One aspect of Atwell’s method writer’s workshop that I enjoy is the minilesson. My own teaching theories pair well with the minilesson because of the fact that I am free to help my students on a one to one basis very frequently. Also, the minilesson is able to capture student’s attention and keep them engaged more easily than longer lessons due to the brevity of the lesson itself.
Atwell suggests that the minilesson would last between 5-15 minutes in order for students to have time to play with the information shared in class in their own writing efforts. As students become more familiar with the information and techniques, while feeling safe in their writing environment they will demonstrate knowledge learned from minilessons in their own work.
Perhaps my favorite lesson from In the Middle that I have not yet shared with my own students is about the craft of writing – using description. In this lesson, Atwell uses a quote from Mark Twain to help her students understand descriptive writing, “Don’t say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and show it”(164). She goes on to explain the meaning of the quote in that good writers do not use adjectives and adverbs to convey detail, rather they use solid nouns and verbs (164-65).
I keep meaning to share this lesson with my own students since reading it a month ago, but it seems every time I hope to sneak it in, there is a snow day and I have to back peddle to try and allow work time for paper completion, to review for a test or to reteach material.
Atwell shares several more gems throughout the remainder of the chapter that I also look forward to sharing with my own students. My students continue to struggle with several things in their own writing such as subject verb agreement and homonyms. On page 200 of In the Middle Atwell shares a lesson on commonly misspelled homonyms, thank goodness. Hopefully this lesson will finally drive the difference home for some of my students.