What to Say in a Writing Conference

Our days are full of predictable conversations. You can probably predict your first conversation of the day. You probably know how a conversation is going to go with a spouse, parent, or child after school. You might know how the conversation at lunch is going to go with your colleagues. You have a good idea of how your next conversation with a cashier is going to go.

Conversations are predictable.

Writing conferences are predictable conversations too. There are conversational moves teachers and students make in a writing conversation. When everyone knows the way a conference conversation goes, it becomes more powerful.

Because of this, I consider a minilesson about the structure of a writing conference to be essential. Students must know the way a conference conversation will go. This takes away anxiety and creates a safe place for students to learn how to be stronger writers. 

I created a video minilesson about What to Say in a Writing Conference for you to use with your students.

To simplify the conversation, consider a writing conference as having two parts.

Part 1: Figure out what students are doing as writers.

Part 2: Help them do it better!

Every time I have a conference, I navigate through these two parts. I ask an open-ended question to get students talking about their writing work, and then I look at the writing to see if the work lines up with the talk. (Part 1)

Then I affirm the work students are doing as writers, and teach them something they can use as a writer. (Part 2)

It won’t take long for us to run into a student who doesn’t have much to say in a conference. It’s why we often want a list of questions to ask in a conference. I’ve learned that the right question is only part of the secret to getting kids to talk in conferences.

Don Graves said, “A student should have more energy for writing after a conference than before.” The way to get kids to talk in conferences is to figure out how to increase their energy for writing during a conference.

I’ve created a mini-training video of 3 Secrets to Powerful Writing Conferences. Sign up below and also get a list of my go-to questions to ask during a writing conference.


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  1. Just today our Staff Developer modeled 2 type of writing conferences a Compliment conference and a REsearch conference. This summarizes some of the work we observed and discussed


  2. thank you Ruth for your ongoing commitment to helping teachers move ahead as teachers of writing. You have provided quick and meaningful information to implement into classrooms with easy steps. I appreciate that what you have suggested could happen tomorrow in any classroom. Your ability to see the life of a teacher, mother, and busy human helps make an instant connection too!