Writer's Notebooks

Writer's Notebook Title Page

Last year I asked the kids to decorate the cover with information about themselves in an attempt to have them take ownership of the notebooks and also to learn a little bit about them. This year I plan to keep the cover simple but have the title page be a place for them to express themselves.

On the first page inside the cover, I plan to have the kids take a minute to think of everything they can that tells about themselves. Think about the basics like eye color and hair color but also think about things like what you like, what you don't like, places you like to go, things you like to do, and so on. Take that information and create a "graffiti wall" about yourself.

When I did mine I tried to avoid saying "I like...." and "I like...." over and over again. I might tell the kids to include at least 6 things or more. I would also have the kids do all the drawing and writing first and then give time for coloring in (I used colored pencils) later. All together this took me maybe 45 minutes to think about what to include, draw and color.

I think this would be a great way to learn about your students. You could have each student get up and share one item they included but it can't be a duplicate of something already said. So if the student next to me says that they like Mexican food, I have to choose something else to share. I plan to do this during this first week of school for sure.

Covering The Writer's Notebook

Last year I sent the writer's notebooks home during the first week. I asked the kids to attach pictures and other artifacts that told information about them. This helped me get to know the kids but it also gave the kids another source of ideas for things to write about. Here's my sample notebook from last year.

We are Disney fanatics so I covered my notebook with items relating to Walt Disney World: a map of Hollywood Studios, snippets from maps of Epcot and the Magic Kingdom, a Winnie the Pooh fast pass ticket, and a few pictures. I glued them down with wet glue (glue stick doesn't really hold the heavy items down well enough) and then covered it with packing tape.

I plan to do things a little differently this year. I still want to have them include information about themselves but I am going to have them do it on the first page. Last year I worried that some of the kids wouldn't bring them back on time. Plus I had a couple of students who hot glued jewels and other bling to the front and it made taping things down difficult. I also had a student who made a fabric book cover for it. That told me nothing about her except that maybe she liked to sew and do crafts! So my plan is this year to keep the notebooks at school but do things a little differently.

Sections of the Writer's Notebook
(Newer Posts On Top)

**Originally Posted  August 2012**

The good thing about writing is that really you're never done. There's always more revising, editing, and drafting you can do. And the same thing goes for writer's notebooks! I began the summer thinking that I had writer's notebooks worked out. There was going to be a section for seed ideas, a section for words that kids collected and wanted to use in future writing, a section for mini anchor charts to be pasted in, and a section for their writing. It sounds complicated just describing all of it!

Those all sound great in discussion and planning, but as we know, real life often is different than what we plan. After taking a step back and thinking about students in the classroom, my plans have changed just a bit. I am going to base this year's writer's notebooks on what I did last year.

Instead of having an entire section of pages devoted to words kids want to use in their writing, I am going to simply paste in a word box in the front cover. This will be quick and easy to do, but I am not sure how successful I will be with it. This takes a lot of modeling and revisiting to train the kids to do this on an independent basis.  So instead of using up several pages to something I'm not confident with, I am going to use a little space in the notebook. If the kids really take the idea and run with it I'll find a way to add more space or pages to it.

Last year, I had the kids create a section for seed ideas at the start of the notebook. They flipped back and forth throughout the notebook when they were looking for an idea to write about. I am trying to keep things simple this year and minimize the turning back and forth throughout the book. This year I plan to have them take a few moments and brainstorm possible seed ideas for each unit on the back of the divider page for that unit. So when we begin our unit on personal narrative, for example, the kids will make a divider page that says personal narrative writing and then they can turn to the back and record any possible topics for that unit on the back side of the page. 

Of course there are some things that just won't fit in our plans - whether it's an artifact the kids have brought in to write about like a ticket stub or a post-it from their reading that they have filed away for possible examination. These things need a place to go. I have glued in a brown kraft envelope on the back cover as a storage pocket.  I will cover the pocket in packing tape to help it last. We'll see how it works out.

So the plan this year is to keep it simple - a word bank on the inside cover, a section called "What We're Learning" to glue in small versions of anchor charts that have been on the wall, and then the rest of the notebooks divided up into units. Sounds simple. Now to wait and see if things really work out like I hope they do!

**Originally Posted June 2012**

One of the biggest things I had to learn about on the fly when jumping from first grade to third grade with about a week's notice was the writer's notebook. I thought I was doing good that first year - the kids had notebooks and they dutifully wrote in them every day. What I noticed at the end of the year was the writing in the notebooks wasn't deep or meaningful. It has taken time and a lot of effort to make the notebooks meaningful and essential to our writing lives. Now, three years later, this is what our writer's notebooks will be like this year.

  • Personalized cover - The notebook is a place for storing kids ideas, explorations, and attempts. Many of them have trouble getting started because they "can't think of anything to write." (How many times have I heard that in my years of teaching?!) I sent the notebooks home last  year with a note inviting the kids to cover the front with pictures, artifacts and other mementos that tell about them. The picture above is my notebook for this year that I haven't decorated yet. My notebook last year had a disney map, fast pass ticket, and other family snapshots pasted on the front. We use clear packing tape to cover the front so everything stays in place. By personalizing the covers, kids take ownership of the notebooks and also use the visuals on the cover as a spark for writing.
  • "What We're Learning" Tab - This is a short (maybe 5 pages) section at the front of the notebook. As we make anchor charts throughout the writing units I will copy them for the children and have them glue the mini-charts into their notebooks. This allows them to refer to the charts no matter wherever or whenever they write.
  • "Seed Ideas" Tab - This section has about 10 pages for kids to store seed ideas, whether it is lists, post-its, maps or sketches.
  • "Words to Use" Tab - I love words. As I read I pay attention to words or phrases that catch my eye (or ear). As the kids come across words that they may want to use, they can write them down in this section of the notebook. This skill will have to be modeled and taught in detail before turning the kids loose with it and will probably need a follow up review lesson as the year progresses.
  • "My Writing" Tab - The remainder of the book is dedicated to the kids' writing. They try out ideas and do independent writing in this section. No topics are off limits, but I do let the kids know that I read their notebooks often. If any particular entry is private and they don't want to share, they can fold the corner of the page down as a signal that it is not an entry for sharing. This was an idea from Aimee Buckner's book "Notebook Know How."
  • Divider Pages - Our writing curriculum is divided up into units. As we close out one unit and move to another I have the kids make a new divider page so they can separate their writing from our poetry unit  and personal narrative. This year I might have the kids turn to the back of the divider page and spend a little time coming up with new topics for the units. So when we begin our unit on small moment writing, the kids might make the divider page and label it small moments on the front side and then turn to the back and list some possible small moment topics just to get their brain going.

Writer's Notebook Check-In - September 2012

We have launched our writer's notebooks this year. The kids were excited to get them and enjoyed covering them in paper and making the divider pages for our first unit. It was some of the only coloring we got to do! We are off to a great start. I know things are going good when I hear some friends ask "When are we going to write?" or I hear a couple of friends say "Yes!" and pump their fist when I announce it's time to get out writer's notebooks and come to the rug.

The beginning of our writer's notebooks have several blank pages for charts that we've made during each writing unit. Real estate is at a premium in our classrooms and I can only afford to leave up the most important charts as we go along. That is why I made a section in the writer's notebook titled "What We're Learning." On these pages I have (and will) type up small versions of charts in our room so that the kids can glue them in and have the charts to refer to even if they aren't on the walls.

Here's the charts I typed up from unit 1 that are glued in my notebook. We are wrapping up unit 1 this week by moving on to drafting, revising/editing and publishing, so I can review those concepts and have the kids glue them in this week.

If I was really crafty I would make these colored or use cute fonts, but sometimes simple is best!


  1. I really love this idea!! I think I'm gunna try it!

  2. I really love this idea!! I think I'm gunna try it!

  3. Thank you for sharing. I also am going to try to set up reader and writer notebooks.

  4. Your ideas are awesome! We utilize reader and writer's noteboks but they don't look half as nice. You have given me some great ideas. Thank you!

  5. How do you put the tabs in?

  6. I really like your notebook and was wondering, about how many pages are between each unit of study?