On the first day of instruction, I model how we will set up our writer's notebook for the entire year. Each student has one composition notebook that they keep in the classroom. These notebooks house in-class mini-lesson notes and seed ideas, as well as parts of drafts.
I explain that any time we take notes in Lit & LA, we take notes in the back of the notebook. So anytime I model a writing strategy/mini-lesson, grammar rule, or vocabulary work, we will take notes in the back of the notebook.
Any time they are independently writing, whether it be creative, responses to non-fiction pieces, or the beginnings of a draft, this will all be done in the front portion of the notebook.
I explain to my students that reading and writing are truly connected; they overlap. Choosing a meaningful text is so important, not only because we'll enjoy books more when we're choosing tailor made texts, but because it will give support to what we write. We can get ideas from texts and we can use what we see as a model in order to write like a writer. (Kelly Gallagher)
I hold up Crash, by Jerry Spinelli and tell my kids it is one of my all time favorite books. At this point in the year, kids are very curious about me. Any nugget into "who I am" really peeks their interest. I continue to let them know more and more in this same manner as the year continues, even thought they may be slightly less curious. : )
I explain that there is NO WAY I would have ever picked up this book based on the cover. It seems weird and uninteresting. I explain that the reason I persevered past the cover is because it was recommended by a trusted friend. This serves as my first official mini-book talk for the year.
I begin reading the first chapter. In this chapter the main character, Crash, explains how he was given his nickname. It serves as a fabulous segue to a writing assignment about the history of our own names.
I read aloud the first chapter and begin with modeling a connected writing assignment. To hear more, watch this video: More info about "History of a Name" writing assignment.
After I talk a little bi about how I received my name, and remind students how Crash received his nickname in the novel Crash by Jerry Spinelli, I pause for student responses. Does anyone have a story about how they were given their name or nickname? Students usually have something to share. I let a few students tell their stories out loud. At the beginning of the year, particularly, I let this go a little bit longer. The sharing of stories builds community and trust in the classroom.
Students begin writing their own stories in their writing notebooks. I circulate and observe the outcomes. Give kids time! At the beginning of the year especially, they are not programmed to write and they may believe there is a wrong way to do this.
I've found a lot of really creative responses to this assignment. Here is one Student Sample: "History of a Name."
However, sometimes kids aren't sure how they received their name and don't have a nickname. For these students, I ask them to express their opinion about their name. Do they like the sound of it? Would they choose another one? What memories are most associate with hearing their name?
Even at the beginning of the year, many sixth graders are usually anxious to share their writing. I usually allow them to do this in a big group. On the first day of instruction I never force the issue.