Tuesday, October 25th (ELA 6/7)

Writer’s Workshop

Session 9: Using Writer’s Notebooks for Mindful, Goal-Driven Work


J.K. Rowling spoke at a graduation ceremony for Harvard Graduates.  This is what she chose to speak about:

“On this wonderful day when we are gathered together to celebrate your academic success, I have decided to talk to you about the benefits of failure. You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.

Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above the price of rubies.

The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more than any qualification I ever earned.

  • Rowling wanted to teach people that it is best to face hard tasks, not avoid them.
  • Some people think of work-especially hard work as a negative thing, but we don’t have to be those people.
  • The best writers or runners are not just born with incredible talent.  The people who become pros are people who figure out how to work at it.

We have started to try techniques from our mentor text author in our own writing – this is a solid first step!

Teaching Point: 

Today I want to teach you how to use your writer’s notebook as a place to deliberately practice the techniques and skills you want to see in your writing.


Imagine a basketball player practicing layups in a gym, or a ceramic artist practicing his craft at a pottery wheel.  Now, imagine yourself, practicing a writing skill.  Instead of using gym equipment or pottery tools, you use your notebook, and your notebook becomes filled with your efforts to do that one thing better, better, better, over and over.

Let’s take a look at a mentor text:
(Author has climbed a tree in a park even though her mother warned her not to)

“Don’t look down, just keep climbing-you’re almost to the top,” Bobby urged. I swallowed and snuck one quick look.

1.) First attempt:

Lydia was still standing at the bottom of the tree, holding my dark, blue sandals with one hand and shielding her eyes, with the other, as she looked up at me.

  • These are tiny details, but not something someone would notice who is high stuck up in a tree.

2.) Second attempt:

The tree swayed slightly, and I tightened my grasp on the trunk.  A rough piece of bark dug sharply into my forearm, but I didn’t dare move.

“I think I need help getting down,” I shouted, my voice high and tight.  I thought about my mother’s clear warning to stay out of the trees that bordered the playground.  This must be why.

“Hold on, ” Bobby called.  He circled slowly around the tree and then walked towards Lydia, talking to her in a low voice.  I couldn’t hear him over the rustle of the tree’s leaves.  Suddenly he grabbed Lydia’s arm and pulled her away from the tree.  “Run!” Bobby commanded, and they made a dash for the gate.

  • The author here has really tried Howe’s technique of zooming in on the small details.  To do that the author really had to put herself back in the park and replay the scene in her head.

Active Engagement:

Courtney practices narrating

Courtney noticed that Howe does little bits of explaining between the characters talking.  This is called narrating in-between the character’s dialogue. Courtney worked on showing more of what she was thinking and how her mom was acting by adding lines.

Active Engagement/Link:

1.) Choose a technique that the mentor author has used that you want to use more in your writing or

  • Write Practicing My Craft at the BOTTOM of your flash draft. Practice that craft there first. THEN, copy and paste that to your narrative flash draft IN the draft itself.
  • Practice the strategy you want to try in as many places as possible.
  • Do it purposefully though! For example, don’t just throw any old sensory details into drafts at random  places… add sensory details that make sense to the moment and the narrator’s point of view.

2.) Your notebook is now going to be a place to deliberately practice writing strategies and craft, not just a place to collect new drafts.

  • Remember, have your narrative checklist close by as well as your mentor text.  These are your tools that will help you practice.  They should be right next to you and easy for you to use.
  • Use the How to Write Powerful Narratives as well!


  • Finish any unfinished “Practicing My Craft” techniques (Due Thursday)
  • Fishbowl Group #1 (written portion and wiki review)
  • Fishbowl Group #2-4: Keep reading

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s