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From the Classroom: Student Leadership Opportunities During Mini-lessons, Book Talks, and Quick Writes

by Lauren Heimlich Foley

8th Grade English

Over the last few years, my students and I have experimented with using independent reading books as individualized mentor texts. While students studied their books individually or in small groups, I wanted the entire class to benefit from the rich examples of word choice, conventions, style, and craft. I also wanted to highlight exemplar student writing.


What I Did

From October 2018 to December 2018, I invited students to help teach mini-lessons based on their individualized mentor texts and writing pieces. When deciding what skill to teach when, I considered several factors: students’ writing needs and strengths, their Self-Selected Writing Pieces, upcoming whole-class genre and novel studies, and curriculum requirements. As I read student drafts and conducted one-on-one conferences, I noticed techniques that would benefit the entire class. Occasionally, students volunteered a specific skill that they wanted to share.

After asking students to present, I met with them as a small group to practice what we would say and decide who would read the mentor texts. These pre-meetings took place during independent reading or writing time.

During the co-led lessons, each student shared an excerpt from their book and talked through their observations. If a student used the technique, then they discussed their example and writing process. Usually, two or more students taught the mini-lesson with me. As students presented, I helped explain the technique and provided the examples for the class on our Learning Management System (LMS).

Below are two examples of co-led, student-teacher mini-lessons from last year. All names are pseudonyms.

In early October, repetition emerged in my students’ writing pieces, so I asked them to co-teach a mini-lesson with me. During our sixth period class, Emily shared how she repeated “I’ll come back for you” three times with the font getting smaller to mimic the father leaving his daughter. She wrote, “My mind flashed back to Papa’s words, ‘I’ll come back for you . . . I’ll come back for you . . . I’ll come back for you.’ I remember him fading farther and farther away from me, until his voice disappeared into the darkness.” She wanted the visual to help her reader hear a fainter and fainter voice. Next, Elsa included repetition to emphasize a scary scene in her story: the moment a Nazi soldier captures the main character’s sister. She hoped the reader would feel the intensity as the crunching leaves got “louder. Louder. LOUDER.”

In seventh period, Jack employed repetition to emphasize the impact of his character losing an important object: “Oh no. No No No NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO! Where is it? I swear I put it right here! Where is it?!” For Pat, he repeated “No mercy” to reveal the struggle his soldiers experienced during the battle in his sci-fi story: “‘Get to the guns. No mercy,’ he says. We run forward, hopping into the seats, powering on the cannons. I hear a loud boom then a scream. . . . The words no mercy ring in my mind. No mercy, no mercy, no mercy.” For these students, repetition established voice and emphasized specific moments. By sharing their craft moves with the class, they took on leadership roles, increased their confidence, and served as writing role models for their classmates.

Then, at the beginning of November, I asked students to observe the em dash in their independent reading books. Three weeks later, I approached a number of students who had experimented with the technique in their writing and located the em dash in their books. Ten students participated in the co-led mini-lesson (four in one class and 6 in another). The students shared their examples and explained whether their em dash cut off dialogue, interrupted an idea, accentuated a point, or replaced a comma. Sam read the following example from This is Where it Ends, “The silence from the auditorium is tense and loaded. Except it’s not silence. All around me there are sobs, prayers, and curses—friends are trying to calm each other” (Nijakamp 62). From Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Brad added, “‘I heard you speaking Parseltongue,’ said Ron. ‘Snake language. You could have been saying anything—no wonder Justin panicked, you sounded like you were egging the snake on or something—it was creepy—you know’” (Rowling 196). All the examples were available for the class to review on our LMS. After the mini-lesson, the class worked in groups to practice adding em dashes to their own writing. The student presenters acted as leaders within their small groups, guiding their peers’ writing process.  

My Plan

These co-led, student-teacher lessons prompted my students to take a front-row seat in sharing their writerly observations and explaining their writing process. Overall, these lessons and procedures proved successful, but I wanted to increase the number of co-led mini-lessons while streamlining the collection of student writing and mentor texts. I also wanted a way to collect titles for book talks and excerpts for quick writes.

Step 1: For the 2019-2020 school year, I am in the process of creating an assignment that will ask students to submit text excerpts for mini-lessons, book talks, and quick writes.  They will collect and post their observations by the last day of each month in our LMS. Students will submit in one of the following four categories:

  1. Independent reading book mentor text excerpt
  2. Student writing mentor text excerpt
  3. Independent reading book excerpt for quick writing
  4. Independent reading book for a book talk

Step 2: During the month of September, students read like writers, completed quick writes, and listened to book talks. We also reviewed MLA In-Text Citation and Works Cited. The first monthly assignment will launch in October and be due on October 31st. Students will be able to submit their work during class or at home. If they find more than one excerpt, technique, or book that they wish to share, they may do so.

Step 3: Each month students will submit a reflective assignment that includes:

  1. The category they chose
  2. The except from the text or their writing (either typed or a picture)
  3. The reason (specific technique, craft move, idea) why they selected the book and excerpt
  4. Works Cited

Step 4: As students share their work, I will schedule the mini-lessons, book talks, and quick writes as they fit into our Writing-Reading Workshop. I will approach students a few days before their lesson to review their assignment submission and prepare them for their book talk, quick write, or co-led lesson.

Step 5: Before the selected students present their findings to the class, I will upload the necessary materials to our LMS. Depending on the mini-lesson’s content and the class’s ability, the co-led mini-lesson will require varying levels of teacher support. Students will be able to present their book talks and quick writes independently.     

Next Steps

I am excited to see where this new initiative leads. The LMS should streamline my ability to collect student work. The assignment puts more onus on my students because they submit their mini-lesson, book talk, and quick write ideas. As they assume these new leadership roles within our workshop, I hope it builds confidence in their abilities and offers opportunities for peer collaboration. I will continue to model successful book talks and quick writes as well as share texts that foster their abilities to read like writers.

If you have tried something similar or have questions, please share your thoughts below. I would love to hear from you! Take care for now and have a great school year!

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