A Writing Greenbelt + a Giveaway

I am using two of Ralph Fletcher’s books (i.e., A Writer’s Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You and Writing Workshop: The Essential Guide) with my graduate students this semester. My students finished A Writer’s Notebook last week and began sharing their own writer’s notebook entries on our course wiki. In addition to sharing their writing, I asked my students to:

[S]hare some thoughts about your teaching and experiences with writer’s notebooks. Type these thoughts into the “Comments” box at the bottom of your wiki page. Do you use writers’ notebooks with your students? If so, how do you use them? Were the exploratory prompts you used this week different from prompts you use (or used in the past as a teacher or student)? Explain. Did this activity raise any questions for you? If so, don’t hesitate to ask them. Where appropriate, refer to specific pages and excerpts from Fletcher’s book A Writer’s Notebook to support your answers.

A handful of my students had experience with writer’s notebooks. However, the majority of them have more experience with journals and prompt writing. Some of my students said they had little time for writer’s notebooks due to the demands put on them by state testing, the way their district has interpreted the Common Core State Standards, etc. As a result, I found myself recommending — over and over again — Ralph Fletcher’s new book, Joy Write: Cultivating High-Impact, Low-Stakes Writing, which debuts today.

Greenbelt writing is raw, unmanicured, and uncurated. In other words, it’s the kind of informal, low-stakes writing kids are comfortable composing, but rarely get the chance to do in many writing workshops. Ralph wants kids to get back to powerful writing that is personal, passionate, joyful, whimsical, playful, infused with choice, humor, and voice, and reflective of the quirkiness of childhood. The whole idea behind greenbelt writing is to infuse energy into students; to spark, engage, and help kids gain their stride as writers.

In part one of the book, Ralph reminds us that writing workshop is “both elegant and stunningly simple” (4). He reminds us that writing workshop works when kids have choice, they’re engaged, have a sense of ownership, a real audience, and have teachers who value invention, originality, and voice (5) However, a lot of “stuff” has been added to writing workshop in the past decade or so and therefore, in many places, it has lots “its spark and sizzle” (7). [There are the demands of the Common Core State Standards and an increasing reliance on programmatic instruction, rubrics, and anchor texts (30).] Through the years, student ownership has been missing from many writing classrooms. Therefore, it is key to find ways to engage students in writing workshop, which will breathe new life into it. Ralph asserts that play attitudes, like having abundant time, an open heart, flexible thinking, an expectation of pleasure (30), are essential to helping kids love to write.

In part two of the book, Ralph shows us how greenbelt/feral writing will make a difference to students in ways that will help them “develop into passionate, capable writers” (70). Ralph asserts that the writing workshop has become more domesticated and therefore students are actively searching for opportunities that allow them to “(re)discover the raw, untamed power of writing” (63). Some of those ideas include: The Classroom Slice of Life Story Challenge, a classroom notebook, wonder notebooks, class blogs, Poetry Fridays, writer’s notebooks, spy notebooks, independent writing projects (sometimes referred to as backup work), and opportunities to write in service of figuring things out. [By the way, Ralph argues that greenbelt writing should be 75% of all the writing kids do in school (77).] Anyone who needs new ideas to reinvigorate their students’ love of writing, will find a buffet of ideas in part two of Joy Write.

Chapter ten talks about reluctant writers, which all of us deal with  as writing teachers. In that chapter, Ralph suggests giving reluctant writers more freedom and less structure. For anyone that’s worked with a reluctant writer, this may come as a surprise since too often teachers try to help reluctant writers by handing them graphic organizers or focusing on their conventions. Instead, Ralph encourages teachers to give reluctant writers more opportunities to free-write, journal, write in their favorite genre, or engage in collaborative writing (85-86).

Ralph concludes Joy Write by stating:

A writing greenbelt plays the same important role in the classroom. It opens the window and lets in a wave of fresh air — something that’s sorely missing in too many writing classrooms. A writing greenbelt creates an environment where young writers can flourish, have fun, produce both quantity andquality, and discover for themselves the myriad pleasures of writing (98).

I’ve been working in education — first as a classroom teacher, now as a literacy consultant and adjunct professor — for almost 15 years. Now, more than ever, I see a need for a book like Joy Write. If you’re noticing diminished joy around writing, then you need to get your hands on a copy of Joy Write right now. Read it this weekend… or over your spring break. Don’t wait until summer vacation to get your hands on this book! Honestly, Ralph will show you how to give your students what they need right now. And if right now matters just as much to you as preparing them for next year, then it is imperative for you to read Joy Write.


  • This giveaway is for a copy of Joy Write: Cultivating High-Impact, Low-Stakes Writing. Many thanks to Heinemann for donating a copy for one reader.
  • For a chance to win this copy of Joy Write: Cultivating High-Impact, Low-Stakes Writing, please leave a comment about this post by Saturday, April 15th at 11:59 p.m. EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Monday, April 17th.
  • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.  From there, my contact at Heinemann will ship your book out to you.  (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
  • If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – JOY WRITE. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.

Comments are now closed.

Congratulations to Tracy Mitchell whose commenter number was selected with the random number generator. Here’s what she had to say:

Like most I too am strapped for time. My students enjoy writing. They actually get excited. Which is refreshing. I use our notebooks for a variety of things, brainstorming ideas, free writes, we will use for parts of writing mini-lessons. I do that just so all of it is right there together for reference purposes. I don’t look at their spelling or grammatical errors. I spend most of our time focusing on elaborating and generating ideas. I’m sure I don’t use writing notebooks the way others do. I would love to use Ralph Fletcher’s ideas with my students.