The Gradual Release of Responsibility Model: The Your Turn Lesson

The Your Turn lesson is a solid plan for whole group instruction. Following the gradual release of responsibility model put forth by Lev Vygotsky, the sequence of instruction moves methodically and meaningfully from teacher control to student independence. Regie Routman talks about the Optimal Learning Model in her book, Writing Essentials: Raising Expectations and Results While Simplifying Teaching. Margaret Mooney talked about the “I Do, We Do, You Do” model of instruction. The gradual release model is an example of explicit instruction, noted for its effectiveness by researchers such as Robert Marzano.

I Do: Tell students what they need to know and show them how to do the things that they need to be able to do by modeling. Research confirms that this is an essential component of an effective and efficient learning process. This is where the teacher has control and can involve many strategies including informing, explaining, modeling with your writing, and providing examples from the literature and student samples.

WE Do: We work together, often as a whole group at first, and then again, in small groups as needed.  In writing workshop, creating a shared writing experience that you can return to for revision and editing work is often the key to students’ future success.

YOU Do: Here, student writers independently practice what you have already taught them. The  practice within the context of their own drafts will help students retain the new strategy or craft move and become fluent with what they must be able to do. It is important to see the tracks of your teaching in your students’ writing. If they are not trying it out independently, they most probably will not remember it or apply it in future writing. Of course, it is important that you offer feedback along the way through roving conferences, one-on-one conferences, and end-of-workshop whole group reflection.

A gradual release model allows the teacher to engage with students more effectively because their students become proficient with essential components of writing workshop. The gradual release provides demonstration – a teacher modeling (writing) in front of her students – to immerse writers in new concepts before they approximate the learning. Then, this lesson design establishes a clear sense of ownership as students write independently and share their thinking with others in the final reflection. Throughout the gradual release, a variety of voices are heard for discussing new learning in kid-friendly talk that makes use of the nomenclature of writers. The Your Turn lesson helps to maintain a writing community as students notice and appropriate the problem-solving strategies and techniques of their peers.

Your Turn Lesson: Punctuation to Make the Message Clear

Hook:  Share Punctuation Takes a Vacation by Robin Pulver or Yo! Yes?  by Chris Raschka.

Brainstorm: Students log their thinking/realizations into their writer’s notebooks.

Purpose: Writers, I’ve noticed the ways you have been using punctuation in your writing pieces to make you message clear.  I’ve also sometimes been confused and unsure of your intended meaning because punctuation was missing. Today we are going to study punctuation in our own writing and with mentor texts in order to share some insights – what we’ve discovered about how punctuation helps us be more effective writers.

Model: Ask students to examine a paragraph from a piece of your own writing or use a student sample with permission from the author.

Lynne’s example from her narrative Around the World:

I watched Mick talking with Stuart’s parents in hushed tones.  He probably was explaining that we couldn’t help Stuart here.  But then I saw them walking toward me, and I felt my heart sink to the pit of my stomach and settle there.  Mick was introducing me, but I was only catching a word here or there.  “…is studying to be a teacher…starts all the beginners…trust her with my own kids.” Then I was weakly shaking hands with them and leading them back to the barn to meet O’ Henry, a faithful friend who had helped me start many “up-downers” to post to the trot and learn how to canter.  As I reached for the saddle and bridle, I noticed that my hands had begun to sweat.  This wasn’t going to be easy; as a matter of fact, it was going to be downright painful.

Students can jot and turn and talk with each other. What are they noticing about the punctuation you use in your example?  Create an anchor chart with their noticings. What don’t they talk about?  You may make a note for future mini-lessons or decide you have a teachable moment. Ask students to read your sentences silently and aloud.

In Lynne’s example for a fifth grade class, the students noticed the use of an apostrophe to show ownership, apostrophes in contractions, a comma before a coordinating conjunction, a comma to separate a dependent clause from an independent clause in a complex sentence, periods as end punctuation, ellipses to show that words were omitted, and quotation marks to indicate words spoken aloud. The students had questions about the quotation marks around the word up-downers, and no one mentioned the use of a semi-colon (perhaps a future mini-lesson).

Together with your students, talk about how the punctuation helps the reader understand the passage and make the author’s intended meaning clear, rhythmical, and easy to understand

***For primary grades K-2, create an appropriate model and limit the noticings to one convention such as apostrophe use or end punctuation.

Shared/Guided Writing:
Students hunt through their writer’s notebook to find several examples of how they have used punctuation to help make their meaning clear.  Students turn and talk, sharing their findings with a partner. Ask some student partners to share in whole group. Post some examples on an anchor chart and label. Ask partners to initial their example on the chart.

The next day, pair students to do punctuation research with books they are reading independently, mentor texts shared as read alouds, and a set of books written by a favorite author.  You could also encourage them to use textbooks as well as articles from magazines such as National Geographic Kids, Scholastic News, or NEWSELA Elementary. During sharing time, partners demonstrate what  they’ve discovered and how they have documented their learning.

Independent Writing:
Students use the punctuation they’ve been researching and talking about in their own writing to make their message clear. Students should be ready to share something they’ve tried as a result of their study in a final reflection.

Optional: Pairs can plan to teach a mini-lesson to the whole group or a small group conference. List the “punctuation experts” on a special bulletin board where it can be viewed by all.


  • Think about punctuation. What were you already doing in your writer’s notebook and drafts?
  • What did you discover/learn that you will try in future drafts?
  • Did you discover that your mentor author liked to use a particular convention (parentheses, dashes, ellipses, etc.) – you noticed this convention in different books?
  • Were there any surprises?
  • Did you come across a sentence that was difficult to punctuate? How did you problem solve?
  • What did you learn about punctuation  that you could teach to someone else?

2 thoughts on “The Gradual Release of Responsibility Model: The Your Turn Lesson

  1. Pingback: The Your Turn Lesson - The Stenhouse Blog

  2. This is a great lesson sequence for teachers! Thank you for sharing your thinking! I like the mentor text suggestions you have. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in what they are not doing or not noticing, instead of focusing on what they are. This lesson sequence was a great reminder that slow and steady wins in the end. 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s