Feeding the Writer, Teaching the Writing


“a writer’s notebook is nothing more than a blank book, but within those pages you’ve got a powerful tool for writing and living”  Ralph Fletcher

Writers observe. Writers sketch.  Writers copy.  Writers write to think.  Writers write to discover.  Writers play with words.  Writers draw.  Writers revise.  Writers play.

After reading Joy Write, by Ralph Fletcher, last summer.  I began to think about how important it is to feed writers a diet of varied experiences.  Over the years, I have seen workshops where genre, craft, elaboration, leads, endings were the focus.  But somehow, their diet seemed lacking.  I wondered what was lacking.  They were being fed healthy, nutritional lessons that all writers need.  I wondered what other experiences could we, the educators, be presenting to our young writers.

Thanks to some brave colleagues who decided to use their classrooms as centers for their research, we embarked on a journey with Journals (aka Notebooks) this year.

Denia is a fifth grade teacher who welcomed me into her room every Friday morning.  We decided that 8-8:30 would be a soft start greenbeltish time for her writers.

So every Friday morning, I joined her class for Journal Pages.  Every Friday morning, the writers were offered choices, a menu.  I wanted them to choose what they needed for their diets.  Choices often included, copying an art card to think and discover, Word of the Day, observing in a line drawing to think and discover, Slice of Life, or your choice.  They each had a small spiral bound, unlined journal, to draw and write in.  Our time on the rug lasted no more than 5 minutes and rarely, were there any questions – after all, there was no right or wrong – this was all about following their choice to see where it led them as a writer, to see what thoughts, ideas, or stories, they could discover.img_9737

Last week, we had our last Journal Pages together.  We reflected.  Just like I had with Leigh-ann’s first graders the week before, we offered up invitations to think back.  Before they went off to write, they shared words that came to mind when they thought of Journal Pages.

The fifth graders spread themselves out across the room.  Some were on the floor, others at tables.  The room was quiet.  Denia wrote, too.


I’ve read these reflections over and over. I read them while they were writing them.  Their voices on choice, creativity, and freedom are clear.  They valued discovery and surprise.  No wonder they were so engaged every Friday morning – they were relaxed and searching freely.  These habits and mindsets are priceless not only to writers, but to learners overall.

  • “you are given choice and can be creative”
  • “I discovered every Friday when I am copying an art card I try to find the story behind it”
  • “sometimes I expect what will happen and sometimes it’s a total surprise” – Caroline
  • Sometimes it’s better not to have a main theme, you get more time to let your mind experience, try and search for extraordinary story ideas
  • “my journal is me and all that I am”
  • “my journal is a thing that makes me feel free when I write”
  • “I have a set time most Fridays to just write in my journal which I find relaxing”
  • “Writing in a journal not only makes me feel free, it makes me feel free.  It proves I get to make choices in my life.”

In A Researcher Learns to Write, Donald Graves writes,

“It is more useful to look at writers as constantly changing rather than as a fixed classification.”  “There is something energizing about the discovery of a child’s way of learning, or in sharing in the joy and confidence resulting from his growing sense of competence as a writer.  It is this discovery that dissipates our fatigue and renews our vitality.”  

Journals play an essential role in the diet of a writer.  I think that when we watch writers make choices and write, we get to know them as “constantly changing” and we have given them, according to Fletcher, “a tool for powerful living.”  Not every writer out there keeps a journal, but those that do, know it’s role and it’s value.  I believe, thanks to Denia’s dedication to Journal Pages each Friday, her 5th graders learned the role and value of a Journal.  Their reflections said it all.















10 thoughts on “Feeding the Writer, Teaching the Writing”

  1. These reflections say it all… and so much more! You couldn’t have scripted better responses if you tried. The students’ words speak to everything you hoped to find through this process. I hope that many of them continue to feed their writing lives. As for you and this work you have inspired, I’m excited to see what a new year will bring!


  2. I so admire this work. My favorite comment was I realize that I like writing more than I thought I did. What more could we want from our students? Yet your students said so much more.


  3. Powerful in every way – the students realizing the power of their own words, the power of writing, meeting themselves on the page. I am reminded of another point by Donald Graves: “We wanted to write before we ever wanted to read.” This inborn desire, this need, to express ourselves in writing is too often suppressed or even crushed in schools … these journals are a vibrant testimonial to not letting that happen.


  4. What an incredible research project you and your teachers have taken on, and look at the results. These reflections say it all, and then some! This is exciting work. I’m glad you’ve shared it with us!


  5. Thanks for sharing. I love Writer’s Notebooks/journals and the fact that students own them. It’s not a time for me to tell them what to write, or grade it, or do anything except let the students express themselves.


  6. The students’ words are so powerful and compelling. If anyone questions the power of the writer’s notebook, this will change their minds.


  7. Thank you so much for sharing the student journal entries. I am gathering the courage to start journal writing this fall. Reading how much the students learned about themselves and appreciated the time to express their thoughts each week has given me that last little push I needed to jump into journal writing.


  8. I love the choice you have given them. We have so much we have to teach them now to meet standards that we forget to teach them to love writing. The Joy Write book is going in my Amazon cart. Thanks for sharing. I used Slice of Life Journals with my 2nd graders for the first time this year. I can’t wait to expand this next year. I love the Choice Friday idea.


  9. I love this! I read Joy Write last year, and I think I’m going to read it again, and see if I can get some teachers interested in letting me come in and do this with them and their students! What powerful choice!


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