Lucy Calkins is widely credited with engineering the mini-lesson (at least the way it is used in Writing Workshop.) That is probably correct, but the truth is that her structure is really just based on what we know about effective teaching.
Years ago (I’m dating myself now) back in the 80s and 90s, Madeline Hunter’s methodology for lesson design was all the rage. Every lesson plan I wrote in college had to follow these steps:
1- Hook (AKA Anticipatory Set) – Get student attention and focus their thoughts on the learning to come.
2- Objective and Purpose – Clearly state the purpose of the lesson. What will students learn and why is it important to know?
3- Input – Deliver the new information in an effective manner. Direct instruction.
4- Modeling- The teacher demonstrates how to use the new information/skills. Students have a chance to “see” it done correctly.
5- Check for Understanding- The teacher uses questioning (hopefully through active response strategies) to make sure students understand the new information. At this point the teacher decides whether to move on or stop and reteach.
6- Guided Practice- The students have an opportunity to apply the new knowledge/skill under the direct supervision of the teacher. The teacher provides immediate feedback.
7- Independent Practice- The students are released to apply the new learning on their own.
8- Closure – The teacher “wraps up” the lesson, summarizing what was learned.
I swear, if I wrote 1 lesson plan within that format I wrote 1,000! At the time it felt torturous (they made us write out every word, like a script!) However, in hindsight, it was a blessing. Those Ed professors knew what they were doing. Forcing us to think about each step of our lesson in that manner trained our minds to teach that way subconsciously. It’s a powerful model and really hasn’t changed too much over the years. Yes, we add a little more authenticity to our tasks these days- a little more kinesthetic movement- a little more technology, but the basic framework for successful teaching still stands!
That brings me to Calkins’ architecture.
When you teach Writing Workshop, your mini-lesson lasts from 5-15 minutes (generally the rule of thumb is one minute per year of student age. So, 5 minutes for 5 year olds, 10 minutes for 10 year olds, etc.) That’s not a hard and fast rule, but if your kindergarten mini-lesson lasts 20 minutes, you are going too long.
Notice how the recommended steps for a Writing Workshop mini-lesson closely follow Hunter’s model above!
1. Connection: Explicitly state the teaching point of the day’s lesson and explain how it relates to the ongoing unit of study.
2. Teach: Provide concise and direct instruction about the lesson’s main teaching point. This often will involve telling, thinking aloud, explaining, noticing examples from mentor texts, and modeling.
3. Active Involvement: Students are invited to quickly “try it out” before being released for independent writing. This may involve “turn and talk” with a neighbor, trying something independently, or planning for writing time. The teacher stays involved and watches closely, often ending this segment with something she overheard or observed students saying/doing/writing.
4. The mini-lesson ends and students are released for independent practice. During independent writing, the teacher conferences with students, providing immediate feedback and coaching.
5. Share: Bring closure to the writing time, often validating student work, problem-solving, or emphasizing the teaching point from the mini-lesson.
Did you notice how closely aligned those two models are? Good teaching is good teaching.
Even if you don’t currently teach writing through Writing Workshop, examining those steps is powerful. I know that I have often been guilty of neglecting guided practice in my teaching. I have to make a conscious plan to add that element to my lessons. It’s easy to skip but really important!
Do you use a model like this when you plan your instruction? Is there something you would add or change?