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Writer’s Notebooks

Last week I had a conversation with a middle school teacher who has spent her summer studying writing workshop and is excited to make writer’s notebooks the backbone of her writing instruction. This is my tenth year as an instructional writing coach and I’ve had the opportunity to see teachers put notebooks in action hundreds of times.

The truth of the matter is the writer’s notebook doesn’t always become the backbone of writing workshop. Sometimes it becomes a rote writing journal. Sometimes it becomes a sketch book. Sometimes it becomes a place to “fake” write. Sometimes it is forgotten.

Yet teachers launch writer’s notebooks with the intention that they will become a purposeful and integral tool in helping students become more efficient writers. I’ve been thinking about ways notebooks become a lifeline for young writers. Here is a little list so far.

  1. The teacher keeps a notebook in real-time. The notebook is fresh and the writing is real, not words written years ago and not words to pretend to write.
  2. Students are empowered to use notebooks in personal and unique ways. Teachers give enough choice for young writers to learn how to make the notebook useful.
  3. The notebook shifts according to the needs of the genre, audience, or purpose. Teachers support writers by providing structure for notebook entries.
  4. Notebook work is a predictable, regular habit. Notebook work is a critical part of writing workshop and is returned to throughout the writing process and over the course of the school year.

Want to think more about the ways notebooks can become a lifeline to the writers in your classroom? Check out some of the posts Stacey & I have written over the years regarding writer’s notebooks. Notebook Know-How by Aimee Buckner is another great resource. You can preview her chapter about using the notebook to support editing, spelling, and punctuation online at Stenhouse. We’d love to hear from you about ways you help sustain the lifeline of notebooks in your classroom.

Ruth Ayres View All

Unhurried. Finding the magic in the middle of living. Capturing a life of ridiculous grace + raw stories.

8 thoughts on “Writer’s Notebooks Leave a comment

  1. As a visual learner and art teacher, I am a huge fan of including pictures, sketches, doodles and artistic touches to “writers notebooks”. It allows me to be a better writer.

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  2. I love Ralph Fletecher’s, A Writers Notebook. He says it all in…”Many people drift through life. Your writer’s notebook can work as alarm clock to remind you to wake up and pay attention to what’s happening in your world, both inside and out.” Let’s remember that it’s not a diary but it’s also not a place that is a collection of lessons and teacher talk instead of student talk. I treasure my Writers Notebook from years ago. I have about 8 of them that are filled. My recent ones, I am sad to say, do not resemble the passion and love I have for teaching. They have become teacher examples without a true love for what I am doing. When I first started using a Writers Notebook, I carried it everywhere and even had it autographed by R.L. Stine. My students saw that love (not fake modeling) and treasured theirs as well.I even had a fourth grade student who used his own money to buy Writers Notebooks for his parents and little sister and they all had to write in them. (His dad even brought it on a business trip with him and realized that it had helped him become a better writer.) The gist of my rant…I made a vow the other day to write each day/night and bring that passion back to my students and give them opportunities to write what they care about as well as what my curriculum asks for.

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  3. I always struggle with wanting to put many things into one notebook – my students struggle with organization. Writing notebook, science writing notebook, quick draw book, notebook to record books read – I am working to think about what makes sense – what do we keep in a writers notebook? Writing – persona and rough draft work, brainstorm idea list, books read list, drawings that spark ideas – I decided that science should be a different notebook – scientific writing.

    What do you put in your notebooks?

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    • Joanne – I have the same organizational struggle. I teach little ones (2nd grade) and I am thinking of helping them use their notebooks as their “anything goes” writing space and using folders and structured paper for their genre writing in Workshop. I’m trying to provide structure and support as well as the freedom of choice – a difficult balance. I’ll be tracking our journey in my own writing.

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  4. Ralph Fletcher said something yesterday that struck me. Too often writer’s notebooks are turning into writer’s workbooks. What a pity that is for the children who are made to feel they have no say in what goes into their writer’s notebooks. There’s so much beauty to be had in living the life of a writer when the notebook becomes a vessel in which to do real thinking and authentic writing.

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  5. “Recording” is a huge part of what we all do at our school, Ruth, in writers notebooks and in field journals. In my class, notebooks were used by the students for their WIP’s, for practice in group lessons, for recording important ideas they wanted to keep from their own lives. Often it was different with each, but I believe one thing that helped them form the habit is that we had conversations about them, sharing our ideas, often. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and other links-time to re-visit!

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    • I want to echo Linda’s statement, “I believe one thing that helped them form the habit is that we had conversations about them, sharing our ideas, often” This is an important part of my class as well. We share and talk about writing daily. I can’t stop calling them journals, though. Is there intention in calling them “writers notebooks?” If so, I may force myself to change.

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