Notebooks provide a safe space for students to document their thoughts, dreams, and growing knowledge of the world around them without the anxiety of producing a perfect piece of work. Inside the pages of a writer’s notebook, students are free to play with written language, doodle, try out bold writing moves, and experiment with a variety of beginnings, endings, and all the parts in between. The child is the sole audience of the notebook entries until the point he/she decides to move an idea through the drafting process. “Ownership of authorship” is a critical component to the success of this important workshop tool. Additionally, the frequency of entries in the notebook cannot be understated as daily practice living the writer life supports the development of writing. Notebooks are a necessary and integral part of the Writing Workshop!
Personalizing the Writer’s Notebook
Whether the notebook is a handful of notebook paper stapled between two sheets of construction paper, a composition book, or a fancy journal students purchase on their own, the main consideration is that students have ready access to their notebooks on a daily basis to make entries that are uniquely their own. One surefire way to enhance ownership of the notebooks is to allow students to personalize them. There is no one best way to do this – let students’ creativity soar! If you have a bundle of old magazines, students can select pictures, words, and phrases to glue on the notebook covers. You can ask students to bring in special photographs and two-dimensional mementoes from home (send a letter home to parents ahead of time) to decorate the notebooks. How about using technology to accomplish this task? One terrific online tool for the creation of a customized collage is http://www.collage.com/. Here, children can easily locate desired images (from approved websites) or upload photographs and produce a one-of-a-kind work of art. Regardless of which process is used, be sure to “laminate” the notebook covers with packing tape or clear contact paper for durability – a terrific project for parent volunteers!
For some children, notebooks may be a new addition to the Writing Workshop. Scaffold their understanding by sharing a few trade books featuring notebook entries to give children ideas for the many and varied ways to use their notebooks. Some titles to consider are Amelia’s Notebook (Simon & Schuster), Max’s Log Book (Scholastic), and Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Amulet).
It is helpful to decide ahead of time how notebooks will be organized and designate sections accordingly. For example, you may want students to leave space at the front of the notebook to allow for the creation of a Table of Contents or to serve as a place for housing collected phrases and snippets of conversations to inspire future writing endeavors. Pages at the back of the notebook may be reserved for helpful writing tips or lists of potential topics. Of course, the majority of the notebook is for students to WRITE. They need lots and lots of blank pages to try out new writing moves in response to mini-lessons, conduct quick writes, sketch ideas, experiment with poetry, brainstorm, create mind maps, and all of the many ways in which authors practice their craft in the pages of a notebook.
Strategies to Generate Notebook Ideas
Once your students understand the purpose of a writer’s notebook, have their notebooks personalized and organized, they are ready to begin the important work of growing as writers! Published texts (of all kinds – think beyond books!) are the typical “go to” for sharing interesting text structures and “ways with words”, but don’t overlook the gems found in student writing samples and your own notebook entries. In addition to mentor texts, support students in finding their own ideas and writing voice by inviting them to try some of the following strategies:
- Generate Lists – things that are funny, scary, silly, sad and why they make you feel that way
- Create Webs and Mind Maps – center on a special event, place, person, imaginary travel, etc. and write down every associated detail that comes to mind
- Write around Artifacts – ask children to bring in a photograph or souvenir from home and record the memories that surrounds it (the artifact should remain at the point of writing in the notebook – an envelope can be taped to the page for storage, if desired)
Guest post by Debbie Linville
Biography: Dr. Linville has been teaching for over 30 years and her passion is enabling educators to promote the proficient, joyful reading and writing lives of children.