artifacts in writing workshop

this is an exciting post for us to think about because it was suggested by a reader. a reader! we’re enjoying the process of  writing for our own reflection and growth, but as any writer knows, it’s encouraging to know your writing is being read and, even more amazing, valued by someone else.

we were first introduced to using artifacts as we use them currently by shana frazin. it made so much sense to us, as leaving something behind after a conference or small group makes our teaching stickier, and hopefully supports the kids in continuing to try it and growing more independent in it. we had done that, sometimes on a post-it or an assignment box on the page in their notebook, but it never felt like a set routine. this format just helped us make it a little bit more formal and organized.

the set up: at the beginning of the year, we put sticky library card pockets in the back of both readers’ and writers’ notebooks. they’re the perfect size for our index card artifacts. they’re empty until we give our first artifact, which is usually one we give whole-class after the first few weeks of school.

writing practices pocket

the pocket at the back of our students’ writer’s notebooks to hold artifacts.

we’ve found success in printing on labels and then sticking the labels right onto a 3.5×5 index card. we use these avery labels (they’re the perfect size for a 3.5×5 index card) and there’s a downloadable template that you can use on your computer to type right into and then print. (we’ve also used post-its as artifacts to leave with students, in reading, especially, and we print them using a template, especially if we need multiple copies for students in a small group.)

deciding what goes on an artifact: our artifacts represent teaching that’s already happened, either in a mini-lesson or a conference or small group. sometimes it’s a condensed version of a chart that we’re retiring or want kids to have access to more frequently (though you can also do that with technology- link to post). the artifact might be introduced and taught alongside in a small group or conference. if it’s something being given whole-class, we might give it during the share of workshop or connection the next day, as it relates to the teaching point of the previous mini-lesson.

possible artifacts: some of the things we’ve put on artifacts for our students have included:

  • condensed versions of charts (like an editing checklist or the steps to make a plan box)
  • steps for giving feedback to a partner (we often make this double sided, with the language for a compliment on one side and language for suggestions on the other)

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our double-sided artifact for giving a compliment (a plus) and a suggestion (a wish). the language we teach kids to use when giving each other feedback matches the way we give them feedback.

  • differentiated versions of work within a particular craft move (for example, if we’re working on ways to include setting in a story, we might give students some examples of ways writers include setting on an artifact and have a few different artifacts to help students lift the level of their setting work to the next level, depending on what they’re already doing in their writing, maybe using their on demand to gather some data about how they’re currently using setting description. for example, one artifact might give phrases to just state the setting that students could use in their writing (e.g. that morning, the next day, later that night, etc.) whereas a more sophisticated one might have examples of setting description that mimics or reveals the mood of the story.)

other tips:

practice using the artifacts with the students. whenever it seems authentic to do so, we model pulling out an artifact and writing alongside it, using it as a scaffold to our writing. we remind kids in conferences or small groups to pull out their artifact (“is there an artifact that might help you now, since you’re working on…?”) or remind the whole class on drafting day. basically, the more we show them being used and talk it up, the more likely our kids are going to buy into the value of using them and pull them out independently. and, when that happens, notice and name (link to language post) the heck out of it to the kids around that writer or the whole class, and watch the behavior spread.

use different font. this might seem sort of obvious, but we think it helps kids differentiate or focus what’s on the artifact. we’ll often put the heading or name of the strategy or the artifact’s purpose in bold at the top of the artifact. then, we’ll use italics if we want to show an example of something on the artifact. so, if the artifact is to remind students of the types of details they could use as they write in the moment rather than a summary, it might look like this, with the types of details listed and an example in italics right next to it:

use the same language you use when you’re teaching or talking about the strategy. this way, the artifact is familiar to the kids, and reading it is kind of like hearing the teachers’ voices. this means that it may not work to share artifacts exactly from class to class because, while the ideas behind them are surely transferrable, each teacher should probably revise the language of the artifacts so that it’s what the kids in that class use.

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