Creating Classroom Environments: Introducing Writer’s Notebooks

Classroom Environments Blog Series - #TWTBlogOf all the wonderful things about starting a new school year – fresh school supplies, blank lesson plans, new classroom library books – my absolute favorite thing is introducing writer’s notebooks to a new set of students.  I decided many years ago that writer’s notebooks should be introduced with a certain amount of celebration and fanfare.  After all, I am trying to convince the students that their writer’s notebook will soon become their most sacred, most beloved school supply.  It surely deserves a little pomp and circumstance, no?

Here are 4 tips to help add a little flourish to your introduction of writer’s notebooks.

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1.  Hold the notebooks.

If your students bring in a writer’s notebook as part of their school supplies, consider collecting the notebooks on the first day of school and setting those aside.  I know it is tempting to let students write in their writer’s notebook on the first day of school.  Teachers are eager for students to begin a heart map or a list of writing territories in their notebooks.  However, I recommend holding the notebooks for a day or two while you build up some excitement.  Wait until the students are clamoring to get their hands on a writer’s notebook.  Then, wait one more day.

2.  Provide mentors.

Before students begin writing in their own writer’s notebooks, you will want to show them some mentor notebooks.  Students will need to see the possibilities a notebook can hold for them, and they need to envision what their own writer’s notebook might look like.  There are plenty of samples readily available online.  Author Amy Ludwig Vanderwater hosts a one-of-a-kind website called Sharing Our Notebooks.  Click around her website and you are sure to find many inspiring examples to show your students.  This summer, she curated an amazing collection of writer’s notebooks samples.  Click here to access the collection.  Show a few samples on your smart board or print some samples for groups of students to look over.  You might be surprised what you can find when you peruse the web for samples of writer’s notebooks.  I mean, even Taylor Swift uses one!

3.  Showcase your own writer’s notebook.

Here is where you are guaranteed to hook ’em.  Students love to peek inside their teacher’s own personal writer’s notebook. Show them all the writing you did this summer in your notebook.  (You did write this summer, didn’t you?!)  Show them several different types of entries and invite them into your life as a writer.  Click here for a peek inside one of my own writer’s notebooks.

This is my favorite part about launching writer’s notebooks.  Thumbing through my past notebooks, showing the students some entries that I loved and entries I sometimes wish I could tear out, telling them stories about my daughters and my husband, and exposing my true self as a writer.  They lean in with eagerness and wide eyes.  And then…

4.  Distribute the notebooks in a ceremony.

Usually on day three, four, or five of writing workshop, I stop mid-sentence as I am sharing my own notebook, look at the class solemnly, and ask, “You guys don’t think you want writer’s notebooks, too, do you?”  Heads nod up and down.  I take a deep breath and a long pause.  “Okay, yes.  I think you’re ready.”  I hit play on my iPhone and let the sounds of a song chosen specifically for the occasion fill the room.  (For a great list of song ideas, see Beth’s post titled, “Songs for Celebrating Writing.”  You could also use a familiar favorite such as “Pomp and Circumstance.”)  As the music plays, students come up one by one to receive their notebook.  I shake each student’s hand as I hand him or her the notebook.  “Congratulations, writer,” I whisper to each student.

After the ceremony ends, I gather everyone on the carpet once again.  “So, writers,” I ask them, “what will your first entry look like?”  After a few minutes of sharing, I will send them off to write.  I smile as they walk to their writing spots, clutching their new writer’s notebooks to their chests.

Let’s chat on Monday, August 10th at 8:30 p.m. EDT, when the eight of us host a Twitter Chat about classroom environments.  Just search and tag #TWTBlog to participate.

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