Notice and Note: Invitations to Write

I ‘ve been rereading Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading as I look to teach and apply the signposts with my 9th graders (we introduce the signposts within the first few weeks of school). At the same time, I’ve also been reading the 3rd edition of Atwell’s In the Middle. Atwell’s book is so dense with wonderful ideas that it’s been taking me some time to work through it all. I find myself being constantly challenged as I read through both books, as I am forced to reconsider my past teaching practices and find inspiration for future ones.

notice and noteI was in the middle (pun intended?) of reading about Atwell’s list of writing territories when an idea occurred to me.  What if I adapted the idea of writing territories from Atwell and connected it to the signposts in Notice and Note?  In other words, instead of using the six signposts as tools for close reading, I could also use them as invitations for student writing. In this way, I can also capture some of the spirit of the writing territories Atwell points out are so important for students to develop as writers.

Here’s a rough sketch of what I envision:

  • Write about the best advice they’ve ever gotten: who did it come from? why was it given? how was it useful? what did they learn?
  • Describe an important role model in their lives—a “wise person”—from whom they’ve learned something significant.
  • Write a thank-you letter to a role model in their lives, detailing how that role model has affected them, what they’ve learned, etc.
  • Find “wise words” from something they have read (a book, online quote) and explain how these words hold true in their own lives.
  • Write about an important memory from their chilldhood: what makes this memory important? how did it influence them to become who they are today?
  • Describe an epiphany they’ve had: what brought this epiphany about? what did they learn? how did they change? (I currently do something like this already with my students when we read the graphic memoir, Pesepolis. Students write a graphic essay on an epiphany they’ve experienced. Details here.)
  • Describe a time they did something that was unexpected, or something that was contradictory to how they might have otherwise acted: what were the circumstances? why did they act this way instead of another?
  • Write a poem that captures contrasts and contradictions in their personality. This could be a modified version of the “I am, I come from” poem exercise in which students write “I am…” statements next to “But I am also…” statements.
  • Embrace a paradox in their personalities and write about it. For example, students could describe how they can be both quiet and loud.  For ideas, students could look at research on the paradoxical traits of creative people.
  • Draw a picture representing their divided selves, similar to what Penny Kittle does with her notebook work with All True Diary of a Part-time Indian Students can consider, for example, the contrasts between who they are privately versus who they are publicly, at home versus school, etc.
  • Write about something bothering them, some tough decisions they might face, questions they’ve been pondering. For example, students might write about the “tough questions” they face as they think about applying for college. Or the issues they faced around a recent decision they had to make.
  •  Write about something meaningful in their lives that has come up “again and again.” For example, students could write about a particular activity or sport has influenced who they have become. Or they could write about how they are drawn to the same types of books “again and again” (or anything else) and what that says about them.
  • Describe and reflect on the significant patterns in their lives—patterns of behavior, friends, decisions, habits, etc.

What I like about the using the signposts as invitations for writing is that the writing builds naturally on what they’ve already been doing in their reading. In other words, because students have been using the signposts to read closely in their reading, they’ve been analyzing and collecting their many “mentor texts” along the way. I imagine myself saying, “Remember how we talked about how important that memory was for Jonas’ character in The Giver? Now think about a memory you have about an experience that shaped you.” Or “Remember when we were shocked by Pip’s treatment of Joe in Great Expectations? Now think about a time that you acted in a way that shocked others, or even yourself.”

This writing is also personal and reflective.

What I also like about writing assignments like these are that they ask students to write in a variety of modes, especially narrative. This writing is also personal and reflective. Each of the writing assignments above requires that students write stories about themselves and their worlds and experiences. Students can use the novels we read in class—and even their independent reading—as mentor texts for the stories they will write about their own lives. For example, Dickens’ use of color to describe Miss Havisham in Great Expectations can serve as a mentor text for students when trying to describe a role model in their lives using the “Words of the Wiser” signpost.

Using the signposts in their writing can crystallize students’ conceptual understanding of the signposts when they are asked to think about how to apply them to their own lives. After all, the metaphor of “life as a novel” works naturally here—students easily see themselves as the protagonists of their own stories, and just like the characters we read about in literature, students deal with internal and external conflicts, experience flashbacks, face crisis moments, and resolve problems (or not).

As I write this all down, my mind is still pondering the possibilities. And of course, there are questions, too—How will I introduce these assignments?  In what order? At what point? How much structure will I give? What form will the essays take, individually or together? My initial thought is to introduce this as a portfolio after students are already comfortable with seeing the signposts in their reading. I might list all the possibilities, similar to what I’ve outlined above, and tell students that they should choose 4 of the 6 signposts to “write from.” Working on this portfolio could be what constitutes their regularly scheduled writing workshop time. Structuring this as a portfolio makes this writing an ongoing process: students might take weeks or months or even the whole year to complete this, in any order. Once students finish one assignment, then can move on to the next.

So much to think about… and a lot of work, but it’s the kind of work that energizes and I’m excited to see where this takes me and my students.

And if you’re reading this and have any ideas or comments, I’d love to hear about them below. What do you think?

UPDATE: I shared this post on the Notice and Note Facebook group where there has been some good conversation, including a much appreciated comment from Kylene Beers!  If you’re not already part of the N&N Facebook group, I highly suggest it!

UPDATE #2: Read this follow-up post with my step-by-step plan on how to implement these ideas.


  1. Michelle A

    Yes! Using the signposts as a writer will help students own them. Making students cognizant of the signposts gives them a vision of what writers “do” and this strengthens students as R and W. I came to this seemingly obvious “ah ha” after working with the signposts and my gr 7 ELA students during the last school year.

    I introduced the signposts early in the school year, and throughout the year, they did notice them in what they read, discussed them, and wrote about them.
    But, the “ah ha” moment came (for me) when students mentioned them when conferencing about their writing and commenting about classmates’ writing. (For example, “I wrote this as a contrast and contradiction because I wanted it to stand out to readers.” “You use ‘dark’ again and again to make a point about how he is feeling.” ) I try to convey to students that they are writers who read and readers who write; the connections students made between their R&W thanks to the signposts show the power of the signposts.

    I’ve been planning to add a writing component when I introduce the signposts this year (similar to what you’ve delineated here). I’ve been eagerly anticipating the Nonfiction signposts, too, because I expect they will impact students’ writing as well as reading of nonfiction.
    Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing your thinking! In retrospect, this “a-ha” moment I had about this seems almost too good to be true. I’ve been really thinking about how to get students to do more personal essay writing (we have focused heavily on mostly literary analysis essays), and I like that using the signposts provides a nice framework for how to draw from the literature we read as inspiration. I’m also looking forward to the non-fiction signposts, esp. since I teach an 11th grade writing course, too! Keep me updated on how it goes!


  2. Linda Lanchak

    What a powerful idea to link reading and writing so seamlessly! I teach 6th grade, so I see myself using your fantastic foundation for my students right away. Most likely, I’ll pause with each signpost and have them write a journal entry. Maybe they could chose one to turn into an extended written piece after all signposts are covered. Like you, I’m still formulating details in my mind, but I’m so grateful for your sharing of such a solid idea!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! Really, it’s because the signposts are such a great framework that makes this type of writing possible in this way. I’m liking the way this all seems to be so cohesive. Keep me updated on how things go – I will do the same!


  3. Pingback: Notice & Note, then Write: A Blueprint | Tricia Ebarvia

  4. Pingback: Notice and Note: Invitations to Write | Tricia Ebarvia | So. Consider

  5. Pingback: Notice & Note, then Write: Quickwrites | Tricia Ebarvia

  6. Angela Russell

    Perfect! This is exactly what I was looking for. I just started reading Notice and Note. I teach LA’s and I have to address all LA standards. Thank you for sharing your ideas!


Comments are closed.