Umbrella Minilessons for the Writer’s Workshop

by Jill Eurich, Intermediate/Middle Grades Trainer

In our last blog we discussed the advantage of clustering minilessons for the reading workshop. It is equally as powerful to develop umbrella minilessons followed up by subsequent, related minilessons for writing.

Here is an example of an umbrella writing minilesson:

Writers have different ways to provide information about an important scene they are developing so that readers can envision it.

I would then chart ideas from the students of ways writers help us get a picture in our minds of the important parts of a book. If they need help thinking about the writer’s craft, I might give each group of students an interactive read aloud we had shared through discussion. I would have each group identify an important scene and then study it to think about how it was crafted. Here are some ideas students might put on the chart:

Use sensory details

Slow down time by adding a lot of details to stretch out a small important part

Show don’t tell

Add in dialogue

Provide a character’s thoughts or feelings

Give a snap shot description of what exactly is happening to include actions and reactions

Describe the setting and how it relates to the meaning of the scene

Each idea on the chart could then be developed into a separate minilesson with mentor text examples and specific instruction on how to develop the craft as a writer. For example the last entry on the chart might be developed into this minilesson statement:  “Writers describe the setting so that readers understand how it relates to the meaning of the scene.  A mentor text might be Owl Moon and the class might discuss what Jane Yolen described about the setting and why it was important information as it related to the book.

Here is an idea of an umbrella minilesson for expository writing:

Writers have different choices for how they might structure their feature article and make purposeful decisions as to which one to choose, based on how it will best convey the meaning of their piece.

If a class had embarked on a genre study around feature articles, this would allow the class to identify different text structures through inquiry so that they could make meaningful decisions as to  how to organize their own writing.

When individual minilessons are grouped in relationship to each other under a broader idea, it allows students to live within a concept for a while and develop their understandings in greater depth. In writing, students are able to explore, and practice craft ideas from other writers that are clustered around a central idea and learn how they can relate it to future writing.

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