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Basic Workshop

Author: NYCWP

Tel: (718) 960-8758

250 Bedford Park Blvd. WestFax: (718) 960-8054

Bronx, NY 10468-1589


Basic Workshop


The basic workshop is designed to give participants a first-hand experience with the writing process so they can better understand what happens when they and their students write. Whether the workshop consists solely of English teachers or teachers of all subjects, participants will come into the room with preconceived notions of what “good’ writing is and how writing should be taught. The presenter’s role is NOT to tell teachers that they’ve got it all wrong. Instead, the presenter’s role is to create a nonjudgmental environment where teachers can share what happens to them when they write, raise questions of themselves and others, and feel challenged (but not threatened) by new ideas and possibilities. Through the writing, process, active listening, and discussion, the participants will ultimately arrive at some basic principles of writing. Still, the basic workshop is only a beginning.

What follows here is a skeleton. While the format of the basic workshop remains the same each time, the content of every workshop is unique depending on the participants, the writing, and the presenters who will , of course, add things to it: other processes, hints as they occur, anecdotes about their teaching and about their own experiences in the project, and their own enthusiasm.


  1. Introduce yourselves. Have participants introduce themselves.

  1. Give a brief history of the National Writing Project, the New York City Writing Project, and the Writing Teachers Consortium (if appropriate).

  1. Introduce the writing topic. Choose from:

    1. An Early Experience with Writing
    2. As a Teacher of _______________, what do I find most difficult to teach?
    3. Learning to ______________.

  1. Writing

  1. Introduce process writing. Explain that they are being asked to write once more, for a short amount of time, describing how they wrote what they wrote: the process they went through from the moment they knew they would have to write until the moment they were asked to stop writing. In other words, what were they aware of internally and externally? Was it difficult to write? Why? What decisions did they have to make in the writing?

  1. Ask for volunteers to share their process writing. Presenters should use active listening to respond to the participants and then make process points where appropriate. (See Appendix)

  1. Explain active listening.

    1. Begin by telling participants that you have been responding to their process writing in a specific way. Ask what they have noticed about the way you’ve been responding.
    2. Explain active listening as saying back to the writer the gist of what you’ve heard in the writing, phrasing it as a question so the writer can confirm if you’ve gotten it right or explain further if you haven’t. The focus should be on what the writer wants to say in the piece, not on the listener’s interpretation.
    3. Explain why active listening is a useful as a response to writing: it lets writers know whether they have communicated what they want to. It is a technique for getting writers to expand on their writing and/or clarify their meaning.

  1. Model active listening by responding to one more process piece.

  1. Participants practice active listening.

    1. Ask one volunteer to read the longer piece (not the process) and another to use active listening to respond to it.
    2. Comment on whether the active listening was done correctly and how the writer responded to it.
    3. Ask if there is another participant who heard something else in the piece. Then repeat (b).
    4. Have some more volunteers read pieces and others active-listen to them.

  1. If there is time, break the group into pairs so they can read their pieces to each other and practice active listening.

  1. Reassemble the group. Ask how they managed with the active listening. If there is time, have 2 or 3 participants read their pieces to the large group.

  1. Summarize what has happened in the workshop. You might include the following in your summary:

    1. Review some of the process points that came up. Refer to specific people’s process writing, if possible.
    2. Writing is scary, but exciting and powerful.
    3. Writing allows people to find their own voices, make new connections, and discover more of what they mean (and so writing promotes growth).
    4. Writing begins with paying attention to what is not yet in words and allowing it to unfold (mention the usefulness of active listening in terms of this).
    5. By writing and sharing today, we have constituted ourselves as a community of writers (community of writers can be established in the classroom).
    6. Through these workshops, participants are invited to become observers of the composing process. Urge them to continue to observe themselves, each other, and their students.

  1. Business. (This may include reviewing a commitment sheet, filling our necessary forms, distributing materials.)


The basic workshop was created by Sondra Perl. Many project members have contributed to its evolution.

Prepared by:

Marcie Wolfe

© 1982 by the New York City Writing Project

Basic Workshop Appendix

Participant Says:

“I kept repeating the title to myself…”

“I needed to reread what I had written so far to see if I was sticking to the topic…”

“When I began writing, I didn’t know that I was going to say (that I hated 3rd grade)…”

“It all came pouring out and made me remember other things too.”

“This isn’t exactly what I wanted to say. It doesn’t seem right to me.”

“I thought of a few ideas that were alright, but then ‘Boom’ another idea came to me and I knew it was the one I wanted.”

“I thought to myself, ‘Will I have to read this aloud?’”

“I wasn’t sure what they wanted me to write.”

“I had to think for a long time and everyone around me started writing immediately.”

“I took too much time trying to find the right word.”

“I kept stopping to check my spelling and punctuation.”

“Fifteen minutes seemed too long.”

“I know I wouldn’t be able to finish in the time allowed.”

“It wasn’t easy for me. It doesn’t flow. I want to work on it some more.”

“I hated the topic so I decided to write something satiric.”

“I needed to smoke.”

“I needed to go to the bathroom.”

“I needed to walk around.”

“I need to disrupt.”

Process Point

Writing is recursive.

Surprises or discoveries may occur when we write.

Memory of an experience may increase while writing about it.

Felt sense (a form of recursiveness)

Awareness of audience

Not everyone’s process is the same.

Premature editing can interfere with composing.

Anxiety about the time allotted to writing can interfere with composing.

Writing can be a struggle – one draft of a piece is probably not enough.

Reaction to a topic can affect composing. (How does a skilled writer overcome a negative reaction to a topic?)

Anxiety about writing.

DMU Timestamp: April 30, 2019 18:47

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