The beauty of the commonplace book is that it makes the act of reading and writing inseparable. Reading inspires writing which inspires more reading.


Occasionally I like to write about topics that connect my worlds–my life as an educator with my life as a writer. Today’s post is that. As the Blizzard of 2016 descended on the East Coast this past weekend, I found some to time to read for pleasure, curled up on my living room couch.

The winter months are a perfect excuse (do we even really need one?) to read. When the wind blows and the temperatures drop, who wants to be outside anyways? If you have never considered keeping a Commonplace Book before, I hope you will give it a try.


Two years ago, while attending a conference, I learned about an ancient tradition that has now become a regular practice for my students and me. We keep a commonplace book.  

A commonplace book is like a scrapbook in several respects. It is the place to record meaningful passages, a witty turn of phrase, or the achingly beautiful description from the books or poems a person reads. Instead of taking a picture, the keeper copies these words into his or her book to be read and savored time and again.

Last year was the first time I required my students to keep a commonplace book. After reading three or four chapters in a given week from our current novel study, the students picked two or three passages to record. Initially, they struggled to understand that there wasn’t a wrong or right way to keep a commonplace book. They needed my reassurance that it was okay to jot down what spoke to them as readers. To my delight, my students wanted to share with me and their classmates what they recorded. Each week we spent some time reading aloud from our commonplace books.  In theory, a commonplace book isn’t necessarily meant to be shared. In this regard, it mimics a private journal. Yet routinely, I found my students wanting to share their favorite passages with the rest of the class. Together we listened and affirmed each other’s selections. Often I heard, “Oh, I picked that passage too.”

This year I added a new piece to the commonplace book. In the first week of school, students cut and pasted pictures to decorate the cover of their books, personalizing them and adding beauty to an otherwise bland cover. I also encourage students to add or draw pictures to their entries or to write in different colored pens if they so desire.

By the end of the school year, our books will be filled with quotes that chronicle our reading adventures this year. My hope is that this practice will continue for my students well beyond their time in my classroom. Perhaps one day, while sorting through their basements or attics, they will unearth their commonplace book from this year and find themselves suddenly transported to the worlds of Charlotte Doyle, Jim Hawkins, or Scout Finch all over again.



3 thoughts

  1. I have kept a commonplace book for many years but only recently found out that’s what they’re called. I’m on book #7 I think. They often prove a very useful resource when I’m writing or preparing a talk. I paste in cartoons, word origins, foreign vocabulary and so on, as well as writing in quotations using different colours of ink. It can be amusing, leafing back through a book and meeting my former self.


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