Reader's Notebooks

Reader's Notebook Title Page

When I began planning my reader's notebook for the year, I found an example from a colleague that had all kinds of beautiful sections about getting to know yourself as a reader...a timeline of important books in your life, what you know to be true about reading, and other great ideas. But after talking with another friend, thinking about a beginning of the year third grader's capabilities and taking a look at our curriculum guide, I changed my thinking.

I still want to have the kids think about their reading identities. The issue I see is that our students are still building their reading identities. They are just now making the jump from an independent reader to the self-extending reader who reads beyond the page and literal meaning. So when we ask them to do all this complicated thinking about getting to know yourself as a reader, the teacher ends up doing a lot of the guiding and prompting and prodding. In my classroom it's not necessarily a worthwhile or productive use of our time.

So I am going to condense those lessons into a simple activity for the cover page in our reader's notebook. I am going to have the kids think about their likes and dislikes about reading. What titles do you like? Where and when do you like to read? What characters do you not like? What do you not like to read? Do you have a favorite book? Most kids can easily generate a list of likes and dislikes.

Instead of having the kids make a simple list I want them to draw a little picture and add a brief explanation to go with it. Here's mine. It took about 45 minutes to do this. I drew everything in pencil first and then went back in colored pencil to shade in. I don't allow the kids to use markers because they bleed through the paper. Colored pencils are a treat for the kids because we don't use them that often.

This would be a good way to get to know your kids also. Stop by around and ask them about their drawings while they work or have them choose one thing to share with the group. I plan to do this during the first week of school.

My Reading in the Reader's Notebook

The first section in our reader's notebook this year is called My Reading. There are three parts to this section: a place to set goals for yourself as a reader; a place to keep track of books you are interested in reading; and a place to log your in-class reading.

Readers set goals for themselves. I want the kids to set a goal for each nine week period. Now mind you, I work with third graders. The concept of setting goals for reading is a new idea for some kids. So we start out simple. The first nine weeks we will do a lot of guided thinking and discussing before setting any goals. We talk about what is realistic and what isn't realistic and then decide what our goal is. After our goal is in mind, I have the kids plan what they need to do to meet that goal. It's really no different from sports - if your goal is to win the game, you think about what steps you need to take to make that happen.

I have the kids write a simple sentence or two and leave blank space at the bottom. At the end of the nine weeks, students go back and look through their reading logs to see if they met their goal. Then after thinking on it, students write a reflection paragraph (again, very guided at the start of the year) at the bottom of the page explaining whether or not they met their goal and why. It's a powerful tool. Here's my sample goal that I will show the kids at the start of the year. They set aside a page for each nine week grading period.

Readers make plans for their lives. They think about the reading they are doing, but they also plan ahead for the books they want to read in the future. Readers constantly look for new books to read. Instead of trying to keep track of that list mentally, students can write those books down in their reader's notebooks. I set aside a page or two for a list of books I want to read. If a student sees a friend with a book that looks interesting, he can go write the title on the list in his notebook. The next time he goes to the library, he can look for that title to check out. It's important to model this for the kids and revisit it throughout the year to encourage kids to use this section.

And I do include my own personal reading choices, likes and dislikes in my notebook. It has to be realistic and not something you've made up for the kids. They see right through that quickly. If you don't invest time in your own notebook and make it meaningful for you, the kids won't do it either. They will match your level of investment and intensity.

(By the way, the orange rectangle on the right page is a post it with ideas for the next page.)

Perhaps the most important part of this section is the reading log. Kids need to keep track of the books they read in class. I have the kids write down the date, the title, and the genre of the book. If they are reading the same book another day, they just write down the date, title, and genre again. In the past I had them record whether it was a just right, challenging or easy book or they had to record the number of pages they read or if they had finished the book. Now I just want to keep it simple. The kids can draw a lot of conclusions and do a lot of noticing just by recording those three bits of information - the date, title and genre. That's it.

At the start of the reading log section I have the kids paste in a chart with information about each genre. This helps the kids determine the genre of the book they are reading. Part of my classroom library is organized by genre, but most of it is organized by series or author. Those books are the ones that kids have to do some thinking and determine the genre on their own.

Here's the sample reading log. I'll record our class read alouds in here during the first couple of weeks to show the kids how to complete the log.

That's the first section of the notebook. The rest of the notebook is divided up in units. I'll post more as we make our way through each unit.

Organizing the Reader's Notebook

At the start of the summer I began working on a new model for reader's notebooks in my class for next year. I want them to be a meaningful and useful tool for my students. I did professional reading, talked to colleagues, and pondered over a few things before launching into making my own reader's notebook based on what I planned for the kids to do. It wasn't long before I realized that my plans were probably not realistic. So back to the drawing board I went for version number two. 

Here it is, Reader's Notebook 2.0 for me!

At first I planned to have various sections for independent reading work, read aloud work (which would serve as some sort of guided practice) and reading life work. The kids would be responsible for responding to their reading on their own and would have to flip between sections on their own. But then I thought back to my students in real life and to my own son. He loves to read but I can't imagine him writing about his reading unless being told to, and I know he's not alone in that aspect.

So I am trying for something a little more simple. I am going to have a basic section at the front of the reader's notebook called "My Reading" for students to log their reading, set reading goals, and keep track of books they want to read. The rest of the notebook will be divided up by unit. In this sense it will mirror the writer's notebook, math notebook, and science notebook. That should help the kids if organization is the same for all the notebooks we use this year.

I'll do another post with more details and pictures from the notebook. Keep checking back.

Thoughts On The Reader's Notebook

When I look back to last year one of the things I am most proud of is how my students' science notebooks turned out. They were terrific! The kids really took ownership of them and used them as a tool for thinking, learning, and making connections. If we were doing a science lesson, most of the kids went to get their notebook automatically and began to jot down notes. It was an awesome way to integrate content-area writing for kids.

This year my goal is to improve my reader's and writer's notebooks. Last year's writers notebooks were okay, but not great. I hope to really develop both notebooks into essential tools for the kids to use during workshop time.

Here's my personal reader's and writer's notebooks for this year. I try to make a sample notebook ahead of time to show the kids. That allows me to see what the work I expect my kids to be doing is like and it helps me plan out my lessons. I also have a blank notebook that I write in during the lesson right along with the kids. Since we are team teaching this year, I will have an AM reader's notebook and a PM reader's notebook. I will do the same for writer's notebooks.

Last year I had the kids take their writer's notebooks home and decorate the cover with pictures and other artifacts that told about the student. I don't plan to do that this year. I still will have the kids include pictures but plan to do that differently...see the next post. For now, I am keeping it simple. Reader's notebook says "read" on the cover and writer's notebook says "write." I hope they both become valuable tools to the kids this year.


  1. I do alot of the same type of things with my reader's and writers notebooks, but this year I decided to TAB sections in each notebook. In my reader's notebooks I put a tab section for Vocabulary (kind of like the student's own personal word wall) and one for social studies, since our district now integrates social studies concepts into our read alouds. We used to have seperate social studies notebooks and discontinued this but I still want the students to learn some of the concepts such as citizenship, maps, etc. In their writing notebooks I am sectioning it off for their rough drafts and then a section for grammar and one for conventions. We are including a grammar flip book for them to refer back to as well as some practice activities with grammar (nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc). And then lastly we are going to spend a little more instruction time on basic conventions of writing such as the type of sentences we use periods and question marks on, commas in a series, quotation marks, etc. I have found over the past several years that there is not enough focus placed on these very basic skills and many of my students cannot incorporate correct grammar or conventions into their writing.
    One other thing that I am trying this year for writing is a Daily Journal. I went to Office Max and got my composition books cut in half. This is where we are going to do most of our prep work - making quick lists, kernal essays, elaborating individual paragraphs. My students are alot less intimidated when they look at the half notebook and I have found them more willing to write in this. I am using Gretchen Bernabei's and Barry Lane's strategies to guide my students into great writing and it seems to be working well so far.
    Thanks for sharing your notebooks. It is so important that teachers share their ideas with others. I hope you can use any of my ideas. If you have questions, please email me at

  2. Love this! Do you have a particular type of tab you use for the notebooks? Thanks for sharing!

    1. I started out by purchasing a ton of the avery sticky tabs, but found out those go by quickly and they are expensive. So now we just use a colored dot sticker or other fun sticker and fold it over the side of the page. That seems to work just as well and the kids enjoy it. :)

  3. Both of these posts are very helpful to me. Do with of you have students keep daily reading summaries in these notebooks? What format do you use? How about sections in the writing notebook? Do you do daily "journal entries" or do you consider them to be a waste of time?

  4. I love the simplicity of your notebook! I wish I had thought of this years ago. My notebook is set up very similar to yours, but after the beginning section I have divided my notebook into 2 sections- one at the very back for reader's response (this is where they do all their work from guided reading or reader's response writing) and the first section is for cognitive strategies and reading skills- we make foldables to go in here that students can refer back to.

  5. I love how you organize your notebooks. I'm going to revamp my notebook use this year. Thanks for sharing your wonderful ideas!

    The Balanced Classroom

  6. Love this post! It was very helpful for me to start thinking about RW and to think about how to begin the notebook. Thanks for sharing your ideas!

  7. Love, love, love these ideas! I teach 2nd so I had to simplify it. What I did was had them count the pages with me to leave room for each section.When we started a new section they wrote the number of that section on the top right hand corner. Then they used a light-colored crayon to color over the number. Now all they have to do is flip through the pages.

  8. I've been searching for ages for this exact idea. All i wanted was to provide my students with independent activities which they could do during group reading lessons - I found that, but so much more as well! Your blog has helped me realise that those activities have to be relevant, specific, interesting and purposeful to the students ... or else they are just things to do to fill time. Now I have learnt some creative ways to get my students excited about reading & motivated to challenge themselves, I cant wait to begin!! And I'm also really looking forward to teaching them to use the word 'genre'! From me in New Zealand, thank you SO much for sharing.

  9. I love this idea and I am hoping to try it this year. When you say you break it up into Units, what kinds of things do you have the students do in this section, or sections?