“How’s it Going?” and beyond: Tips for starting a writing conference

Carl Anderson's classic book on conferences

Whenever we confer with our students during the writing process, we have to think about how to start. I think of the beginning of the conference as an invitation. The two most common opening lines I have used in the past include:

“How’s it going?” and “What are you working on today as a writer?”

These phrases come from Carl Anderson and Lucy Calkins, and their work has influenced me greatly over the years. Based on my many years working with teachers and students in writing, however, I want to offer some other options for beginning the conference.

The suggestions below are based on the idea that we often know where our students are in the writing process, so a more specific (yet still open-ended) question might support our writers more clearly.

If students are gathering ideas for writing:

  • How are you gathering ideas as a writer today?
  • How will you know when you have found an idea that might work for you as a writer today?

If students are drafting pieces or developing notebook entries:

  • How is your writing coming along?
  • What should I listen for when you read your piece to me?
  • How is this piece coming along compared to the last piece you wrote?

If students are revising:

  • What are you working on today as a writer to improve your piece?
  • Tell me about your process when you revise as a writer: Do you read the whole piece first, and then decide how to revise, or do you revise as you go?
  • Can you read some “before and after” examples of your piece to start our conference today?

If I can enter into a conference with the mindset of supporting students rather than evaluating writing, I can provide an environment for a collaborative conversation. And the first step toward this collaboration is the think about what to say first.

Happy conferring!

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