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Inspiring children to write by living like a writer: teaching writing workshop with our notebooks wide-open. Stacey Shubitz Rhode Island Writing Project, Spring 2008 Conference. Overview of Action Research Project Completed at Teachers College, Columbia University. Research Question

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Inspiring children to write by living like a writer: teaching writing workshop with our notebooks wide-open

Stacey Shubitz

Rhode Island Writing Project, Spring 2008 Conference

overview of action research project completed at teachers college columbia university
Overview of Action Research Project Completed at Teachers College, Columbia University
  • Research Question
    • How does the use of mentor texts lift the level of writing in my elementary school classroom?
      • Do published authors’ texts work better as mentor texts than student- or teacher-written texts?
  • Worked intensely with three of my fifth grade students during the 2006 – 2007 school year.
    • Inner City (East Harlem Section of Manhattan)
    • Public School
action research overview
Action Research Overview
  • Three Cycles
    • Narrative
      • Published texts
      • My writing
    • Expository/Non-Narrative
      • Other students’ writing
      • My writing
    • Writer’s Notebook Entries
      • My writing (i.e., notebook entries)
a key finding from action research project
A Key Finding from Action Research Project

If teachers of writing want our students to live like writers, then we must live like writers by writing daily, carrying our notebooks with us, and sharing the pages of our notebooks with our students so they can see we practice what we preach.

how do i get my students to live like writers daily
How do I get my students to live like writers daily?
  • Sub-questions
    • How can I make my students reflective writers?
    • How do I help my students to make meaning out of their own lives?
    • How do I get my students to write about the small moments of their lives on an everyday basis (recognizing their daily lives’ are worth preserving)?
  • If I want my students to live like writers, then…
    • They need to see my writing and hear how they've written it so it can affect them.
    • When I expose my notebook to my kids, it allows them to see how I attempted to fill a blank page.
what can students learn from my notebook writing
What can students learn from my notebook writing?
  • Weekly Writer’s Notebook Checks
    • Read and review
    • Tuck-in my own entries to help students with:
      • topic choice
      • paragraphing
      • focus
      • dialogue
      • elaboration
      • seeing the world in new ways
      • growing thinking about everyday events
real writer s notebooks
Real Writer’s Notebooks
  • School-issued five-subject notebooks
    • Homework assignments & class work
  • Blueline and Moleskine Writer’s Notebooks
    • For daily entries
informal weekly writing lunches
Informal Weekly Writing Lunches
  • Share stories and writing in a small group
    • Talk about their writing
    • Share a piece of writing from each notebook
    • Provide students with a mentor text (usually my writing, but sometimes another student's writing) to lift the level of their notebook work
      • Dependent upon the genre of their entry and what I thought would move them forward with their writing work.
    • Students craft new entries as a result of the luncheon conversation and viewing my notebook entries.
      • Share the following week
      • Inspiration from each other
what s one thing i did well as a writer and one thing i should work on as a writer
What’s one thing I did well as a writer and one thing I should work on as a writer?
  • Allow your students to examine your notebook and share what you do well as a writer and what you need to work on as a writer.
  • Then, let your students generate a list of attributes good entries have:
    • Dialogue
    • Internal thinking
    • Strong voice
    • Recreation of a small moment
    • Telling a story that needs to be told
mentoring student writes about an entire day in one page
Mentoring: Student writes about an entire day in one page.

A student wrote this entry about part of her summer vacation. It lacked detail. By early May, I had shared many of my entries with her to teach her how to elaborate about a small moment.

mentoring acrostic poetry with more than one word per line
Mentoring: Acrostic Poetry With More Than One Word Per Line

My Acrostic Poem: “Providence”

Student’s Acrostic Poem: “Smile”

mentoring a student s revised free verse poem with vivid images
Mentoring: A Student’s Revised Free-Verse Poem with Vivid Images
  • This student revised this notebook entry after reading “Pool.”
    • She revised her entry by adding more vivid words.
      • Poem about tasting chocolate strawberries for the first time.
slice of life stories get kids in the habit of writing something daily
Slice of Life Stories Get Kids in the Habit of Writing SOMETHING Daily!

Slice of Life Stories as daily notebook entries work well for:

Reluctant writers

Children who think that nothing interesting ever happens to them

Young writers who are trying to get into the habit of writing daily.

slice of life stories
Slice of Life Stories
  • According to Wikipedia:
    • A slice of life story is a category for a story that portrays a "cut-out" sequence of events in a character's life. It may or may not contain any real plot, and often has no exposition, action, conflict, or denouement, with an open ending. It usually tries to depict the every-day life of ordinary people. The term slice of life is actually a (more or less) dead metaphor: it often seems as if the author had taken a knife and cut out a slice of the lives of some characters, without concern for narrative form.
      • (Retrieved on 2/18/08 from
a slice of life story from a student s notebook 4 th grader present class
A Slice of Life Story from a Student’s Notebook (4th grader; present class)

This entry was written before the SOLS Challenge began.

mentoring a slice of my life
Mentoring: A slice of my life

Pancakes for Breakfast

When I transferred the pancake mix into an airtight container last month, I forgot to cut out the directions from the side of the box before I threw out the box. Oops!

This morning I made pancakes for the first time since I threw out the directions. I started thinking ‘one cup of mix + one cup of milk + one cup of water = delicious whole wheat pancakes.’ Well, once I got everything into the mixing bowl, I quickly realized that was not the recipe. Therefore, I started throwing in handfuls of mix to thicken up the batter. Then I put in the chocolate chips in hopes that would thicken it up (it didn’t). Finally, I cracked and egg and added a splash of canola oil, which made the batter thicker.

I began placing scoops of batter on the griddle. The first four chocolate chip pancakes looked lovely. Maybe it had worked!

I asked Marc, “How do they taste?”“I’m still chewing,” he replied. (Oh, that can’t be good!)I waited patiently and asked, “Do they taste okay?”“Yes, they’re delicious!” he said.

Whew! My little bit of this and little bit of that idea had worked.

Posted on Two Writing Teachers, 2/17/08,

mentoring another slice of my life
Mentoring: Another slice of my life

Was The Bear Cold?

“Proceed to the first landing,” I told my Assembly Line Managers once I saw that my class was ready to leave the lunch room.

I saw a big bump under one of my student’s coats, which she was holding in her arms, and decided to stay at the back of the line. What could she have under there? I wondered.

As the children passed me I saw a bit of fur sticking out from the top of the coat. Then, I saw two ears and two eyes peeking back at me. I saw them for just a second because this student quickly replaced the hood over the item inside of her coat. I grinned.

Once the kids stopped at the first landing, I came up behind this student and whispered, “Was the bear cold?” in her ear. She giggled, as did two of her classmates who were beside her. She was caught with the bear, but I think she knew as well as I did that I was NOT about to take it away. (I’m a sucker for teddy bears!)

When we got upstairs to the classroom, I said, “Put your coats away. When you get tapped, come in and check your mail.” However to this student I said, “C’mon in here with your coat.” She didn’t come right away, since I don’t usually tell my kids to bring their coats inside. However, a few students realized what I was up to once they saw my camera. I just had to capture to this moment. Hence, she held up her coat, with the bear still inside, so I could photograph this moment.

Anyway, we came inside after that… the bear stayed outside ’til the end of the school day at which point it reappeared, though not inside of her coat.

Posted on Two Writing Teachers, 3/5/08,,.

now it s your turn to try it
Now it’s your turn to try it!
  • Take five minutes to write a short story that is about a slice of your life.
    • Challenge yourself to include dialogue and/or rich descriptions as you write.
  • You’ll confer with a partner about your entry in a few minutes.
  • Okay, let’s begin!
questions thoughts feedback
Questions? Thoughts? Feedback?

Feel free to peruse the Two Writing Teachers Blog at

  • Would you like to learn more about the ?
    • If so, point your browser to slice-of-life-story-challenge/.
closing thoughts
Closing Thoughts
  • Our students respect us more when we work side-by-side with them.
  • In minilessons and in conferences, I tell my students about my struggles with my writing.
    • There are hard parts of writing for me...
      • I want them to know that even though I've been around for two decades longer than they've been, it's still tough to come up with ideas (i.e., to nurture and revise them into a finished piece)!