So much of a workshop philosophy centers on the assumption that reading and writing are forever intertwined. Vocabulary, grammar, poetry–they’re all pieces of the puzzle that make up literacy and a passion for words, too. It was with this in mind that I created Red Thread Notebooks.
The idea came from two places–one was Penny Kittle’s “big idea books” (found on page 8-9 of those handouts), which are reading response notebooks centered around themes in literature. The other was Tom Romano‘s “red thread” assignment, in which teachers had to write about which parts of our teaching philosophy would run through all of our teaching, like a red thread.
So, when composition notebooks are just a nickel in the summer, I buy 60 of them each year. My students and I begin the year by brainstorming themes and topics that are important to us–love, cell phones, faith, music, family, video games, death, high school, forgiveness, four wheelers. We label our notebooks and use them all year long.
There are a variety of ways I invite students to write in these notebooks:
- Vocabulary practice: list related words, synonyms, word associations, etc. similar to the notebook title
- Skill practice: write dialogue, revise sentence structure, practice figurative language, craft descriptive writing, about the notebook’s title
- Book talks: write about how the book you’re currently reading might add to a conversation about the notebook’s title
- Grammar instruction: revise a sentence, imitate a paragraph, tinker with style, while writing about the notebook title
- Free writing: write your thoughts and musings on the notebook title
- Poetry: find an existing poem, craft your own poem, or create a found poem about the notebook’s title
Because these are shared notebooks, I ask students to refrain from using profanity in them or writing about any of their peers. I don’t require names, but many students like to sign their writing. Those are the only rules.
Once the notebooks have begun to fill up, students can refer to them to find book recommendations, writing topic ideas, or vocabulary words to add to their personal dictionaries. They can also look for examples of skills practice, craft studies, or grammar lessons that we’ve done for additional guidance. One year students even selected multigenre topics based on our red thread notebooks.
These notebooks are a lovely way to make permanent a yearlong conversation about literacy. The topics change every year–Michael Jackson had his own notebook my first year of teaching, and this year Lebron James had one–but the opportunities to write, reflect, and make connections remain the same.
Do you think you’ll try Red Thread Notebooks next year? Do you do something similar? Please share in the comments!