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Keeping Your Minilessons Mini

We've all been there. You deliver what you feel is a fantastic minilesson only to look out into sea of young children rolling on the rug, digging in their nose or just staring blankly at you as if to say, "I want to try out this writing strategy, but really, that lesson bombed, Teacher."

In desperation, you attempt to triage the poor lesson and you find yourself saying things like, "Ya know what I mean? ...What I meant to say was... Like, what part aren't you guys getting?" (None of these comments, by the way, are proven effective teaching techniques.) Your minilesson suddenly became a maxi-lesson and before you know it, there's no time for independent writing and your kids are bounding out the door to P.E.

Instead of providing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to your dying lesson, I've listed a few tips to help you keep your minilessons mini in order to maximize efficiency and time.

1) Remember: kids are loose cannons.

Let's face it, they are. We love them but 90% of the time we have no idea what they're going to say. You will provide them with lots of opportunities during the day where they direct the conversation. They share strategies, questions, techniques, opinions. But not during the minilesson. The minilesson is your time to teach your writers one strategy they can practice in their writing everyday in their budding careers as authors.

All this to say, I never, ever ask my writers questions during the minilesson. I tried it once. "So, who remembers what we did yesterday? ... Sophie? ...No, that was in math. David? ... No, that was a few weeks ago, sweetie. Kenneth? ... Yes, hun, you can go to the bathroom." And by then I'd already lost the rest of the children.

Try it. Try asking no questions and taking no comments. You'll be amazed at how much shorter and effective your minilessons are!

2) "Here's how this is going to go."

In order to get my students to understand and respect the structure of the minilesson, I set them up on Day One by telling them how the minilesson will go. I say:

"First, I'll do a bit of talking and writing (Connection, Teach/Model) and you'll do a bit of listening.

Then, YOU'LL do some talking (Active Engagement) and I'll do some listening.

After that, I"ll do a bit more talking (Link) and finally, you'll go off to do some writing (Independent Practice)."

Setting the students up for what's to come provides them with assurance that 1) I'll be teaching them something explicit everyday and 2) they'll have a time to talk through what they've learned or are planning to try out. And when they try to help me as I model implementing the strategy, I simply tell them that this is my turn to talk and I want to try it out all by myself.

3) Hmm... what can't they do?

I've been encouraging teachers to get away from teaching from a deficit model. If you spend your time teaching your writers things they cannot do, each strategy will be starting from scratch and to teach it will be quite involved. Ask youself instead, "What are my writers approximating? What can they almost do? What are they doing unintentionally that I could make intentional for them?"

By teaching to their strengths, you'll hook and engage the writers. They'll think, "Oh hey! I kinda already do that!" You'll also be able to keep the lesson short since the strategy is one they're already somewhat familiar with.

Set a goal for yourself this year to keep your minilesson mini!

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