Getting Started with Writing: Tiny Notebooks

Ok…do I need to start by explaining my love for the teaching of writing?  Or just my love of writing itself?  Probably not.  You’ve read those stories before, right? 🙂

We got started with writing in 2nd grade on our second day.  I started by reading two books:

I chose them partly to be funny (The Incredible teacher one was because their notebooks used to be full-sized and are now only half-sized notebooks like I used here.  By the way, they didn’t think this was funny. LOL), and also to give us an idea for somewhere to get started (an entry about something they had done over the summer).  Before they left we had a quick reminder of how to label each entry, as well as a reteach of how to use the date stamp (yes, there is a lesson for this!).

Ignore that big blue was from another conversation we were having about how authors sometimes sign their books....

Ignore that big blue scribble…it was from another conversation we were having about how authors sometimes sign their books….

After our lesson, most kiddos got to their spots and got started quickly.  Some took a little extra long with the date stamp, and some did a lot of thinking.  I’d say most of us got something on the paper, but I did hear some of those dreaded words: “I don’t have anything to write about!” Ugh.  But then I remembered they were second graders AND it was the second day of school, so they may have been a little rusty.  I worked with one friend to put an ideas list in the back of his notebook (like we had done last year but he had probably forgotten), and had multiple conversations with friends about how to find an idea (like talking to another friend about their writing, thinking about their day, showing them an example in my Writer’s Notebooks or using a book for inspiration).  We had a quick share at the end of our writing time and got ready to move on.   I LOVED it when the next question was, “Can I take this journal home and finish my writing for homework?”  Well, of course, dear friend, you can do that! 🙂  I LOVE this not because I wanted my little friends to have homework, but because it shows me that they are already getting the idea that writing can happen anywhere, and that their stories are important enough to them that they want to finish sharing them.  And yes, those notebooks came back the next day. 🙂

This whole “I don’t know what to write about” thing had me thinking about what to do the next day.  I needed to get them thinking again about how ANYTHING could be an idea for writing, not just great big events or monumental occurrences.  Ideas come from watching the world in a new way and expecting to see stories.  Those can happen on the way to school, while you’re eating breakfast or at recess.  And probably when you’re least expecting them.

This made me think about how to connect this idea to something they could understand.  I thought about we could explore the idea of a scrapbook and how your Writer’s Notebook is a place to collect things you don’t want to forget.  I pulled out my very first notebook (which I started in the summer of 2005, 10 years ago), and read a couple of entries (I wish now I’d brought that notebook home so I could show you those entries–boo. :().  I talked about how the moments I wrote about were not “BIG” deals, and I wouldn’t remember them now if I hadn’t written them down.  We connected this to how in Inside Out the memories turn gray in long-term memory and are sucked away forever (good thing I’m up on pop culture, huh? Never know where a connection will come from!).  We don’t want this to happen to our memories, and it doesn’t have to if we collect them!  For them, 10 years from now is when they go to college–how cool for them to be able to think about things they want to remember at that point in their lives.  Totally didn’t mean for that connection to happen, but was SUPER glad it did!

Then we read a book (as another way to help them visualize the possibilities) and made a chart of the small stories in there that we could write about:

This got many kids thinking and they shared new sparks they had: one friend said he could put in the necklace he wore this summer on the airplane when he flew by himself, and another friend wanted to bring pictures of his dogs–because they will probably be dead in 10 years and he doesn’t want to forget them.  Cute, right?  That same friend wanted a picture of me so he could remember me in college, too.  He wrote this entry with that picture:

Screen Shot 2015-08-23 at 9.36.11 AMWhile of course I love this entry because it’s about me (ha!), but also because it is the definition of how I want them to be thinking about their notebooks as a way to collect and curate their thoughts.  Plus I think it’s just cool how deep and wide 2nd graders can think when we give them an invitation and opportunity to do so. 🙂

Notebook Day! (a.k.a. SepChristmas)

We had a special day on Monday!  It was Notebook Day!  I wish I would have taken a pic of the big ‘ole pile of wrapped up notebooks, but I was so excited to give them out that I forgot. Boo. 😦

But just like last year (and for many years, actually) my friends got a special gift wrapped up all special, with an even more special note attached.  Here’s this year’s note:

Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 8.36.28 PMThe paper they were wrapped in was covered in moustaches!  (On a side note, what is it with kids loving everything moustache lately?!)

Then it was time to pass them out.  So each kiddo, one at a time, came up to sign the pledge (which I’ll share soon–it’s at school. 😦 ), get their secret package AND a new pen!  The smiles on faces where SO GREAT!!  Here’s a little bit of how our “signing ceremony” went:

Yeah…somehow I got cut off there at the end, sorry.  🙂

I love that DeShala was the one who coined this special day SepChristmas, since it was like Christmas in September!  Yep, love it.

So once everyone pledged that they were going to do their best to grow and learn as writers this year, it was time.  And so on the count of 3…

Here’s to a great writing journey this year, friends of Rm. 202!  Let’s get this party started!

This is HARD!

I am a writer.  I am not a published author, but I see myself as a person with an opinion, something smart to say, someone with ideas to express.  I do that is many venues, and one of them includes following along in each writing cycle that I ask my students to go through.

Usually this is a relatively easy task.  I’ve been writing for myself for years now, and have TONS of ideas to choose from in my many Writer’s Notebooks.  And as long as the genre is something non-fiction, I’m ok.  And then this time every year a fiction cycle rolls around and I start to get nervous.   For whatever reason, writing a story is just not something that comes easily to me.  It seems that every story I do end up writing has something to do with Santa Claus or Christmas.  Other than that, I got nothing.

So when we got to Thursday–drafting day–I should have been ready to sit down with my students and use my own seed idea and nurturing notes to draft, I had a little confession to make instead.

“THIS IS HARD!” I started.   I had to admit to them that I was not ready to draft.  I had to tell them that, in fact, I didn’t even have a start of an idea.  I had NOTHING!  Ok, not nothing–I did have 7 years of Writer’s Notebook filled with ideas, but nothing that spoke to me and said, “Hey, Mrs. Bearden–write a story about this!” or that could easily fit into a Santa or Christmas story (that’s all I know how to write about, remember??).

So on drafting day, instead of drafting, my job was to figure out my idea.  But I needed help.  And I knew just the people to ask. 🙂

As my students worked on their own drafts, then, I went back to work digging through my notebooks to find anything that I was at least a little bit interested in.  I wasn’t really even sure what I was looking for, but I did end up finding a couple of cute stories from my childhood.  Then one about my little brother.  And another about something funny my husband did when he was a kid.  And so finally my wheels starting turning…

After a few minutes, I at least had a start:

                       IMG622          IMG623

What I came up with was an idea to incorporate many stories from my childhood (about me, my brother, my dad, my husband) into one, set in an old house I used to live in. The trouble was figuring out how to do that.  All I had to do was just begin to mention all of this to my students and within about 10 seconds I had at least 10 possibilities–one that even had a link to Christmas!  Love it.

And do now my hard work continues as I try this weekend to come up with my draft.  And believe me, it’ll have to happen, regardless of how impossible it feels to me now.  They’re counting on me.  I ask them to do it, so I should be able to do it, too, right?  I’ll let you know the answer to that when I figure it out.  Hopefully before Monday. 🙂

What’s your favorite genre to write?  Is there one that’s easier or harder for you?  Tell us about it!

Dot, Dash, Slash, Comma (And All That Other Stuff, Too…)

We have been on a journey these last few weeks.  It’s a journey many of my students have never been on before.  And it’s related to these piles of books:

Can you see it?  All the punctuation goodness on that table?  No?  Well my kiddos can now.   Let me tell you about it. 🙂

Punctuation is a funny thing.  No?  You never thought of it that way?  Well, it’s one of those things that has gotten a bad wrap for a long time, and without good cause–in my opinion.  Many people (including most kids!) think of punctuation as a bad word.  It’s just a you-have-to-go-back-and-add-it-in-the-right-place-at-the-end-because-your-teacher-told-you-too kind of a thing.  Not a this-really-matters-and-helps-me-as-a-writer kind of thing.  And that’s too bad.  Punctuation is a powerful tool for a writer, and I want my kiddos to know that.  But it’s only a powerful tool if you know how to use it, and most of my kids don’t.  At least not yet.  With this goal, we started 2nd quarter Writer’s Workshop.

After spending a bit of time on what they already knew (or thought they knew) about punctuation, I asked them to tell me if they’d ever thought about what it meant.  Most said no.  Some even groaned a little bit at the beginning of this conversation when I said the word.  It was obvious that they’d never had a positive experience with this topic, and that made me a little sad.    As a means to hook them in, and get them to understand my goal for this study, we visited a section of a book we have read together and all love: Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea.  I found a place in the book I knew we could all chew on together; the paragraph right before the big action in the book was a great place to dig in.  I asked them to talk to a partner next to them about why the highlighted sentence was written the way it was, and how it would be different if it had been written without the given punctuation.  We discovered that the punctuation (which was mainly a series of commas) was there to force us as the readers to slow down.  The part just before was fast-paced, crazy and choatic; the commas made us slow down and pay attention to what was happening next.  And what happened next was the climax of the story–without it, the rest of the book wouldn’t have happened.

So remember that pile up there?  After we set the table, and got them feeling a little more love for this idea of punctuation, I put them into study groups.  They had one goal (ok, I guess it was really two): find examples of punctuation in the texts they were given, and figure out what it means when authors use it.  They had a chart to fill out with their partners and a big chunk of time to search.

After the groups had a couple of days to study (yep, you heard right–they worked diligently on this treasure hunt for 2 days!), we gathered to collect our thinking on a big class chart.  They took turned sharing the marks they found and telling the rest of us what they thought it meant. For some this was hard thinking, since they hadn’t done it before.  By the end of the first day we had this:

Ok, that’s not exactly true.  We had all but the hyphen part, but hey–good stuff, right?  They were amazed that they had figured all this out, and that they did it all without me telling them what it was.

The second day we added some thinking about hyphens:

I wish I would have recorded this conversation, because it was so great!  It started with the discovery that a hyphen (-) and a dash (–) are actually two completely different punctuation marks, which mean (and are used in) completely different ways! (Did you know that?) This totally blew some kiddos’ minds and so we had to dig in a little deeper to figure out what each meant.  And hyphens were first.  The first two meanings were hard to explain, but once we started to find examples in the texts we were reading that fit each one, it became more clear.

Since then, we’ve come back every day to add a little more smart thinking.  So far (and we’re only a little past halfway done), we have another whole chart the size of this one, plus we’ve started a third.  The things they are discovering are amazing.  The most amazing–and meaningful–part is that they’re doing it all for themselves.  I’m not pouring the information into their heads, or having them spend time correcting sentences in an isolated exercise for morning work; we’re learning together and really focusing in on what these marks mean.  They’re beginning to care, and they’re beginning to notice these marks more and more–in their reading and now in their own writing!  They are aiming to use them in new ways, and can even tell you how a paragraph is punctuated as I read it aloud to them.  Often I’ll stop after we’ve read something in our chapter book and ask “What do you think that looks like?” and they can tell me exactly what kind of punctuation is there!

Teaching about punctuation is not hard.  But it is time-consuming, and it does require me to know more than I may have first considered about the topic, as well.  But the time that is definitely well spent.  These friends are walking away from each conversation we have with a new understanding of how to they can use punctuation just like word choice, organization, paragraphing, and voice to create a more meaningful experience for the reader.   Pretty cool, right? 🙂

Now the first section hangs on our windows, where it will be there for us to use for the rest of the year!  The goal (and I think they will make it!) is to make their punctuation chart “6 windows” long.  So far we’re at 4 or 5, and still going!  SO MUCH LEARNING!!

What are your feelings about punctuation?  How did you learn about it when you were in school?  How do you teach punctuation in your class?  If you’re a parent, what are you noticing (or hearing) about punctuation with  your student?  Please comment and let us know what you’re thinking! 🙂

They Grow Up So Fast…

Ok, so in order to understand this post, you probably should have already read this one.  Anyhow…today was one of the most exciting days in our classroom up to now.  Really–I was excited for what I knew would come from that mysterious pile of brown-paper-wrapped rectangles–and my kids didn’t disappoint with their reaction to the whole thing.


So that answer to that question yesterday was this:

Each kiddo was given their very own, specially wrapped Writer’s Notebook!  I gave them a new pen, too, since we have a “pen only” rule when we write in our notebooks.  And it was the clicky kind of pen, which was extra cool.


Now….before they could be gifted their very own, specially wrapped new Writer’s Notebook—which we fondly refer to as our “bears”–they had to agree to a few specific things and sign our class writing pledge (I’ll show you that tomorrow!).  Then the brown-paper-package was theirs (and yes, I was tempted to tie them up with string!).  Just look at their faces:


The whole class waited with anticipation as each kiddo individually came up to the easel to promise, then sign the pledge, and were given their goodies.  Then once we all had our presents, they got busy unwrapping:


Ok, and so while I know that video is blurry in places (sorry!) and out-of-focus (sorry again!), I KNOW you can see the joy on their faces and hear the excitement in their voices.  And believe me, it’s all real.  They have been waiting for this day for a while (like Devan said today, “It only took 4 weeks!”), knowing that one special day, after they’d learned the right way to use that Writer’s Notebook, they’d have their own.  From the second I walked over to my chair with the pile in my arms, I heard whispers of “today’s the day” and “those are our notebooks!” and lots of suddenly-jumpy 5th graders who were eager–honestly eager–to start the next phase of our writing journey.  AND I LOVE THAT!


So now their “cubs” have grown into “bears” (which I heard Anna exclaim after she’d unwrapped her present) and they’re ready to continue their learning journey as capable, FEARLESS fifth grade writers.

Do you have a Writer’s Notebook?  Does it have a special name?  What does it look like? Our homework tonight was to decorate our notebooks.  🙂

Just Goofing Around

Think of the feeling when you have to wear “church” clothes.  Or maybe for you, it’s easier to think about wearing a formal, like for a wedding or a fancy dinner.  You probably feel all stiff and uncomfortable, maybe itchy and hot.  If you’re in the wedding, you might feel like everyone is watching you, just waiting for you to make a mistake or drop something.  If you’re at that fancy dinner, you might be nervous that you’ll use the wrong fork, or not be able to read the menu because it’s in another language.  I remember that from prom when my date and I went to a really expensive French restaurant.  I couldn’t even have fun because I was so stressed out!

Now I don’t know about you, but at the end of a long day (even a great day like we had today), the first thing I do when I get home is put on my pjs.  I get comfortable–kind of like what you (or a kiddo) might do after that wedding, after you get home from church, after that fancy dinner is over.   From constricted to comfortable, into our “play clothes.”
That first example is how many people–kids and adults alike–feel about writing.  It’s uncomfortable and hard, with a  when-will-this-be-over kind of feeling.  Writer’s Workshop is a hated time, when all the pressure is on, and the teacher is watching your ever move.  Students may feel like they can’t do anything right, and they’re afraid they might make a mistake.

I want my writers to remember instead their play clothes; the way they feel and they freedom they are allowed in them.  When you’re wearing your play clothes you can get messy, run around, fall down and make mistakes.  There are no rules, really.  You feel alive!

So I want it to be in their Writer’s Notebook.  I want the writers I work with to feel energized when they sit down to write, ready to play with words and see what happens.  Their notebooks are allowed to be messy; it’s from the mess that masterpieces may emerge.

And so another notebook strategy was added today: Goof Around Writing.

First, I shared two entries from my own Writer’s Notebooks.  One was called “Ode to Mashed Potatoes” and the second was “Oh Sewing Machine, You are my Enemy!”  Each was just for fun, about how mashed potatoes tease me with their goodness but make me “fat, fat, fat” and then about a “fight” I had with my sewing machine last year when it wouldn’t work right.  Both were written in a playful manner, meant to sound silly and make you laugh.  But still, they were both based on my life.
Then my friends had a go.  They LOVED this, and there was much giggling as we shared our entries.  There were MANY kiddos who thought that you, dedicated blog reader, should be able to see what they did.  So here are some examples of what we did in our play clothes when we were just goofing around with our writing:





What do you do when you’re “goofing around” with writing?  What do your play clothes look like?  Please leave us a comment and tell us about it!  We’d love to read your thoughts! 🙂

Put Your Cub in the Den

If you’ve visited our schedule page, if you’ve been here a while, or if you know me, then you know that writing is a big deal in my classroom.   So getting into Writer’s Workshop is also a big deal.  There is a very special way that I introduce Writer’s Notebooks, a special way I share myself as a writer, and so then writing becomes a very special thing to my students, too.   It works out really nicely.  🙂

So…a couple of years into teaching 4th grade, I came up with what I thought was a great idea.  At that point, Steno notebooks were EVERYWHERE, and I found a new way to use them.  Rather than having my kiddos jump right into their Writer’s Notebooks, I gave them a “practice” notebook where I would teach them my way of using the notebook, a place to give it a try and make mistakes.  Then, once they had proved to me that they were ready, they got to “move in” to their real notebook.  Back then my class came up with the name of “training wheels” for that starter notebook, because of how you go through that learning stage before you ride a real bike.

This year, I knew I wanted to get back to this whole starter notebook idea (I hadn’t done it with my 5th graders yet), so I got to work.  Instead of using Stenos, though, which are strangely hard to find now, I decided to use a half-sized notebook.  Just a few quick slices of the paper cutter and you have a class set like this:

I liked how they are pint-sized, so are therefore portable, but have big enough pages that you can finish most thoughts on one page.

I told my class the story of the training wheels, and set goals for how I wanted them to use these notebooks over the next few weeks.  Then I asked them if they wanted to stick with the old name, or create a new one that was just for us.  And so the idea of the “cub” was born.  Instead of having  training wheels that led them to a bike, they decided that they would instead have a cub that grew up into a bear!  Then, they even renamed our cubbies (the places where they store their stuff) DENS, so they could put their BEAR in the DEN.  Get it?  Like Bearden?  That’s actually how I tell people how to spell my name: like a bear in a den.  HA!  And so the cub was born.  And very soon everyone’s cubs will become bears.  🙂

But what do we put in our cubs?  What am I teaching them to put in their notebooks?

It all started with a definition, courtesy of Ralph Fletcher:

A container.  A ditch.  A place to live like a writer.  I want my writers to think of this little notebook as a place to collect ideas, to save secrets, to start stories.  It’s a place they will visit each day, writing in a variety of different ways, collecting entries that they will come back to over and over again in their future–for sure in their 5th grade futures, but hopefully (if I do my job right!) their farther futures, too.  I am up to my 11th WNB, the first of which dates back to 2005, and I still use them everyday!

So far, we’ve learned these strategies for our writing toolboxes:

1. Lists: you can use this strategy for anything!  A list of favorite things, least favorite things, names, places, foods, story ideas–ANYTHING!  Like this, for example:


2. Memories:  I define a memory as anything that has happened to you in your past (and remember–5 minutes ago is the past!) that you want to remember.  It doesn’t have to be huge or monumental or “special,”  just memorable.  And important to you.  We’re learning that almost anything in our lives is “worthy” to be kept in our notebooks, and that we can write about these ordinary events in an extraordinary way.

A 5th grade memory or two:



3. Artifacts:These are really an extension of memories, and involves the “stuff” you put in your notebook that triggers memories–photographs, newspaper clippings, ticket stubs, candy wrappers, flower petals, cards, notes.  You name it!  Someone even taped a quarter into his notebook the other day because it sparked a story he’d heard before.  For us, it’s been mostly magazines lately.  I give them very specific directions about how the WRITING and THINKING is more important than the picture, and that they should not just cut out any old picture and write “I like…”  They are totally rocking at finding the deeper stories behind plain pictures they find in our classroom magazine bin.

For example:


4. Questions: We call these “fierce wonderings” (again per Ralph Fletcher’s smart thinking!).   We talked about how we wanted the focus to be on big questions that may not have an answer–at least not one that we can find easily or at this point in our lives.  We discovered that often fierce wonderings start with “why.”

5. Observations/Descriptions:  We added these to our strategy list today, and I can’t wait to share them with you soon!

I love the stories I keep hearing from families about how excited their students are to be writing!  They are already doing an AMAZING job with this!  But hey, that’s because they’re AMAZING kiddos!

What do you write about?  Have you ever tried any of these strategies in your own writing?  What can you add to our list of entry suggestions?  Leave a comment and share your thoughts! We LOVE to read comments!


If I Didn’t Write to Empy My Mind, I’d Go Crazy

Anyone who spends time in my classroom for longer than five minutes can (hopefully) see these things about me as a teacher:

  • I love natural light.  The overhead lights are almost never on.  We’re lucky that we have a whole wall of really tall windows that make our classroom nice and bright without artificial light.  Amazing.
  • I love to make my classroom as “homey” as possible.  You’ll find rugs and lamps, a coffee table and other touches all over the place.
  • I like to have things organized.  There are not many things that I care about in my classroom–as far as what things look like or how you do your work–but labels and neatness are two of them.  I spend a lot of time labeling things before my kids come, so that everyone knows which things are theirs and where those things are supposed to go.  There are baskets for supplies on the window sills, boxes for books all around the room, tubs on table tops for keeping Writer’s Notebooks, Read-Aloud Journals, pens and pencils.
  • I love to write.  Not just like it, love it.  I talk about it all the time.  I can probably find a way to turn almost any conversation around to writing.  What, when, how–you name it.

Ok, so maybe you couldn’t see that by looking in my classroom, but you could certainly tell it after a 5 minute conversation with me.  Or with my students. And the foundation of this obsession goes way back. Here’s my story:

I have always loved to write.  When I was a kid, author was on my short list of things to be when I grew up–right next to nurse and teacher.  I always loved writing in school, and was a pretty talented writer all the way through.  I still remember an epic poem I wrote in high school called The Hostage Gown (complete with footnotes and style and humor and wit) that I got a 100% on.  Mrs. Jessen was not an easy grader, either, so that was a bigger deal than it even seems.  But up to that point, most of the writing I did was because somebody else told me to.  Even in college, I was in an advanced comp class, and did pretty well.  But I still only wrote for teachers.  Never for myself.

Once I started teaching, writing became a bigger part of my life, but still only on a “school” level.  I started out in primary, and right or wrong, I found it easy to wing it teaching 1st grade writers; I didn’t need much practice to explain how to make a sentence or to use capital letters in the right places.  It wasn’t until 2005 that things changed for me.

A lot of things were new that year.  I was apprenticing to be a Project Construct facilitator for the state of Missouri, and I was also making a huge leap from 1st grade to 4th grade as a teacher.  So I spent a lot of time during that summer thinking and learning about writing.  I was excited about the prospects of teaching “big kids writers;” kids whose stories consisted of more than just a sentence or two and some pictures.  Kids who knew the basics and who could be stretched to a level I hadn’t yet be able to go with my students.

Enter some mentors of mine from Project Construct–Kristen Painter and Joyce Coats.  Both had this advice for me as we worked that summer: “If you’re going to teach 4th and 5th grade writing, you HAVE to have your own Writer’s Notebook.  All of your mini-lessons and teaching will come from there.”  Great! I can do that. I thought. But then I remembered that I didn’t have one.  I was a primary teacher who wasn’t really a writer myself, outside of functional writing I did everyday just to get things done.  And I didn’t even really know what a Writer’s Notebook was, much less how to use it or what to write in it.

Luckily, since it was summer and I was “off,” so I had lots of time to figure it out.  The very day or two after Joyce gave me that advice, I found myself in Border’s in front of the journal section shopping for just the right book in which to start.  It had to be the right size–small enough to fit in my purse so I could take it with me–but have the right kind of insides so my handwriting would look nice and neat.  I figured out it needed to be spiral bound so I could lay it flat, and then it needed to look just a certain way, too (but at that point I wasn’t sure what that really meant).  After what seemed like more than a half-hour’s work, I ended up with a small, black spiral notebook with rainbow edges.  Then I got busy making it mine.  Here’s what my very first Writer’s Notebook looked like:

As you can see, the front of it is specific to me.  It’s 6 years old, so a little worn, but you can see my family and friends; my dog, Floyd (who has since gone to live somewhere else); the year I was married (1998);  my job (teacher in Kirkwood School District); and an old greeting card business I was into at the time (Paper Soup Cards).  I love how Ralph Fletcher describes a Writer’s Notebook like a dorm room.  When you first start, it’s plain and white and boring.  They all look the same.  But slowly, as you “move in,” it starts to look like you, to take on your personality.

That first summer, I did all I could to fill that notebook up.  I wrote and wrote and wrote.  I used many of Ralph Fletcher’s suggestions, as well as those from my friends, about the what to write.  I had to figure out the when and the why.  And I guess that I did, because 6 years and almost 10 Writer’s Notebooks later, I’m still at it!  What I write and where I put my words has changed a little, but I’m still writing and loving it.

But why does it matter so much that I am a writer?  Well, because I am a writer, I know how writers work.  I understand how it’s hard to think about what to write sometimes.  I understand how great it feels to write on the last page (or the first page, for that matter!) of your Writer’s Notebook.  I have been where my students are, and have worked through some of the same problems they encounter in their work in our classroom.  I use my own writing during writing conferences, and talk with them about what I did when I had a problem.  And there’s something really special and powerful about the message of “I’ve been in your shoes.”  I think they trust me more.  They know I know what I’m talking about, and they try what I suggest.  The excitement in our room every year is contagious, and I like to think it’s because from day 1 they understand that we are all writers and that we’re going to do amazing things together.  And if for no other reason than I annoy them will all of my talk of writing, everyone leaves my class feeling a little more confident as a writer than when they came in–no matter where they started.

Oh, and one last thing.  I write so that I have material, so to speak, to use in Writer’s Workshop, but I really write for myself.  The quote I used in the title is from Lord Byron, I believe, and is totally the truth: If I didn’t write to empty my mind, I’d go crazy.  I am a thinker and a planner.  So that means that most of the time I have a million-and-one thoughts rolling around in my head, and they have to have somewhere to go.  So I collect them in my Writer’s Notebook.  Some of them I come back to and use again, some of them are just written down and left there.  Everyone has a stress-reliever, and mine is to write.  It’s therapy for me.  And it’s free therapy, which is a great thing.

So there’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.  And I wonder from you: Do you write?  If so, what/why do you write?  If not, what is keeping you from doing so? Comment and tell us about it!

Ok, sorry–one last quote: “Here’s the secret of writing: there is no secret.” Ralph Fletcher

Nope.  Not done.  One more: “I write every day for two hours. But it’s what I do for the other twenty-two hours that allows me to write.”
Don Murray  

Punctuation is not a 4-letter-word!

I am sooo into writing.  I pretty much eat, sleep and breathe it at times.  Oh, and I get to teach it, too, which is a nice bonus!  We recently finished our first writing cycle on the writing process, and so as the 2nd quarter began, I was ready to start something new with my kiddos.

What was it, you ask?  A punctuation study, of course!

What?  Punctuation?  Isn’t that something you dread?  Isn’t that just something you have to go back and fix at the end when you’re editing?  Isn’t punctuation a bad word?

Absolutely not.  And unfortunately, this is something I have to teach my students.  Because unfortunately, many well-intentioned people have taught them–as I thought for a long, long time–punctuation (along with grammar and spelling and capitalization) are just things you have to learn about because your teacher tells you you have to put them in your writing.  It’s what you’re “supposed” to do.

I want my students to think about punctuation as another tool in their toolbox as a writer.  Just like they use word choice, voice,  and organization to set the mood and enhance their message, they can use punctuation to further their message, as well.

That’s where the punctuation study comes in.

For the last two weeks, we have been immersed in the world of commas and colons, parentheses and dashes.  We’re learning that writers use punctuation for a reason.  They think about it while they’re writing, not after they’ve finished writing.  By digging into the text of writers we love (Jerry Spinelli, Cythina Rylant, Eve Bunting, Patricia Polacco, Kevin Henkes, Tomie dePaola, to name a few), writers have worked to figure out the “why” behind many of the punctuation marks they use every day.  Rather than me just telling them what it’s for and when to use it, they’ve begun to discover on their own why a writer would use it in a certain situation.  We’ve had several really “meaty” conversations about the ins and outs of punctuation lately.  My favorites have been about what the “dot-dot-dot” is called (it’s called an ‘ellipsis’, by the way); whether or not the long line (–) and the short line (-) are the same thing and if you use them the same way (one is a dash and the other is a hyphen, if you’re wondering); and how you can use commas, parentheses and dashes in similar ways based on the formality of your writing.  I had a moment the other day when I literally had butterflies in my stomach as they were talking to each other as real writers.  They built on the knowledge of some to create a shared knowledge of how punctuation can shape your words into a more powerful piece of writing.  How it matters what you use and don’t use.  That you can actually choose.  That you’re supposed to think about it….

I wish I had thought to take a picture of the amazing class chart we’ve created to capture all of this smart thinking.  I will have to come back and add it soon, as it will BLOW YOUR MIND!  The best part is that it is going to be a living, breathing part of our room, as we visit and revisit it throughout the rest of the year.  We’ll use it for clarification, for reminders and for inspiration to try something new.  We’ll come back many times to add to it, too, as we learn new punctuation marks that maybe we missed this time around.  Each student will have a smaller version of it in their Writer’s Notebook, as well, to refer to as a resource in their own writing.

Today we went back to old entries in our writing to rethink the punctuation.  The kiddos were helpful to me as they worked on an old entry from my notebook, adding commas and dashes and colons to make the story stronger.  Then everyone chose their own old entry to rework.  That amazing thinking starts tomorrow!

(Oh, and just for full disclosure, the ideas for this study can from two much smarter people than me:  Janet Angelillo in her book A Fresh Approach to Teaching Punctuation and Dan Feigelson’s Practical Punctuation. I’m just the one figuring out how to implement it with my students.)