Using the
Writer’s Notebook
with
Secondary Students
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A notebook can be boring, routine,
non-personal—something students “trash” at
the end of the year.
Or
A notebook can be the clearing in a forest of
your life, a place where you can be alone and
content as you play with outrage and wonder,
details and gossip, language and dreams, plots
and subplots, perceptions and small
epiphanies.
Ralph Fletcher
What the notebook becomes is up to you,
the teacher. Oh the power you hold in your
hands—the power to change lives.
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A Writer’s Notebook is . . .
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a nonthreatening place to write
a place to record memories
a place to savor life
a place to explore the world and feelings
a place to record observations
a place to wonder, question, challenge
a place to organize, analyze
a place to collect ideas for writing
a place to plan for writing
a place to live like a writer
a tool to improve writing fluency
a tool to use across the curriculum
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Slowly, as I continued to write in my notebook, I began
to view myself as a writer. I had thoughts, feelings, opinions,
reactions, and memories to record. I became more observant
of people and of my surroundings, and I began to feel the
urge to write down things that previously would have seemed
insignificant. I squeezed a lot of artifacts between the pages
of my notebooks and wrote about the experiences that were
tied to them. But, more important, I found that I did some of
my best thinking when I wrote. When I had opinions,
thoughts, or reactions to express, I grabbed my notebook so
that I could disentangle them on paper. Some of
these entries have led to letters, poems,
tributes, op-eds, and other forms of published
writing.
A writer’s notebook can be seductive in a
good sort of way. It tugs at your elbow, enticing
you to write just a little about this or that—until
you realize that you are living a writerly life! 4
-- Ralph Fletcher
GETTING STARTED
• SELECTING A NOTEBOOK
-- inviting
-- sturdy
-- convenient to carry
-- affordable
-- you can have all students get the same
notebook (composition notebooks are
sturdy and affordable), or
-- you can have students select their own
notebook
-- make sure you get a notebook, too!
Getting a journal is like buying shoes. You have to find one
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that fits. -- Jean Little
GUIDELINES
• write name/school on inside cover in case it
gets lost
• keep notebook close at hand and in a safe
place (may want to keep in class and only
let students take them home if they beg!)
• date and number all entries
• leave 1-2 spaces between each entry
• cross out; don’t erase/tear out/throw away
• mistakes are OK; conventions not the focus
• write often
• add special mementos, artifacts
• be respectful of your writing and the writing of
others
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• create an “Ideas” page at the very back (opt.)
IDEAS
• Within every person is a drama, a tragedy,
and a comedy. -- Mark Twain
• Most of the basic material a writer works with
is acquired before the age of 15.
-- Willa Cather
• We cannot give students rich lives, but we can
give them the lens to appreciate the
richness that is already there.
-- Lucy Calkins
• As teachers, it is our job to validate the lives
of our students by honoring their
thoughts, feelings, and daily experiences.
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-- Janet Elliott
IDEAS: Process
• With students create a web for “fear” or any
other emotion/topic. On the spokes, list
things people fear as students contribute.
• Ask students to make their own “fear” webs in
their notebooks.
• Have students circle one that they want to
write about.
• Have students do a quick write (3-5 minutes)
on the “fear” they selected.
• Allow students to share what they wrote.
• Ask students to record any additional ideas
from the share session on their “Ideas”
page.
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IDEAS: More Webs
Have students “process ideas” from the previous slide
using the following:
• memories of food
• surprises
• pets
• friends
• school
• family
• heroes
• hobbies
• weather
• music
• nature
• celebrations
• sports
• clothes
• birthdays/holidays
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• dreams
IDEAS: Lists
Continue having students “process ideas” from slide 9:
• ways I like to relax
• things that are difficult
• things I love
• things that annoy me
• things that frighten me
• things that are gross
• things I want to do/try
• things I want to forget
• things parents say
• things that are peaceful
• things I question
• keepsakes
• happy moments
• funny moments
• embarrassing moments
• irritating sounds
• mistakes I’ve made
• favorite places
• favorite movies/tv shows
• favorite books
• favorite school memories
• people I admire
• places I want to visit10
• concerns
IDEAS: Topic Cards
1. Give each student a laminated “topic card.”
2. Students write about what’s on the card for 2-3
minutes.
3. Students pass their card to the next person,
and repeat step 2.
4. Repeat steps 2-3 four or five times.
5. Then have students select their favorite quick
write and finish writing it.
6. Allow students time to share before and after
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step 5.
IDEAS: Give me “5”
GREAT BEGINNING OF THE YEAR ACTIVITY:
Have students trace around their hand
and
write five things (one on each finger) they they
want others to know about them
or
five things that don’t think others know about
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them.
IDEAS: Pass the Photo
• As students enter the room, hand each of them an
unusual photo cut from magazine ads.
• After studying the photos, students begin writing
stories about them.
• After three minutes, students pass their photo and
partial draft to the person on their left.
• Each student studies the new photo, reads what has
already been written, and continues writing the
story.
• This process continues for about five rounds.
• Papers are returned to the original author.
• Students get in groups and read their stories.
• Each group votes on the best story and reads it to
the class.
• For homework, students can finish or revise their
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draft.
IDEAS: Maps
• favorite place maps
• job maps
• life maps
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IDEAS:
Mementos/Artifacts
My journal is the heart of my writing.
There I record dreams, memories,
funny happenings and wild ideas.
Free to play, I write in different
directions and colors; I draw, I tape
in leaves, notes, boarding passes.
From such compost, poems, stories,
and even novels grow.
--George Ella Lyon
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IDEAS:
Mementos/Artifacts
Mementos serve as a
catalyst for our memories. -Janet Elliot
Collect mementos and
record the memories.
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IDEAS:
Mementos/Artifacts
“PHOTOGRAPHS are fragile
paper timeships dusted with
information.”
–Photographer Joel Meyerowitz
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IDEAS: Sketches
SKETCHES are quick and simple.
When writers sketch or draw, they
think more deeply about that person
or object.
Sketch a neighbor, friend, teacher,
family member, favorite places, or
objects.
MENTOR TEXT:
Max’s Logbook, by Marissa Moss
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IDEAS: Wonderings
WHAT DO YOU WONDER ABOUT?
Why are bubbles round?
How did the zebra get its stripes?
What is a black hole?
What is the Bermuda Triangle?
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IDEAS: Wonderings
Have students write down three things
they wonder about. Have them do this
daily for several days to get in the
mind-set of wondering.
You can use one of the many
question-and-answer books like How
Come? by Kahty Wollard (1993) that
shows how questions can lead to
writing and even research.
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IDEAS: Newspapers
and Magazines
• Clip individual words, phrases,
headings, cartoons, quotes,
pictures, or articles that
interest/irritate you and glue/tape it
into your notebook.
• Write a personal response related to
your clipping.
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IDEAS: Art
• View various paintings, sculptures,
etc. Then record thoughts, feelings,
interpretations.
• Give students clay or play dough to
mold their own art (make a paper
collage, do ink blots, or any other
art activity). Then have them write
about their creations.
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IDEAS: Music
Have students write/sketch what they
are thinking as they listen to various
types of music.
-- What does the song/music remind you of?
-- How does it make you feel?
-- How do the lyrics impact you? What is the
message?
-- When sketching to music, what does it
cause you to draw: wavy lines, circles,
jagged lines?
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OBSERVATIONS
Get in the habit of
quietly observing
and experiencing the world
around you. Trust your five
senses to lead you to ideas,
which are everywhere, just
waiting for you to connect with
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them—and make them your own.
OBSERVATIONS
As we develop a
greater awareness
of our surroundings and record
the details, we gather great
material to use in future writing.
SPRINGBOARD:
Seinlanguage by Jerry Seinfeld
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OBSERVATIONS:
Nature
1.Have students divide a piece of
paper into fourths and to
categorize their observations into
sight, touch, smell, and sound.
2.Take students outside to record
their observations (no talking) or
make this a homework
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assignment.
OBSERVATIONS:
Nature
1.Crawdad Creek (Sanders, 2002)
2.Snowflake Bentley (Martin (1998)
3.Snowflakes in Photographs
(Bentley, 2000)
4.Sketching Outdoors in Winter
(Arnosky, 1988)
5.Nature All Year Long (Leslie, 2002)
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OBSERVATIONS:
People
Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street
(Schotter, 1997)
Have students take “people notes” when
they go to the mall, movie theater, grocery
store, hair salon, etc.
Scribbled notes written about a seatmate on
an airplane: BIG hockey fan—unbridled
enthusiasm for EVERYTHING. Very, very
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fun guy. Dirty fingernails.
OBSERVATIONS:
Listening
WHAT DO YOU HEAR?
Listen in on snippets of conversation
(with discretion, of course).
Sit in a public place (restaurant, mall,
library, locker, cafeteria line, football
bleachers, etc.) and listen to
“snatches of talk” the “cadences of
ordinary talk.” -- Ralph Fletcher 29
OBSERVATIONS:
Listening
Janet Elliot wrote the following
two-voice poem after hearing
an argument among
employees in a fast-food
restaurant.
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OBSERVATIONS: Listening
WORDS, WORDS, WORDS
agreement
ARGUMENT
compliment
CRITICISM
soothing
IRRITATING
humorous
ANGRY
eloquent
CRUDE
helpful
HURTING
A gift
or
words,
words,
words,
OR
A CURSE
WORDS,
WORDS,
WORDS!
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LITERATURE
SPRINGBOARDS
Literature has an impact on
readers in different ways.
It connects us to past experiences,
stirs our emotions, and
causes us to
react,
wonder,
or chuckle.
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-- Janet Elliott
LITERATURE
SPRINGBOARDS
You Have to Write (Wong, 2002)
Helps writers realize that their daily
lives are full of rich writing material.
Excerpt: No one else can say what you
have seen, and heard, and felt today . . .
. Write about fights. Write about holes
in your socks, your grandmother
cracking her knuckles, your father
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snoring all night long.”
LITERATURE
SPRINGBOARDS
Share powerful examples of memoir
with your students and discuss the
differences between memory (recalls
what happened) and a
memoir (includes the reactions,
thoughts, and emotions that
accompanied that memory).
Writing a Life: Teaching Memoir to Sharpen Insight,
Shape Meaning—and Triumph over Tests (Bomer, 2005)
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LITERATURE
SPRINGBOARDS
MENTOR/ANCHOR TEXTS—use
your favorite exemplary texts to
teach students about various
types of writing and refer to these
texts throughout the year.
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LITERATURE
SPRINGBOARDS
MENTOR TEXTS for Teaching Memoir
CHAPTER BOOKS:
Marshfield Dreams: When I Was a Kid by Ralph
Fletcher
Looking Back: A book of Memories by Lois Lowry
A Girl from Yamhill by Beverly Cleary
Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio by Peg Kehret
When I Was Your Age: Original Stories about
Growing Up (Vol. 2) edited by Amy Ehrlich
Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahl
But I’ll be Back Again by Cynthia Rylant
Knots in my Yo-Yo String, by Jerry Spinelli
Many of these you can just use one or two 36
chapters.
LITERATURE
SPRINGBOARDS
MENTOR TEXTS for Teaching Memoir
PICTURE BOOKS:
When I Was Young In the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant
White Water by Jonathan and Aaron London
Fireflies by Julie Brinckloe
The Summer My Father Was Ten by Pat Brisson
The Keeping Quilt, by Patricia Polacco
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LITERATURE
SPRINGBOARDS
MENTOR TEXTS for Teaching Memoir
PICTURE BOOKS (Sensory Connections):
“The Long Closet,” by Jane Yolen (from When I Was
Your Age)
The Hickory Chair, by Lisa Rowe Fraustino
Ma Dear’s Aprons, by Patricia McKissack
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LITERATURE
SPRINGBOARDS
MENTOR TEXTS for Teaching Memoir
HOLIDAY MEMORIES/TRADITIONS:
The Christmas House, by Ann Turner
One Candle, by Eve Bunting
Chase’s Calendar of Events:
http://mhprofessional.com/category/?cat=3
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LITERATURE
SPRINGBOARDS
WRITING ABOUT NAMES:
“My Name,” from The House on Mango Street by
Sandra Cisneros
My Name is Maria, by Alma Flor Ada
My Name is Yoon, by Helen Recorvits
The Name Jar, by Yangsook Choi
Gooney Bird Green, by Lois Lowry (Chapter 2)
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Angel Child, Dragon Child, by Michele Maria Surat
LITERATURE
SPRINGBOARDS
WRITING ABOUT SPECIAL PLACES:
All the Places to Love, by Patricia MacLachlan
Quiet Place, by Douglas Wood
The Secret Place, by Eve Bunting
Hey, Al, by Author Yorinks
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LITERATURE
SPRINGBOARDS
WRITING ABOUT SCHOOL:
Thank You, Mr. Falker, by Patricia Polacco
Sister Anne’s Hands, by Marybeth Lorbiecki
It Happens to Everyone, by Bernice Myers
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LITERATURE
SPRINGBOARDS
WRITING ABOUT PETS:
My Cats Nick and Nora, by Isabelle Harper
Nibbles and Me, by Elizabeth Taylor
The Tenth Good Thing About Barney, by Judith Viorst
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LITERATURE
SPRINGBOARDS
WRITING ABOUT FAMILY:
The Pain and the Great One, by Judy Blume
I Remember Papa, by Helen Ketteman and Greg Shed
The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant
The Memory String, by Eve Bunting
Sunshine Home, by Eve Bunting
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LITERATURE
SPRINGBOARDS
WRITING ABOUT FAMILY:
My Rotten, Redheaded Older Brother, by P. Polacco
Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney
My Great Aunt Arizona, by Gloria Houston
“Always Wear Clean Underwear!” and Other Ways
Parents Say “I Love You,” by Marc Gellman
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LITERATURE
SPRINGBOARDS
WRITING ABOUT FRIENDS:
Rosie and Michael, by Judith Viorst
Enemy Pie, by Derek Munson
Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles
The Other Side, by Woodson and Lewis
Mrs. Katz and Tush, by Patricia Polacco
Roxaboxen, by Barbara Cooney
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LITERATURE
SPRINGBOARDS
WRITING ABOUT FEELINGS & MOODS:
The Way I Feel Sometimes, by Beatrice Schenk de
Regniers
What Are You So Grumpy About? by Tom Lichtenheld
Once When I Was Scared by Helena Clare Pittman
Courage, by Bernard Waber
Today was a Terrible Day, by Patricia Reilly Giff
Ira Sleeps Over, by Bernard Waber
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LITERATURE
SPRINGBOARDS
PLAYING WITH WORDS:
Fighting Words, by David Small
Max’s Words, by Kate Banks
The Boy Who Loved Words, by Roni Schotter
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LITERATURE
SPRINGBOARDS
PLAYING WITH PATTERNS:
Fortunately, by Remy Charlip
The Important Book, by Margaret Wise Brown
Things that are Most in the World, by Judi Barrett
Texas Night Before Christmas, James Rice
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble (circular story—any
story by the author), by William Steig
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LITERATURE
SPRINGBOARDS
IMITATING POETRY:
Poems by Adolescents and Adults: A Thematic
Collection for Middle School and High School
Any of the “Teen Ink” Series
Any poetry by Mattie Stepanek
Paint Me Like I Am, teen poems from Writerscorps
The D- Poems of Jeremy Bloom, by Gordon Korman
Almost Forever (novel in verse)
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A PLACE FOR POETRY
I write poetry for the same reason
I read it: the sound of words, their
taste on my tongue, is irresistible.
Words are the apple pie in my
pantry that draws me out of my
warm bed and sends me shuffling
down the dark hall in the middle of
the night.
-- Bobbi Katz
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A PLACE FOR POETRY
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Read Poetry
Collect Poems
Notice Poetic Elements
Imitate Poetry
Write Non-Rhyming Poetry
Collect Info. About Poets
Make Individual/Class Poetry
Books or Individual Digital
Poetry Portfolios
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A PLACE FOR POETRY
Have students read “I Remember”
by Edward Montez a few times.
Then have them use it to create
their own “I Remember” poem.
Each stanza becomes a potential
writing topic to explore on future
writing days.
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WORD PLAY
Once we start noticing things, it is difficult
not to notice them again.
-- Peter Johnston
How do we get students to notice language
in what they hear and read? It comes by
immersing them in language—giving them
lots of opportunities to read words, write
words, talk about words, and most
important, enjoy words.
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WORD PLAY
Even in my forties I have benefited as a
writer directly from hearing writing read
aloud. The music, the word choice, the
feelings, the flow of structure, the new
ideas, the fresh thoughts—all these and
more are banked into my writing checking
account whenever I am fortunate enough to
be read to.
-- Mem Fox
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WORD PLAY
Read aloud beautiful language everyday to your
students and share why you selected it. Look for
language that is stunning, rereadable,
readaloudable (Katie Wood Ray), and memorable
(Janet Elliott).
The writer’s notebook is the perfect place to
collect language, but it requires nudging,
reminding, and lots of sharing to get young
writers in the habit of using their notebooks to
record intriguing language. Sticky notes can be
used to jot down words that students encounter
during reading to transfer to their notebook later
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on.
-- Janet Elliott
WORD PLAY
THE FABRIC OF WORDS
Like fabric, words have texture:
SMOOTH-Sounding Words:
swim, love
BUMPY-Sounding Words:
radical, persnickety
HARD-Sounding Words:
stop, crack
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ASSESSMENT
“I use my journal for self-talk, a way to
gain perspective when I’m frustrated.
Writing it down helps me sort things
out. It helps me keep my feet on the
ground and my head going in the right
way. It’s also a place I go to dump toxic
waste, which is why it would be so
unfair for somebody to come along and
read it . . . The frustrations and anger I
don’t want to drag out in public I leave
in my journal.
-- Sarah Holbrook58
ASSESSMENT
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Keep it simple
Keep it useful for students
Keep it useful for teacher
Use rubrics, checklists, and
self-assessments
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