Writers Need Tools!
Writers use all kinds of tools. Within varying levels of experience, tools may change, evolve, or even disappear from a writer’s toolkit! Each year as I prepare, I think about what tools I want to introduce early on in the year. I also think about the placement of those tools within our classroom. I try to predict what I can do to maximize our time as writers, spending less time worrying about where tools live and more time on writing!
Today marks my second week of school and writers will be able to look forward to more tools coming their way, including individual toolkits, a peek at our future units of study, as well as the purposes behind the tools we use as writers.
Here is a look inside the tools I will be introducing to students this week and the way I set them up ahead of time. Even if you are already within the throes of your school year, it’s never too late to try a new tool.
Before I get started, I want to point out that the Writer’s Notebook is not listed. At Two Writing Teachers, we wrote a whole series on how a notebook is a writer’s tool, and for my students, the writer’s notebook is a tool for brainstorming, sacred writing, experimenting, active engagement exercises, and so much more. We cracked open our notebooks last week to launch our writing workshop time, and it will continue to be a meaningful tool that resides within our workshop. For today’s post, I will be focusing on some of the more basic tools my writers use and how I put them together. As always, soon after my writers get working with these tools, needs and ideas may change. I’m always open to what my students think might work better.
Binders or Folders?
Different teachers find different ways to store materials and create a welcoming environment for their writers. What I’m sharing here today is by no means a recipe for the perfect workshop, and I genuinely believe that a great teacher can make any tool work well. One tool I prefer to help my students keep their writing organized is a one-inch binder with at least one pocket on the inside for storage. Some teachers prefer folders, and as a kindergarten teacher, I did prefer the two pocket folder for student booklets.
I like to give students a preview of the different units we will work on throughout the school year. Using clear page protectors, we put these dividers with the name of our different units into our binders. After we tuck in some paper between each it also makes a place for potential pieces students may draft when we are in-between units and trying something new.
From there I like to provide a pencil pouch for some smaller tools like sticky notes, pens, and mini-charts. This is an item I ask parents to purchase but always have several on hand at the beginning of the year. Keeping the small parts of our toolkit all in one place makes them easily accessible.
Sticky notes can become a tool of greatness or a tool of torture, depending on how they are introduced to the writing environment. One tip I’ve learned over the years is dividing sticky notes into smaller stacks. A whole pack during the first weeks of school can disappear faster than the pencils you just sharpened. To curb the desire to unstick all the stickiness, I start with a block of sticky notes and don’t bother opening up all those individually wrapped packages until a bit later.
I divide the block into multiple tinier stacks folding the last sticky note over like this:
Then I write the word “back” on the folded note, so students know which side is which.
This helps me ease students into the use of sticky notes without risking an entire stack being taken apart before lunchtime.
The Writing Center
I have a small writing center set up on my counter with some basic extra supplies. I have a spot for black pens, color pens, and paper. As the year progresses I add items for student publishing, a set of plastic drawers with additional paper choices, as well as pockets on my cupboard doors to hold checklists and mini-charts I want to make available.
Everything in One Place
When all of these pieces come together in the binder, we are able to gradually talk about all the purposes each tool can have across the year. The image below has even more tools that I would introduce early. You can see how it all fits together and stays in one place.
I think it’s essential for students to have tools as writers, but it’s even more important that they know why they have these tools. I explain why I chose these as our first tools in our toolkit. The chart below gives a glimpse of what I suspect will be the conversation we have this week as we begin to use these tools in our writing workshop. This document can then grow with us as we grow our toolkits!
I hope you and your writers get off to a good start as you enter the world of tools, organization, and of course, creativity. As much as I try to set up all students for success by having everything at their fingertips, this doesn’t always work for every writer. I try to be flexible, listen, and encourage my writers to troubleshoot problems as they arise. I have found these individual toolkits to be helpful to a successful start.
What tools do you start off with at the beginning of the year?