First, one of my favorite writer's workshop tools is the writer's notebook. It is a must have for every student in my class! I have one, too. I made this one a few years back, but the information still holds true. I use this the first week of school to introduce myself to my students.
During the first week of school, one of my first homework assignments is for the kids to decorate their notebook. (I prefer a composition book over a spiral.) We talk about different elements they can use. Scrapbook paper. Stickers. Clip art. Photos. Drawings. Even wrapping paper works well to cover the notebook. I suggest no "puffy" items or foam pieces. As the kids bring them in, I cover them with clear packing tape. Put the tape on vertically. If you go over the binding it doesn't work so well. I use these notebooks as our "get to know you" activity, too.
Now that they have their notebooks, we spend the first 2-3 weeks generating ideas for writing. One of my most favorite is the story map or A Map of a Place I Know Well.
I learned about story maps from my mentor, Ralph Fletcher. Here is my sister and I with Ralph in New York. We flew up there just to attend one of his workshops a few years back.
Anyway...on the plane ride up, I read his memoir Marshfield Dreams. What a great book! I use it as a mentor text. I read little snipets of it to show the kids examples of writing from life experiences. The little things make great stories.
In the beginning of the book, Ralph has a map of his neighborhood in Marshfield, where the story takes place. I show this (and my own) as an example of a story map.
After they draw the map, they then mark the places where the stories are buried. A heart could represent a favorite place. An X could be a danger spot or secret spot. The kids can make up their own symbols.