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Notice & Note, then Write: Quickwrites

Sign posts* This is Part 3 in a series on how to use the signposts from Kylene Beers and Robert Probst’s Notice and Note to inspire student writing. Here are parts 1 and 2.

In Notice and Note, Beers and Probst make this important observation:

As you think about each of these signposts, you’ll see that they appear not only in texts but also in our lives. When your significant other mentions again and again that the garbage needs to go out, there’s a subtext to that message—and it has to do with rising anger! When the friend who always checks on you suddenly begins to ignore you, then the contrast with what expect, the contradiction of an established pattern, makes you wonder what is wrong. If you’re now a parent, you can look back on those long talks with your own parents not as “another boring lecture” but as your parent’s attempt to spare you some pain, to impart words of someone wiser. When a friend asks you what your teen thought of the party that weekend, you suddenly realize—aha—that your teen’s sad face over the weekend tells you she hadn’t been invited. (74)

As Beers and Probst point out, the reason that the signposts are so ubiquitous in the texts we read is because they are ubiquitous in our lives. After all, art imitates life.

So how do we get students to see this?  

As I started thinking about a model for how to use the signposts as invitations for writing, I went back to what I know is an essential element in the workshop model—quickwrites. Regular, preferably daily, opportunities to explore ideas in their writer’s notebooks, quickwrites build fluency and confidence. These “writing territories,” as Nancie Atwell calls them, also serve as an important resource for students, as they later draw upon these initial notes and wondering to write longer pieces.So if I want my students to write personal pieces of writing that explore how the signposts apply to their own lives, I need to get students thinking and writing about those personal connections in their notebooks. Below are a few of the quickwrite prompts I’ve come up with for each signpost, any of which could be broken down and expanded upon into multiple quickwrites.

Strategies for using Notice and Note as invitations for writing

SIGNPOST  QUICKWRITE PROMPT
Words of the Wiser
  • Make a list of all the people in your life you consider wise or knowledgeable. Then choose one and explain how this person is wise.
  • Give students a list of “wise words” from literature or other sources (i.e. proverbs) – choose one and reflect on the extent to which it is true.
  • What “saying” or piece of advice do you most often get from your parents? Another family member?
  • When I need advice about ______, I turn to ______, because ______.
  • Have students read these “10 Comforting Words from Dumbledore,” choose one or more to write about.
Memory Moment
  • What was your favorite memory from this past summer? From two summers ago? Four summers? Etc.
  • List the most important people in your life. Next to each person, write down a specific moment you shared together.
  • When I was ______, I remember feeling / thinking / seeing ______. (Repeat)
  • Read the picture book Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran, then ask students to reflect on what moments in their own childhood it makes them think about. Another great read loud is the picture book The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant to get students thinking about family memories.
Aha Moment
  • Make a list of something you learned when you were ______ years old. Repeat for other ages.
  • Draw a large lightbulb in your notebook. Fill it with important things you’ve learned in your life so far.
  • I used to think _____, but now I realize ______. What helped me realize this was ______.
  • Read students
Contrast & Contradiction
  • Think of a time you were watching a movie or television, or reading a book, and describe a moment you were shocked by some twist in the plot or decision by a character. What was so surprising?
  • Same as above, but instead, think of a time when a friend or family member surprised you by their actions.
  • Draw a full-body self-portrait. Draw a line down the middle. Consider how someone or some group views you versus how you view yourself. On one side, list words that you think others would use to describe you. On the other side, list words you would use to describe yourself.
Tough Question
  • Brainstorm a list of “big questions” about life. For example, how do we deal with grief? How do we know when we fall in love? Etc.
  • Describe a time when you wondered about one of these “big questions.”
  • Make a list of difficult decisions you’ve had to make in your life.
Again and Again
  • List some of the activities you’ve done since you were a child (i.e. sports, clubs, music, reading).
  • Choose an activity in your life and describe why it’s important to you / why you’ve stuck with it (repeat).
  • List some traditions you have with family or friends. Describe why a particular tradition is so important to you / worth keeping (repeat).

It’s easy to see how any one of these quickwrite prompts could be serve as the subject for a writing piece. On the other hand, each of these prompts can also serve simply as a beginning, an entryway, into some larger or more complex idea. At this point, I think I would like to leave the actual focus of the longer piece of writing up to each student. It will all depend, on some degree, on what they are able to unearth in the prewriting they do in their notebooks, and hopefully, these quickwrite prompts will serve as an important part of that process.

I typically start each class period either with a quickwrite or a booktalk (in a 43-minute period, it’s tough to find time to do both each day, though sometimes I am ambitious 🙂 ). My thinking is that I will rotate through the quickwrites for each signpost so that students have “something down” in their notebooks for each. Then, when we begin our writing workshop session, they will have some notes on each of the signposts and can choose from a wider terrain of ideas.

Of course, once students have an idea of what they want to write, they’ll need some additional mentor texts to study. That’s where I’ll head in my next post… until then, let me know if you have any ideas in the comments below.

6 Comments

  1. Among the items in my summer to-do list was to gather a pool of ideas for prewriting for our 7th grade nonfiction writing class–my first year teaching it, third year of its existence–and then I started reading this series: CHECK!

    Helpful post! You did some heavy lifting for me!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Awesome – glad it was helpful! This is the first time I’m approaching writing and N&N in this way, so let me know if you have any feedback 🙂

      Like

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

  3. Thank you so much for posting your ideas. I plan to work more with Notice and Note in my English classes and really appreciate the tie to writing! Reading and writing are inseparable!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is fabulous! I was looking for something exactly like this for this coming school year as I want to tie in writing with notice and note. This will be my first time using notice and note and you have made my life that much easier; thank you!

    Like

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