As much as I love to come up with clever writing prompts and activities for my students, I also love to see what they come up with on their own. At the beginning of the year, I make a big deal about how first graders get to make a lot of choices with their learning. One example is with their writing notebooks. Their writing notebooks get to be filled with their creative, brilliant, interesting ideas. Don't get me wrong, I for sure get those kids who end up writing about the same topic over and over (star wars, DS games, and cats to name a few). When I see too much repetition, that's a sign that we need to have a writing conference (or two) to brainstorm some new ideas. Sometimes a small group mini-lesson (or two or three) really help with this issue too.
At the beginning of the year, we brainstorm a list of ideas for what to write about. It's always so exciting at first with hands shooting up in the air. I learned the hard way that you can't just have this conversation once and expect the excitement to last the whole year. That's why I revisit this over and over again throughout the year.
For their writer's notebooks I just use spiral notebooks, which ends up saving a lot on my copies!
Last year, I started putting tabs in my students' writer's notebooks.
The tabs are a part of a page that they cut out (basically cutting around the tab) and then they glue it in their notebooks on the next available page.
There are a few reasons why I did this:
1. Helps with organization (even when they should be putting the date on each page)
2. It's easy to quickly flip to where they left off.
3. It's easy for me (and my student) to see how much they wrote for each month. I know quality is more important that quantity, but I also want to make sure they are meeting my expectations in this way. I love the way the tabs make this so easy to do.
You can see in the picture below that there were reading logs attached to the tabs. This is meant to be a record of the reading they do during Daily 5 throughout the month. It became a way for me to hold them accountable for Daily 5 and it helped keep them on track as well. I'm so in awe of those teachers who don't need any of these things!
(Oops, the tab got cut off in this pic)
I recommend training your students to jot down the date and title by practicing this as a class. Get them used to doing this before expecting them to do it every time independently! If it becomes habit, then they're more likely to remember to log down their books when they are independently reading during Daily 5. I tell them not to write it down until they finished the book. Since they keep all their books and writer's notebooks in their book boxes, this isn't a problem (usually) as long as you train them! :) I also like this because it gets them used to identifying the title and rating a story. We do a minilesson on how to rate a book. A few minilessons about opinions work with with this. (That's one of the common core standards too!) When I meet with them, their "ratings" can be a good conversation topic. If I see a lot of 3 star ratings, I tend to ask lots of questions about what they liked about the books to get them thinking more critically about the books.
I use these for a writer's notebook:
Print enough for your class (I do one month at a time). Cut on outer solid lines. Glue so that the edge of the paper lines up to the edge of the paper on the notebook page. That way the tab is sticking out but not the rest of the paper.
*UPDATE: As of June 2015, I've updated these reading and writing tabs. These look much better! :)
When do they use their notebooks?
Students write in their writer's notebooks during daily 5 when I am meeting with reading groups or having conferences. It's one of their rotations (along with literacy centers).
They also can write in their notebooks anytime they have extra time (early finishers). When I do small group writing lessons, they always bring their notebooks with them. During writer's workshop I do a variety of things, so they may not always use their notebooks (sometimes I model, sometimes we do shared writing, and sometimes I may have a separate writing page with a prompt).
Don't learn the hard way like I did! Set those expectations and be clear and follow through. I was a little too free with writer's notebooks at first. Kids need those boundaries. I confess, I've had a few kids only drawing pictures (well past the point when they were more than capable of writing) or it was so sloppy and all over the place that I couldn't figure out what was going on. Rookie mistake! My expectations for the beginning of the year are:
1. Draw a picture to go with your writing.
2. Use spaces between words and between lines (model and practice this! It's not as easy as it sounds and some kids take a while to start using spaces between words.)
3. Use nice handwriting (don't rush your writing).
4. Use best guess spelling and any other resources (word wall or words around the room)
As the year goes on, they don't have to draw a picture but I do expect more writing. I also have student conferences where I set my expectations with that individual student to go along with goals. I think this is important so I can make sure I'm meeting the needs of each student and giving them an appropriate expectation. I still continue to have tons of lessons where I model good writing and review expectations. Naturally, as you teach new skills, your expectations will evolve.
Here's an example of a student's notebook:
I wish I had a better camera so you could actually read the writing! I like to write notes in their notebooks (with their permission- some prefer sticky notes). If I check these on my own time, then I write my notes and the next time we have a conference together we can go over my notes.
I don't always "grade" their notebooks the same way I would other writing assignments. Instead, I assess by looking for evidence of certain skills. I use this sheet:
Click on the left picture to go to my Teacher's Notebook store and the right picture to go to my TPT store to download for free. (You don't need to go to both though. All freebies can be found at both.) If you do, please consider "following" or adding to your favorites.
I circle a few skills that I observed in their notebooks and then I circle one or two things that the student needs to work on. I try to do a couple a day so that I check every student's notebook every few weeks. This could be done with the student during a writing conference or it could be done after school on your own time. In a perfect world I would do all assessments during a writing conference but sometimes it doesn't work out how I planned and I want to make sure that I check in on everyone's notebooks.
This year I'll keep track of it all using this checklist:
And these two will be per student. Dates will go at the top.
When I need to get an actual grade, I'll choose an entry from the journal or do another writing assignment and use a rubric to get an objective score. To read more about how I use rubrics, click on the pink pictures below. To read more about my reader response pack, click on the green picture.