Writers’ Notebooks are an essential piece in well-rounded writing programs. But, organizinging and using them appropriately is not intuitive. In fact, unless you use one yourself regularly, then it’s quite a difficult thing to teach.
I believe anyone teaching writing to students, regardless of the grade you teach, should be a writer in their own life in order to teach writing well. That’s a tall order in our busy lives, and for many teachers it may seem unrealistic. I get that. In fact, I’ve been there. But you really do write all the time. You just aren’t collecting it all into a notebook.
My mom has always kept a notebook near the phone. When I was little she told us to write in that every time we answered the phone and needed to take a message. My mom still uses it every time she’s on the phone, needs to make a list, write down a phone number… It was, and is, a chronicle of her days. When she started doing this, she was only trying to keep track of things. She was just trying to remember all the things that go with being a busy mom. When she needed to refer back to a phone conversation, it was there. Grocery list? There is was. That book she heard about on the radio as she was cooking? It’s in there.
It’s easy to spend 2 weeks collecting your writings - to do lists, grocery lists, quotes, planning, all these post-it notes you write on and discard… All of these things add value to your teaching by showing how you are constantly writing. Collect them all in a bin.
Do you keep a scrapbook? That can work. What about your traveler’s journal or your planner? Do you doodle and write notes to yourself? Do you save newspaper clippings, cards that touched you or tickets to events? What about pictures your kids or students have made for you that you’ve saved? Notes from a conference? Sketchnotes? A journal? Add all that. You might wind up with a lot of bits and parts that aren’t in one notebook, but they illustrate your writing life. Throw it into a box and use all of that! The point is you don’t have to go to a lot of effort to add in your writings to your teaching. You already have a treasure trove. You just need to collect it.
For each piece you assign to your students, write a something yourself. It doesn’t have to be fabulous or even the same as what they are writing about. It could be a quick poem, a list or a quote to go with the lesson. We need to share in the struggle that is writing in order to help our students become better writers.
A true writer’s notebook is not a journal or a diary. You might use it that way at times, but it’s much more than that. It’s a place to record, play and experiment with thoughts, styles and ideas for future writing projects. So while you are collecting your various writings to share, liberate your students to play with language, capture thoughts and ponder ideas for writing later on.
!. Start using a notebook yourself. Give it a go, be a writer. You might surprise yourself, and your own writing and notebooking will add authenticity to your teaching.
2. Number the pages + create a Table of Contents (I save 3 pages in the front for this.)
3. Pen loops, tabs or ribbons and rubber bands. Keeping a pen handy is helpful and are some form of tabs or bookmarks. A large rubber band around the notebook helps to keep all the bits and parts together as you transport your notebook here and there.
4. Become a collector. Collect writing in your notebook. Seal and cut envelopes in half. Paste them into your notebook as pockets to hold clippings and other writings.
5. Create a starter section for random ideas first. Leave some pages blank to add to it.
6. Don’t grade notebooks other than for usage. Quick flip to see that students are engaged in and use them. Model how to use notebooks as you write and think and share ideas.
7. Sketchnote, doodle and draw in addition to writing. Our minds often think in pictures better than words.
8. Play with ideas, language, and styles.
9. Create a reference section for style notes, GUM (Grammar, Usage and Mechanics), notes from mini lessons, learning and writers’ craft at the back. These are things to try out and refer back to.
10. Share select pieces from your notebook with your students in your teaching - whole class, small group and individual teaching. Take time each week for students to share and learn from each other as well.
As you can see from the picture above, I have shared a snippet from my notebook and a few of my favorite tools as well.