Go Deeper: Multi-session Writing Workshops

If you’re like me, we do school visits that are typically one-shot, Big Events. For example, my visits typically involve doing large-group assemblies and smaller writing workshops for upper-grade kids all on the same day. But here’s something I’ve done recently that I love:  working with a single classroom in my local community over a period of time with primary school kids.

WORKING WITH FIRST GRADERS: In 2014, I took part in a creative collaboration with a seasoned first grade teacher, Kristen Nordstrom. We met at a conference and wondered if first graders would be able and willing to apply revision techniques to make their nonfiction writing “pop.”

Kristen scheduled me for three sessions with the kids in late spring. They were about to work on their African Animals project. Part of my role was to add “star power” to the mix — a published author who has worked through the exact same process that they were about to begin.

Session 1 (1:15 hrs): I demonstrated my research process with the class.

  • I showed them a photo of a horned lizard and had them generate wonder questions based on an image of the animal.
  • We practiced how to use those questions as a research guide.
  • I shared my rough drafts, the “final” piece, the revisions I had to make as requested by the editor, and the published article.
  • We generated examples of “juicy” verbs to catch a reader’s attention.

Session 2 (1:30 hrs): I visited the classroom 5 weeks later. In the meantime, Kristen was doing the heavy-lifting. She taught mini-lessons on verbs, similes and metaphors, research and drafting. I met with small groups and gave feedback on their works in progress. The purpose was to help them come up with attention-getting openings.

Session 3 (1:30 hrs): At my last visit, kids shared their final books with me and reflected on their writing and revising process. They were proud of their opening “hooks.”

To see the results, take a look at a short film featuring the young writers, filmed by older students:

This project led to Kristen and I doing teacher workshops for her school district and for the California Reading & Literature Project at California Lutheran University. 14 Lang Ranch - Teacher Workshop

WORKING WITH SECOND AND THIRD GRADERS: In 2015, I did a collaboration with another creative teacher, Kathi Byington, in her grade 2/3 combination class. They chose to do a biography project featuring American peacemakers.

Session 1 (1 hr.): Meet-the-author / research process introduction

15 Aspen Projects - Frederick Douglass & Harriet TubmanSessions 2, 3, and 4 (1 hr each):  Students met with me in “we-are-all-authors” critique groups. We shared feedback. The goal was for each to produce a book to enter into the Young Authors’ Faire sponsored by the Ventura County Reading Association. http://www.vcrareading.org/  As with Kristen, Kathi did many lessons with students in-between my visits. I served more to reinforce and extend than to relay information.

Session 5 (1:30 hrs): Publication Party. We “launched” their books with treats. The kids talked with me individually about their projects and writing. The result was a deeper connection with these young writers than could have been accomplished in a single-day visit. The students invited me to their “Living Museum” and “ A Midsummer Night’s Dream” performances, and met me at the local Young Authors’ Fair.


15 YAF - Aspen Elem - Kathi Byington & Alexis O'NeillWhy not talk with a local teacher and see if you can forge a creative collaboration in the next school year! Or if you’re already doing this, please leave a comment below and share what you’ve been doing. I’d love to hear from you.

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6 Comments on “Go Deeper: Multi-session Writing Workshops”

  • I love working this way.

    Last year I worked with 2 integrated grade 2 classrooms for the better part of 6 months (“integrated” meaning children of all abilities from those with special needs to those working far above grade level). I went in weekly. Students were broken into three large groups (roughly) by writing ability. I worked with the groups in rotation. (While I worked with one group, the classroom teachers worked with the other 2).

    For the kids who were highly motivated and strong writers, we spent roughly 7 weeks writing, revising, illustrating and publishing picture books. With the “on-grade” writers, nature photographs were used to inspire poems that employed interesting metaphors and strong verbs. The kids who struggled to get words on paper also wrote poems, but many of them (Who needed this accommodation) dictated their words to me or another adult. They told us where to put line breaks, etc. Some of these dictated poems were among the most powerful.

    The authors/poets celebrated by sharing their work with each other during author readings.

    Every child was successful. Every child was an Author or Poet.

  • Hi Alexis, I’ve done things like this a few times and really enjoyed it. But…the logistics of visiting a school several times can be daunting. May I ask how you price this out, compared to a single all-day visit? For instance, if an all-day visit is usually 4 1-hour sessions, but you do 3 visits totally 4 hours, that basically triples your driving time, set-up time, scheduling time, communicating in between with the teacher, etc. How do you figure your rates for the several-visit workshop? Thanks for any insight! Laura

  • Michelle – Your program sounds great. It’s rewarding to work with a class through a completed project. And I like that every child had a chance to be heard in Author Readings.

  • Hi Laura – First, these projetcs were within a 10-minute fdrive of my home. Second, they were scheduled around my “high” season for school vists. Third, the first-grader project was an experiment to satisfy curiosity (ergo, no fee) — asking, is it possible for first graders to revise to grab a reader’s attention? The payoff was having a chance to present what Kristen and I discovered to groups of teachers at two separate conferences. For the grade 2/3 project, the teacher wrote a grant. It was the equivalent of my half-day fee for a school visit. So we figured out how many hours the grant could “buy” in terms of contact hours. Does this help?

  • Thanks, Alexis. Good to know. Mine have been done under sort of similar circumstances. I’d love to get more examples of how authors who do these multi-visit projects as part of their regular repertoire figure out how much to charge for them. Sounds like yours were smashing successes:>)

  • Laura – In terms of pricing, I think if we use our daily rate as the foundation, then we can go from there to figure out fees for independent workshops. For example, in 2004, I did workshops for a full week in one elementary school in a city about 16 miles away from my home, an easy drive. I charged $1,000 a day, including mileage. On the first day, I did large group assemblies grouped by grade level so that the kids could get to know me and my books and so that I could cover some basics before we met in workshop. I conducted 16 separate workshops during the week, (2 classes at a time, 32 classes in all; half-hour for primary grades, an hour for the intermediate grades). It was a challenge, to say the least, having to create workshops for grades 1-5. While it was “efficient” doing workshops in a week-long block, it wasn’t really satisfying as it was a one-shot event for each class. I prefer to see kids make progress and have a chance to establish a relationship with them. If I were to do that experience over, I would probably limit the grades I worked with and meet with the kids every day or every other day, depending on how large the school is. Like you, I’d love to hear other authors’ experiences with workshops.

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