g., creating a strong thesis statement). An excellent model will give students a pattern to follow. Read non-examples (e.g., unfocused thesis statement) and problem-solve together about how to improve. Encourage students to apply these ideas to their own writing.
Think Aloud
Model a new skill using a Think Aloud. Show why the skill is important, then advise potential strategies for applying the skill and how to overcome challenges students face when implementing the skill in their writing. Think Alouds will help students monitor their strategy use when writing independently.
Observe Patterns
Observe patterns in student writing (e.g., quotes that are not properly integrated into a paragraph) to decide when to deliver a Mini-Lesson. Sometimes a 1:1 writing conference provides the necessary support and immediate feedback to a writer. However, a Mini-Lesson will most effectively address student needs when several writers manifest a common problem.
Determining Mini-Lesson Topics
Determine recurring questions, problems, and challenges that pop up during in-class writing or student drafts. Gather feedback and questions from students. Involve students in determining the topics of the Mini-Lessons and solve problems together. An interactive approach leads to more invested students and relevant topics for Mini-Lessons.
Align Mini-Lessons to Writing Objectives
Align Mini-Lessons to writing objectives (e.g., The writer will use sensory language.) for the unit. Analyze the most common obstacles faced by students in meeting these objectives so that Mini-Lessons will support students where they need it most.
Maintain Interactive Notebooks
Maintain interactive writer’s notebooks where students take notes and practice Mini-Lesson skills. During Mini-Lessons, students explain the new skill in their own words, complete ungraded writing samples (e.g., informal quick write to apply new skill), and reflect on how to apply the skill to a larger assignment.
Apply the New Skill
Ask students to apply the new skill and strategies during the mini-lesson. Students can collaborate during a partner exercise (e.g., adding introductory sentences to a given exemplar), and teachers can check for comprehension and provide immediate feedback and clarification. Then students will apply the skill independently to their writing.
Following Up
Follow up with students 1-2 days after the Mini-Lesson by reviewing writing drafts or scheduling writing conferences to assess their application of the new skill. Work together with students to assess if they have measurably improved in the skill area. The follow-up can reinforce skills and inform future Mini-Lessons.

Examples

A Just-in-Time Mini-Lesson
During individual writing conferences, several students require support when citing and integrating textual evidence; the teacher decides the whole class could benefit from a Mini-Lesson on this topic. The teacher plans a Mini-Lesson for tomorrow’s writing workshop or interrupts the current writing workshop to provide immediate instruction. Students jot down notes in interactive writer’s notebooks about how to integrate textual evidence into their paragraphs. After viewing a student exemplar with incorrect citations, students write down the corrections in their notebooks and compare revisions with a partner. The Mini-Lesson concludes with students returning to their drafts to revise citations.
Mini-Lessons for Focused Revision
While reading drafts of student essays, the teacher observes that several students need to improve their use of transition words or phrases. While the rest of the class works independently, the teacher provides a 20-minute Mini-Lesson on transitions to the small group. The teacher shows how transitions connect ideas by showing examples of student essays that successfully included transitions. Students work with a partner to highlight the transitions in the exemplars. The teacher and students collaborate to write a sample paragraph that includes transitions. Then students revise their essays to include effective transitions.
Small Group Mini-Lesson for Elementary Students
Students have written a paragraph about their favorite season. When the teacher scans the paragraphs, she realizes that several students did not consistently write in complete sentences. Later in the day, while other students are at stations or working independently, the teacher meets with a small group to review the required components of a complete sentence. Led by the teacher, students analyze examples and label complete and incomplete sentences. Next, students work with a partner to review the paragraph they wrote earlier and make corrections based on what they learned in the Mini-Lesson.

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