A Peek Into My Evolving Chartbook

At this point in my coaching life, I have filled several notebooks with charts I use in classrooms for teaching writing to various grade levels. These notebooks are my favorite teaching tools– I use them as I’m working with teachers if I want to show them how a lesson could go, and I use them with students if I’m conferring or running a small group. I also use them to remember lessons and ideas, as sometimes in this crazy life of spinning many plates, great lessons can be forgotten!

Because my chartbooks have become such integral tools in my teaching life, I have developed some strategies for selecting them, organizing them, and creating the tools I use within them. Although pricey, my favorite chartbook is developed from a Canson Universal Sketchpad.

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I can buy them at Michaels, and when I use a coupon and wait for a sale, I can get them for about $10 each. I like these notebooks because of the sturdy cover, the thick paper, the slightly larger size than computer paper, and the reliable wire binding. My favorite size is 9*12 because it’s big enough to fit computer paper into it–if I make a great chart on a sheet of paper that I don’t want to copy into the chartbook, I can just tape it into the book.

I use tabs to organize my notebooks by genre and/or topic.

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For me, I break up the genres by grade levels as well as genres, but for classroom teachers who are starting a chartbook, I recommend the following categories:

  • narrative
  • information
  • opinion/argument
  • fluency
  • conventions
  • behaviors
  • routines

My earlier notebooks did not include the last two sections, and I find now that I am using these pages constantly. They include lessons such as how to use partners effectively, how to find ideas, how to stay on task, and what tools we all have for independence. I also didn’t have as many lessons for fluency, but more and more, I find that striving writers lean on tools to help them link ideas and use words effectively. Strategy charts and ready-to-use examples help these students so much.

My latest notebook contains more and more sticky notes in it. Why? I was hoping you’d ask!

  1. Sticky notes allow me to pull them off and create an inquiry lesson. In this example, I can ask a small group of students what characteristics they think are important in freewriting. Additionally, because I have a couple different examples of freewrites that I’ve written to support these lessons, I can ask students to compare them, or I can tailor the one I choose to use based on what will engage the students in front of me. The choices add to the flexibility and repertoire of these pages.screen-shot-2017-02-13-at-11-01-51-am
  2. The sticky notes on the following pages contain examples of that I want students to know about the teaching point. There are times when I have only taught one category of fluency phrases at a time, and in those situations, I remove the other orange notes to the opposite side of the notebook. By removing them, I also create an experience of inquiry for students–I can give them a blank sticky note and ask students to think about what phrases might add information. Then, they are actually creating a tool they take away for themselves.

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3. Another way I’ve used sticky notes is to create specific examples of strategies within a teaching point. The chart below is one of my most frequently used in third and fourth-grade information writing classes, but I rarely use everything on the page at the same time. Instead, I might just teach a group of students the importance of breaking up a sentence and then how to do it. Frequently, the most powerful way to show students how to change their writing is to show them an example of what they tend to do that might not be the greatest writing–in this case a list of pizza types–and then a transferrable strategy for fixing it.

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4. Throughout my chartbook,  I keep blank sticky notes. That way, I can leave students with my book and a specific task to complete. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used this page when working with students in a narrative unit. I have them fill out their own beginning, middle, and end sticky notes, and then they are equipped with a skeleton of a plan for their own writing.

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I really can’t imagine working in classrooms without my chartbook, and I hope if you haven’t started using one, you try it out soon. Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good as you develop your tools and charts. I bet that in the not so distant future, it will become your most valuable teaching tool!