Five-Subject Writer’s Notebooks

Inner front cover of a five-subject WN

Inner front cover of a five-subject WN

My students will be getting idea notebooks early in the school year. By late September, they’ll also possess five-subject writer’s notebooks, which they’ll use expressly for units of study. (Click here to read more about idea notebooks.) Hence, I spent the early hours of my morning affixing tips, poems, section guides, and notebook ‘guidelines’ to the inner front and back covers of their notebooks.


Ultimately, the structures I put in place are flexible since each writer works differently. My students will be given the flexibility to change around the sections of their notebook AND they’re able to pick another type of notebook (e.g., one- or three-subject, marble composition, etc.) once they finish their first one. While ¾ of my students usually like the structures I give them, there’s always about 25% of the class who prefers to do something differently… and I’m okay with that. After all, I wouldn’t want someone telling me what tools to use and how to use them all year long either!

I’ll leave you with a passage from page 52 of Living Between the Lines that serves as a constant reminder to me of how open-ended my expectations of my students’ notebooks should be.

“If we keep notebooks, we will expect and welcome diversity. We will soon come to know, in a deep-seated way, that there are wide variations in how and why writers keep notebooks. Some people always write in sentences and paragraphs; others often include lists and sketches. Some people do most of their writing in jotted notes as they carry their notebook around with them, and others write mostly at their desks during a predictable period each day. Some people continue with their notebook even when they are drafting and revising a piece, and others let the notebook slip into the background when a writing project moves into the foreground…

“In the end, it will be the diversity in our classrooms rather than our minilessons and conferences that extends what we and our students do in notebooks.”

–Lucy Calkins