Have you ever wondered how to get kids writing every day without fielding a daily chorus of collective groans? Keeping a writer’s notebook, also known as a writing journal, is a simple and effective way to do so.
It sounds a bit romantic, I know. It alludes to the creation of a weathered leather-bound collection of notes and scribbles you’d expect to find in the silent and isolated wooden cabin of a reclusive author. And in a sense, it is that romantic… Except that your authors are noisy, pre-pubescent and living a far more communal than reclusive life!
With this reality in mind, we’ve created an awesome framework to get you started on transforming your students into confident writers through the creation of their own treasured writer’s notebook.
What is a Writer’s Notebook?
It’s a Place
Why am I keeping this notebook?
Because it’s a place where I
can keep track of my life.
It’s a place where I can observe closely
And where I can store
little pieces of strength.
It’s a place where I can keep
the elements of Life
(lightning, fire, ice, time and space)
(poetry, words, eyes).
It’s a place where tales weave.
All in all
it’s a place for ME.
The concept of a writer’s notebook is a simple one.
- All your students need is a blank notebook and a pencil or pen.
- Students write or draw in their notebook, for at least a few minutes each and every day.
- A writer’s notebook is never graded. It is simply an activity that encourages writing practice and nurtures creativity.
- A writer’s notebook removes the pressure of “getting it right”.
How to Use a Writer’s Notebook in the Classroom
Make a habit of spending time ‘in’ your writer’s notebook each and every day.
In the same way you dedicate time to sustained silent reading in order to create confident readers, dedicating sustained silent writing time will create confident writers.
If creating a writer’s notebook is new to you as a teacher, you will find great benefit in starting your own notebook too. Complete the activities that your students do, share your writing with them, your successes and mistakes! You’ll also be creating a fantastic example resource along the way.
Setting Up a Writer’s Notebook Daily Routine
- Each student needs their own notebook. If you can, let them choose if they’d prefer a lined notebook, or a blank visual diary style book like we’ve used in our photos.
- Allow students to create a cover for their notebook, or you can provide them with this Writer’s Notebook Cover Page, which they can decorate.
- Introduce the concept to your class, ensuring they understand the notebook will not be graded, but will instead be used daily as a place for them to play with ideas and words. This wonderful Writer’s Notebook Poem by Ralph Fletcher is great to stick in the front of their notebooks as a reminder of the book’s purpose.
- Dedicate at least 5 minutes every day to your student’s writers notebooks providing specific activities (see suggestions below!) or allowing free writing time.
Don’t use ‘Writer’s Notebook Time’ as a fast-finisher activity or a reward!
The value and benefits of class time spent on a writer’s notebook is that students of all ability levels (and all behavioral traits!) have the opportunity to find their own writing confidence.
Writer’s Notebook Activity Ideas
A daily writing activity for your students’ writer’s notebook can be anything! Well, not literally anything – students can’t go for a run for ten minutes instead of writing, but you may allow them to run around the playground for two minutes and then spend eight minutes writing about their body’s experience before, during, and after their run…
The key to making this new daily routine a success is to mix up the kinds of activities you encourage students to do. Eventually, you want them to be confident enough that they will be happy to write, draw, or create on a whim. This is when they will begin to experience a mastery of writing and creativity.
Here are some different activities you could do for daily writer’s notebook practice.
When first starting a writer’s notebook for students, you may like to download and laminate these Journal Writing Prompt Cards to use either with your whole class or to help individual students who are feeling a bit ‘stuck’.
Another amazing and FUN writer’s notebook activity is to use our free Visual Writing Prompts widget. Simply project this for your entire classroom to see and spin to generate a random image with writing prompts and activity suggestions below.
Alternatively, individuals or small groups of students could visit the Visual Writing Prompts widget on a tablet to generate their own writing prompt.
“Priming the Pump”
Educational consultant and writer JoAnn Portalupi (via the National Council of Teachers of English), has these fantastic suggestions for framing writer’s notebook activities:
- Capture what is important. Encourage students to write about their experiences, feelings, and emotions.
- Describe your world. Using the five senses as a framework for writing helps to add depth and complexity to student writing. Challenge students to look at their desk or think about their bedroom, and write about how it looks, sounds, feels, tastes, and smells!
- Include drawings or sketches. Don’t feel limited to writing. A writer’s notebook can include thoughts and ideas expressed in any way. The practice is to stop the kind of self-censoring that comes from feeling as though something ‘should’ be done a certain way.
- Write to a specific audience. Portalupi suggests kids think about something they’ve been wanting to tell someone and write it in letter form.
- Be inspired by bits and pieces. Add that arty, weathered look by encouraging students to include artifacts from nature and their life. Leaves, pamphlets, ticket stubs, photos, flowers – press them flat and stick them in!
- Make an anchor chart. Each day that you find a new way to use a writer’s notebook, make a record of it on an anchor chart or display board for future inspiration!
- Write, share, and write again! Encourage students to share their work, reading aloud in pairs, small groups, or to the class. Listening to what others have created from the same activity or stimulus is so wonderful for inspiration, discussion, and fun!
From Writer’s Notebook to Polished Piece
Students can take inspiration from their writer’s notebook to create polished pieces for specific units or assessment tasks. The distinguished teacher, Bev Gallagher of Princeton Junior School, suggests following these four steps:
- Word Work – the unstructured, free-flowing work generated in a writer’s notebook.
- Moving to Paper – copying words or a section of writing from the notebook onto a clean piece of paper to play with form, word-choice, and structure.
- Revising/Editing – marking edits and changes onto the paper draft to help the piece evolve.
- Final Form – the final presentation of the piece, handwritten or printed, on paper or electronically, chosen through the author’s careful selection.
There really are so many benefits to making a writer’s notebook a non-negotiable part of your daily routine. Even if it is just for 3-5 minutes each day, encouraging your students to write unbounded by a goal, strengthens the creative and cognitive muscles they need to become confident writers.