Breathing Life Back into Notebooks: Discovering the Writer’s Life
Dear Writer’s Notebook,
It’s not you- it’s me. I still believe in you, and all the potential you have for helping me and my students to grow as writers. I know I’ve been a way a while. Your pages sit empty, waiting for me to rediscover you, to use you as the tool towards insight and inspiration, the place to record fleeting thoughts I meant to save, funny phrases my children say that make me laugh out loud, moments with students that are meant to be remembered. When I read and find that line that speaks to my heart, you should be the place where I jot it. When I hear a striking word that I want to try out in my own writing, your pages would be the ideal spot to put it. I know that writer’s notebooks are of tremendous value, and yet, you sit, unused, ignored, under-appreciated, forgotten.
Remember when I decorated you with quotes and pictures and ticket stubs? I shared you with my students and we talked about all the possibilities that come from using your writer’s notebook. They brought in pictures and their own ticket stubs. We read Wilfrid Gordon MacDonald Partridge by Mem Fox and talked about objects bringing back memories as we assembled our own notebooks and places to keep our memories. We started our strong, with lists and drawings and free-writes. Then it came time to draft our personal narratives and we left you for draft paper. Somehow, we didn’t remember to keep writing in your pages as we edited and revised our narratives. Our next unit was literary essay and I tried to wrap my head around third graders learning thesis statements and finding text-based evidence. Writing time was focused in a different way. I confess we did continue our class blogging and it would have behooved all of us to use our notebook to grow ideas for blog posts. You know, Writer’s Notebook, that I didn’t do that for myself and didn’t encourage the students to do that, either.
I know it’s not too late for us, Writer’s Notebook. We can get back those early, honeymoon days of spending all our time together. We can fall in love, all over again. People say we make time for what we value. So, I will make time to write in your pages, to store sticky note ideas and jottings, to copy a sentence I loved from a book or blog post. I will recommit to using you as the tool you’ve meant to be- a place to keep and grow my ideas.
With deepest apologies,
Here’s my plan to breathe new life into writer’s notebooks in my classroom:
- Create drama by announcing to the students that a big apology is owed, right here in this classroom. With fanfare, I will pull out my writer’s notebook and paraphrase my above letter, apologizing for ignoring the notebook. I will confess to students that many ideas don’t stay with me because I don’t stop to write them down. We will discuss how blogging might be much easier and more meaningful for us if we used our notebooks all week instead of trying to think of an idea when we sit to blog. Also, as we move into our new unit of study on informational writing, the writer’s notebook will be a perfect place to grow ideas about our topics.
- Model, model, model and walk the walk: Keep my writer’s notebook out all day and as we read something striking or a student says something meaningful, show students how I am taking the time to write that down in the notebook.
- Show students how ideas I wrote down in my notebook helped me write a larger piece, like a blog post, a letter, or an article.
- Display the site, Sharing Our Notebooks, created by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater. There is a section called “Try This- Notebooking Ideas”. Take time each day to share a different idea with the class and give them some time to write in their notebook.
- Shared reading & quick-writes: In elementary classrooms, shared reading is a specific instructional strategy where the students all read the same large text the same time. At the Long Island Writing Project, we described shared reading as a person reading aloud some type of text to the group. When the person was finished reading aloud, everyone would write for a few minutes and then we would share our responses. These quick-writes could often be developed into a longer piece at a later time. I’m envisioning adding this routine once a week to our class read aloud.
- Partner sharing: Setting aside some time each week to share specific entries in our notebook with a partner might add to student motivation. I also was envisioning a sign outside the classroom that said, “From a page in ____’s notebook” and hanging a photocopied page from a student’s notebook. The students could sign up to have their page displayed and select the page they want to share.
- Post-it writing: There has been an exciting movement for educators to share their writing on a post-it. The idea grew out of our TWT Voxer group, formed after I posted Should Educators Be Writers? Dana Kramaroff had the idea that even the busiest of us could take a few minutes to write on a post-it and commit to a daily writing habit. Many of us have been posting our writing on social media, using #EDtime2wrt. Dalilah Eckstein suggested we try the same idea of post-it writing, but with students! They write on a post-it and then share it, using #Sstime2wrt. My students are always excited when we tweet or share our thinking online, such as in a Padlet. I know they would be motivated to see their post-it writing on Twitter, and then the post-its could be saved in their writer’s notebooks. They will most likely find inspiration from other students’ post-its, too, and knowing students across the country and around the world are also working on building a writing habit.
How do you keep the interest and energy going all year for writer’s notebooks? If you, like me, have left it to the wayside, how do you plan on breathing new life into your own writer’s notebook? How do you plan on creating excitement for your students’ writer’s notebooks? Please share your ideas in the comments!
Some great resources to breathe life into writer’s notebooks:
- Notebook Know-How by Aimee Buckner
- A Writer’s Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You by Ralph Fletcher
- “Brave” by Sara Bareilles to inspire courageous writing!