Time to Uncover and Discover: Journals and the Greenbelt

“our students must have the experience of writing what they do not expect to write” Donald Murray

This reminds me of my mom.  She is a gardener.  I love love the plants she makes all of the flowers she makes too.  I will always feel so happy.

“A crafts person enjoys the process of making furniture: the smell of the wood, the sound of the miter saw, the way a three-dimensional drawing gets transformed into a chair that’s both functional and beautiful.  In a similar way I love the”smell” of words.” Joy Write, Ralph Fletcher

I happen to love watching what young writers can do in a journal with structure and choice. Structure provides us with the opportunity to watch and learn how their choices allow them to find ideas and enter the process of writing.

It has become a routine each Friday for Leigh-ann and I to research choice and greenbelt writing (Joy Write) with her first graders.  Each week, we present the first graders with simple choices.  img_7742With a belief and a background in visual literacy, as well as the knowledge that pictures and drawings ARE writing, the choices often include pictures and drawings.  So far this year, children have observed in line drawings and most recently, we introduced art cards as a choice.  This past Friday, was their second week with copying art cards. (art cards= postcard size prints of artwork)

Before we called the children to choose their art card, I took a moment to highlight Harry’s work from the previous week.

“Before you all make your choices and get to work.  I want to share Harry’s work from last week.”

Harry had given me permission to share.  He came up and stood beside me and we held his journal together.

“Last week, I noticed Harry working in his journal.  He was really studying his art card and working to make his picture. I could see he was thinking.  When you all were cleaning up, I noticed that Harry had filled a whole page with writing.” I pointed to his writing.

The class sat fixed on Harry’s work and I could see the curiosity in their eyes.

“Let’s read it together, Harry.”  I prompted, knowing his quiet voice would need a little support.img_7740

We read “It reminds me of when I went to Maine.  At Maine me and my brother found a lava rock.  At Maine, I was so happy.” (see right)

“Did you notice how Harry ended with that feeling?” I reread, ‘At Maine, I was so happy.’ 

“Good writers do that sometimes, they can use feelings to end their writing.  So, as you head off to make your choices to copy and write, remember, good writers sometimes use feeling words to end their writing.  Challenge yourself as you write.  Ready to choose your art card and get to work writing?”

All hands shot up.

Leigh-ann and I transitioned them to their journals.  Without hesitation, eighteen first graders were at work – thinking, copying and preparing to write.

Leigh-ann and I each circled the room, observing thinking children.  We’ve each developed the habit of stopping and getgin closer to a writer when we want to know more about their thinking, their process.

I stopped at Maddie.  I knelt down close to whisper to her.

“Wow, Maddie, you finished copying pretty quickly, I see.”img_7735

“Yeah.” she joined in the whispering.

“It reminded me of mom’s garden.  I finished and started writing.”

“I can see that.  Keep working, I can’t wait to hear your writing!”


It reminds me of when I went to Cape Cod because it had great trees and it had a beach with seals in the water.  I said, I am so excited.
I moved on to Theo.  Theo had chosen to go back to the the work he had started last week.  He found the original art card and worked to finish his picture.  He had told me the week before, that as he worked, he was thinking about Cape Cod.  He and his family had vacationed there the summer before 1st grade.  This week, with an opportunity to revisit his work, he finished his picture and dove right into writing.

It reminds me about when I saw a fireworks.  There were lots of colors.  I was with my family and my babysitter.  I was surprised.


Hayley didn’t get her first choice of art cards the first week.  So this week, she knew the card she wanted.  She got it.  She copied it and wrote about a watching fireworks on the beach.





Don Murray, a model and mentor writer of many, said, “If our students are to become effective writers, then it is our job to help them find at least a few small slices of quiet time-perhaps in class-and show them how to use that time to listen not to us, but to themselves to hear the writing they did not expect to hear.”

The choice was simple, choose an art card.  The expectations and structure were clear – copy, think and write. Maddie, Theo, and Hayley were able to uncover ideas as they invested time and thought in their process.

The Journal Time that Leigh-ann has woven into her week, has provided her young writers with not just a greenbelt, but also a ‘slice of quiet’, that allows them time to hear their own thoughts and memories.  What’s better than than a gift of quiet time to think, write, and discover?




5 thoughts on “Time to Uncover and Discover: Journals and the Greenbelt”

  1. I enjoyed the look into the work in the classroom (and want to know more about art cards). This year, in particular, I am trying to add more artistic elements to our writing prompts and reading analysis work through visual note-taking, and some of my students are really thriving. It’s a reminder that casting a wide net is the best approach for connecting with the many talents of a classroom community.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is great. I love the “slice of quiet” and listening for the writing that they did not expect to hear. If they get that feeling in first grade, it might last their whole life. I think the way you’ve structured this as a journal time seems to really suit them. My class’s version of this has been very eclectic (read: all over the writing map), and as a result, I’ve had a harder time seeing the effect broadly.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Don Murray, a model and mentor writer of many, said, “If our students are to become effective writers, then it is our job to help them find at least a few small slices of quiet time-perhaps in class-and show them how to use that time to listen not to us, but to themselves to hear the writing they did not expect to hear.”

    The best quote!


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