Sunday, October 20, 2013

Essential Books for Writing Teachers

                I have a serious problem, and it is one that many people around the world share and virtually no one who has this affliction is trying to change it.  I am completely addicted to reading—sometimes I am fairly certain I have a healthier relationship with words written on a page than I do with actual human beings, but that’s another story.  This summer, I participated in the Eastern Virginia Writing Project.  During those five weeks, I read every professional book I could get my hands on about teaching writing.

                As I was reading, I found a lot of things seemed disconnected, and I was rereading information and sorting through conflicting information.  I’ve decided to write a road map for those teaching writer’s workshop.  It’s the order I wish I had been introduced to books about teaching writing and writer’s workshop.  I think that all of these books are essential to writing teachers, but that some just make more sense to read first.  It goes from the very basics to the nitty gritty details.  I hope that it helps someone out there!


  1. The Art of Teaching Writing by Lucy Calkins.  This book is intimidating, I know.  At 540 pages, it’s not exactly a quick read.  (Enter Hermione’s line of “I checked this out ages ago for a bit of light reading.”)  But you’ve got to start here, even if you only read a chapter or two.  There has never been another textbook written that reaches you on such an emotional level.  It is a textbook that speaks to your heart and to all those beliefs you held when you entered into this profession.  Of all the books I’ve read about teaching writing, this is the most convincing one for the kinds of beliefs I hold about writing.  The best thing about Lucy Calkins is that she understands how incredibly hard it can be to teach writing.  She lets us know that we will do everything just right, and it will all still come out wrong, wrong, wrong.  But that it is okay, because we are fighting the good fight in the name of teaching our children.  Above all, she teaches us to teacher the writer, not the writing.  This book was originally written before I was even born, but the central beliefs in it are virtually timeless and will, without a doubt, change your mind about teaching writing to children.

2. Launching the Writing Workshop by Denise Leograndis.  So you believe in writer’s workshop and are ready to take the plunge into this chaotic world, yet you have no idea how to start?  Two years ago, that’s exactly where I was at.  I had all these ideas about how I wanted to help my students become better writers, but I had no idea how to go about it.  All I knew was to teach writing the way it was taught to me—with nothing but writing prompts and papers covered in red ink.  Launching the Writing Workshop gives you a place to start.  It takes you through the first twenty days of a writing workshop and gives you pictures and clear directions.  You can read this book in an hour or so, and it is worth it!  It is easy to read, and it is immediately applicable to your teaching

3. Writing Workshop: The Essential Guide by Ralph Fletcher and Joann Portalupi.  I wish I had read this book when I was first getting started.  The term “writer’s workshop” is thrown about and yet there isn’t often a clear definition or any sort of guidance as to what it all means.  This book is, as it says, an “essential guide.”  It takes you through every aspect of the writer’s workshop, from mini-lessons to conferencing to what in the world do you do about teaching skills?  This book brought some clarity to my somewhat muddled mind.

4. A Writer’s Notebook by Ralph Fletcher.  The writer’s notebook is the most important tool we can give to our students.  This book is not aimed at teachers, but instead at the growing writer’s themselves.  I’d say that middle school children could easily read it.  I read it this summer and was able to get some really awesome ideas about how to make writer’s notebooks meaningful to my children.  I think that my children are learning to live different lives as writers because of their writer’s notebooks.  This book deserves a lot of the credit for that.

5. The Writing Workshop: Working Through the Hard Parts by Katie Wood Ray and Lester Laminack.  I didn’t think there was anybody in the world that could write a textbook that reaches you inside you like Lucy Calkins, but dear goodness Katie Wood Ray is right up there.  I adored this book.  If you have been sold to the idea of writer’s workshop, and you have been implementing it and need a boost that what you are doing is right—read this book.  This book isn’t like Lucy in that it isn’t trying to convince you of certain beliefs: it assumes you’ve already come over to this side.  Katie Wood Ray knows how hard it can be, and she uses this book to give you practical tips and encouragement.  When nothing seems to be working right in my classroom, I imagine Lucy Calkins and Katie Wood Ray there next to me, whispering words of encouragement.  This book is the pep talk you desperately need.

6. Craft Lessons and Nonfiction Craft Lessons by Ralph Fletcher and Joann Portalupi.  Buy both of these books and keep them close by for when you are writing lessons.  The great thing about Ralph Fletcher is that he isn’t just an author who writes professional books—he is also a children’s book writer.  He uses his experience with writing to create these two awesome books.  Both of these books are full of different mini-lessons you can use to help your students.  You don’t have to read the book straight through—just open it up and find a lesson that fits the needs of your children!

7. The Writing Teacher’s Troubleshooting Guide by Lester Laminack.  The setup of this book is modeled off of the 70s Beetle troubleshooting guides.  Seeing as I am 26 and have no frame of reference for this, I will just have to tell you why I love it as a writing teacher.  This book goes through all the problems that you will find in the writer’s workshop—things like kids who have nothing to write about, children who resist revision, and the hard work of crafting leads and endings.  It is just great, practical, quick advice you can use to help raise the quality of your children’s writing.  I feel that the tips he gives on the pages can easily be used as strategies to teach in mini-lessons and in your writing conferences.

8. One to One: The Art of Conferring With Young Writers by Lucy Calkins.  I couldn’t just put one Lucy book on here (Yes, we’re on a first name basis, even though we’ve never met).  Conferencing is the thing that I struggle with the most.  This book is aimed towards conferences with writers in Kindergarten through 2nd grade, but can easily be applied in the upper grades.  I think I need to start rereading this book, because I know how incredible it is.  If you are struggling with conferences, I would go here!

 9. What You Know by Heart by Katie Wood Ray.  I couldn’t put just one of Katie’s books (also on a first name basis) on here either.  What You Know by Heart is a book that is all about developing curriculum.  She doesn’t advocate you going out and buying some boxed writing program (although if you do, I would suggest going with Lucy Calkin’s Units of Study).  Instead, she tells you that all you need to know about teaching writing can be drawn from your own experiences.  This book is definitely worth the time to read to enhance your writing curriculum.

 10. In Pictures and In Words by Katie Wood Ray.  This book is meant for primary grades, but this 4th grade teacher adores it.  It is one of the best books I have read all year long.  Its primary thesis is that allowing students to use pictures in their writing does not detract from their writing development, but actually supports and enhances it.  Sometimes children cannot use the written word to express their ideas, but they can draw a picture.  This book includes 50 different lesson ideas for helping enhance student’s writing with pictures.  I have every intention of implementing a picture book unit so that I can apply these techniques!
I should probably mention that all of my pictures come from  Because, well, let's face it: there's no need to buy books from anywhere else.


  1. I told you I would be a faithful blog reader! you are so committed it is great! /the Eastern Virginia Writing Project sounds really neat! Why had i never seen ANY of these books until today?! Good luck with implementing it this year with all your new knowledge :) - Cathryn

  2. Thanks Cathryn--we miss you so much! I appreciate you reading. Between you and my momma I've got a following!

  3. I love this! There are so many books out there on teaching writing and I do not have the time to sort through them all to find the gems! I too feel that a lot of the information I know and have for teaching writing is great, but it is all jumbled and disorganized on how to actually implement it successfully as a whole. I have often bought books that I had high hopes for & they end up not being very useful. I love this as a road-map; explaining where to get started, which books you found useful, why, & the order one should read them, Thank you! Great blog :)
    - Doreen