10 minutes. 10 minutes to deliver an effective mini-lesson that sets students up with an action step for application to their current and future works. So, we have to make the most of our time. I think Lucy Calkins describes the mini-lesson best: “Mini-Lessons are meant as intervals for explicit, brief instruction in skills and strategies that then become part of a writer’s ongoing repertoire, to be drawn upon as needed.” I know that this same principle can be used in readers workshop as well. Her description gives me a mission for mini-lessons. It’s not a time to prepare students for the task at hand. Instead, it’s a time to give students something that they can put in their “toolbox” and use it in future pieces of writing and other books.
I see skill sets as a toolbox. Each time we teach students a new strategy or skill, they put inside their toolbox. I have an actual toolbox and there are some tools that I can use well and with efficiency, some that I how to use but its laborious, and there are some that I have no idea how to use! Sometimes I ask myself “what does this even do?!” I know what my go-to tool is for certain tasks and I know which tools I shy away from because I’m not so sure how to use them correctly. This is how kids feel when it comes to reading and writing strategies. So what do we do? How do we develop students’ “toolboxes” in a efficient and effective way? I turn to Lucy Calkins’ architecture of a mini-lessons. She says that “the architecture of mini-lessons remains largely the same, and it remains consistent whether you are teaching reading or writing.” I visualize the components that she describes in a flow map from Thinking Maps:
I read about Calkins’ architecture of a mini-lesson in the book Growing Readers by Kathy Collins and in A Guide to the Common Core Writing Workshop by Lucy Calkins. The latter source is a component of Lucy Calkins Units of Study For Writing. I encourage you to read these books for more information about structuring a mini-lesson. When I read these resources, there was something that really stuck out to me. Before I send students of to work at the end of the mini-lesson, I say things like “Today, I want you to ….” or “Today you will…”. I learned that I’m sending the message that they are supposed to apply that strategy today. I’m not sending the message that the strategy I taught could be used across other pieces of writing or in other books in the same situation. I read this and thought “oh my, I’ve got to change this!” I need to use phrases like “Today, I want to teach you that whenever you are writing stories…” or “Today I want to teach you that whenever you come to a tricky spot when reading, you can…”. A small change in the language I use can cause a big change in a students’ ability to transfer a strategy across different pieces of writing and different books.
Another suggestion I read about it in these sources is to limit the amount of student talk. Kathy Collins describes how sometimes in an effort to hear children’s’ voices, her lessons would drag. When our lessons drag, we lose student focus. This made me think about the concept of active engagement in the mini-lesson. When we plan for active engagement, we develop how students interact with what we are teaching during the lesson and student talk becomes more intentional and purposeful. Here are some tips for planning for active engagement:
- Use a sentence stem for students to use when they begin the conversations with a partner. I write them on sentence strips and have them posted for students to refer to.
- Keep partners the same for “turn and talk” time so that the conversation stays focused and the students aren’t distracted by new partners.
- Growing Readers suggests that if students are using a text to try out a new skill or strategy, make sure the books are familiar.
- Have students plan out their writing pieces using blank booklets, especially when they are learning to write across multiple pages. They can touch each page and visualize the work that they will do. I have them do this by themselves at first. Then, they describe their planning to their “turn and talk” partner.
I wanted to create something that would help me think through all of the components of a mini-lesson while planning. Here is a sneak peak:
This planning sheet will help me in a couple of ways this year:
- My district adopted Lucy Calkins Units of Study for Writing last year. The mini-lessons are so great and outlined beautifully. They are a bit wordy, so I think that this planning sheet will help me to sort it out and create a clear outline.
- This sheet will really help me map out daily mini-lessons in reading with each unit of study.
I hope you find it helpful!
“But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” – 1 Corinthians 13:13 NASB