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Getting Started with Classroom Writing Cafes (Part 1)

“How do we get our middle school students excited about writing?”

“How do we get our students to identify as writers?”

“What can we do to engage our students in a variety of writing activities independently?”

This is how the conversation began as we sat down with two middle school ELA teachers at the beginning of their first writing unit.

Engaging Student Writers for a Great Year of Writing

Before the formal writing instruction began, the teachers wanted to focus on student engagement, choice, and peer collaboration through a fun writing event.

The idea of the Writing Cafe was born!

The plan was simple:

  • The Writing Cafe would take place during one 80-minute block of time.

  • Students would be introduced to six different writing stations placed in a variety of small group areas throughout the classroom.

  • They would share their thoughts in their writer’s notebook and through digital platforms.

  • The writing activities would promote engagement, excitement, and inspiration for writing!

Building Off Our Summer Writing Experience for Teacher-Writers

The idea of Writing Cafes came from a summer writing experience that we hosted through our education consulting company, Lit Coach Connection.

In the summer of 2018, we offered educators around the country an opportunity to expand their instructional strategies for writing while exploring their own writing habits and identities. This work revolved around Ralph Fletcher’s book, A Writer’s Notebook - Unlocking the Writer Within You (affiliate link).

Each week the teacher writers read a chapter and tried out a new writing strategy that included:

  • Writing about unforgettable stories

  • Listening to snatches of talk to inspire

  • Writing small.

Our participants posted their writing in a closed Google community to share with others for encouragement and feedback.

Some of these ideas inspired the writing activities for the Writing Cafe.

The Stage is Set

We transformed classrooms into cafes complete with tablecloths, tea light candles, and soft music. The atmosphere that was created allowed students to feel writing as a joyful activity, a place where they could feel at ease creating their own writing and have the opportunity to share their writing with friends.

Students had a choice of participating in a variety of writing stations and wrote alongside teachers, administrators and parents. By the end of the period, students had 3 entries in their writer’s notebook!

We set the stage for a fun writing event:

  • Parents donated refreshments and writing supplies.

  • Invitations were sent to parents, administrators, staff, and Board of Education members.

  • Prizes were drawn allowing students to add to their supply of writing tools and to encourage them to continue on their writing journey.

Participants experienced being a part of a community of writers and engaged in the act of writing together at a Writing Cafe!

Our Writing Stations

To allow students to collect their ideas and gather inspirat