Skip to content

Entry Points to Get Students Writing in Their Writer’s Notebook: Our Favorite Things

This past March, my daughter and I began keeping an interactive journal together. Initially, I didn’t think she’d write in it for more than a day or two. However, we filled the pages of the journal in a few months. While there was some structure to each of the mother-daughter journal pages, it was the first time I saw my daughter motivated to write in a notebook. 

Children have to see the meaning and value behind a writer’s notebook if it’s going to be used as more than just a workbench to try out the strategies their teacher presents in a minilesson. Writer’s notebooks need to also be a playground! There’s no better time than the first six weeks of the school year to help kids find the joy in keeping a writer’s notebook.

ARTIFACTS AND PHOTOS: Writers gather artifacts or use photographs to help them craft writing in their notebooks. Doing this helps them jog their memory about something in the past that could lead to an interesting piece of writing. They use their artifact or photo to tell a story as oral rehearsal for writing the story. They include artifacts and photos in their notebooks to help them create more writing.

If students come in without artifacts or photos, you can encourage them to sketch their items or doodle out the photo in their mind’s eye. Once they’ve sketched or doodled, they can begin writing about their sketched artifact or doodled photo.

You might choose to extend the artifacts component of this and have your students create memory boxes. Click here or here for more information about memory boxes.

Click here for ideas about using artifacts and photos to inspire writing. 

Mentor Text Tie-In: Wilfrid Gordon MacDonald Partridge by Mem Fox and Julie Vivas

LISTS: Writers create a variety of lists to help them keep track of things they want to explore in future writing. One way they do this is by starting a list of things they can write about in their notebook. This list (and any others a writer creates) can be added onto at any time, but it can also be referenced anytime the writer needs an idea to write about.

If students need help generating lists, you can suggest:

  • Ten Places I Loved
  • Ten Favorite Books
  • Ten Favorite Games
  • Ten Important Goals for the Future

The lists don’t need to be written in full sentences, but should include precise words that will make the list more useful in the future. 

Click here for a lesson on best/worst life events. 

Mentor Text Tie-In: Wallace’s Lists by Barbara Bottner, Gerald Kruglik, and Olof Landstrom 

MEMORY CHAINS: Writers use memories to create possibilities for writing. One way they do this is by creating a memory chain as an entry point and recording the first thing that pops into their mind. Memory chains can help writers find possibilities for poems, stories, and more. 

Click here to see examples of a memory chain, which is a list-like way to gather ideas about topics. 

Encourage students to draw quick sketches to support EAL students or striving writers. 

Mentor Text Tie-In: Blackout and Blizzard by John Rocco (to highlight an event) Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth and Chris K. Soentpiet (to highlight special people), and Up North at the Cabin by Marsha Wilson Chall and Steve Johnson (to highlight a special place)

NEIGHBORHOOD MAP: Writers think of special places and the stories related to those places. One way they do this is by creating a map of an important location or neighborhood they’ve lived in, listing memories related to that place, and then writing about one of those memories in detail. The neighborhood map can be enhanced with labels, speech bubbles, and lists of memories around one or several places on the map. Writers can always revisit their maps to look for new story ideas.

You might help striving writers focus on a portion of their neighborhood instead of the entire area.

Click here for a related writer’s notebook strategy, “Looking at Your Place,” by George Ella Lyon.  

Mentor Text Tie-In: Marshfield Dreams and Marshfield Memories by Ralph Fletcher

STRONG EMOTIONS: Writers can discover ideas for stories in unusual ways. One way they do this is by thinking about strong emotions (e.g., anger, embarrassment, fear, joy, upset). After students list times they felt these emotions, they can revisit their lists to help them write longer about these moments that led to these strong emotions. 

Click here for a strong emotions minilesson. 

Mentor Text Tie-In: Betty Goes Bananas by Steve Antony, Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall, Ruby Finds a Worry by Tom Percival, and The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld.

The above-mentioned ideas were adapted from Jump Into Writing: A Workshop Approach Teacher Guide, Grade 4 Launching Unit, by Stacey Shubitz and Lynne R. Dorfman, 2021.

WRITING TERRITORIES AND HEART MAPS: Before you even get kids writing, you might take some time to have them create heart maps or writing territories so they can identify people, places, things, and events that are important to them. 

Writing territory and heart maps can be revisited any time you begin a new unit of study and students need help thinking about something to write about.

Click here to learn more about writing territory maps. 

Click here to access a bunch of posts about heart maps. 

Mentor Text Tie-In: My Map Book by Sara Fanelli. While Heart Maps: Helping Students Create and Craft Authentic Writing by Georgia Heard is a professional text for teachers, it contains beautiful examples of heart maps you can show to students.


There are many ways to invite students into writing about their lives. For more ideas, here are some additional resources:

Books/Videos

We’ve written a lot about writer’s notebooks on TWT. Here are some highlights:


Writer’s notebooks are a place where kids begin to live like writers. They’re a place where students collect ideas for their writing. They’re a spot where students try out strategies and nurture pieces they’re going to develop. However, writer’s notebooks are not a place where drafts are housed. Rather, drafts get written outside of the notebook — on lined paper or in a Google Doc — so that they live in a separate space where they can be revised and edited with ease.

Giveaway Information

Many thanks to Heinemann Publishers who is donating a copy of ONE of the Classroom Essentials books (i.e., winner’s choice).  

For a chance to win this copy of one of these books, please leave a comment about this or any blog post in this blog series by Saturday, August 7th at 6:00 p.m. EDT. Amy Ellerman will use a random number generator to pick the winner’s commenter number. Their name will be announced in the ICYMI blog post for this series on Sunday, August 8th.

Please leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment so Amy can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, our contact at Heinemann will ship the book to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.) You must have a U.S.A. mailing address—Sorry, no FPOs—to win a print copy of the book of your choosing. If you have an international mailing address, then you will receive an electronic copy.

If you are the winner of the book, Amy will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS—FAVORITE THINGS. 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.

Stacey Shubitz View All

Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.

26 thoughts on “Entry Points to Get Students Writing in Their Writer’s Notebook: Our Favorite Things Leave a comment

  1. There are so many ideas here. I use some of these notebook ideas, but you go deeper. I also appreciate the mentor texts and all of the resources you provided. I took tons of notes. I am also inspired to go work in my own notebook!

    Like

  2. I love the reminder that the writer’s notebook should be a place of play, joy, experimentation, and purpose! There can be no better way than to elicit authentic writing than by giving students an authentic writer’s notebook. Thanks for all of these resources.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for the wealth of ideas! This post provides entry points for students and for teachers! I would add The Memory String by Eve Bunting as a mentor text for memory chains. I know I will always encounter great ideas with Two Writing Teachers.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What a wealth of ideas you have packed into a single post! My mind is swirling with thoughts for my own writing too. I would include The Memory String by Eve Bunting as a mentor text for memory chain ideas. Thank you for the writing boost!

    Like

  5. Wow! So many amazing ideas, strategies, mentor texts, lessons and links to learn more!! This post has me so excited to launch writing workshop and help my students get into their writer’s notebooks. Thank you so much!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I just shared this post with my graduate students! It is this type of info that helps all of us feel like we have a bank of go-to strategies that work when we are feeling like we need a little inspiration. This week has been full of really solid approaches to getting the school year started off strong. Thank you!!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I can’t decide whether to bless you for all these wonderful ideas and related links, or to curse you for throwing off my entire time line this morning as I clicked and read and pondered. What a great post!! (I’d write more, but I’m running late for an appointment now! Wonder why? lol)

    Like

  8. Workbench and playground — both of these terms will be an important visual and reminder for the intention of the writer’s notebook. All of the ideas shared in this post are essential ways to engage the students and support them in their journey of seeing themselves as an author.

    Liked by 1 person

%d bloggers like this: