Friday, July 8, 2011

The Writer's Notebook

Inside this pencil
crouch words that have never been
never been spoken
never been thought...
                                                               WS Merwin

One of the modifications I am going to make to the Lucy Calkins’ unit is to start off the year with two weeks focused on utilizing the writers’ notebook. Many tenets of the writer's notebook are integrated into the first writing unit of study, but I feel like how to write in the writer's notebook needs more focused attention. During the second or third week of school, students will begin 10 minutes of writing homework, so they need the tools to know how to make decisions about what they will write and what quality writer's notebook work entails. 

Two great books that have influenced my “writers’ notebook” lessons over the years are:

Guidelines for the Writer’s Notebook:
* Students date all writing; when writing at home begins, they must star and date the line where they started their writing homework. (* means it was completed at home). This allows you to keep a check on students’ writing stamina and if they are really giving it the time it deserves at home. I have my students write for 10 minutes. Often I can tell that students have worked longer!
* I have students skip the first few pages. I don’t really have a good reason, but I always feel like there might be something special that deserves to be put on the very first few pages. In the past, this has included a quote from Ralph Fletcher and a chart of my take on the writing process.
* I have students write on the right side of the notebook. (I think I might have got this idea from Aimee Buckner)...the idea is that the left side of the notebook allows students space for revision, trying out leads and endings, making a sensory detail chart for the writing piece, etc. This year, I plan to put a little spin on this idea and am not sure if it will be too complicated for my students, but I'm going to try to teach them that if they are making a list (say of memories they could write about) THEN they can write on the left because they won't need the room for revision.
* The writer's notebook should not necessarily hold students' drafts. (This is SO hard to control though.) I am going to try hard this year to push the idea that our notebooks collect "seeds" and "watermelons." Even if what we have written inside the notebook is super-great, it will still require some revision. One rule Lucy mentioned and I have heard a presenter say is that students' writing goal should be to DOUBLE the length of their drafts. Lucy teaches students towards the end of unit one to write two sentences for every one they wrote in the previous draft. This is usually doable for kids because they often write briefly--telling instead of showing. This past year, I started having students begin their drafts on yellow legal paper to differentiate notebook work from the actual draft. I plan to try using the yellow paper again this year as a signal that students are moving from generating ideas to actually drafting.
*Erasing or scribbling out big chunks of writing (or ripping paper out of the notebook) is not allowed. 

Top Ten Lessons:
1- Writers create lists that can help come up with something we can (or want) to write about. The lists should be more specific than just a word (one-word topics are WATERMELONS).
2-Writer's often write about our memories. (Read aloud When I Was Young in the Mountains, The Relatives Came (Rylant), and/or Wilfred Gordon MacDonald Partridge (Mem Fox). Students make a list of memories, choose one and write. I usually use a timer and tell them they have to write without stopping, "Writers on your mark, set, go!" Set the timer for three minutes and they will be begging you for more writing time. :)
3-Writing allows us to see a long ago memory clearly. Peter Stillman believes "It's extremely hard to see a long-ago memory without getting it on paper." We might not know all the ideas and words we are going to write before we start writing, but the memory returns to us more as we get our pencils moving.
4-Writers use sensory details to improve the quality of our writing and to help the reader live in the moment we are describing. Students make a sensory detail chart (smell, sounds, sights, feel/textures, tastes) and generate a list of everything they can think of. It makes sense if this is related to a memory that they were already writing about and allows them the opportunity to add more details to it. This also pushes students to think in a variety of ways about their writing topic. (I used Charlotte Zoloto's The Seashore Book for this lesson).
5-Writers can make our own list of writing topics. We can ask ourselves questions that we don't yet know the answers to and explore the question in our writing. (Examples: What is my biggest fear? How have I changed since I was little? What's something important I have learned that I will never forget?)
6-Writers sometimes take some time to do "goof off" writing. (Ralph Fletcher describes this as a lesson in Teaching the Qualities of Writing.) I have had some amazingly creative writing come out of this lesson (one entry that sticks out was about a marker family...Crimson Sister, Magenta mother, etc.). I always have an example of my own and have students share their ideas during the lesson and the next day. The idea is to let the kids know that all of their writing entries don't have to be serious. It also frees them to be more creative in their writer's notebook during homework (as they may hardly ever get to write this way during class time).
7-Have you read Dream Weaver by Jonathan London? This is a great book for teaching students how to ZOOM in with their writing. It starts out with the main character walking past a spider and taking time to look and wonder. As the boy looks on, he gets closer and closer to the spider's world. We used this to zoom into an interesting idea--I wrote about zooming in to an ant hill. This is also a great book for poetry and image. in progress....

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the wonderful post! I have taught 5th and I've also taught 4th..both great grades. I currently teach 4th and have been thinking how I want to set up my notebooks this year! I'm your newest follower. Best Wishes!




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