Paper Choices: What’s up with that?

I’ll be honest, the best thing about the start of the new school year is the school supplies. There’s nothing like the combo-smell of  new backpack, pencils, erasers, and paper. Ah.

I think it’s safe to say that many avid writers have a strong affinity for school supplies (or office supplies if you prefer). Pens, pencils, notebooks, paper, staplers. This stuff is really important to you if you spend a lot of time writing!

That’s just one of the reasons why the paper choices we offer to our youngest writers can make a really huge difference. It’s part engagement and joy. The feel of a new booklet of paper can be energizing for a kid who is about to start writing a story.

The paper choices we offer young students can also provide an enormous amount of support for their writing.

Consider paper that contains just a space for drawing, no lines:

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This is paper that is perfect for an emergent writer. Lots of space for drawing a detailed picture and adding labels as best you can. Single sheets of this paper can be stapled together to create a book all about one thing.

Once kids are starting to write more and more “words” (even if those words are only able to be read by the student herself and her teacher), they benefit from having paper like this, clearly suggesting a space for drawing, and a space for writing. The paper itself coaches the student to do both. The child sees the line, and thinks, “Oh yeah! I could write words!”

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As kids write more and more and MORE words, more lines are needed

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And more

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Additionally, as kids begin to plan their stories ahead – touching each page to say what will go there, the space for drawing becomes a space where they can quickly sketch, then go back and write the words after. The drawings are an outline, and important tool for planning as a writer. And if the booklets are stapled ahead of time, then the young writer can grab a booklet, and the pages are already there to support thinking about the next part of the story.

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As the start of your school year gets underway, you may want to teach a minilesson where you demonstrate how to choose paper for writing workshop that is “just right.” I often say that choosing paper is like trying on clothes. You want to leave a little room to grow. So, if you are already filling all the lines in one type of paper, move up a size. It’s good to leave a little room at the end of the page so that when you revise, you’ll have some space for adding and making changes.

A few considerations for offering paper choices:

  1. Set up your writing center so that each paper choice is clearly labeled, and “kid proofed” so that students can get paper all by themselves. (You’ll need to explicilty demonstrate how to get up from their writing spot, go to the writing center, and return, perhaps in a mid-workshop interruption. Probably not an entire minilesson.).
  2. Try offering loose sheets of paper if your students haven’t made books of their own before, and teach students how to staple the booklets themselves. Kids LOVE to staple and this adds an element of “maker-space” to your writing workshop. Once they’ve become accustomed to making books, you can offer the option of prestapled booklets to save time and get more writing done.
  3. Consider pens versus pencils, as well as the pros and cons of thin colored markers to launch your year, or to add a little boost of engagement when things seem to be dragging.
  4. Consider various colors of paper, and adding an option for kids to create their own paper to suit the needs of the type of writing they are creating.

Happy New School Year! Enjoy those new school supplies!