2017 August Writing Institute – Advance Group with Mary Erhenworth

Five days learning with other teachers not newbies to Writing Workshop! Five days learning from the best – Mary Ehrenworth! Each day of the TCRWP August Writing Institute, I was part of this advanced group. The title of our section was: Cultivating Skills and Habits that Grow and Connect Across a Year of Writing Workshop (3-8).

As a newbie in 2009, Mary was my large group writing teacher. Back then, she helped me to understand that I am a writer. She modeled with her “Lisa stories” and coached me to try writerly moves. Back then I worked day and into the evenings on my writing story. I still remember my story – making a quilt for Bridgit to take to college and I proudly shared it in my small group (led by Leah) on day 5. I know why I can recall that summer so vividly. I was invited and embraced into the TCRWP community by the best – Mary. Now, eight summers later, Mary is still the best and has so much new stuff to teach as she is always honing her craft. I felt privileged to be in the room with her again Below is a summary of some of what I learned personally as a writer and reader through her brilliant teaching. Ultimately, it is what I plan to now teach to my students, this year with 6th graders. This information feels too valuable to keep all to myself, so share it here.

As I review my notes from the week, here are 5 Big Ideas:

1. Writing Moves – Mary got me to write right off the bat. I was used to using these strategies on the chart to generate a story idea:

a. Generating Ideas: She shared this new strategy by making 3 columns –> trouble/feeling/issue …. people….moment.   Then she started to add a person and a moment and add the issue of this moment and then pushed herself to think of another moment related to the same issue and add it across the 3 columns. Then add another person., etc. Soon, she had a chart filled with story ideas. When I tried it, I got 4 ideas.

She also shared another 3 column strategy –> comment made by someone….your response….emotion felt; Think of the roles: the victim of the remark, the bystander, the perpetrator.  After watching her, I thought of one more story idea.

On Day 2, she shared a great way to ensure that more story ideas were in our notebook before we chose one to draft. I vividly recall the reality of students not having lots of ideas in their notebooks on the day  we picked one to be drafting day. I’ll use this technique the next time on the day before draft day. First, we reviewed the repertoire of writing strategies and made a plan to try out one or two we haven’t used yet (I picked PLACE – Brooklyn Bridge and STRONG EMOTION – election night story). Pick one and write for 5 minutes. Now draw a line, pick other and write it for 5 minutes. Now I have 3 stories tried out. Amazingly, I was just going to work on my Mexico story from Day 1 but now I’m drawn to these stories too. So glad Mary pushed me to do more. I need to do the same for my students!

b. Expand Kinds of Story I share – Mary mentioned she realized she tells mostly trouble stories and never a sports story. She suggested we reflect on the stories we are sharing with our students by thinking about:
* emotional range – trouble as well as “holding onto beauty” stories
* kinds of topics – “don’t be too feminine – include “fart” stories, too”, action, sports,
* representation – who is visible in my story? what is missing? Try to add or include a mentor text that shows differences
This list got me thinking about how I can actively expand my range of stories shared my me in the classroom.

c. Read mentor text of other genres and see how narrative writing is still used – Mary asked our table to “elect a table leader who was quick and efficient” and they got our table 6 mentor text. A memoir with a reflection that included narrative, a lit essay that included a personal narrative, an college essay that revealed info about writer through a narrative. We were to read ours, mark it up by adding narrative craft moves we notice, and be ready to tell table group about ours. On the last day, we did a similar activity. Mary read aloud Little Things are Big by Jesus Colon.

*** Here’s is the text. I also noticed there is a video of this text. I could see sharing this as a choice for students to be inspired to do the same with another piece of text.

2. Partnerships – Mary had us work in partnerships and by living it, I see it’s value. I will NEVER teach without students working in partnerships again.
– “Great partners aren’t born. They are made.”
– She asked us to find a partner, as well as, ensure all in the room have found one. We are a community that doesn’t just look out for ourselves but looks out for all in the room – this is a mantra I also want to use this year as I teach!
– a partner’s job is to encourage and she showed us these sentence stems:



IMG_9535As we left on Day1, Mary told us to exchange phone numbers with partner so we could send a text to encourage our partner to spend 10 minutes writing tonight. After dinner, I looked over my notes and sent mine a text and then wrote so I’d have something to show her. All week long, knowing I had a partner who was encouraging me, made my writing happen and it felt more and better. Such a little thing which reaps BIG rewards!

On Day 2, Mary modeled how to give a tour of my notebook to my partner. Show where we generated ideas and where we tried out a story and where we jotted our goal down. I like the idea of using the notebook to guide our partnership conversations.

A partner can be:
1. a friend – when doing something risky like writing, feel safer doing it with a friend
2. a mentor – ex: can put a strong, organized writer with an unorganized writer and encourage the organized one to check in on the other (her son had this and the partner would call her house in the AM to remind him to bring his notebook to school!)
3. same writing level – high writers together and then give that partnership a different higher-level mentor text
4. same content – ex: two kids writing about divorce
Additional things to consider when making partnerships: She suggested keeping for a unit and then changing if needed. Also notice them in other settings (PE/Recess) to see their social bonds, notice their personality (introverts/extroverts), their language skills and their life outside of school.

3. Teacher Moves – Mary modeled what the teachers can do as the students write.
a.  Notetaking – as I wrote stories during Day 1&2, Mary was going around, writing on small post-its her observations. She researched so she could plan future conferences. She also would look at On-demands, listen in to partner talk, and look at notebook volume. All help her to form partnerships and plan future small group conferences. IMG_9522


b.  Share the Unit Pacing with the students explicitly so they know how long they have for each part of the process. Rehearsing/Generating/Collecting – 4-6 days. Drafting – 1 day, Revising – 5-8 days, Editing – 1-2 days, Publishing (public but not perfect) – 1 day!

c. Mini-lesson tips when using your own writing in the lesson – Mary showed masterfully a 10 minute lesson on adding dialogue to tell about the character speaking. She read us her story. It ended with a beautiful dialogue that was an example of the teaching point. Then she showed us 2 places at the beginning where she did not have dialogue but it could have it. “Turn and tell your partner what that dialogue could sound like”.  Then she added it before ending the ML.


Mary reviewed and gave tips for the Architecture of the Mini-lesson:

  • Connection – 3 kinds:
    1. I’ve been thinking about you and the work you are doing and it seems you are ready for…
    2. Review – We’ve done A and B. Today I want to show you C.
    3. Metaphor Story – EX: Yesterday I had a conversation on the phone that did not go well. Later I wished I could revise that conversation. You can’t do that with a phone call but you can do it with writing.
  • Teaching Point and Demo – show HOW.  Did you see how….
  • Active Engagement – You try it – It’s your turn…
  • Link – Let’s review our choices – you can do A,B,C. Give me a thumbs up if you will try A? B? C? Off you go!

Then Mary gave us 10 minutes to plan a mini-lesson using our own writing in the demo. “You should spend the same amount of time planning as you spend teaching it. No more. Plan quickly!” Amazingly, we did it in 10 minutes!! And it was a good lesson using my Mexico story. We taught that setting can set a tone. Story started calmly with setting of Caribbean Sea and one character sitting on beach. But no extra details added to set a tone. Then it ended with a scarier tone (one character was missing) and the water looked darker, etc. I liked writing my story to teach a ML teaching point. Mary modeled well and now I am ready to do the same!
NOTE: I also realized that 30 minutes is spent by a teacher during WW having conferences and small groups so 30 minutes should be spent planning for this. Having the time as a guideline will help me in the future to spend time proportionally. (Big talk-away for me because I haven’t been spending that time.. YET!!)

d. Storytelling our stories – Mary had us with our partner do the following: Pick another story idea and be ready to tell it to your partner in under a minute. As you tell it, be thinking about the unexpected thing that happened in this moment. Go! I went first and told about the first time I swam backstroke. Then Mary told Partner B to raise the level of this work by thinking about your voice intonation, vary your tone to match the story tone. Use hand gestures – it helps to get story into long-term memory and the motions help ELL learners understand the story. NOW I had another story. I also realized the importance of telling my story well as I teach a unit. Mary suggested practicing oral storytelling in a mirror. Use gestures. Think of it as a performance! Be like Daniel Beaty (our Day3 Keynote – more about him in a future blog post!)  Each unit, I need to be prepared to storytell stories well as I coach my students to generate writing ideas. Mary made me realize the importance of planning this out and practicing it ahead of time so my performance inspires the writers in front of me to write!

4. Tools to help Set Goals:
a. Checklist –
illustrated one and non-illustrated one; Ask What are you doing? What aren’t you doing. Tape it into notebook and write a goal
b, Student writing found in Pathway book –
read it like a mentor text noticing what this writer does. Then be inspired to try to write like this student writer. Tape it into notebook / folder and write a goal.
c. Annotated Writing found in Pathway book –
this let’s students see what it really looks like! Tape it in the notebook/ folder and write a goal.
We look at one of these tools, made post-its noting what I am not doing yet and setting a goal. Then we took a gallery walk to see all the ways these 3 tools were used by all the writers in the room:img_9573.jpgimg_9571.jpg


5. Sharing Expertise to build community – Mary spent the first 10 minutes of our valuable time together to share her expertise of living in NYC. I realized by Day 3 how this not only gave me lots of insider information on this great city, it also build community. One thing we all had in common is that we were in this city for 5 days. Her technique was to click on images in google of a place and tell about it in 30 seconds. I plan to share in this way with my students and then empower them to share with the class. Building community through shared expertise will be a goal I carry into my future classrooms thanks to Mary’s modeling. To view the list I made of her shares, click here.



3 thoughts on “2017 August Writing Institute – Advance Group with Mary Erhenworth

  1. Found this post today — thank you so much for being so generous and sharing! I did my Advanced Institute with our Heart of Texas Writing Project affiliate out of Austin.. Your notes are so timely and so helpful. Definitely going to help me this year, thank you!!

    – Veronica


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