Notebooks: Starting with What Matters Most

Before summer began, we at Two Writing Teachers planned this blog series, and I blithely volunteered to write a post about the value of notebooks in writing workshop.

Notebooks. What was I thinking?! So much has been written about them. I started rereading, and ran out of time…A single post, I realized, would barely scratch the surface. I realized something else too, and that is that notebooks are so important that we needed to time to think about them here in the context of starting with what matters most.


Some of my favorite books with information about writer’s notebooks.


As writers and teachers of writers, there are a few things we know for sure about notebooks. Notebooks matter. Writers keep notebooks. Beyond that, there is much to ponder. We need to determine for ourselves  and in our classrooms the what, the how and the why.

You and your students will undoubtedly experience satisfaction, surprise, frustration, and pride as notebook keepers. There are unknowns regarding the role notebooks will play in your classroom workshop. There are also some questions and ideas we can explore together before the start of the school year. Doing that will help us create our plan not just for how to launch the writer’s notebook but also for how to nurture the notebook work as the school year unfolds.

Notebooks matter:

Before we can introduce notebooks to our students we have to know why they matter.

Why do writers have notebooks?

We have notebooks because they help us to live and work as writers in an authentic way.

  • Notebooks are a place for collecting and storing ideas, seeds, and snippets. They serve an invaluable role as a place for quickly jotting things we want to hold onto and revisit as writers.
  • Notebooks are a place where writers make choices.
  • Notebooks are a safe space to experiment. Notebooks, as Melanie described them “are a playground for writers.” Writers can hold them in their hands, choose what to put where, in what color.
  • Notebook pages can be revisited, reread, added to, and flagged with sticky notes.  

Notebook matters:

And then there are the logistics to consider.

Who will use notebooks?

Generally, writer’s notebooks work best in third grade classrooms and beyond. While I have seem them used in classrooms with younger writers, notebooks can be difficult for them to manage and can feel overwhelming. If you’re inclined to try using notebooks with primary grade students, consider  “tiny topics” notebooks. Find small spiral bound notebooks and invite young writers to use them to jot down ideas and make quick sketches.

How will you introduce notebooks to your writers?

It’s been said before but it bears repeating. Build excitement for notebooks. Begin talking about writer’s notebooks in the early days, and make them part of the workshop from the start. Take time to allow students to personalize their notebooks. Share your own notebook so your writers begin to form a vision for the possibilities. And if you don’t have one, now’s a perfect time to start a notebook. You will gain credibility with the writers in your classroom and make discoveries that will enrich your teaching about notebooks.


My current notebooks

What will go in the notebook?

  • Will students brainstorm in the notebook?  Create lists and webs?
  • Will they experiment with craft moves there?  
  • Will it be a place to store tips from mini lessons?
  • A spot for quick writes?
  • Will it be formally organized and divided into sections? If so what will those sections be called?

You’ll want to consider what kinds of writing your students will do in their notebooks.  And I hope you’ll consider carefully the drawbacks of drafting in notebooks before you ask writers to do that. 

Determining the how, what and why of notebooks will be a journey for you and your students. The good news is there are lots of resources you can consult (see below) but very few absolutes. As Kate Messner says in 59 Reasons to Write,

“There are some very strict rules for having a writer’s notebook. Here they are: Rule 1: Write in it. Rule 2: There are no other rules.”

Let’s keep in touch about our notebook journeys this school year.


A few of my favorite resources:

 A Writer’s Notebook by Ralph Fletcher

Notebook Know How by Aimee Buckner

Day by Day by Ruth Ayres and Stacey Shubitz

59 Reasons to Write by Kate Messner



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Starting with What Matters Most in Writing Workshop