Saturday, April 7, 2012

Starting with the Notebooks

**I am going to mention several titles and authors in this post, but keep in mind that I have combined years worth of information and experimentation into my classroom, and I must give credit where credit is due.  Don't overwhelm yourself and run out and purchase and read all of these titles.  That is too much. Start small and build on your own knowledge. My recommendation is to begin with Aimee Buckner's books as they are well-written,  fairly short, and will provide you will some great ideas.  If you can fit in time for Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer, I would read her book next.

When I began experimenting with Reading/Writing Workshop, I started with the "Notebook." (Unfortunately, Ryan Gosling had nothing to do with it--I'm referring to an actual 100 page, wide-lined, cardboard bound notebook and I prefer composition notebooks.  They work for me and for my students, but you should use whatever works best for you and yours.)  My first step was to determine the purpose of the notebooks, their set up,  and how I would assess them. Keep in mind, my ultimate goal was to get my students reading and writing. The students use their Writing Notebooks for daily strategies and practice, drafting, and documenting their thinking. They use the Reading Notebook as a place to keep track of their reading and thinking about their reading.  (And we spend a significant amount of time at the beginning of the year practicing reading response strategies in the Reading Notebook!) I model all of this and share from my own notebooks too!

When I began this process,  I used Aimee Buckner's Notebook Connections and Notebook Know-How as my guides. (I also began reading, thinking, and planning well before the start of the new school year!)  If I remember correctly, Ms. Buckner teaches 4th graders, but believe it or not, I was able to use several of her ideas even with  my 8th grade and English 9 students.  For writing,  I use several of her strategies including "Best and Worst" and "Lifting a Line."  Last year I added  an "I wonder" and "Inquiry Page: Topics I'd like to learn more about" (an idea I lifted from Harvey "Smokey" Daniels and Stephanie Harvey) so when student were stuck, they could always go back to these pages, add to, or expand on ideas or thoughts from their lists. (The Inquiry Page was helpful when we began informational writing and research later in the year.)  Prompt boxes are also available on my writing table for students to browse if they are still struggling with writing ideas when they are assigned "Daily Pages."  Buckner also offers several tips for getting to know your students as readers as well as comprehension strategies.  I love the "Fab 5" and the students use it often.

As I continued my professional reading, I experimented with other ideas and best practices. I begin the year with combined ideas from Steven Layne's Igniting a Passion for Reading and Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer with those of Buckner in the Reading Notebook. I added a "Shopping List" inside the front cover and a "Student Reading Record" (modified from Mr. Gallagher) on the back cover of the reading notebook and we started the year talking about how to preview books, how to find books we will enjoy, and our current habits as readers.

It should also be noted that I begin the year with talking about all the books that I read over the summer. My first mini-lesson is about how to preview books (borrowed from Layne). In that time the students fill out a reading interest analyzer and an interest survey which I use as data and compare to over the course of the year.  I modified these surveys from Donalyn Miller for my purposes.  Students start adding to the "Shopping List" on the very first day as they peruse the new and student recommended books I pull off of my shelves and have strewn about the tables.  The kids walk around the room, talk to each other, and I do this with them too in an attempt to understand my new students' reading tastes.  (We talk about how this should look before I let them out of their seats, as procedures should be modeled and discussed from day one. More on that in another post.) We also begin writing in our Writing Notebook and I model my own writing with them. One year, I began by writing a letter in my notebook to my students introducing myself and displaying under my document camera to my SMART Board,  reading it aloud,  and then having them do the same as their first writing notebook entry.  This could even be used as a first writing sample/assessment! But that is just one idea, you do what makes sense in your classroom.

Obviously, all of my first day (and proceeding) activities are planned to send a very strong message to my new group. Reading and writing are important and necessary--and we will all be doing a lot of both in this classroom!

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If you would like copies of any of the documents I currently use in my classroom (shopping list, reading record, interest survey--which I have also made into a google doc form, etc.). I will gladly share if you send me an e-mail request at


  1. Two thoughts.

    1. Pictures, please.
    2. I just don't get Steven Layne. Will need to talk more about this.

    1. 1. You are so demanding! :) Thought about pics but I took all the notebooks back to school. I will add some next week. Also, what pics do you think would be most helpful?

      2. *chuckle*

    2. I will post some sample pictures later today or tomorrow. I have the kids' notebooks and want to get permission before I post some of them! :)