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Notebooking with a Structured Writing Plan

Regardless of age, I begin notebooking with oral narrations. My goal is for the kids to retain what they have studied, not just regurgitate and forget. So, I begin with oral narrations which train their ears to listen attentively and their brains to begin making connections with the topic or story before putting ever putting a pencil to the paper. What topics to use? This is up to you and your child. I would say begin with a topic they already enjoy. From there, you will likely do a mix of topics they want to do as well as some that are required either by you or your state’s guidelines. We use notebooking for Bible, history, science, nature study, fine arts study, and literature and try to add new pages to most notebooks every week. This post will outline a more “structured” approach to notebooking. For a less structured tutorial, click here.


It is less stressful for most kids to talk about a topic than to write about it. When beginning notebooking, I ask the kids for immediate oral narrations rather than a written summary or report. A narration is simply them telling you back what was read. Immediate, oral narrations demand they be focused listeners and readers. Narration is a tough skill to develop, so begin in short spurts, maybe reading and narrating a paragraph at a time building eventually to a whole page, then a section of a chapter, a whole chapter, etc. Be encouraging and if you have several children working together allow them to tag-team the oral narration. Once they build confidence in their ability to narrate, they will be better equipped to move on to written narrations.


While developing oral narration skills, begin notebooking with artwork and copywork to showcase the topics studied. Most young children enjoy drawing a picture of their favorite part of the day’s study. If they are not ready for written narrations, write a portion of their oral narration down for them to copy and add to their notebook. They could also create a caption for their artwork.


Once oral narration becomes more natural, ask your children what they feel were the most important or interesting 2-3 things they learned from the day’s study. Encourage them to share their thoughts and opinions as well. Have them add these 2-3 main ideas and opinions to their notebooks using this opportunity to introduce proper sentence structure. Then, as before, they can add copywork or other supporting artwork and graphic elements (maybe maps, photographs, etc.).


As oral narrations and sentence writing become easy, ask children to add more details from their oral narrations to one or more of their main idea sentences and opinion statements teaching them the structure of paragraph writing. As kids are learning these skills, I rarely allow them to return to their original reading sources. The temptation to copy or summarize straight from the source is often too great. Instead, I will copy (or have them copy) hard to spell words, names, dates, and other important vocabulary to a white board. We may also do a short outline with key words to help them remember more abstract topics. My goal is to get what they learned and their own reactions to what they learned into their notebook, not just a rehash of what another author has already written.


Writing complete sentences and using proper paragraph structure is important. Hopefully, following a plan that moves you gently from oral narration to sentence writing to paragraph writing as described above will make this a near painless process. But, what about all of the other “stuff” . . . spelling, grammar, punctuation, stylistic techniques, etc.?

I would highly recommend you not take a red pen to your child’s notebook writing. Personally, I keep a composition book on the side with notes about each child’s writing hang-ups (misspelled words, incorrect use of grammar and punctuation, etc.) and we work on these skills separately outside of notebook writing time. This keeps our notebooking time focused on the content vs. the fear of mom’s red pen making for a much more productive and enjoyable writing experience.

The kids will produce more content, remember more content, and have a notebook of “their” learning. If you don’t think you can control your temptation to use the red pen, ask your child to read his/her written work to you instead. Often times, as they read their work aloud, they will find many of their own mistakes. That’s an added bonus!

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Diane Preboski - August 17, 2013

I have read the first several tutorials. I am going to try notebookng this year with my fifth grade class. I teach language arts, religion, and 3-5 math. I am thinking about use notebooking in my religion class to begin with. I would really like to use it with math but think I need to start in a subject area with more reading etc. I am excited to try it. Thanks for all the information. Wish me luck.

RM - February 4, 2014

The red pen factor is a good one to mention. My husband has very good verbal skills and a keen imagination, but he was a slow english mechanics learner and still struggles with some spelling issues. He often tells of his frustration in spending hours on a school assignment in science or history: well researched and thought out, but poorly executed linguistically; only to receive a bloodied paper with a failing grade for his efforts.

YL - August 22, 2014

This is very nice! You can’t stress enough how important narration is! It’s the basic and notebooking is the second step.
I like this post very much. Thank you!

Dee2005 - October 23, 2015

What if my child is “older”? He generally likes to include his only “vocabulary” when he narrates and I struggle with correcting his language or word choices when he paraphrases. Should narration be paraphrased or should it be as exact as possible? I need someone to help me out. My son is in the 8th grade.

    Debra Reed - October 28, 2015

    Hi Dee,
    When the kids are able to narrate in their own words this shows me they really comprehended the information. If you would like them to include new vocabulary words into their written narrations, that’s perfectly fine. However, I would start first with their own version and then edit to include the new words.

Mike and Mandy Sorensen - December 3, 2015

I’m excited to get started, but I need a little help in what to do first. Do I go buy some binders? and what size is best? my girls are 12 and 7
thank you

roberholser - October 2, 2016

I have a question regarding getting my children to “take” to notebooking. In my own mind, I can see its value and potential, but my oldest kids (ages 8 and 9) are not enthusiastic about it. When I bring out the notebooking pages, they groan and complain. They do as little writing or drawing and as poor quality as they can get away with. Part of this is due to laziness, I think, but how can I lead them to enjoy and take pride in recording their learning experiences?


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