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Writing in Cafe 1123

"Words are a poet's paint...Every word has the power to make something happen."
 -Poet and Author Georgia Heard

What I Know About Writing

The first step in helping kids become great writers is convincing them that they have a story to tell. Authors aren't struck with great story ideas, they work for them. Just like Peyton Manning had to practice to become a first class quarterback or Venus Williams had to practice before becoming a terrific tennis player, authors too must practice by looking for ideas and then trying to stretch those ideas out. Here's some ways we help students look for ideas around them.

Heart Map
from Georgia Heard's Awakening the Heart
What is important to you? What's on your heart?

An authority list: what are you an authority on? What do you know the most about?

Writing From a Word
Choose a word and just begin to write everything you can from that word. This particular entry is based on writing from your name. It's an easy word to help kids get started because most of them have strong feelings (good or bad!) about their names.

Making a List
Ten best moments, seven worst moments - Life isn't always sunshine and rainbows. Writing isn't always about happy topics. Writing is about emotions and what comes from the heart, and often those things are sad. It's important to help kids understand that also.

Observing From Your Senses
It's important to really observe. Look around like a poet would. Dig deep. What do you see in detail, below the surface? Take your time and look around you.

Think, Wonder, and Question

Kids are natural questioners. I read somewhere that the average four year old asks over 400 questions a day, and after living with my son (who won the "Curious Learner" award in his class last year!) let me tell you I believe it! This strategy lets kids tap into that natural curiosity. There is no question too big or too small.  Share your own questions and let the kids take it from there. 
These are my questions/wonderings in my notebook. I'll take any chance I get to color! It gets the kids interested in what we are doing because third graders don't get to color too often and most still enjoy it.

Writing About Yourself

I am beyond excited for next week because we will be writing in our writer's notebooks for the very first time. Last week we covered the notebooks but next week we will dive in and learn what can be found in a writer's notebook and begin to live a writer's life.

One of the lessons that we will do next week involves thinking about yourself and coming up with words that describe you or questions you have about yourself. I found this terrific video from the artist (doesn't his name just make you think of poetry and self-expression?) singing the song "What I Am." This goes along perfectly with our lesson on Friday. Even if it is Sesame Street, I want the kids to pay attention to the words and how they match the characters, not the fact that Bert and Ernie are singing. I want the kids to think about what words they would use to describe themselves if they were in the song.

Here's the video. Enjoy!

Here's a video of just the lyrics. Some of the words are a little difficult to understand so it helps to see them scroll by.

Writing Unit 2

Tomorrow we will launch into our second writing unit. This unit focuses on writing a personal narrative. At the end of five weeks, students will publish a picture book to tell their story. Goals for this unit include choosing a topic, narrowing the topic so it isn't so broad, writing a strong lead and satisfying ending, and adding details to the story to make it interesting.

The first two days of this unit are spent helping kids think of possible ideas for topics to write about. Day one is thinking of important people in your life and experiences you've shared with that person. It's important for kids to realize that they are the main character in this story. This isn't time to write about sister's birthday party or the time Uncle Johnny had car trouble. 

Day 1 - Important People In Your Life
Here's my notebook entries to use for the lesson on important people in my life. At first I made a web of important people in my life and thought of three or four big events that happened with that person. This was quick - maybe 5 minutes or less. That's why I didn't make it fancy. 

After that I decided on one item I wrote on my web to zoom in on and write more about. I decided to write about the day I finally got to bring my baby home from the hospital. I took some time to really think deep and brainstorm as many details as I could remember. I decided to record the details in some sort of graphic organizer, so I sort of borrowed the heart map idea and tweaked it.

Then after brainstorming I decided to write a little entry in my writer's notebook. Here's what I've got so far. Is it ready to draft? Absolutely not! But as I tell the kids, your writer's notebook is like a dressing room in a store - you go in, try things on, see how they work, and then make decisions. You aren't ready to wear things out in public yet. The same goes for your writer's notebook - you open it up, write things, try ideas out, and make decisions. It's not a place for finished items. I'm still "in the dressing room" so to speak on this one.

Day 2 - Important Places In Your Life
Here are my notebook entries to use for that lesson. It is important to do the same things you are asking kids to do - write in your writer's notebook and do what the kids will do. It gives you a lot of insight! Just like day 1, the focus is generating a lot of possible ideas to write about. Give the kids some time to think about important places or the setting for important moments in their lives. I made a graphic organizer in my notebook to help me keep my thoughts straight. Here it is.

After generating possible topics, have the kids choose on to zoom in on. Give them time to brainstorm details and organize their ideas. I decided to write about the time my dog got lost. This happened at my home, so thinking about things that happened at home gave me the spark for that idea. I want to make sure the kids include concrete details in their writing so I tried to remember as many sensory details as I could before I attempted to write the full entry in my notebook.

The top of the paw print is for sensory details. The big part of the print is for a timeline of events.


  1. Thank you for the great ideas! I found you via Pinterest.

  2. Love, love, love these ideas! Perfect timing as I am writing my lesson plans for the first week of school. Great ideas for getting writer's notebooks off to a on a good start!

    Lattes and Laughter

  3. Your simple drawings and love of writing and reading are infectious. They make me want to write.

  4. This is great! Good motivators for reluctant writers.

  5. Thank you for these posts and pictures! I have a few new ideas for my Writer's Notebook!

  6. I love your ideas! Very inspiring and helpful ways to motivate young authors!!

  7. Wow, great ideas and tips!! Your notebook is fabulous! Thank you for all of this!! It's great!!

  8. What did you use to make your tabs?

    1. For my tabs I use the Avery file folder tabs that can be found at any office supply store. They are stiff and thick. They are expensive but they do last. For the kids, I can't afford to use those tabs. I have tabbed student notebooks in two ways: buy the cheaper flags that are thinner (but still a little cost prohibitive at 9 reading and 8 writing units per year for 44 kids) OR use a colored dot sticker and fold it over the edge of the paper. The dot sticker thing works well and it is less expensive than other options. Hope that helps!

  9. These are really fun ideas! Im gonna write alot today✏��

  10. Just wondering what professional books about writing you would recommend. Thanks in advance!

    1. I'd recommend anything by Ralph Fletcher. His books are easy to read and you can go implement the ideas the next day. Ralph Fletcher has also written several books for kids that you can use as mentor texts during a minilesson.

      If you are looking for books about conventions, look for books by Jeff Anderson. His book "Everyday Editing" is a real winner.

      There is also the classic "The Art of Teaching Writing" by Lucy Calkins. Beware that it is a thick book and full of theory and not necessarily lesson ideas. My district uses her Units of Study as a writing curriculum.

  11. This was one of the best blog posts I've seen in "showing" how to break down a writing lesson. The style and format you use encourages children to want to write.

  12. Thank you so much! I love all of this!

  13. These ideas are FANTASTIC! Just what I need to get me excited to go back to work on Monday... Thank you for posting these!

  14. Great ideas! Thank you for sharing!


  15. Thank you so much.


  16. Do your kids write daily in their notebook, or is it simply for ideas and they write on loose paper? Also, how many pages do you have between each writing unit (tab)?

  17. Saw the heart map on pinterest and came over. Well worth the time, thank you!!