Writing Notebooks: Playgrounds for Writers – NVWP Summer ISI – Day 4

Welcome to the Northern Virginia Writing Project’s 2016 Invitational Summer Institute! I’ll be blogging the demonstration lessons and the various activities occurring during our four-week duration. Find out more about the NVWP and the National Writing Project.


Notebooks are a gift, Michelle Haseltine says. They’ve changed my life. She then literally passes out a gift-wrapped notebook for every person in the room. Amazing! We gleefully tear through the meticulous wrapping (tight corners, minimal tape) to find our own notebook, pencil, and cool writing inspiration. Any writing I do during this demo lesson will therefore be handwritten.


Notebooks should be valued. Make them special and precious.

Prompt: Write about you as a notebook user.

My Writing

We share out. I add that if you think about growing an idea from seed to full flower, than my brain has to process each specific step in sequential order. This means that writing out a lesson idea takes up multiple pages of revisions, cross-outs, and etc. Others talk about using notebooks to think. How they have to write down something in multiple formats and a variety of places in order to remember them. How notebooks become repositories for the vast detritus and gold caroming around inside our skulls.

You have permission to make your notebook whatever you want it to be. The audience is you. Notebooks are a place to grow and play. Give yourself permission to play. Michelle uses this moment to make a plea for more play in the classroom. She says being playful is nonnegotiable. It makes the writing come easier. Michelle keeps everything in her notebook. She brings it to church. She sketchnotes in it (is that an accepted verb yet?) She is on her 68th notebook. Let that sink in.


Next Michelle talks a little about the science behind why handwriting is a more effective way to plant an idea into working/long term memory. I’m not entirely sold on this research yet, but that’s only because I haven’t looked into it yet. Any research that falls into the “It was better the way my generation did it” category deserves examination. But Michelle isn’t making any grand claim, simply telling us about some of the research out there.

Links to her research:

She starts out by encouraging everyone (and our students) to name their notebooks. If they want to give it a pedestrian name (like Peter’s Notebook), that’s fine! Our titles are great. They reference other languages, pop culture, personal histories, etc. Michelle has her students do gallery walks of each student’s title page and cover page. It helps build a community. Invite them to share with the class, but do not require it.

Also, remind them that they’re still in school, and it’s not OK to write libelous things about students or teachers. This is a good place to talk about appropriate ways to let out emotion for a professional setting. She also helps them become observers. They go on long walks inside and outside the school and use their notebooks to jot down things. Michelle even encourages them to write down funny conversations they hear in other classes. It helps them build the habit of collecting and mining for ideas.

In order to help teach note taking, Michelle runs her class through Mac Barnett TED Talk about being an author. Then they watch it a second time and take notes on it. She encourages them to use pictures. BE CREATIVE! Write in colors, use pictures, turn the notebook upside-down and askew. Sketchnoting has also helped break teachers and students out of the need to write only in nice neat rows. The next week she has the students look back on the notes they took for that first TED Talk. Did it help them remember? How could they improve it?

When we read with our children we teach them that reading is connected with love. Michelle ends by saying we should write with them as well. Never a day without a line, Donald Murray said. I’ll end with a couple pictures of student notebooks. So creative!




  1. Pingback: Writing Resources from the Northern Virginia Writing Project | Mr. Anderson Reads & Writes

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