The centerpiece of writing instruction in my classroom is the Writer’s Notebook. And that begins with the students getting a composition book at the store at the start of the school year.
More specifically, I make them get a 100 page composition book. Not 70, not 80. 100. Since I have the students do a lot of writing, and a fairly decent amount of writing about writing, they need quite a bit of space for their words. I also want them to feel comfortable with all of the composing they will be doing, so I make sure to tell them to get wide-ruled–college-ruled is too tight, and doesn’t allow room for students to take notes in planning their revisions.
I also make sure that the Writer’s Notebook stays simple. One of the key features of the the notebook is that the writing is low-stakes. I will never put pressure on my students to write according to a rubric or scoring guide. They just need to write. Thus, I only give them 3 rules and guidelines.
1. Write in paragraphs. I teach high school ELA. By the time they reach me, I think it is reasonable to expect students write in paragraphs, even when the writing is low-stakes. If they are shifting their subject or topic, they need to indent and start a new paragraph.
2. 1 page = 150 words. This is a flexible guideline. It would change depending on the grade level and/or ability level of the students. To ensure clarity for students, I set a word count so they know when they are “done” with a notebook entry.
3. 1 entry = 1 page. I added this guideline because a few students in the past would keep writing and writing. An entry would span two or three pages. I want them to reign it in a little. But I will allow them to keep building on an entry by writing a series of entries, if they have enough foresight. So, they can develop an idea that spans two or more entries, if they choose.
The students list these rules and guidelines on the final page of the their Writer’s Notebooks, functioning kind of like an appendix. It’s there for accountability and a reminder.
Here’s the breakdown for all the sections I use for the Writer’s Notebook:
If you would like a copy, her’s a link to a Google Doc for the Writer’s Notebook Set-Up.
What rules do you have for low-stakes writing? Leave your thought in the comment section below. And if you know others looking to join in a discussion about the Writer’s Notebook, share this post with them.