Writer's Notebooks: A Simple Way to Foster Kids' Writing

If you’re watching the weeks of summer roll by with growing concern about the reading and writing skills your child may be losing, you’re not alone. The summer slide is a well-documented phenomena, and one you undoubtedly want your child to avoid.

Teachers and parents often press kids to read during the summer — a positive pursuit, indeed. But when children keep a writer's notebook over these months, they go back to school better prepared to jump into their learning.

When children write about their lives, they become active participants in processing and connecting with things they've accomplished. Coming up with ideas to share in September is difficult for many students, but a writer's notebook full of ideas, quotes, drawings, clippings, and event tickets will bring memories of summer back in full color. As Ralph Fletcher, master writing teacher and children's author, points out:

Many of our students adopt a passive stance toward their learning. The writer’s notebook nudges students to become more active learners. It gives them a place to react to their world, to make that all-important personal connection.

How to Use a Writer's Notebook Effectively

Every creator needs a place in which she can store ideas. By jotting down our thoughts and ideas as they come to us, we can overcome those frustrating moments when we grasp for specific memories. From list-making to sketches to stories, using a single notebook for everything is a smart organizational strategy.

Students can initially use their writer's notebooks as a sort of scrapbook, and eventually, they may be moved to record their thoughts about the items they’re keeping. Some students will write stories based on events that happened over the summer, while others may draw pictures of trips they took camping or visiting a city they’d never been to.

How You Can Make This Happen for Your Child

Give your child choice and purpose before expecting her to use a writer’s notebook effectively.

Offering Your Child Choices

  • Take your child out to buy a special notebook. Let her choose the size, shape, and color based on her own preferences.

  • Talk about the types of writing, drawing, and sketching she can do in her notebook, and explain that the kind of writing instrument —pen, pencil, marker — she uses can affect her thinking and writing as well.

  • Suggest different ideas of what she may include in her notebook. This will help her to expand potential uses for it. In fact, you too may want to try them out — modeling is a great way for her to see how it's done.

  • Share with your child the way in which other people use a notebook. Amy Ludwig Vanderwater, a children’s author, created a section on her blog Sharing Our Notebooks to showcase the inner workings of writer's notebooks. She has also collected over 70 ideas students can use when they can't think of how to get started with their writer's notebooks.

Teaching Your Child About Purpose

Talk with your child about the process of writing. Explain to her that a writer often attempts to set a purpose before she begins a new project. Common purposes include entertaining, sharing information, or teaching a reader how to do something. Purpose-setting is easier if you help your child make connections to what she already knows. Although a teacher may set a purpose for a given assignment, learning how to do this herself will help your child develop her writing skills.

Help her answer some basic questions before beginning:

  • What do I want to write about?
  • What’s the best way to share or remember this experience?
  • What writing tools will I need?

How this practice can be integrated with school assignments

Now that your child has a special notebook, understands that writing involves choice, and knows how to set a purpose, you can help her use her writer’s notebook to have fun working on summer assignments. For example, if she has to write about several books she is reading during the break, suggest she choose one purpose before writing about each work. She might decide to entertain her teacher by writing from a particular character’s perspective for one book, and share information when she recounts her personal connections to another.

Explain to your child that, if she wants to, she can share her notebook when she returns to school. This can be a great motivation for her to include sketches, clippings, and photos to illustrate her writing — encouraging her creativity and imagination are likely to make her writer’s notebook that much more fun to engage with.

A writer's notebook provides children with a sense of accomplishment — and enjoyment. When we pore over our notebooks, we remember who we were at that time and in that experience, allowing us to move forward more securely into the next year of learning.

To learn more from Kimberley Moran about strengthening your child’s literacy skills, read How a Library Card Can Help Your Child Become a Stronger Reader.

Sources:

Fletcher, R. (2001, July 1). The Writer's Notebook. Retrieved July 13, 2015, from National Council of Teachers of English.

NCTE Beliefs about the Teaching of Writing. (2004, November 1). Retrieved July 13, 2015, from National Council of Teachers of English.