Sunday, October 24, 2021

Writer's Notebook/Journal

 Keeping a notebook is the single best way I know to survive as a writer.  . . . It gives you a quiet place to catch your breath and begin to write.” – Ralph Fletcher


Recently my granddaughter who is teaching 2ndgrade shared with me the writing that her students are doing.  I was a bit disturbed to learn that they are working on writing informative paragraphs -- in other words essays -- this early in the school year.  My concern is that they will find writing to be very frustrating. Perhaps one way to offset this expectation would be to have students keep a writer’s notebook/journal.


The type of notebook/journal can vary from pocket notebooks to composition books, to online notebooks/journals.  A writer’s notebook/journal is not expected to be graded.  Definitely the teacher can establish goals – number of entries? pages? Perhaps have the student select one of the entries to share with the teacher.  Also, I would also encourage the teacher to keep a notebook to share writing experiences with students.


A writer’s notebook/journal provides a place for the student to write thoughts/feelings.  It is a place to for ideas, for questions, for exploring possibilities. Write about favorite books, tv shows, movies, events/memories. Maybe keep a section for favorite words/phrases. The idea is to encourage students to experiment with their ideas, their writing voices.  


When my high school students were expected to write critical essays about works of literature, I encouraged them to keep writing notebooks as they were reading.  Writing notes about the author’s style of writing, about the various themes that were emerging, about the point of view, about the characters, setting, etc. made drafting the essay much easier.


A favorite resource of mine was A Writer’s Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You by Ralph Fletcher. Check it out.  I found so many great ideas that I think work for any age. I especially like this entry from Briana Carlin, a fifth grader:

A notebook is where you keep dew drops from a dew drop morning.  It’s where the sun sets.  It’s the wind in your face at the beach looking out over the water.  A notebook is where you’re playing with your dog.  It’s where you have dreams about walking on rainbows.  It’s where the good feelings and the bad feelings spend the night. 



Thursday, October 14, 2021

Write Out!

 Have you heard about Write Out! ?

Check it out on the NWP website.

    Write Out (#writeout) is a free two-week event, organized as a series of online activities where educators, students, and the public are invited to explore national parks and other public spaces to connect and learn through place-based writing and sharing. The theme of this year’s event is Palettes, Storyboards, and Cadences and will run from October 10-24, 2021 which includes the National Day of Writing on October 20th. 

Yes, you have missed week one, but there's still another week to go and, if you join, you can still use all of the activities with your students. This is the time of year to do a great deal of free writing with your students, and this project totally fits in with learning more about your students, both as people and as writers.

For me, when in the classroom, this would be a great notebook activity. I wasn't looking for polished, finished pieces at this time of the year, but I was looking to build interest and stamina in my students. I was interested in finding out more about them as well as setting a writing tone in class.

Write Out! is tied to a national park theme, so the activities involve a video introduction to many different parks with a writing prompt tied to the park. For example, Golden Gate National Recreation Area is discussed and then the prompt is given: Create a story about someone who passes through an imaginary portal in the park. Where would this magic door lead? 

Students could freewrite on each of the 4 themes, in their notebooks (online or physical notebooks). An option would be to take one of their pieces to a finished product. If you haven't done much with writing yet this year, here's the perfect opportunity to set a tone, try pair-shares with rough drafts/ideas, use writers' notebooks and create final drafts.


On another note, look for pieces coming up on writers notebooks and publishing student work.

Happy Writing!


Thursday, August 26, 2021

A New School Year

 My granddaughter is so excited about her new job of teaching 2ndgrade, after high school SPED for two years.  She’s been posting pictures of her classroom and recently shared about meeting most of her students. I also have a grandson teaching in the middle school. This fall he will be teaching in-person and is looking forward to the new school year, but doesn’t know how many students will choose that option. I just worry with the continued Covid concern that it will be another very difficult year for teachers.  


Their anticipation reminded me how much I enjoyed my teaching career.  Having the opportunity to help shape the learning of young adults was extremely fulfilling for me. The majority of my career (32 years) was at Burnsville High School.  I was so fortunate to be part of a vibrant department, one that continually strove to improve education.  In addition, my work with the Minnesota Writing Project provided unexpected learning experiences.  I became involved with staff development for various MN schools, even traveled to Norway for work.  I also attended and presented at several National Writing Project conventions and international workshops (Bordeaux, Netherlands).  These opportunities occurred because staff development was supported by district, state, and federal funds.  Unfortunately, it seems that much of that support has dried up.  With the loss of this funding, teachers are often left to work isolated in their own classrooms. 


Recently Micki and I participated in a virtual writing conference that included educators from the Midwest.  One of the sessions was an opportunity for participants to share concerns about teaching writing.  The concerns expressed were the same ones that have existed since we began our careers.  By creating our earlier podcast (Breaking the Barriers of the 5 Paragraph Essay) and this blog, we hoped that we might provide helpful resources for teachers.  


We welcome your comments, ideas, etc. Let us know what are you struggling with this year.  Perhaps from our years of teaching and staff development, we can offer some support.


Friday, July 30, 2021

Writing Prompts from Our Writers Group

As we participated in the Midwest Writers Group this weekend, there were a few items that we wanted to share. The following topics and prompts are ones we've used over the past couple of years...In the coming month or two, Muriel and I will share some of the thoughts that were generated from these prompts. Perhaps others from our group will also share.

Look these over and do a few free writes as you prepare to enter back into the crazy busy world of teaching.

Minnesota Retired Writers:

Writing Topics/Genres

Chosen by Members


-Daily Life




Reactions to World/National Events



Emotions/Personal Beliefs

Humorous Incidents


Fiction - Short Stories

Family Histories




Sample Writing Prompts

(Usually a 10-15 minute write)

Reactions to magazine


(Ex.: Write a response to a picture of a

masked girl; A photo of the bridge to


Write about a piece of furniture

React to a quote or a section of poetry

(Ex.: Poem from Mary Oliver: “Things I

didn’t have to worry about when I was



Write About…

*Things in life that give you hope today

*A Solution for one world problem

*Something that has been a defining part of

whom you’ve become

*An event in your life that had a before and


*One profound learning experience

*“In spite of ------, we can build -------.”

*What you have missed most this summer

*What you learned from the pandemic

*The MN State Fair

*“We’ll Cross that Bridge When We Come to



*The first date you had with your husband

*A family tradition.

*Positive/negative aspects of retirement.

*Something that disturbs you

*How you calm yourself

*What you dream about

*An Inexpensive Item that means a lot to


*Favorite seasons and how you adjust

*What you are ready to say goodbye


*A wonderful moment in winter

*The most exciting thing you did this


*What summer means to you

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Midwest NWP Writing Conference - Minnesota Bio Links

Thanks for following up to our previous post on the Midwest NWP Writing Conference.

Many of you have asked questions about who we are - what our background is - so, this post will give you some bio information as well as ways to contact us individually.

Minnesota Retired Writers

Participant Bios


Bev Alsleben:  B.A. English Education, ESL licensure, Masters of Liberal Studies

Retired English Learners teacher, St. Paul Public Schools;  served on the ELL Leadership Team of the NWP, attending many national conferences and writing retreats.  

 Debra Hartley, PhD English

Taught college writing courses and worked in college writing centers; Assistant director of the Center for Writing at the University of Minnesota: redesigned and managed the MWP website and helped plan MWP activities and produce publications.  

 Mary Kirchhof  M.Ed. Special Education/Elementary, Reading Licensure, Writing and Critical Literacy Certificate 

Taught early childhood, elementary, middle high school and universitycourses; continues to write with a dynamic cohort of MWP retired educators and through Pen Pals, a Program of the City of Minnetonka Senior Services and the Minnetonka Public Schools, as well as personal books for the family; co-led MN Writing Project grant for cohort of 22 teacher leaders; helped meld MWP involvement with a two-year study of Writing and Critical Literacy through the University of Minnesota to change writing instruction in Edina Public Schools. 

 Joyce Malwitz. M.Ed. English

Taught high school English for over 30 years; served as a curriculum facilitator and as a consultant for the Minnesota Department of Education; served on the MWP Board of Directors as Outreach Director, assisted with the Summer Institute, co-facilitated various MWP workshop offerings, and led a three-year NWP/MWP action research project for youth workers. Assistant faculty coordinator for the University of Minnesota’s College in the Schools program. 

 Sandy Nesvig – B.S., M.A.,  Administrative Licensure

Taught middle school language arts ; administrator at Annunciation Catholic School. 

 Micki (Margaret) St Sauver: B.S. English/Education, M.Ed. ESL/Reading, PhD Literacy

English Teacher, 7-8; District Program Manager for Literacy 7-12; Literacy Consultant, Institute for Student Achievement, Columbia University; MWP, advisor and presenter; consultant for the Minnesota Department of Education; served on the MWP Board of Directors: Currently working with Muriel Thompson, former Director of MWP in creating a podcast, Breaking the Barriers of the Five Paragraph Essay and a blog, M&M Writing Essentials K12+. 

 Ann Thompson: M.A. Communications

Taught high school English and middle school English, speech and Theatre;. Developed business communications; MWP Continuity Director

Muriel Thompson: B.A. English M.Ed. English

Former Director for the Minnesota Writing Project ; High school Language arts teacher, Burnsville Public Schools; developed district's curriculum work and staff development programs. Micki St. Sauver and I have created a podcast: Breaking the Barriers of the Five Paragraph Essay and more recently a blog: M&M Writing Essentials K-12+. 


Retired MWP Writers

Contact Information



                              (Debra Hartley)

           (Bev Alsleben)

                      (Sandy Nesvig)

                        (Ann Thompson)

                         (Micki St Sauver)

           (Muriel Thompson)             (Joyce Malwitz)

Thanks for checking in with us! We look forward to hearing from you in the future.




2021 Midwest NWP Conference

 How is your summer going? For me...FAST! I thought it used to fly by when I was still teaching and was home for the summer with my kids, but this summer seems so crazy and we haven't even gone on a designated vacation. We are spending time with family and friends and just enjoying seeing people again.

Muriel and I have also found time to prepare for a conference coming up this Saturday:

2021 Midwest NWP Conference

 Muriel and I and five other former MWP members will be presenting information about starting and maintaining writing groups. Hope you can join us!

Friday, April 23, 2021

More Resources

Now that we are coming to the end of the school year, are you looking for ideas for closure? 

You've probably got your own routine, but if not, here's some ideas:

Use these lesson plans to keep students engaged through the end of the year!

You may also like these favorites from the 2020-2021 school year.

Here's to powerful learning adventures! These ideas are fully expanded upon at

Creative Educator can also be followed on Instagram...

Do you have ideas of your own? Help out your colleagues and share them here! Hoping your year ends well...