The Writing Shop

Putting 'Shop' Back in Writing Workshop


Since the 1970s, writing workshop has been a go-to method for teaching writing. It’s helped students of all ages find their voices and stories while developing skills and craft. In The Writing Shop, the author reimagines what writing workshop can be. By studying workshops of different kinds—carpentry, textile, machine—she pushes us to see writing workshop the way other makers see their own shops, as places where creativity is fueled by the sensory experience. When the essential elements of all workshops are adopted in writing workshop, the author argues, writers will flourish.

The author builds on writing workshop literature to introduce the model to newcomers, while offering practical advice for those looking to strengthen their writing instruction. The Writing Shop illustrates what happens when writing is taught in an authentic shop: play is prioritized, all types of learners are included, and a host of skills beyond the mechanics of composition are embedded in the process of learning to write.

With its stories from diverse workshops and emphasis on exploration and experimentation, The Writing Shop shows us that learning to write can be, above all things, fun.

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Suzanne Farrell Smith holds an M.A. (2008) from The New School and an M.F.A. (2010) from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She teaches literacy education courses at Manhattanville College. Suzanne’s memoir, The Memory Sessions, is forthcoming from Bucknell University Press.
“Filled with illuminating quotes and inspiring anecdotes, The Writing Shop is potent, simple, and persuasive. It pulled the writer in me back to my notebooks and fueled the teacher in me to refresh the classrooms I work in. A necessary and timely reminder about the importance of authenticity.” – Dorothy Barnhouse, international literacy consultant, author of Readers Front and Center, and co-author of What Readers Really Do

“I was given an advance copy of Suzanne Farrell Smith’s book The Writing Shop and I was thrilled to see her promote a refocusing of our work with writers that embraces the brilliance of a shop model. Suzanne believes that just like when learning a craft or trade, a shop is the most engaging environment in which to be mentored, to experiment, and to practice the craft of writing. The human element of developing trusting and nurturing relationships between master and apprentice is central to the premise of her work. She shares anecdotes from her personal life and from real-world experiences of craftsmen to illuminate her ideas and the elements of shop. Suzanne advocates for a playful and stimulating learning environment, without compromising academic expectations. Come take a peek inside her shop and learn from a master!” – Paula Bourque, literacy coach and author of Close Writing: Developing Purposeful Writers in Grades 2–6 and Quick Writing: Nurturing Hearts and Minds in Elementary Classrooms

The Writing Shop is rich. Rich in storytelling, rich in detail, rich in imagery, rich in inspiration. I challenge any teacher reading this book to not be inspired and renewed with a fresh sense of what is possible when children are allowed to play in the process of writing. In The Writing Shop, Suzanne continues a tradition of master teachers generously sharing their hard-earned insight into how teachers can help children steward the shop that is their own imagination and voice. Teachers tasked with helping children master the craft of writing would do well to add this immensely useful and beautiful text to their shelf.” – Nancy Cavillones, writer and former New York City English teacher

“Reading Suzanne Farrell Smith’s The Writing Shop is like embarking on a journey of the senses, where one finds oneself immediately endeared to her lovely vision of what writing workshop could be. With frequent nods to the value that play, noise, and “mess” can bring to any kind of workshop, Suzanne reminds us to slow down and enjoy not just the products that students ultimately create, but their beautiful and varying processes as well—for this is where the true magic of writing workshop happens.” – Shawna Coppola, author of RENEW! Become a Better—and More Authentic—Writing Teacher

“This beautiful, approachable book not only teaches you how to teach writing, but reclaims the rightful place of “shop” in writing workshop. Suzanne Farrell Smith captures how it should feel for anyone of any age to write: full of exploration, spontaneity, and joy. The Writing Shop is the perfect blend of teaching strategies, student stories, and Suzanne’s own personal journey in becoming a teacher of writing and, more importantly, of writers. Novel in its approach and singular in its voice, The Writing Shop is a must-read book that will undoubtedly make your classroom and your students come alive through the writing process. Every child deserves the kind of writing shop classroom Suzanne will help you create.” – Katie Egan Cunningham, Associate Professor at Manhattanville College and author of Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning and Happiness by Design

“Real writing is messy business. Rarely do writers churn out perfect works by following a linear, five-step writing process to a T. Why then do we expect our students to perform this way? In The Writing Shop, Suzanne Farrell Smith masterfully breaks down the barriers of product-focused writing instruction and invites teachers to let their students explore the messy business of writing as a craft. Beautifully woven among tidbits and tales of her own young writing students, Suzanne’s detailed, specific suggestions for integrating the essential components of a creative shop into a classroom are perfect for both the novice and the experienced teacher, for those just starting to integrate a workshop model to those who are looking for ways to reinvigorate an existing writing workshop. Best of all, Suzanne focuses on the fun of writing and ignites (or reignites!) an excitement that is essential for any teacher looking to inspire students to find, develop, and hone the skills that make writing messy and real and wonderful.” – Jenni Eaton, writer, English teacher at Takoma Park Middle School and Adjunct Associate Professor of Writing at University of Maryland University College

The Writing Shop connects to the roots of a true workshop and helps us understand that writing is an art of playful making and doing. Suzanne takes concepts like ‘living like a writer’ and makes them crystal clear by weaving in personal stories, teaching stories, and research. Reading this book is a gift to any teacher who wants to ensure that shop is a big part of their writing workshop and that students and teachers alike feel energized and authentically engaged in writing.” – Gravity Goldberg, literacy consultant and author of Teach Like Yourself

“In The Writing Shop, educators will find a blueprint for creating a workshop in which students learn the fundamentals of composition with glee rather than dread, that inspires reluctant writers to experiment and play, and facilitates student leadership, competence, and confidence. Writers will find a guide for revolutionizing the writing desk, as well as the practice of writing. With a warm, clear, compassionate voice, Suzanne invites readers to join her in approaching writing as a messy, joyful experiment. Part history, part memoir, part how-to, this book is a celebration of the written word. It is the kind of book you will carry around in your back pocket and, in no small part because of Suzanne’s keen insight and wisdom, the kind of book that becomes a mentor and a friend.” – Sarah Twombly, writer and Adjunct Professor at Husson University


Chapter 1: The Drafting Table

Chapter 2: Building the Argument

Chapter 3: Captain of the Shop: Master

Chapter 4: Nuts and Bolts: Mess

Chapter 5: Splinters and Steam: Sensory Stimulation

Chapter 6: Raise the Bench: Workspace Variety

Chapter 7: Get Your Goggles: Safety Procedures

Chapter 8: All Hands on Deck: Technical Skills

Chapter 9: Apprentice to Artist: Craft Techniques

Chapter 10: Share the Masterpiece


About the Author
This book is appropriate for those interested in writing education: professors and students (undergraduate and graduate) of writing, education, and English; K–12 teachers; writers who teach workshop; and parents.
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