Building a Culture of Writing, Part 2

In part one of Building a Culture of Writing we introduced ideas on how to launch writing workshop. As soon as students know how to setup their writing notebooks, we start checking for writing stamina. Curious minds want to know: How much can each student write in a given time period i.e., 10 minutes? So, we write like "our hair is on fire" for 10 minutes. If after 10 minutes a student produces one page of writing, it can be assumed that said student can write around three pages in 30 minutes, four pages in 40, etc.

Playing background noise has been proven to increase productivity. I use the sound of trains on as background noise during stamina checks and other writing sessions (including my own personal writing times).

Why check for stamina on day one of workshop? When drafting a story, getting as much written down greatly aids the revision process---we can take quantity and turn it into quality. We want to train students right from day one that when they are sent off to write, they are tasked with doing just that---write. Whether they are given 20 or 40 minutes to write, students should understand and come to intrinsically believe that this valuable time must be productively utilized---every minute counts. The message that quantity matters is reinforced through stamina checks. 

Before we jump into a 10 minute stamina check * we quickly go over some story ideas. I have used this chart before to spark story ideas (Image source:

After the stamina check we spend a few minutes debriefing the process. I share my anecdotal observations and students share their thoughts and feelings regarding the stamina check. Then, we each calculate how much we would typically write during a normal writing workshop session. We have a quick look at the idea generating chart and do another 10-minute stamina check. Intensity levels rise and the students love it! I recently overheard a student say to a friend as they lined up for recess after an intense 60 minutes of writing workshop expectations and stamina checks: "I love writing now." The sweetest music to an educator's ears.

Goal setting. When students know how much they can typically write during a single session, they can set specific writing goals i.e., “Tomorrow I am going to add four pages of text to my realistic fiction draft by remembering to add not only dialogue and action, but thoughts and feelings” or “Today I am going to draft three pages. I will work on adding details and figurative language."

What else do you explicitly teach when you launch writing workshop? Share an idea or two or three in comments below. Make it a great year of writing.

For education,


* I first learned about stamina checks from Lucy Calkins, June 2014, New York City.