Ok, so what’s all this talk about notebooks in Writer’s Workshop? Well, actually, the use of notebooks follows along the line of what real writer’s do. They make entries into a notebook so they don’t forget the small stories happening in their lives and around them daily. Writer’s workshop uses this approach with students.
Students (in grades 3-5) all have a composition book to use as their Writer’s Notebook. In the beginning of the year, they decorate the cover with photos and anything else to personalize it to them. The notebook is used to make “entries”, the name used for the writing they do on a daily basis during independent writing time. The notebook is mostly used during the first two weeks of a unit of study. The last two weeks of the unit have the child working on notebook paper while drafting, revising, editing and publishing their one piece.
Notebooks are used to keep all sorts of entries written in all sorts of genre. A student might choose to write a poem, start a report of factual information, free-write on a touching moment or a special memory. Notebooks are also used to collect lists of special moments the child could write about. The students list moments related to a feeling. They might list 3 happy moments, 3 sad moments, 3 exciting moments, 5 things I cannot live without or 3 honest moments.
Notebooks can and should contain a full range of a student’s thinking. Special memories, things the student has an opinion on and things the student actively thinks and wonders about are all appropriately written about in the notebook. The notebook is the place for students to try out different kinds of writing and thinking.
Mini-lessons can be done to increase the student’s strategies for getting started in their notebook. You might create a list on chart paper that gets posted in the classroom. Students could even copy the list of strategies in their notebooks to refer to. Ideas can include writing about a special object, person, place, event, opinion, etc. Teach students to free write to increase their fluency in getting their thoughts and ideas down on paper.
Just as your students keep a notebook, you too should be keeping your own writer’s notebook. Develop your own writing along with your students. Most of us were never really taught well how to be a good writer. As you teach the craft of writing to your students, practice what you preach in your own notebook. Your students will love knowing you are a writer too and you will be inspiring to them.
I have read where it is a good idea to have the students write only on the right hand page in the notebook, leaving the back of the page (left side when notebook is open) empty. This allows some empty space for going back and expanding sections or applying a craft learned in a mini-lesson to excerpts from the notebook writing. You also will want to encourage your students to write in pen. This allows you to see editing and revising that they do. Teach them to cross out and write new words in the space above and also to use the “carat” to insert new thoughts.
Your students will most likely go through two notebooks in the course of a year. The writer’s notebook is a treasure of ideas, thoughts, opinions, memories. It will be something your students will want to save and keep forever.