English Language Arts – Strategies for Reading and Writing Notebooks

Starting the Year Building Stamina: Strategies for Reading and Writing Notebooks

Some teachers call them journals; others call them daybooks. No matter what we call them, reading and writing notebooks are essential in the English language arts classroom. They not only provide a safe place for students to express themselves and explore ideas, but they also lend themselves well to creating a place where students may gain stamina in reading and writing. With the demands of the new STAAR test, stamina is essential for students to be able to read and create more than one piece in more than one genre.

Reading Notebook Strategy 1: Reread to Lift a Line

Purpose: Show students the value of “second draft reading” or rereading as a helpful technique to understand a text. As readers read the text the first time, they can miss important details.  Having some things already learned in mind frees readers to pay attention to things they have missed the first time through.

How: Use a common text (picture book, essay, novel, etc.) and model the rereading process. Ask students to find a part of the text they missed in their first reading and copy a line of the text in their Readers’ Notebooks. Then students write about how that part or line helps them make more meaning from the text.

Next Steps: Students may use their lines when analyzing and practicing various sentence structures during a writing component.

(Bucker, 2009)

Reading Notebook Strategy 2: Reader’s Sketchbook

Purpose: Illustrate to students that by combining images and words, the chances of remembering and understanding are greater.  Artists like Leonardo da Vinci thought in pictures. Cartoonists blend pictures and words to communicate their ideas more effectively.

Sketchbooks are the backroom of the artist’s mind, the place where they practice, rehearse, and experiment –where they think. It is like a journal except you use images.

How:  Model the following steps with students:

  1. List chapter title or number.
  2. Write a summary of the chapter or section you read.
  3. Create a drawing of events related to the heart of the chapter. The drawing must contain specific details from the chapter to show that you read it closely. The drawing should represent something in the text, not just summarize it.
  4. Discuss what the chapter means, what matters most, and why you think that; provide specific examples or details to support your assertion(s). If possible and appropriate, connect your observations to your own life or ideas.
  5. Include quotation(s) that relates to the drawing or connects to what you read.
  6. Create a discussion question(s) you could use to participate in a small or full class discussion.


Next Steps: Students may adapt this strategy when creating rough drafts of various types of writing genres throughout the year.

(Burke, 2008)

Writing Notebook Strategy 1: Quick Write-A Place in Time

Purpose: Provide students with an opportunity to create freely for a specified small number of minutes. Quick Writes are playful and not graded for correctness.

How: Ask students to remember a place from their childhood that mattered to them and make a list of specific details they remember about it. Students may also sketch. Create your own Quick Write and share with students.

Next Steps: Students may return to their Quick Write to look for places where they have more to say in order to turn the Quick Write into a topic for writing.

(Kittle, 2008)

Writing Notebook Strategy 2: Mapping the Text

Purpose: To provide students an opportunity to combine new knowledge (difficult text) with prior knowledge (images) in order to think critically about, understand, and remember the text.

How: Ask students to create a “visual map” of the text that contains the following elements:

  • symbols that represent key parts of the text
  • “road signs” to guide the viewer where to go (e.g., slow down at a difficult part of the text)
  • emblems from the text that the reader should consider as important to his/her understanding of the text
  • specific language from the text within the map
  • at least one direct quote from the original text
  • an entry that should leave the viewer with a clear sense of the text as well as a sense of direction and a question to consider


Next Steps: Students may use this strategy during the revision stage of writing. They may map their own text as a way to ensure full development of a topic.

(Brannon, Griffin, & Haag, 2008)



Brannon, L., Griffin, S., & Haag, K. e. (2008). Thinking out loud on paper. Portsmouth: Heinemann.

Bucker, A. (2009). Notebook connections. Portland: Stenhouse.

Burke, J. (2008). The English teacher’s companion guide: A complete guide to classroom, curriculum, and the profession (3rd Edition ed.). Portsmouth: Heinemann.

Kittle, P. (2008). Write beside them: Risk, voice, and clarity in high school writing. Portsmouth: Heinemann.

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