Saturday, September 8, 2012

Organizing Writer's Notebooks

I am a recreational writer and I have several writer's notebooks that I have kept and filled over the years. My notebooks are progressively more and more organized and my latest one could be my organizational masterpiece--we'll see. While I'm not sure that my later notebooks contain higher quality writing, I will say that it is much easier for me to find my work and so I continue to strive to develop systems that work for me.

In my new role as our district's writing coordinator, I have been thinking about how to help students organize their writer's notebooks. Because some of our students are trying their hand at keeping a notebook for the first time, I think it is important that we teach them a system to organize their entries. As they develop as notebook-keepers in later grades, they can adapt and modify systems that work for them, including using technology and electronic notebooks. (Currently, I do most of my writing, idea gathering, electronically.) However, here are some of the organizational techniques that I think would help beginning notebook users:
  • a table of contents- leave a few pages at the beginning of the notebook for recording what will be in there. My daughters have many notebooks that they have kept over the years and I wish there was an easy to find list of notebook contents.
  • a section for gathering- teach students that this is the place for them to develop their lists, and potential small moments. Depending on how many sections you want to manage, this could also contains favorite words, quotes, dialogue snippets...whatever you collect in your daily life that could be included in or inspire a longer piece someday
  • an entry section- This could be thought of as an exploring section, a place to write a page or so off of an idea to see if it could develop into a bigger piece of work. I also use this section in my notebook to write about my characters--not necessarily the words that go into my book, but the words that help me know my characters and write about them more authentically.
  • a strategy section- pages where we keep track of what we learn as writers, and where students can take notes on explicit lessons and teaching points
 I am spending time talking to teachers about their practices and responses vary. Some teachers help students organize their notebooks around the units of study that they study throughout the year. Other teachers choose to have students maintain their notebooks chronologically, regardless of the type of writing. I talked to some teachers who have students tab specific collections, such as quotes, favorite lines, or free-writes.

I'd love to hear about how teachers at various grade levels are approaching notebook organization. Please share some of your thoughts and practices! Happy writing!


  1. I'm going to try 3 sections this year: gathering, entries, strategies. I don't think my 4th graders are savvy enough to hand a table of contents just yet. Thanks for the suggestion!

  2. I had a Writer's Notebook and a Reader's Notebook (too confusing) last year. I've also struggled with setting up sections. How many pages to allocate per section? This year I decided to have a W-RN (Writer's Reader's Notebook) and a RM (Reference Manual) for my 6th grade students.
    Students will use the Writer’s Reader’s Notebook (WRN) as a tool to collect and develop ideas for writing.
    The WRN also provides a place to practice comprehension strategies, respond to literature, and reflect on independent reading.
    The Reference Manual (RM) will include class notes regarding WOW (word of the week) vocabulary, comprehension strategies, grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling strategies.
    I'm also trying to use a table of contents again this year. I would love to hear how other middle school teachers handle writer's notebooks.

  3. My own writer's notebook is a mixture of everything all dumped into no particular place. So,that means my students' notebooks are the same way. I am going to try your suggestion for my own as well as my students' notebooks. Thanks so much for the suggestion.

  4. This is very similar to what I have come up with for my students. The strategies section in their notebooks will be filled with interactive notebook entries. I am still trying to decide whether to separate this from the entries or just scatter them throughout when needed. If they have a table of contents it would still be organized this way.