notebooks · personalization · writer's notebook

From the Outside In: Covering Writers’ Notebooks

The first group of students I introduced to writers’ notebooks have by now turned twenty-five.

How did that happen so fast? They are now as old as I was when I had them in my class.

I’ve been thinking a lot about writers’ notebooks lately.

How much does it surprise you that of all these thoughts, none have been about their contents?

It started when I realized I only have a few pages left in mine.

How much time do I have before I need a new notebook at the ready? 

When I saw a teacher friend a few weeks ago who smiled as she told me she’d sent her student teacher home over the weekend with a stack of notebooks to cover.

How long ago was it that I spent the tail-end of a Saturday workshop showing a group of teachers how to cover their notebooks as the school-year began? 

When, a few days ago, my teammate walked into my office holding two notebooks ready to be made over.

How is it possible that there is a shortage on composition books? So much so that our only options are shark or roller skate designs? No matter. 

Since that first time so many years ago, every notebook starts the same way, with a blank, college-ruled composition book, no matter the color or cover design from the store.

How can something so simple as narrow-ruled paper make it (and me) feel more grown-up!

Next comes the image. It could be a single image or collection cut from a stack of discarded magazines. Could be words or phrases, photos, printouts, or other flattened artifacts brought from home.

How long has it been since I got to listen to the buzz of kids not only hunting for their own custom covers, but getting to know each other well enough to offer images to the writer seated across the table?

Then it’s time to cover. Careful not to crinkle the surface, a full Con-Tact paper seal transforms any composition book—even one originally adorned with hot pink roller skates—into a writer’s sacred space.

How long will it be before this notebook rests on the shelf beside its seventeen years’ worth of companions. What will this cover say about the mood, the color, the beauty of my life in the entries that rest in between? 

A permanent cover ensures that this notebook will last. It means it won’t get lost like the others in a sea of school supplies in students’ (or teachers’) desks.

How many of those 25-year-old former students (or any of the classes I’ve had in between) have kept their writers’ notebooks? Better yet: Who still keeps a writer’s notebook?

It means it is less likely to end up in the trash at the end of a year.

How many notebooks did I rescue from this fate? Enough to line one side of a plastic crate I still cart with me to workshops. And in case you are wondering: Yes, I’ve kept them, even reunited one with its owner as a graduation present a few years back.

There is something about covering my writer’s notebook that stamps my identity as one who anticipates how the world will bring plenty to fill its pages if only I am open to it.

How do we send this same message to students? It can start by simply helping them make their notebooks their own. It can start before the pen even hits the first pages. It can start from the outside in.

7 thoughts on “From the Outside In: Covering Writers’ Notebooks

  1. I cover my students’ composition notebooks with black duct tape. Then, they have a clean slate to cover with images, paint pens and stickers. The duct tape also strengthens the cover. It has become a ritual in my house when I start covering the notebooks in the summer at home while watching TV. Everyone knows school is starting soon!

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  2. Never have I ever thought of covering a marble notebook with clear contact paper. It’s both simple and brilliant. It speaks to the idea that this notebook is different and worth saving. Thanks for the video so we can see how it’s done!

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  3. Several years ago one of my second graders gifted me his writer’s notebook at the end of the school year so I would always remember him. I kept it as he went through the grades, but eventually returned it to his parents. They were thrilled to receive it.

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