June 25, 2016

A Writing Mini Lesson for Starting the School Year

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Between us, we have six sons and they all LOVE Legos. In the process of organizing for back-to-school–something of a “fall-cleaning” ritual–Jan asked her six-year-old, Victor, to sort through his gigantic box of random Legos and remove anything extraneous. The box had become something of a dumping ground for any small object.

After some protest from Victor, Jan agreed to help him rifle through the thousand, some-odd Legos to identify lost treasures. Item-by-item they pulled out random objects, such as the dice for a particular game, the pretend credit card that goes with the toy cash register, and the lid to the jar for catching fireflies. Such items were returned to their rightful homes, and trash (which represented a large percent of the foreign matter among the Legos) was thrown away. There still remained, however, an assortment of objects that weren’t trash, but were homeless. That is, they were small treasures that didn’t really belong anywhere else.

So, Jan recycled an unused school box and designated it a repository for “small things worth keeping.” As Jan and Victor sorted through the Legos, they gathered these homeless treasures and said, “This is a small thing worth keeping.” They collected a crazy assortment of random, dearness–a plastic lizard, a wooden nickel, a plastic ring, a Rainbow Loom bracelet, even a baby tooth (Obviously the procedures for securing childhood memorabilia becomes more lax with a fourth child!).


This process of searching through Legos is analogous to a writer’s notebook, with the morass of Legos representing the tidal wave of life experiences that move across our days. In our writer’s notebooks we collect those special items that stick out, but that would otherwise be lost because they don’t usually fit anywhere else. We gather each noticing and say, “That’s a small thing worth keeping.”

Try this:

When you introduce writer’s notebooks this fall, take a large handful of Legos ( or some other small object) and add one or two small, special items. Drop the whole handful onto a document camera–special items included–and ask students what they notice.



Talk to them about how easy it is to lose special moments in the midst of daily business, such as the lovely, blue stone hidden among the Legos in the image above.


Then have them label their writing notebooks “Small Things Worth Keeping.” Throughout the school days, notice aloud special moments worth capturing and say, “That’s a small thing worth keeping.” With you as a model, students will begin to collect the moments of their lives, too.

Launch your school year giving students a metaphor and the language to preserve the small things worth keeping in their lives. And then, give them time to write.

Not using writing notebooks, yet? Check out Aimee Buckner’s wonderful books about using writing notebooks.


  1. Absolutely, love this lesson. I’m going into school early today to reserve the document camera.

  2. I SO love this! My only problem is…no Legos! (Can you even imagine that?!?!)

  3. What a great way to show students the value of taking time to record small moments in their writer’s notebook. I love this way of creative and metaphorical thinking! It’s right up my alley!

  4. Love this idea! It’s a keeper!!

  5. What a great idea, not for teaching, but for life. We all get lost in the day-to-day of our lives and forget to notice those “small things worth keeping”.

    I hope to be able to notice them more. Thanks for the post!

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