Search Mobile Navigation
Strategic Writing Conferences

Strategic Writing Conferences

Smart Conversations that Move Young Writers Forward

Although conferences appear to be informal conversations, they are in fact highly principled teaching interactions designed to move writers along learning pathways. Used strategically, conferences can be powerful interventions that address individual writing needs. Carl Anderson’s Strategic Writing Conferences explains the elements of an effective conference, conferring concepts, and ways to assess young writers.

Special Offer: Save 30% off our list price automatically when you buy 15 or more.

Bundle

In Stock

List Price: $102.50

Web/School Price: $82.00

Quantity
Full Description
Carl Anderson’s Strategic Writing Conferences is a curriculum resource and diagnostic guide for writing teachers looking to use conferences to move young writers another step forward. These conferences will enhance your current writing curriculum and help you confer with greater purpose and effectiveness.
 
Components
  1. The Teacher’s Guide outlines the principles that shape Carl’s approach to conferring and provides tools for diagnosing common writing problems.
  2. Three conference books present over one hundred conferences organized around three stages of writing—identifying topics, crafting drafts, and polishing finished projects. Each book opens with a diagnostic guide that helps you locate a conference that addresses a student’s particular area of need.
  3. Two Carl on Camera DVDs provide video-based professional development support.
    1) On Introducing Strategic Writing Conferences Carl explains the elements of an effective conference, conferring concepts, and ways to assess young writers.
    2) On Modeling Strategic Writing Conferences eleven full length conferences let you eaves drop on Carl as he confers with students at various stages of the writing process.
 

Additional Resource Information

(click any section below to continue reading)

FAQ's

1. When should I confer with students about their writing?

You can have writing conferences any time students are writing in your classroom. If you use the writing workshop method, you will confer with students as they spend days and even weeks working on a piece of writing. Usually, writing workshop begins with a short minilesson (a whole group lesson), then students work independently on their writing for twenty-to-thirty minutes. During this independent writing time, circulate around the classroom and confer with students.

If you teach writing by giving assignments or prompts, confer with students during class as they work on those assignments.

You can even confer with students if you are not a writing teacher. As long as students use your class time to work on writing—whether it is reading, math, science, or social studies—you can confer with them.

2. What will conferring look like in my classroom?

When conferring, you might move from table to table (or desk to desk) to sit next to students as they write. If you decide to confer at students' tables, it is helpful to carry a small "conferring chair" as you move around the classroom. Or you might sit at a "writing conference table" and call students to you one at a time.

During a conference, sit side-by-side with the student, with her writing in front of both of you. It is best when the conference feels like a conversation, with both you and the student talking and listening to each other. Ask what the student is doing as a writer, compliment what the student is doing well, then teach a writing strategy or technique. Prompt the student to tell you what she is working on and what she needs help with, and, at the end of the conference, to describe how she will use the writing strategy you just taught.

Each writing conference is five to seven minutes; therefore, you will probably confer with four or five students in a class period, depending on how much time students have to work independently. After each conference, note on the record-keeping forms provided any areas of need and the student's progress. This will help you remember the strategy you taught and your ideas for follow-up conferences.

3. What are the goals of a writing conference?

When you confer with a student, it isn't your job to fix or edit the student's writing. Rather, it's to teach the student one writing strategy or technique he can use in a current piece of writing and continue to use in future writing. As you confer, keep in mind Lucy Calkins' wise advice: "[We] are teaching the writer and not the writing. Our decisions must be guided by 'what might help this writer' rather than 'what might help this writing'" (1994).

4. What are the teaching moves in a writing conference?

The First Part of the Writing Conference: Identifying the Student's Needs
During the first part of the conference, identify an area of need. First, find out the stage of the writing process the student is in—prewriting (or rehearsal), drafting, revising, or editing—and the specific kind of writing work she is doing at this stage. Then, assess how well the student is doing that writing work. For example, the student may be in the prewriting stage, trying to find a topic to write about, but is having trouble finding a really good topic. Or the student may be drafting, trying to write with detail, but her writing is general and does not render a clear picture of the subject. Or the student may be editing by reading her draft to herself, but this strategy isn't helping her locate the end of sentences which need periods.

To identify an area of need, you can take three steps during the first part of the conference.

  • Step 1: Ask an open-ended question. By asking an open-ended question, you invite the student to tell you about what he's doing as a writer. Questions such as "How's it going?"; "What are you doing as a writer today?"; and "How can I help you today?" are good ones to start with.
  • Step 2: Ask follow-up questions. Once your conversation with the student gets started, ask follow-up questions. Although the best questions can't be planned—you will think of them as you listen to the student tell you what he's doing—there are a few general questions that can help move along a conference. Effective follow-up questions include "Where are you in the writing process?"; "What strategies are you using in this stage of the writing process?"; and "What are you doing to write this piece well?"
  • Step 3: Look at the student's writing. Looking at the student's writing helps you identify an area of need. Usually it isn't necessary to read an entire notebook entry or draft. If a student is drafting, for example, and working on a lead, just read the lead. If the student is working on topic sentences in a nonfiction draft, take a close look at those sentences.

By the end of the first part of a writing conference, you've identified the area of need. The next step is to use the Diagnostic Guides in Strategic Writing Conferences to find corresponding conferences.

The Second Part of the Writing Conference: Teaching the Writing Strategy or Craft Technique
In the second part of the writing conference, you'll teach the student a writing strategy or craft technique to help him grow as a writer. Strategic Writing Conferences shows you how—clearly and effectively. Every conference models the instructional language and moves that will help you teach students, following these four steps:

  • Step 1: Give feedback. Preface your teaching by giving the student feedback. Try to point out something the student is doing well-and also name the area of need.
  • Step 2: Teach. Just like a story reaches the climax, a conference builds to the teaching moment. Your success in helping a student grow as a writer in a conference depends on your skill as a teacher in the next few minutes. Start by naming and defining the specific strategy or craft technique that you intend to teach. Explain why it's important for the student to learn. To help the student understand the strategy or technique, you might show an example of how a children's book author, such as Patricia Polacco, uses the strategy or technique. Or show how you use the strategy in your own writing. Most importantly, explain how the student can use the strategy or technique in his own writing.
  • Step 3: Try it. Before you end the conference, help the student try the strategy or technique you just taught. Gently nudge the student to talk out how he could use the strategy in his writing, or have the student try it in writing. The purpose of the "try it" step is to give the student a taste of the strategy-enough so that you know he is ready to try it independently.
  • Step 4: Link to the student's work. End the conference by linking the conference to the student's work; that is, tell the student you expect him to try the strategy in his writing and that you hope he will continue to use it in future writing.

With that, the conference is over. Take a minute or two to jot down some notes about the conference on a record-keeping form. Then you're off to the next conference!

5. What should I teach in a writing conference?

There are many things students need to learn in order to become lifelong writers—and you can teach many of them as you confer with students across the school year. Strategic Writing Conferences shows how to teach the broad range of writing strategies students need, including:

  • the writing process
  • qualities of good writing
  • how to be initiators of writing.

The writing process itself is a main focus of the conferences. Students need a repertoire of strategies to help them prewrite (or rehearse a topic before drafting), draft, revise, and edit. You'll find conferences that focus on teaching the writing process in all three books of Strategic Writing Conferences. For example, for students who are prewriting, you can teach the strategy of brainstorming topics (Book 1: Topics, Conference 1, "Finding a Topic by Making a List"). For students who are drafting, you can teach the strategy of making a plan or outline (Book 2: Topics, Conference 5, "Getting Started by Making a Basic Plan"). For students who are revising, you can teach the strategy of rereading a draft to add details (Book 3: Finished Projects, Conference 1, "Revising by Adding Text"). For students who are editing, you can teach the strategy of reading aloud a draft in order to add punctuation (Book 3: Finished Projects, Conference 17, "Editing by Reading Aloud").

You can focus many conferences on the qualities of good writing and how students can incorporate these qualities into their writing. You'll find conferences that focus on teaching the qualities of good writing in Book 2: Drafts and Book 3: Finished Projects. For example, you can teach students how to write a focused draft that gets their point across (Book 2: Drafts, Conference 6, "Getting Started by Focusing a Bed-to-Bed Story"), teach them to write precise details (Book 2: Drafts, Conference 21, "Crafting a Scene with Precise Details: Actions, Thoughts, and Dialogue"), and how to punctuate sentences to give voice to their writing (Book 3: Finished Projects, Conference 16, "Editing for Voice by Using Punctuation Judiciously").

You can also focus conferences on teaching students how to be initiators of writing; that is, to be writers who write purposefully and by choice. Initiators of writing know how to find appropriate audiences for their writing. You can teach students how to identify an appropriate audience, such as specific classmates, for their writing (Book 2: Drafts, Conference 1, "Writing for Specific Classmates as an Audience").

In Depth

Why Strategic Writing Conferences?

Many teachers have discovered that one of the most powerful ways to teach students to be better writers—if not the most powerful way&mdashis to sit beside them and confer with them as they write. These one-to-one conversations, commonly called "writing conferences," are a focused, effective method for teaching writing. They allow educators to teach to students' individual needs as writers and are one of the best ways to differentiate writing instruction. Students, in turn, respond well to conferences because the instruction is personalized—and personal.

However, deciding what to teach and how to best teach it in a conference can be challenging. If you're like many teachers, you're sometimes stumped. When you confer, you may be able to identify an area of need, such as choosing topics wisely, organizing writing effectively, using punctuation skillfully, but you're not always sure which strategy or craft technique to teach to address it. Sometimes, even when you know exactly what strategy to teach, you're not confident that you can teach it so that a student will grasp and be able to use it.

Strategic Writing Conferences will help you know what and how to teach student writers when you confer with them. It is in part a diagnostic guide, offering descriptions of more than one hundred common areas of need in grades 3–6. Some of these areas are typical of students who are beginning writers, such as how to find topics, write a focused draft, or use punctuation consistently, and some pertain to students who are more advanced writers, such as how to write for audiences, make plans for revising, or use punctuation to emphasize part of a sentence.

For each area of need, Strategic Writing Conferences provides corresponding lessons. Each one names the writing strategy or craft technique for the student, defines what it is and why it's important, and explains how the student can use it in his writing. All the conferences have been field tested for many years with students in classrooms across the United States—not only by me, but by colleagues and teachers with whom I have worked. Adding the Strategic Writing Conferences lessons to your teaching repertoire will help you address your own students' individual areas of need as writers.

Using the Three Conference Books

The 100 conferences in Strategic Writing Conferences are organized around the writing process-prewriting, drafting, revising. There are several scenarios in which Book 1: Topics, Book 2: Drafts, and Book 3: Finished Projects will be invaluable to you.

    Scenario 1. You are reading a student's writer's notebook or draft and identify an area of need to address in a writing conference. You consult Strategic Writing Conferences to prepare what you will teach in this conference. If you notice that several students have the same area of need, you can turn a Strategic Writing Conference into a small group lesson.
    Scenario 2. You are in the midst of a writing conference and identify a student's area of need. By consulting the Diagnostic Guides (see page X-Y) and then the corresponding conference for that need on the spot—in the midst of the conference—you can teach an appropriate writing strategy immediately.
    Scenario 3. You realize that one of your writing conferences didn't get through to a student. You consult Strategic Writing Conferences for another way to teach the concept. You meet again with the student and try a new approach.

In all three of these scenarios, you identify the student's area of need first, then find a corresponding conference. In this way, Strategic Writing Conferences differs from units of study in writing—lessons done sequentially, in the order suggested by the author. Strategic Writing Conferences is not sequential. In fact, there is no correct order for the conferences. As long as you are selecting conferences that meet needs you've identified, you're using the resources wisely.

Carl's "Classic Twenty-Five" Conferences

Twenty-five of the Strategic Writing conferences are especially important to add to your teaching repertoire. These select conferences address needs that a majority of students have as writers, especially early in the school year when they begin writing. It is likely that you will have these conferences again and again with students during the first few months of school.

Many of these "classic" conferences teach strategies for navigating the stages of the writing process—finding topics, selecting a seed topic, planning a piece, and revising and editing a draft. These strategies are essential for students to learn in order to function independently as writers in your classroom. Some of the conferences teach the basic qualities of effective writing. They help students focus on meaning and write details, improving their current writing project as well as future ones. Still other conferences in this select group of twenty-five teach students to identify an audience, such as specific classmates, so that they write with the reader in mind, instead of just going through the motions of writing.

Many of the "classic" conferences help students write in narrative genres. Since many writing teachers begin the school year with one or more units of study focused on narrative genres, these "classic" conferences are especially useful at this time.

In addition, many of the "classic" conferences are "firsts." They are the first in a group of conferences that address a particular area of need. For example, Conference 14, "Crafting a Lead by Starting with an Important Scene" is the first of four conferences in Book 2: Topics to teach students to write narrative leads. Once you learn how to conduct this classic conference, you can add the others to your repertoire. This helps you more successfully differentiate your instruction.

Finally, many of the classic conferences end with suggestions to adjust them for students who are writing nonfiction (see "Modifications for Nonfiction Genres" at the end of the conferences). With the classic conferences in your repertoire, learning how to teach these nonfiction conferences won't feel completely new; rather, you'll find that you are learning how to simply adjust a conference to make it work with nonfiction.

As you begin to use Strategic Writing Conferences, review the classic conferences first. The classic conferences are listed in the table below. They are also marked in the Diagnostic Guide and the tables of contents of each conference book so that you can refer to them easily. With the classic conferences as part of your teaching repertoire, you are equipped to teach students the fundamentals of writing right from the start.

Carl's "Classic Twenty-Five" Conferences
Topics
Finding a Topic by Making a List
Finding a Topic by Brainstorming Writing Territories
Finding a Topic by "Mining" a Writing Territory
Exploring a Topic by "Unpacking" One Moment
Exploring a Topic by Adding Yourself
Selecting a Topic by Considering Interest, Audience, or Occasion
Developing a Topic by Reflecting on its Significance

Drafts
Writing with Classmates as an Audience
Getting Started by Making a Basic Plan
Getting Started by Focusing a Bed-to-Bed Story
Crafting a Lead by Starting with an Important Scene
Crafting a Scene with Precise Details: Dialogue, Thoughts, and Actions
Crafting a Draft by Using Exact Words
Crafting a Draft by Using Time Transitions
Crafting an Ending by Writing a Scene That's Integral to the Story

Finished Projects
Revising by Adding Text
Revising Using Blank Pages, Sticky Notes, "Spider Legs," and "Add Ons"
Revising by Focusing an "All About" Story
Revising by Focusing on Important Scenes
Revising by Using Feedback from a Partner
Editing by Reading Aloud
Editing by Using Feedback from a Partner
Editing by Using a Checklist
Editing by Listening for Pauses
Editing by Creating Paragraphs

Components

1. Three Conference Books

Through its three conference books Strategic Writing Conferences presents 100 conferences organized around the writing proces—prewriting, drafting, revising. Each book opens with a diagnostic guide that helps you identify a writing problem and then locate the corresponding conference that will help you address it. Click here to download these diagnostic guides.

Every conference shows you how to teach a specific writing strategy, craft technique, or point of grammar or mechanics. The predictable features of each conference model a framework for teaching a student effectively. In addition, marginal notes offer coaching, background information, and/or ideas for modifying the conference. Click here to download an annotated lesson walkthrough.

Topics 
The conferences in Topics address areas of need that occur as students learn to prewrite (or rehearse their writing) effectively. The 30 conferences in Topics are divided into three parts.
  • The conferences in "Part 1: Finding Topics" help you teach strategies for finding topics for writing.
  • Sample Conference: Conference 4: "Finding a Topic by Brainstorming Writing Territories"
  • The conferences in "Part 2: Exploring Topics" show students how to explore or "collect" topics in their writer's notebook by writing short entries. By exploring topics, students get a sense of which ones they want to write about as formal drafts for publication.
  • The conferences in "Part 3: Developing Topics" teach students how to develop narrative and nonfiction topics before drafting.
Drafts 
The conferences in Drafts address areas of need that occur when students are learning to draft fiction and nonfiction pieces. The 43 conferences in Drafts are divided into six parts.
  • The conferences in "Part 1: Thinking About Audience" teach students how to identify appropriate audiences for their drafts and to write with those audiences in mind.
  • The conferences in "Part 2: Getting Started" teach students how to plan narrative and nonfiction drafts.
  • The conferences in "Part 3: Crafting Leads" teach students how to write many kinds of narrative and nonfiction leads.
  • Sample Conference: Conference 14: "Crafting a Lead by Starting with an Important Scene"
  • The conferences in "Part 4: Crafting Narrative Scenes" teach students how to write narrative scenes with vivid detail.
  • The conferences in "Part 5: Crafting Nonfiction Sections" teach students how to write logically organized, precisely detailed sections of nonfiction drafts.
  • The conferences in "Part 6: Crafting Endings" teach students how to write narrative and nonfiction endings.
Finished Projects 
The conferences in Finished Projects address areas of need that occur when students are learning to revise and edit. The 28 conferences in Finished Projects are divided into four parts.
  • The conferences in "Part 1: Revising" teach revision strategies.
  • Sample Conference: Conference 2: "Revising Using Blank Pages, Sticky Notes, "Spider Legs," and "Add Ons"
  • The conferences in "Part 2: Editing for Voice and Tone" teach students how to revise and edit their writing to create voice and tone.
  • The conferences in "Part 3: Editing for Clarity" teach students editing strategies, as well as grammar and mechanics.
  • The conferences in "Part 4: Planning Writing Beyond the School Year" teach students how to continue writing after the school year.

2. Teaching Guide

The Teacher’s Guide outlines the principles that shape Carl’s approach to conferring and provides tools for diagnosing common writing problems and identifying the best conferences for moving students forward.

3. Carl on Camera DVD

 Introducing Strategic Writing Conferences
On Introducing Strategic Writing Conferences Carl explains the elements of an effective conference, conferring concepts, and ways to assess young writers.

  • Part 1: Introduction to Writing Conferences
  • Part 2: Key Concepts for Writing Conferences, Conferences Are Conversations, Conferences Help Students, Become Better Writers, Conferences Have a Predictable Structure, Show Students That You Care
  • Part 3: The Teacher's Role in a Writing Conference
  • Part 4: Assessment of Student Writing, Assessment Lenses, Traits of Good Writing, Exemplar Pieces, A Typical Pattern: The "All About" Story, Conference Notes and Records
  • Part 5: Frequently Asked Questions about Conferring

Modeling Strategic Writing Conferences 
On Modeling Strategic Writing Conferences 11 full-length conferences let you eaves drop on Carl as he confers with students at various stages of the writing process. Click here for a Carl on Camera DVD Guide.​​

  • Topics     
    Conference 4: Finding a Topic by Brainstorming Writing Territories
    Conference 5: Finding a Topic by Mining a Writing Territory
    Conference 16: Developing a Topic by Reflecting on Its Significance

  • Drafts     
    Conference 8: Getting Started by Writing a Detailed Plan
    Conference 21: Crafting a Scene with Precise Details: Dialogue, Thoughts, and Action
    Conference 24: Crafting a Scene by Describing Character Actions

  • Finished Projects     
    Conference 1: Revising by Adding Text
    Conference 3: Revising by Focusing an "All About" Story
    Conference 4: Revising by Focusing on Important Scenes
    Conference 17: Editing by Reading Aloud
    Conference 22: Editing by Deleting "And"

Companion Resources

Conference Book Teaching Guide Carl on Camera DVD Presentation Materials

Supporting Materials

Model Texts in Conferences

As you review the conferences in Strategic Writing Conferences, you'll notice that most of them include model texts. Some of these model texts are excerpts from children's literature; others are excerpts from my writer's notebook or drafts of pieces I wrote.

It's crucial to show the student model texts during the conference. Model texts help the student "see" what it looks like when a writer uses a strategy or craft technique. It helps the student envision putting the strategy in practice in his own writing. Also, when you use a model text, you are providing guided practice with what Frank Smith (1988) and Katie Ray (1999) call "reading like a writer." When a writer reads work by other writers, she notices the strategies and craft techniques used, then tries the same technique in her own writing. When model texts are used routinely in conferences, students learn that they, too, can learn from other writers—something they can do for the rest of their lives.

Whenever a conference includes a model text, have the excerpt handy before you confer with the student. To help you prepare for your conferences, each model text is embedded in the conference at point of use, so you can read when and how to use it. The model text is also included as a reproducible on a separate page at the end of the conference. Of course, when you are using an excerpt of a published piece of children's literature that you have access to, feel free to show the excerpt in the text itself. Many of the model texts are well-known children's books, which can be found in most school libraries or bookstores; you may have several of them in you classroom library already.

When you refer to a model text during a conference, place the text between you and the student so that the student can easily see it. Take the time to read the excerpt aloud, and ask the student to follow along as you read. (Read the excerpt aloud even if you've already read the whole text or an excerpt to the class during read-aloud time or minilesson. Writers often read a favorite text over and over when they are studying a technique.) As you teach, point to the features of the text that illustrate what you're explaining so that the student matches your teaching to the appropriate part of the text.

Not only will the conferences in Strategic Writing Conferences help you teach writing strategies and techniques with more clarity and precision, they will help you become more comfortable in general with the method of using model texts to teach—an important skill for every writing teacher.

Model Texts Used in Strategic Writing Conferences

  • Brinckloe, Julie. 1985. Fireflies. New York: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division.
  • Butler, Dori Hillestad. 1995. "New Kid." Cricket 22 (12).
  • Condor, Bob. 1994. "Operating with Spare Parts: Peek at Your Body's 'Extra' Pieces." Chicago Tribune: Kid News 1 (May 3).
  • Crews, Donald. 1996. Shortcut. New York: HarperTrophy.
  • Downey, Charles. 1998. "The Grossest Things You Can Think of May One Day Save Your Life." Boy's Life (December).
  • Fletcher, Ralph. 2005. Marshfield Dreams: When I Was a Kid. New York: Henry Holt and Company.
  • Hesse, Karen. 1999. C'mon Rain. New York: Scholastic.
  • Lawler, Janet. 2005. "Cami's First Soccer Game" Highlights for Children 60 (7).
  • Little, Jean. 1987. Little By Little. New York: Penguin Books.
  • Long, D.S. 1990. "Cat Talk." Originally published in School Journal 3 (1). Reprinted in Cricket 21 (2).
  • Macaulay, Ellen. 1998. "The Rattler Tattler." Boys' Quest 3 (5).
  • MacLachlan, Patricia. 1991. Journey. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers.
  • Meds Maps, Inc. Cape Cod Guide. Meds Maps, Inc.: Harwich, MA.
  • Musselman, Kelly. "Clean Up Your Act."
  • Myers, Jack. 2006. "How Does My Glow-in-the-Dark Stuff Glow?" Highlights for Children: Science Letters (November).
  • Polacco, Patricia. 1994. My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother. New York: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division.
  • Polacco, Patricia. 1999. My Ol' Man. New York: Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers.
  • Purdom, Candace. 1994. "Peer Pressure: Afraid You'll Cave?" Chicago Tribune: Kid News 5 (August 23).
  • Purdom, Candace. 1994. "So a Big, Bad Bully Is Coming After You . . ." Chicago Tribune: Kid News 1 (August 23).
  • Quinlen, Anna. 1994. "17 Going on 18." The New York Times (November 30): A23.
  • Reifsnyder, Cheryl. 2006. "Quick-Thinking Meerkats" Highlights for Children 61 (9).
  • Rylant, Cynthia. 1993. The Relatives Came. New York: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division.
  • Sendak, Maurice. 1988. Where The Wild Things Are. New York: Harper Trophy.
  • Soto, Gary. 2000. "The Marble Champ." In Baseball in April and Other Stories. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Children's Books.
  • TIME For Kids. 1999. "Hooked!" TIME For Kids 4 (March 12).
  • Yolen, Jane. 1987. Owl Moon. New York: Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers.

Related PD Services

PD Resources From Carl Anderson

Seminars

Speakers

Webinars

Workshops