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Category Archives: writer’s notebooks

What’s in a Notebook?

It’s that magical time of year when my writer’s notebook is almost full, and I get to start a new one.  I love setting up my notebook, personalizing it, giving it value.  But I love, nearly as much, to look back at a full notebook–and today I want to share mine with you.

I’ll preface this overload of snapshots with a caveat that my sharing is unusual in terms of the writer’s notebook.  Whether we ask our students to use these tools as playgrounds, workshops, or repositories, notebooks belong to students.  Ownership is key if our students are to take on the identities of writers.  This means that for some, a notebook is private, while for others, sharing is essential.

So, with that said, let’s take a walk through my notebook–and, so we can see many other examples, please share what your notebook is full of on Twitter with #whatsinanotebook!

First, personalization and inspiration are key.

The first few pages of my notebook always contain photos, a tracing of my hand with some goals, a heart map, or some other kind of writing territory or prompt.  Whenever I’m stumped about what to write, I return to these first few pages to remind myself of the topics I need to mine.

From there, the variety begins.

I always write beside my students, so my notebook is generally peppered with quickwrites or “write into the days” from NWP.

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These are often the roughest drafts of posts that land on TTT, like this page, which morphed into this post.  For my students, quickwrites are often seed prompts that lead to longer compositions.  Just as often, though, they remain untouched:  an essential part of building fluency and stamina and the identity of a writer with many starts and stops.

My notebook is also full of poetry that I write beside or around.

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I get my poems every day via email from the Writer’s Almanac.  In addition to just being inspiring and enjoyable to do, this active reading of poetry makes me more aware of wordplay, themes in literature and in my life, and a new perspective.

I also write in response to quotes from books, TED talks, poems, or anywhere.

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This helps me to unpack a quote that strikes me for its craft, content, or both–students, too.

Gluing in artifacts to write beside is also powerful for me.


These serve not just as reminders of who and what is important to me, but a lovely time capsule to show me what was happening in my life at the time when I return to look at my notebook in future years.

There are also things I’m attempting to make connections between, but perhaps never do…

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(This might go under “things I abandon.”)

Rants that should probably be left in the dark…

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(You can tell by my handwriting that I was ticked, here.)

Things I abandon

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Sometimes I mean to write a bit more, and never do, so I add some squiggles and doodles to fill up the white space.

It’s important to remind students that it’s okay to abandon pieces of writing…we abandon books, don’t we?

…and random doodles, drawings, and in-the-moment jots and notes.

The last spread of my notebook is always my what-to-read page…

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(I keep my lengthy read, currently reading, and TBR list on GoodReads, so this page functions more as a ThriftBooks shopping list.)

…and the very last page is always my list of words and phrases that strike me as unusual.

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I jot these as I find them in books, poetry, or conversation.  Sometimes I look up definitions of these words; sometimes I already know what they mean, but just like them.  I ask students to keep this page, and twice monthly we visit it and do something with our lists.


As you can see, there’s really no “order” to my notebook–no sections other than those crucial first and last pages–but that’s just what works for me.  I taught seniors most recently, and found that they didn’t require the structure of a multi-sectioned writer’s notebook, but when I worked with 8th graders, they most definitely needed a little guidance.

This is just a guide, an inspiration, and an invitation–to not judge me for my wonders about the woes of motherhood, my consternation about teaching topics, or my completely unhealthy obsession with expensive writing utensils (Precise V5 pens…thanks, Amy…and PaperMate Flair markers are my top picks).

Please use this to help you craft a vision for the possibilities notebooks afford in helping us build fluency, gain confidence, and take on the identity of WRITER, and feel free to reach out to any of us with questions or wonders you have about the magic of writer’s notebooks.

Share with us, please, what your notebook looks like on Twitter using #whatsinanotebook!

Shana Karnes teaches sophomore, junior, and senior preservice teachers at West Virginia University.  She finds joy in all things learning, love, and literature as she teaches, mothers, and sings her way through life.  Follow Shana on Twitter at @litreader or read more of her writing on the WVCTE Best Practices blog.

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