Sherry’s Writing Weblog

November 9, 2008

From Notebook to First Draft

Filed under: Mini-Lessons for Writer's Notebooks — sdoherty @ 3:19 pm

In my professional reading about writing I’ve been particularly interested in finding ways to help students move from the writer’s notebook to a first draft.  I’ve discovered the following possibilities:

1.  After a few weeks of writing entries, have students reread their notebooks to look for patterns in their writing.  What particular topic or topics do they write about most often?  Once they’ve discovered a pattern, have students highlight the entries that contain this topic and begin to put together a collection of thoughts they’ve written about the topic.  From this collection students can develop a published piece.  There may be a common underlying theme that pops right out, or students may need a conference with the teacher to flush out a key idea.  Holding a conference with a group is very helpful because students gain knowledge and ideas from listening to the feedback given to others.  Also, in a group conference ideas may come from more than one source which is usually the teacher.  Talking to peers about their collection is helpful as well.  The published piece can be a poem, song, picture book for kids, newspaper article, recount or memoir, letter, and so on.

2.  In The Art of Teaching Writing, Lucy McCormick Calkins suggests that students reread their notebooks and highlight something that grabs their attention or captures their hearts.  They should then live with that topic for awhile.  For a couple of days they should dedicate their writing to, or pursue that topic–thinking, questioning, drawing, writing, talking, remembering, imagining, etc.  Then they should decide on a format (poem, story, etc.) and write a first draft.

As with all stages of writing, moving from notebook to first draft takes time.  Time to think and rethink, time to talk, and time to confer with the teacher.  It is vital to give students the time they need during this pre-writing stage.  Mini-lessons with small groups or the entire class may be necessary to support students or scaffold their learning.

I’m interested in hearing about the writer’s notebook from other teachers.  How are you using it?  How is it going?  Do you have any thoughts or ideas that you could share with others? Are you excited? Are you frustrated? (Writing is difficult.  Teaching writing is even more difficult.)  I’d love to hear from you.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog.  Please consider answering the questions I’ve posted in the entry ‘Please Help’.  You would be doing me a tremendous favour.



  1. Hi Sherry,

    Love your ideas. I’m teaching grade 4 this year and LOVE this age group. They are so excited about writing and they really enjoying sharing their work. I find it so interesting how freeing them from subject matter can really get them going.
    I like to begin the year with an open writing challenge. I present them with a binder that’s filled with plastic covers (the ones that are like pouches you can slide work into). I tell them that whenever they would like to write something for this book, they may submit to me. They usually write at home or during lunch or during free time. They write independently or with others.
    When they feel thay are finshed, I’ll look it over and help them somewhat with editing and then have them “publish” this into the book. Each piece is illustrated and as neat as possible. I do not access this work, of course, but I do “sticker it” and comment on it and try to find at least one positive thing to mention: “Great use of quotation marks” or good organization into paragraphs”, or “Super use of voice”, etc. Students share their writing during our independent reading time as well as during a sharing time (usally once a week). This is such a success! We have all kinds of forms of writing in this book: letters, notes, journal entries, all kinds of stories, puzzles,etc. They are so excited to read their works in front of their peers and in doing so they teach others their skills and learn from the feedback of their teacher and classmates.
    What I’ve found is that my students are now so much more confident and excited as writers when they go to write any “assigned” work and that I have to “teach” far less because we have already looked at so many different forms as a class and have discussed them so much already. I often just have to remind them of their own work: “When you write your letters today, remember how effective Sarah’s letter was when she organized it logically, etc.”
    Anyways, that’s my best tip for writing. Thanks again Sherry for all your tips!

    Comment by irene — November 9, 2008 @ 4:19 pm

  2. I am teaching writers notebook (writing) to a 6th grade class. They have written to “INTRODUCE” their notebook to the world and they have written the history of their name…I am in the market (ha ha ha) for a mini lesson for Monday to teach them to begin to write daily in their WN. Could you advise?

    Comment by Tamara Cosby — October 17, 2010 @ 9:23 pm

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