Sunday, February 8, 2015

Using Our Own Writing to Teach Writing- The Power of a Teacher's Writing Notebook

One of my favorite literacy idols, the ever so insightful Kylene Beers, tweeted out something that stuck with me a few weeks ago:   

I thought about this tweet for quite some time.  Kylene's words stuck with me.  She's right.  Kids can't be expected to write if they've never seen models of good writing.  As she mentioned, a great way to share writing with students is through sharing well written stories.  I wholeheartedly agree with her!  Our students must be exposed to great stories through their own reading, read alouds, and during mini lessons.  However, we need to add on to this important idea.  Not only should we share stories through use of mentor texts, read alouds, and other published models, but also we should share models of good writing through our own writing notebooks.

In the past, I shared my own writing with students here and there.  Yet, I didn't consistently make a point of doing it to demonstrate how authors actually write until last school year in my own fifth grade classroom.  My school was fortunate to be a Teachers College Writing Project School.  A major benefit of being a Project School is having the privilege of working directly with Teachers College staff developers in our classrooms.  

Our upper grade staff developer, Alyssa Levy, became an influential role model for me as a teacher of writing.  Alyssa consistently modeled using her own writing notebook in lessons with my students.  I noticed how Alyssa not only told students how to write, but she actually showed them step by step through thinking aloud and then writing in front of them with her writing notebook and a document camera.  She modeled what she knew needed to happen for my students.  My grade level team, principal, and students all became better writers in part directly due to Alyssa's demonstration of her own thinking and writing.

Now, as a literacy coach myself, I am taking what I learned from Alyssa to help the teachers and students in my schools.  By using my own writing to teach writing, I'm not just telling teachers and students what needs to happen, but I'm showing them in a step by step, intentional manner.  The only tools needed to do this are my own thinking made visible to students (thinking aloud and oral rehearsal), my personal writing notebook, a document camera that projects my real-time writing, and a captive audience of student writers. 

By showing students rather than telling them, we are making learning to write like an author a very real and accessible reality.  All of our students can be writers.  We have the power to make it happen.  The images below illustrate how I've used my own writing to teach writing.  Thank you Alyssa Levy of Teachers College- your modeling and expertise has reached many students and teachers- more than you know! 

My writing notebook.  I made it alongside my students.

My students' writing notebooks!  I wish you
could see the huge smiles on all of their faces.

This was written in front of students during a third grade idea generation
lesson on informational writing.  I thought aloud about things I could teach
others.  This was a big challenge for many third graders.  After the mini lesson,
I also used this page during a few small group conferences. 

Heart mapping is a great activity to generate ideas for personal
narrative, fiction, how-to, and all-about writing.   Things I love are
 inside the heart.  Things I strongly dislike are outside the heart. By
 sharing my heart map with students, they can see the process of  one
way writers can find ideas- then, they can try it themselves.

I think I've written, revised, and rewritten this piece in front of students
at least a dozen times.  Modeling how we write and revise over and over
again shows students that writers can always strive to make their
work better. Our work as writers is never complete!  We should not
only say this to students, but we must also show it through our own work.
We should demonstrate this over and over again. 

Boxes and Bullets!  I've found it very helpful to use my own boxes
 and bullets essay work with students to demonstrate organization
in essay writing.  After writing this in front of one group of students,
I've been able to use it with many more classes and small groups.  

Fiction writing tends to be difficult, as writers are tasked with taking something
not real and bringing it to life.  Rather than telling students how to do it, modeling
the process fiction writers use is extremely beneficial.  The picture above shows how I modeled creating a character- both her outside traits and inside traits.  The picture below shows the 
story arc that goes with the created character.  Modeling these two lessons for students with my own notebook using a document camera helped make the fiction writing process visible to student writers.

I now model writing for students and teachers as a direct result of someone modeling it for me.  When we model how to do something rather than just tell how to do it, we make our teaching sticky- that is, we make it stick for students, we make it last (just as a side note- I learned the term "make teaching sticky" from another Teachers college staff developer!).  Best of all, the writing I've created in front of students this year and last can be used for years to come with future students.  Thank you so much to Alyssa Levy and everyone else at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project for making the teaching of writing visible.  My own writing notebook is now my most trusted and valuable teaching tool.

Happy writing, friends! 


  1. I love this post! What a powerful expression of modeling for our students! This reminds me of "Notebook Know-How" by Aimee Buckner.

    1. Thanks for the kind feedback, Greg! I've never seen Notebook Know-How, but will definitely check it out now.

  2. I love to put my writer's notebook next to a student's notebook. This is my promise that I our work is authentic and students respond to this in kind. Great post.

    1. Thanks, Jenn! Students respond in such a positive way to our own authentic writing. Not only are we modeling the how-to of writing, but we are also modeling that it's ok to be vulnerable as a writer in addition to sharing a little part of our lives with students. My connection to students definitely grew once I started sharing my own writing.


I'd love to hear your comments!