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.
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:
- A Writer’s Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You by Ralph Fletcher
- Joy Write: Cultivating High-Impact Low-Stakes Writing by Ralph Fletcher
- “Keeping a Notebook Writing Chats” by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
- Notebook Know How: Strategies for the Writer’s Notebook by Aimee Buckner
We’ve written a lot about writer’s notebooks on TWT. Here are some highlights:
- Are you wondering what a writer’s notebook should look like at your grade level? Click here to learn about differentiating the writer’s notebook for every stage, K-8.
- Notebooks as a Writer’s Tool Blog Series
- Writer’s Notebook Category Search — This is for anyone who wants to do a DEEP dive into all of our previous writer’s notebook posts.
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.
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.
I am a literacy consultant who focuses on writing workshop. I've been working with K-6 teachers and students since 2009. Prior to that, I was a fourth and fifth-grade teacher in New York City and Rhode Island.
I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).
I live in Central Pennsylvania with my husband and children. In my free time, I enjoy swimming, doing Pilates, cooking, baking, making ice cream, and reading novels.