Using Notebooks in Writing Workshop by Elisa Waingort

Using notebooks in writing workshop image

Writing workshop and writing notebooks are staples in my classroom.

However, I rarely had a plan for how I would introduce notebooks or what we would do with them after that initial lesson.

So, it should come as no surprise that most of my students had no clue what to do with their notebooks other than what they’d used them for in the past: a place for writing whatever the teacher assigned.

I haven’t been successful at teaching my students the purpose of the writer’s notebook: to support them on their journey to becoming more effective writers.

I tell students notebooks are for jotting down writing ideas, trying out new techniques, doing quick writes, playing with language, and capturing small moments they might later develop into a writing project. Notebooks are a holding place for writing ideas and daily practice.

However, telling and demonstrating aren’t the same thing.

No matter what my words say, my actions are what matter.

I need to share how I use my writing notebook so students can imagine similar or new possibilities for themselves.

Sharing your notebook quote image

I want students to feel safe in the knowledge that their notebook is a place to write without being judged or graded.

This year I plan to reflect on how I use my own notebook and observe how students use theirs to support everyone’s development as writers. Going slow in the beginning will help students get the most out of their notebooks.

And, since I want students to view their notebooks as a place to grow ideas and to grow themselves as writers, I also need to be explicit in the language I use in lessons and interactions with students.

This is my plan for September:

  • Students will have time in class to personalize the cover of their notebooks. Although this is not a requirement, it might add a touch of excitement to starting a writer’s notebook. It might also build anticipation for writing in the notebooks. I will use this time to interview students about their writing experiences.

  • After students personalize their notebooks, we will put them away while I introduce the writing workshop structure and help students build writing stamina; I want to add a little anticipation to using the notebooks and not using them immediately seems to be the best way to do this.

  • Over a period of a couple of weeks, students will share artifacts that represent them. They will use their objects/photographs to start a list of the things they care about.

  • Students will choose one idea from their list for a five to ten minute quick write.

For ongoing notebooking, I plan offer the following invitations, and others, to students as shared in the Teach Write Time to Write Workshops:

  • Notebooking BINGO

  • Monthly writing challenges that students can share on a Padlet or through Flipgrid, especially if we are back to a remote setting.

  • Setting a goal at the end of writing workshop and writing it in our notebooks for the next day. Planning for writing helps students stay focused and engaged.

  • Sharing our writing celebrations.

  • Response partners for feedback, listening, etc.

  • Including images, cartoons, song lyrics (poetry), photos, doodling and symbols.The objective is to communicate our thinking in a variety of ways.

My students and I will find other creative ways to use our notebooks. The key is to have an explicit plan for getting started with notebooks and to be open and flexible to new ways for using them.

As long as the end goal is to grow as writers who communicate important ideas we can’t go wrong!


Elisa Waingort is a grade 4/5 Spanish bilingual teacher in the Calgary, Canada. She has taught for 35 years and has always explored writing with her students through a writing workshop approach. Elisa is a participant in the Teach Write Time to Write Workshop where she continues to discover what it means to be a teacher-writer by belonging to a community of writers. 

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