Conferring during writer's workshop is like the main course of a delicious meal. Mini-lessons are more like appetizers. Simple appetizers that aren't too filling are the best. Sharing time functions like the dessert we shouldn't skip. And who is to say that you can't have dessert first or have some meals that consist of little else but appetizers or desserts. But over the course of a week, you need a balance.
Lately, I've had several teachers want help with conferring. The first thing I like to do, is look at their instructional schedule. A teacher can't confer if she has not blocked out time daily to devote to workshop. In elementary school, teachers that teach multiple content areas often have a lot of power over what their daily schedule looks like. Examining a teacher's daily schedule is a clear window into what she deems important. As I confer with a teacher about her schedule, I can tell if she most likely feels responsible for the growth of all of her students and whether or not she tends to teach with a sense of urgency.
When teachers come to me wanting help with conferring, usually it is in regard to things like, "I don't know what to say," or "I can't get to all the kids," or "The kids aren't writing while I'm conferring." In order for me to help the teacher, we have to go back to the basics. It starts with time. We can't get to the main course of the meal without first making a reservation at the restaurant.