Fresh Ideas For Summer Writing: Using an Observation Calendar

 
 
 

Hi everyone! Who's excited that summer has finally arrived? Let's not even think about that nasty winter for one minute! I'm Emily, from The Reading Tutor/OG. During the summer months, I work with children who struggle with writing. Over the years, I've searched for ways to make writing fun during the short time they are out of school, but still need practice. Today, I'll share one strategy you can try with your own students or children at home. You are welcome to join the conversation at the end and share your own ideas for using it too.

Observation Calendars

Keeping a summer journal is an easy and inexpensive way to keep writing skills sharp. I pass one out to each of my students that come to work with me over the summer. Coming up with ideas for summer journals can be fairly simple for teachers. We can print out a long list of prompts and assign away. But how do we help young writers brainstorm their own ideas for writing?

After searching and pinning ideas to my Pinterest boards a few years ago, I came up with a solution: an observation calendar. It's based on pins I saw when I was researching how to create a smash book. (which, by the way, are loads of fun and addictive!) When I ask children to keep a summer journal, we glue in an observation calendar with large boxes to write. I usually have lined boxes for kids that need help with organization. In the boxes, they write about something they have observed each day. It can just be a phrase or sentence, but they have to do it EVERY day.

What do you write in the calendar?
  • Things you observe or wonder about in your world.
  • Maybe jot down an observation about an interesting shell, a rock you found, a pet, something in the news, or a favorite meal. 
  • Use your senses to become more aware of your surroundings. This helps you become more observant. People, events and things will begin to stand out, and you'll WANT to add them into your observation calendar.
  • Be selective in what you add to it. It's only a small space!
  • Use it for burning questions.
  • Choose a certain time of day and place to fill in the box for the corresponding day and commit to it. Consider taking it with you on trips.
  • Use sentence starters like, "I wonder.." I notice...", "Why do...", "I just discovered..."

What Are The Benefits Of Using
An Observation Calendar?
  • This may not sound like a big deal in terms of length, but it seriously builds writing fluency. I tell my students writing should become second nature. It's a habit like brushing your teeth. Whether you do it a little or a lot each day, it becomes more comfortable.
  • Watch and see how a young writer's stamina begins to grow. Challenged writers need to build up stamina, and strength to sustain when having to write at longer stretches.
  • Because it is such a small space, young writers are training themselves to determine what's essential and what isn't when they write. The box is very small and you only get one a day!
  • Writing in short bursts with small activities like the observation calendar help build discipline for the exercise and process of writing 
  • These daily observations become seeds for journal entries, published stories, poems, blog entries, and even research projects!

This works very well during the school year as a quick warm-up, reflection or daily writing exercise too. Try it as a reader's response or a reading log instead. The key here, which I must point out, is to make this fun and engaging. A word of caution to the teacher that observes a calendar being rushed through just for the sake of being done. Take a few minutes each day or once a week to discuss the observations. Do not let wonderings just sit in the calendar. Guide children to lift an observation off the calendar and turn it into a journal entry, story, blog post, or research report.

Does this sound like something you will try with your budding writers? I'd love to hear about it! Feel free to comment below.
Thank you so much for visiting Literacy Land today!



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23 comments

  1. Thanks for the post Emily! I really like the idea of using observation calenders. It is a wonderful way to get reluctant writers to write. They won't feel overwhelmed by having to fill a big blank space. I am definitely going to try this with my kiddos :)

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    1. Thank you Lindy! I worked with many reluctant writers over the years and this strategy has really helped them. :)
      -Emily

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  2. I agree with Lindy! I am definitely going to try this.

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    1. Yay Karen! I'm excited to hear you'll try this out. I hope your students enjoy it!
      -Emily

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  3. I agree with Lindy! I am definitely going to try this.

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    1. Thank you Susan! It really helps kids generate ideas too. :)
      -Emily

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  5. Great idea for motivation and building stamina. Thanks! Enjoy your summer!

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    1. Thank you Brenda! It really works for stamina building. Happy Summer!

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  6. What a great idea. I love the idea of a bit of writing each day as opposed to creating a 5-sentence paragraph every time. This is perfect for my firsties on so many levels: observing what is going on around them, building their stamina, and encouraging a bit of writing every day. I'm definitely doing this. Thanks for sharing your great idea.

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    1. I couldn't agree more! Short manageable writing tasks can still be very effective!

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  7. This is a great idea and gives the students such freedom to develop their creative writing!

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    1. You said it best when you said it gives students freedom. The are in the driver's seat and that's empowering!

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  8. I love these ideas! Thanks for sharing!!

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    1. Thank you so much Stacy! It was fun sharing this with all of my Literacy Land friends!

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  9. I've never used an observation calendar but it definitely sounds like something that could benefit students. It reminds me of the ideas for writing brainstorming maps we used to give the kids; but I like the intentional daily writing component better.

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    1. Hi Rhonda- This intentional daily writing in short bursts makes writing a routine that kids really get used to doing. I hope it works for your students too! :)

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  10. LOVE this idea. So often writing can eat up a huge chunk of time and require a tremendous amount of effort for struggling students but writing daily observations is a fabulous work around! I shall most definitely be borrowing this idea - thank you for sharing!

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    1. I couldn't have said it better Lisa! Struggling writers need more activities like this to boost their confidence in writing. Thanks for your comments!

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  11. What a great idea! Thanks for sharing!

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  12. What a great way to win over our most reluctant writers. That little square won't be quite as intimidating as a big blank journal. ;) I'm adding that to my summer routine for my kiddos next year. Definitely.

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    1. It makes things so much more manageable for them. For proficient writers it's a challenge to see what they can narrow down into one little box. Great for differentiation!

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