Notebook Know-How

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It’s only the first week of summer vacation, but I am already reflecting on the past year in preparation for next year. I’m pleased that my students read and wrote as much as they did. When comparing the two, I found, however, that students were more reluctant to write than read. They whined, complained, and some even downright refused to write in the beginning of the school year. I am pleased that their writing attitudes improved by June, and I think it was due to the one space they had more writing freedom: their writing notebooks. This past year, my students spent more time in their writing notebooks than they ever did in the past. I saw students fall in love with writing, with some students even creating their own writing notebooks for the summer. After last year, I now know that these notebooks will be a staple each and every year to come. I’m by no means an expert, but I see the value these notebooks hold. They helped my students grow as writers. Below are just some of the many ways we used them.

Writing Ideas – From the very beginning of the year, I want students to see their

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The inside cover of my 2016-2017 notebook

notebooks as a place to house their writing ideas. This begins with decorating the inside of their notebooks. I showed students some of mine from years past, and suggested that they bring in materials from home to decorate theirs. I supplied glue, tape, markers, and other art supplies to help them put it all together. Some students didn’t finish, so they took theirs home. That’s fine. The goal is to have inspiration when needed.

Besides decorating, my students spend a lot of time creating lists. I got this idea from Kelly Gallagher’s book, Write Like This. Students created lists of favorites, least favorites, difficult moments, and much more. This was just

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Some of my lists

one other reference tool for them to utilize throughout the school year when they were stuck. The image to the right is one of my lists. My students and I wrote memoirs at the beginning of the school year using one of their topics from a list.

Quickwrites – My students wrote something every day. More often than not, their writing was in the form of a quickwrite. These informal pieces allowed students the freedom they needed to just write. I heard Kelly Gallagher speak almost one year ago to this day, and one point he kept coming back to was the need for improving the amount of writing students do. They should be writing way more than we teachers could ever grade. This is where quickwrites come in handy. Quickwrites are short, 2-4 minutes of writing without taking

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A quickwrite about a photograph.

a break. Students simply wrote what came to them. Writing skills are not assessed, so this alleviated stress. Some prompts had a slight connection to the content in class, and sometimes they were completely random. My students loved the freedom that this type of writing allowed.

Studying a Writer’s Craft and Imitating It – The teaching of writing skills can be quite difficult. I have read many books on the subject (see the list below), and one similarity they all have is the need to learn from published authors. This is where reading and writing are intimately connected. Strong readers will notice writing strategies in text, while others will not be able to look beyond comprehending the text. Enter the writing notebook. We teachers can give students small passages to study and analyze as a whole class, in small groups, and eventually independently. Once students do this, they should then attempt to imitate at least one of the strategies. I got this idea from Writing with Mentors by Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell, and after trying it I immediately saw success. My students enjoyed

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My attempt at imitating a writing strategy.

the freedom to write about whatever topic they wanted, as long as they attempted the same writing strategy. They came to look forward to this by the end of the school year, and all the while they were growing as writers.

Writing About Reading – I saved this topic for the end because it technically combines the others mentioned above. Literary analysis is just one of the many types of writing students practice in my classroom. Sometimes they wrote about their IR books. These writing topics vary, for at first some of my lower level readers just needed the space to get down what they remembered about their books, while higher level readers immediately began sharing what surprised them and how the book impacted their thinking. We also wrote about whole-class texts as well. Sometimes it was a poem, and other times it was an excerpt from a challenging novel. Sometimes students attempted to imitate a writing strategy within the text, and other times they were using a Notice and Note signpost to explain the Aha moment they noticed, or how a Contract and Contradiction connected to a theme. I found that the possibilities were endless.

Want to learn more about how to use a writing notebook in your classroom? Check out these books that revised my thinking:

How do you use a notebook in your classroom? Feel free to share in the Comments box below.

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4 thoughts on “Notebook Know-How

  1. Thanks for sharing your ideas. I do some of the same things you write about here and, like you, feel that they helped move my students as writers. I always have a hard time getting kids to see their writer’s notebook as a place to play; they tend to write long pieces instead of using their notebooks as a place to explore techniques, strategies, etc. Working on this, though!

  2. I am trying to lead a “notebook” writerly life so that I can use it as a model for my students. I always have high expectations for using notebooks in the classroom, but never meet them. Since most of my 6th graders come from schools of prompt writing, maybe approaching it from a freedom standpoint might help. Thanks for the peek into yours!

  3. Love this post! Thank you for sharing the many ways you use your notebook in your classroom and the endless options that exist for note booking. I plan to share this post with my subscribers this Sunday in my Weekly Writing Round-Up (http://bit.ly/2r2R024) because I think a lot of teachers and writers can benefit from it. Thanks again!

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