Notebook Invitation

Notebook Invitations, Annotation Statements, and Sketchnoting for Introducing and Navigating Challenging Nonfiction

Like many of you, I have found Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” to be a challenging text for students in terms of both content and vocabulary.  Most 11th grade teachers find this be an especially tedious text to teach; several of you on Twitter shared it has been a struggle to engage students with this text.  As I worked on my lesson plans for the selection, I wondered how on earth I could help students navigate the text in a meaningful way.  I decided in both my Honors level, team taught, and college-prep level junior classes (5 total sections) that we would work through the text over two days with these activities during our block instructional time:

  • A Writer’s Notebook Invitation (#6) to get students thinking about the words in the selection and what predictions they could make about the text based on a word cloud of the sermon without knowing the title of the work or that it was a sermon.
  • A Reader’s Theatre performance to introduce Puritan values and the Great Awakening to students.
  • “Chunked” reading together of the selection with “pause and reflect” time after each time to annotate, sketchnote, and identify unfamiliar and/or strong vocabulary from that specific section.

We first began with our Writer’s Notebook Invitation in which students were presented the following visual prompt and questions for thinking:

Students had a copies of the prompt and image at their table group areas in the neon ticket pouches I use to share information with students so that they could examine the word cloud  more closely.  Students could then volunteer to share all or part of their entry with the class during our share time; as part of our notebook process work, students who volunteer to share get a neon orange sticker on their notebook page that reminds both of us the student has shared and will get bonus points on their self-selected notebook assessment we do monthly.  This sharing time is important because students get to hear each other’s thinking aloud, and the ideas shared in this session helped us think about strategies for making predictions based on word choice and making inferences based on the word cloud. Some students even made connections to other texts they read last year in 10th grade like Greek myths or Dante’s Inferno.  This activity took roughly 30 minutes or a third of our ninety minute block time.

We then got up and moving around with the Reader’s Theatre performance.  Before jumping into the text, I provided students the first page of a two page graphic organizer we’d need for our annotating and sketchnoting activity.  We numbered each section or chunk 1-4; I then explained to students this graphic organizer would provide us a way of reading and thinking actively about the text and help us navigate this most complex text of our unit of study.  I explained that we do three things with the active reading graphic organizer during our “pause and reflect” time:

  1.  We would compose two annotation statements as part of our noticings and reflection on that section.  I provided students annotation codes and sentence starters to help them compose their reflections; these codes are based on Cris Tovani’s work in Chapter 5 of So What Do They Really Know? and annotations as formative assessment.
  2. Sketchnoting:  we created a graphic or visual representation of what we “saw” in our minds as we read that section.
  3. Vocabulary: we recorded unfamiliar vocabulary; we also captured words that were strong or vivid word choices that appealed to our emotions.

In each class on this first day of the activity, we were able to finish anywhere from 2-4 sections in class (4B lost time due to an unexpected fire drill).   Students had copies of the annotation codes and sentence starters in their neon pouches, and I repeated the instructions during each “pause and reflect” session after we read a chunk or section of text.

Students could read ahead if they finished early, and students could take their work home if they needed to finish their work that evening.  I was truly astonished by the thinking I saw in their written AND in their visual representations across all classes.




Many students shared they liked this process, especially the sketchnotes; several made it a point to use their colored pencils or to put extra time and effort into their written and visual work.

We repeated this process for the remaining sections that we read and reflected upon on Day 2 (Thursday, August 31 and Friday, September 1).  Students received the second page of the graphic organizer upon arrival, and we finished up our reading and reflection work.  They then had the remainder of the period to finish their graphic organizer work if needed before completing a self-assessment of their self-selected best “section” or chunk.

Students completed this self-assessment ticket and stapled it to their work; I’ll collect these next week because students need their graphic organizer work for a creative mini-lit circle poster activity they’ll do in self-selected groups next week as we bring closure to this text before our unit test at the end of the week.  I plan to collect the hard copies of their work, but I plan to introduce Seesaw this month and use this tool for student portfolios and all of their self-assessment work.  In closing, we ended class time with some review questions; those who need extra time for either learning task could finish up at home over our long weekend.

One observation of note:  many students needed me to re-explain the instructions for self-assessment even after we reviewed them together.  I get the sense that this is not because they didn’t understand the instructions, but because many of them have had few opportunities to reflect on their work and explain what they did well in their work.  Some of them would even ask me to read what they wrote and ask me, “Is this good?”; I would read aloud what they had written and then ask them, “What do you think? How do you know?”  As I have blogged earlier this semester, I think it is really important for kids to engage in metacognition about their work and be intentional in evaluating their work and learning how to articulate when they have done something well instead of always looking to me the teacher as the final validation of “good.”

Based on my observations and what I read of the self-assessment as students showed me their work during class, I think this was a successful and meaningful learning activity for all my classes.  I definitely want to do more sketchnoting with students and was inspired by work I read from Shawna Coppola this summer as well as the pleathora of tweets from Tanny McGregor’s session at ILA this past July.    This was honestly my first attempt to introduce it to students, and I intentionally kept it simple for our initial efforts, but I hope to do some more intentional mini-lessons in the future.  These resources are my starting points, and I think you’ll find them helpful as well!

Last but not least, the video recording of Shawna and Tanny’s presentation:

Are you annotating and sketchnoting with students?  What are your best practices and tips?  I hope you’ll share here in the comment space below!

Notebook Invitations, a Carousel Walk, and 3-2-1 Reflections: A Living KWL and Formative Assessment for Instructional Design

For roughly two and half weeks in August, my seniors have been mucking around and exploring topics related to the future of work through reading frenzies, reading rumbles, birds of feather groups formation with compass points discussion and question planning, and a philosophical chairs discussion.

The Writer’s Notebook Invitation

This past Wednesday, August 30, we began class by responding to these six questions in our writer’s notebooks (this was Writer’s Notebook Invitation 6).

From Individual Notebook Work to Group Sharing with Carousel Stations

After thinking and responding to these questions in our writer’s notebooks, students visited seven stations—six of them represented the six questions above, and we had a 7th “wildcard” question/reflection station.  Students could visit the stations in any order and share their responses.  The only restriction was that you could not replicate a previous response from another student.

We then formed groups of three and four; each group received a “question station” and was asked to analyze the range of responses they saw in front of them.  Students worked together to look at the range of responses for their station question and formulate a 3-2-1 response to share with the class:


After completing their small group work, each group shared out their findings, and we discussed their responses and how it might relate to our project we were starting. Each group discussed the responses and then formulated a 3-2-1 response that was eventually shared with the class and posted in our hallway gallery.  Here is a summary of their findings:

Why Are We Doing This?  Building a Collaborative KWL and Gathering Data for Formative Assessment

This activity was designed with a few purposes in mind.  First, the activity helped us think about what we already knew about research, what didn’t know, and what we wanted to know.  I think it was helpful for students to see patterns of response within our class from one station/question to another.  Secondly, the student work compiled individually (I scanned every poster created along with the 3-2-1 reflections)  and in small groups has provided me rich data for formative assessment that can inform future mini-lessons and better understand strengths as well as gaps in understanding.  Going through that data and compiling it helps me now think about what mini-lessons students will need as we move forward.  Finally, the activity also helped set the stage for our inquiry project and how we are going to rethink how we conceptualize research.  My instructional design is rooted partially in my previous experiences as a school librarian and English teacher, but this marvelous post from Moving Writers is also informing the design of this inquiry unit–not just the research aspect but the content creation and study of mentor texts for informational writing text structures.

The data I collected through this activity could easily be a blog post in and of itself; if time permits, I will try and compose a separate post with some observations and reflections on that data.

Next Steps:  Introducing the Project Framework, Our Research Guide, and First Mini-Lessons + Finalizing Our Birds of Feather Groups’ Lines of Inquiry and Jobs

Finally, I formally introduced and reviewed the “birds of feather” inquiry project; we then reviewed the project guidelines together. You can view our research guide in progress by clicking here.

Last, birds of feather topic groups met to finalize responsibilities and research questions they self-select; during the previous week, groups used the “Compass Points” talking points (adapted from Making Thinking Visible)  to tease out their ideas and thinking about their self-selected group topic as a springboard to developing questions and lines of inquiry to pursue in the first round of research.

I captured each group’s planning work with my ScannerPro app and saved each file as a PDF; I then uploaded these a shared folder in my Lanier Google Drive.  Each group has a copy of their planning sheet in a shared folder in Google; this folder is accessible only to them their school account, but here is a snapshot of the shared folder (the link to the shared folder is posted on the home page of our research guide):


Mini-Lessons to Prep Us for Our Initial Round of Research

On Friday, September 1, I did a series quick mini-lessons on the following skills in the first third of our ninety minute block class time:

  • Accessing our research guide and the resources available/how to navigate
  • How to sign up for EasyBib and create a project folder
  • How to export a citation from any EBSCO database (we get quite a few through GALILEO) to EasyBib
  • How to send a resource from EBSCO to your Google Drive
  • How to export a citation from any GALE database to EasyBib
  • How to send any article from a GALE database to your Google Drive
  • How to share your saved articles in Google Drive with your group members if you would like to do so
  • Web-based starting points for research, including Google News and TED Talks
  • The CRAAP test

We then used the remainder of the period to begin work on our first day of research; students were asked to save every article to EasyBib to begin building a working bibliography (even those articles they may eventually discard) and to send to their Google Drive when possible.  Students were also asked to complete the following graphic organizer with a goal of finding at least three articles; those who needed more time can finish over our long Labor Day weekend.

Looking Ahead to Our Work in September

We’ll move forward with more research next week before coming back together to evaluate our next steps and to inquire about how the information we’re finding will drive the types of informational text structures we may create and focal points for a 2nd round of research later in September.  I’ll be writing more about these learning structures and strategies later this month!

Getting to Know You: Six Word Memoirs

This past spring, I was inspired by a post from the wonderful Moving Writers blog that gave me the idea to begin my school year with six word memoirs.  This past Wednesday, my 12th Honors ELA seniors were introduced to the writer’s notebook purpose and protocols.  Our first writer’s notebook invitation asked students to look at a set of roughly 11 sentences that served as our mentor texts (six word memoirs, which was still not known yet to students) as I want my students to begin reading like writers.  Students were asked to record their noticings about the sentences; they could focus on length, structure, mood, word choice, style, punctuation, and topics.

Our writing prompt was a springboard to small group discussions and then a lightning round large group share.  I then asked students to count the number of words in each sentence since no group noticed they were all six words.  This prompted noticing elicited surprise from the students and was the springboard for us watching a TEDxvideo about six word memoirs from the founder of the genre, Larry Smith ( ).  Students then did a follow up post in the writer’s notebook reflecting on the video; many were impressed that so few words could make a difference, and we had a class discussion about how we might use this medium of writing as a possible class writing project to make a difference in our Lanier High community to create a space for student six memoirs and their stories.

We then went to work drafting and polishing our six word memoirs.  Once finished, students their six word memoirs on the bulletin board in our classroom to share and celebrate our writing.

If you are interested in buying sentence strips, I use these from Amazon (they were a good bit cheaper when I purchased mine); these Pacon sentence strips might be a good alternative.

Below is my slideshow I used to guide our lesson as well as a copy of the mentor texts I culled from the Six Word Memoirs website.


Gwinnett County Schools AKS (standards) In This Lesson:

Reading Literary AKS

LA12.A.5: analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact (I)

Writing AKS

LA12.C.29: write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences (I)

LA12.C.28 draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research (I)

LA12.C.22: write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences (I)

Speaking and Listening AKS

LA12.D.30: initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (e.g., one-on- one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11–12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively (I)