idea notebooks · kindergarten · primary grades · writing workshop

The Idea Book: A Tool To Help Kids Live Like Writers

Children are collectors.

Collectors of souvenirs — shells from the beach, sparkly rocks, leaves and sticks from the park. Collectors of living things — bugs, tadpoles, minnows, flowers. Collectors of sets — Shopkins, Beanie Babies, Legos, Pokemon cards. Collectors of found objects — keys, buttons, anything that’s shiny. Then there are kids who collect everything — caps, drawings, string.

Children collect treasures.

Ideas for writing, on the other hand, aren’t so easy for kids to collect.

  • Ideas aren’t tangible, which we know our little ones need.
  • Idea generation is a cognitive process, so kids don’t hear it unless we voice it.
  • More emphasis is typically placed on retrieving ideas. If we don’t devote time to storing ideas, it can be difficult for kids to pull experiences from memory.

By the time kids get to third grade and get their first writer’s notebook, they are expected to collect seeds for writing independently. The notebook becomes a tool for living a writerly life.

What can we do in primary grades–bedrock of a writer’s life–to help young writers view their experiences as full of treasures to collect, treasures worth writing about?  

To propel kids towards independence with anything, they need lots and lots of guided practice. This is why shared literacy experiences often give us the biggest “bang for our buck” in balanced literacy.

We can construct a shared experience of being idea collectors. We can demonstrate how when writers close our folders for the day, we don’t put away our “writer’s eyes” and “writer’s minds.” Writing lives in every waking moment (and even in our dreams) because the world is constantly offering us opportunities to write.

Together, with kids, we can:

  • Make ideas tangible.
  • Voice the idea collection and generation process each day.
  • Support the entire memory process to ease retrieval.

We can do each of these things, and much, much more, in a Class Idea Book.

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Writers, I brought something really special to show you. You’ll have to lean in close to see it because it’s so little that it fits inside my pocket.

I pulled my collection from my pocket and slowly opened my hands.

“BUTTONS!” my kindergartners exclaimed, many touching the buttons on their clothes.

These are buttons, but they aren’t just any old buttons. This is my button collection. I look for buttons everywhere I go, but I don’t keep every one I find. When I see a button that is really, really special, I add it to my button box, I collect it.

If you have a collection too, whisper it into your hands. Now whisper it to a friend.

Well, writers, you might think it’s kind of funny that we’re talking about collections at writing time, but writers are collectors too. Writers collect ideas, and that’s really tricky work, because ideas can’t fit in our pockets, we can’t touch them at all! The way writers collect ideas is by looking all around them and thinking, “Is this something I can write about?”

Let’s try it together right now! Look all around our classroom with someone close to you right now, and see if you can collect, or find and keep, any ideas, by thinking “Is this something I can write about?”

(Kids walked around the room excitedly, showing the number of ideas they collected by holding fingers above their head. I voiced over a couple of examples from partnerships and made quick sketches of ideas kids came up with.)

I’m hearing one partnership say that we can teach people about our class plant, and all the things it needs. Another partnership just said we could write stories about the performances on the block center stage you built.

(The class gathered back at the rug and we generated a list of their ideas. While doing this, , we named categories for where the ideas came from, creating a chart to live inside our idea book.)


There are SO many ideas for books all around us! The tricky thing about ideas, is sometimes we forget them. So writers have a special tool, called an Idea Notebook, where they write their ideas right away. When writers are ready to write, they use their idea notebook to remember all of their ideas. I was thinking it would be pretty cool to start a class idea notebook. We could start it right now, by adding the ideas you and your partner came up with.

Making Ideas Tangible

  • The idea book will help transform ideas from abstract (in our head) to concrete (on paper). Co-constructed experiences with the idea book will support this, and double as a dose of shared writing or interactive writing for the class or a small group.
  • Writers who find it challenging to generate ideas can use the book as a tool during independent writing, and can even keep a personal idea book in their folders that they add to at home and at school.
  • During the start of a new genre study, we can generate ideas by reading the idea book and thinking about how to write about each idea with the lens of the genre.

Voicing Idea Collection and Generation

  • For the first few weeks, model collecting ideas aloud throughout the day: “I’m collecting an idea right now, are you? You made such big splashes in the puddles that your pants got wet! I’m thinking we can write about this. I’m going to take a picture so we can add it to our book.”
  • Soon, kids will grow ownership“Friends, Aina collected a new idea for our book! Aina noticed the sand castle you made in the sand table and thought, ‘We can write about this!’ Aina is going to work with friends at the sand table to record this idea in our book.
  • We can also practice retrieving ideas: “We didn’t add any ideas to our book today. Before we leave, let’s name things that have happened today and see if we can come up with an idea together.” 

Supporting the Entire Memory Process

Memory is encoded three ways:


Help kids transfer an idea in their mind to paper by closing their eyes and picturing the moment. Record sketches and labels of important details (not everything) on paper: who, what, where, how (feelings). Photographs and videos can help with this.


Include any talking and important sounds (ex. CRASH!) when recording an idea. As the class records the idea, practice oral rehearsal, saying the important details together before and while adding the idea to the book.


Ideas in the class book should come from shared experiences that will be meaningful to all. If only part of the class experienced the idea, one way to make a moment memorable for the rest of the class is through oral storytelling (have the kids involved help tell the story!).

To aide the memory process, read the idea book every week or two as a shared reading warm-up. You can say, “Do you remember when this happened? Let’s tell that story now.” or “Do you remember what you thought you could teach people about this idea? How would that teaching go?”

A Peek Inside The Idea Book, by K-313



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Our idea book has just begun, but it is already treasured, as are the ideas collected inside. To make an idea book, get a large sketchbook (ours is 12″x18″) with medium weight paper. Tape a large sheet of construction paper over the cover so that the class can add a title.

Happy collecting! How do you help writers collect ideas?


  • This giveaway is for a free 20-minute classroom Skype session with author Amy Ludwig VanDerwater whose popular blog Sharing Our Notebooks is an excellent resource for notebookers of all ages and interests.For Stacey
  • For a chance to win this Skype session with Amy, please leave a comment about this or any blog post in this blog series by Sunday, November 11th at 6:00 p.m. EST. Betsy Hubbard will use a random number generator to pick the winner’s commenter number. His/her name will be announced in the ICYMI blog post for this series on Monday, November 12th.
  • Please leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment so Betsy can link you up with Amy if you win.
  • If you are the winner of the Skype session, Betsy will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – AMY LV. Please respond to her e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. A new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.

9 thoughts on “The Idea Book: A Tool To Help Kids Live Like Writers

  1. Although I coach in K-5 classrooms, I taught 4th, 5th and 7th grade, so I struggled with where primary students could collect their writing ideas. Wanting to keep learning visible, I have suggested using a large heart map for the class, but this idea book is great. Thanks for the tip!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The Idea Book is brilliant! Ideas are always there but it is the writers job to harness them in pictures and words. We need to teach into that work and the ideas here will guide teachers and students as they harness ideas together! Thanks for sharing!


  3. We’ve been working on a writerly life/good writing habits mini unit. This is just what we needed to keep it going in 1st grade. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is exactly what my class needs! My teammate and I were just talking about how students are struggling to find ideas. I especially like your suggestion for oral rehearsing. I plan to implement this with some time for storytelling as a morning meeting activity.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I appreciate this idea. My class of first graders has been struggling to “find” ideas to write about. I am looking forward to trying a class idea book. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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