Wednesday, November 11, 2009

National Day of Writing ~ Celebrating Writing

The U.S. Senate recently passed a resolution declaring October 20, 2009, the first National Day on Writing. The resolution encourages all schools to join in the celebration by submitting writing to the National Gallery of Writing.

The National Gallery of Writing is a virtual online gallery that is collecting writing from all kinds of people all over the world. The gallery will accept stories, poems, recipes, emails, blogs, even audio, video, and artwork for submission.

The Senate resolution confirms the important role that writing has in our school Literacy Plan for the 21st Century as well as in our lives. Writing well is a 21st Century skill that can not be neglected.

The National Council of Teachers of English recognizes that literacy practice in the 21st Century is in the midst of profound change and has issued the following recommendations:
  • Our schools and our nation need to recognize and validate the many ways we all are writing.
  • We need to develop new models of writing, design a new curriculum supporting those models, and create models for teaching that curriculum.
  • We need to make sure that all students have the opportunity to write and learn in intellectually stimulating classrooms.
  • We need to recognize that out-of-school literacy practices are as critical to students’ development as what occurs in the classroom and take advantage of this to better connect classroom work to real-world situations that students will encounter across a lifetime.
It's not too late for you to participate in this global celebration of writing. The National Gallery of Writing is accepting submissions until June 2010.

Read more about how to submit your writing or view a video demonstration.

Need some good ideas to get started? Read about ways teachers from the National Writing Project celebrated with their students or visit the National Gallery of Writing and read some of the submissions on display. NCTE also has some good Tips for Writers.

Please join this global celebration and experience the power of writing!

Contact me if you would like help creating your own classroom gallery in the National Gallery of Writing.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Everyone knows that reading
makes you smarter....
want to know how much smarter?

Imagine this....if you read for 20 minutes every day, in a week you will have read for 100 minutes!


Now multiply that times 4 weeks...and in one month you will have read for 400 minutes.

Think how much you will learn from all that reading!

Do that for a whole school year, and you will have read for 4,000 minutes!


That is equal to the amount of reading you could do in 10 whole days of school.

That makes you 10 days smarter than the average kid!

Now, if you keep reading for 20 minutes every day, by the end of the 6th grade you will have read for the equivalent of 60 whole school days. That's going to make you a very smart kid!

So find yourself a really good book...and read for at least 20 minutes every day!

Source: U.S. Department of Education, America Reads Challenge


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Back to School ~ Creating Community with Book Recommendations

As our students come back to school we can't wait to hear about the adventures they have had and the great books they have read. One of the best ways to create a community of readers in the classroom is by giving students the opportunity to recommend books to each other.

Some teachers find it helpful to give students guidelines for sharing.

For fiction: tell us the title of your book, the author, the genre, who the main characters are, and the problem they had to solve. But be careful you don't give away the ending!

For non-fiction: tell us the title of your book, the author, the main topic, something that surprised you, something that you learned, and a question you still have.

In addition to giving students time to talk about great books they've read, consider some of these ways for them to share book recommendations:
Giving students lots of opportunities to recommend books to each other is one of the best ways to effectively create a community of engaged and excited readers in your classroom.

Welcome back!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Summer~ a time to reflect, renew and focus


With the end of the school year comes time for teachers to reflect, renew and focus on their own learning. Summer offers stretches of uninterrupted time to read and learn with other professionals, in person and online. Time to read and discuss all those journal articles, professional books and lesson plans you put aside because you didn't have time during the busy school year. Summer is also a great time to take a graduate course or attend a workshop.

This summer I traveled to Tahoe, California, to attend the Technology Liaison Network's Resource Development Retreat with the director of the Plymouth Writing Project, Meg Petersen. As the newest Tech Liaison for the PWP, I was excited to meet and collaborate with techies from National Writing Project sites around the country and spend a week focused on the newest technologies being used in classrooms. Our task was to develop resources for our own writing project site that could be shared with other sites.

I learned how to make a podcast, how to create a NING, and how to take a short video clip with my digital camera and upload it to a website. While all this technology is very cool, our focus remains on integrating the technology with the teaching of writing.

At the end of a very intensive week, I left the retreat with new friends, new ideas and new technology skills to share. Whatever your plans are this summer, I hope you, too, find time for yourself and your own learning.

Have a great summer!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Looking for a Good Summer Read?

Check out these authors!

Video Interviews

See interviews with renowned children's book authors and illustrators

Authors & Illustrators on the Web

Find authors' personal websites and websites maintained by fans, scholars, and readers.


Friday, May 8, 2009

Higher Order Thinking Skills and Blogging

Blogging is an easy way to begin preparing elementary students for the new literacies of the Internet. (2009, Zawilinski)

In a recent article titled HOT Blogging: A Framework for Blogging to Promote Higher Order Thinking in the Reading Teacher, Lisa Zawilinski identifies four common types of blogs currently found in elementary classrooms: classroom news blogs, mirror blogs, showcase blogs and literature response blogs.

The internet is this generation's defining technology for literacy (Coiro & Dobler, 2007; Leu, Kinzer, Coiro, & Cammack, 2004; Leu et. al., 2007). It is home to a continuously emerging set of new technologies for literacy such as search engines, e-mail, blogs, wikis, instant messenger, social networking tools, and many others yet to emerge. Each requires new skills and strategies. Schools need to prepare students for these new literacies by integrating them into the curriculum, and blogs are an easy way to begin. (Zawilinski, 2009)

I recently started a literature response blog with one of my reading groups called We Blog Books. We use the blog to focus our discussions on the Higher Order Thinking strategies we've learned this year: monitoring for meaning, using 'fix-up strategies', visualizing, determining importance and questioning.

Students log on daily to respond to a prompt or discussion question and read what their classmates have written. Engagement is high and, like an anchor chart, the blog makes our thinking visible so that we can refer to it throughout our book discussions.

As a result of this experience, I've discovered that to be successful, teaching students how to write blog comments requires the same modeling and guided practice that other reading responses require. I've also learned that effective blog prompts need specific criteria to scaffold student responses. Finally, I've learned that giving students permission to share their own thinking, questions and observations is a powerful motivator and an effective way to 'gradually release responsibility' for thinking to students.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


April is Poetry Month and I've discovered some wonderful places to visit online to celebrate reading and writing poetry.

Poem in Your Pocket

The second national Poem In Your Pocket Day is Thursday, April 30, 2009!

Choose a poem you love during National Poetry Month, copy it down, and carry it in your pocket to share with family and friends on April 30, 2009. Teachers, visit Read Write Think lesson plans.

30 Poets/ 30 Days
Gottabook Blog is publishing thirty new poems from thirty poets during the month of April. Check back each day during the month of April to read a new poem. Some of my favorite poets will be participating: Douglas Florian, Jack Prelutsky, Pat Mora , Janet Wong and Jane Yolen.

Or celebrate poetry by writing some of your own. Visit the Kids' Kits Online Magnetic Poetry site and write your own poems on the virtual refrigerator! Play with words online!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Get Out of the Reading Rut!

Are your students stuck in a reading rut? Reading the same author or genre over and over? Are they bored with the books in your classroom library? Are you looking for a way to infuse your independent reading time with energy and excitement? Find out more about an approach developed by teacher Andrea Smith when she decided to create a classroom ritual to share, read and enjoy nonfiction texts with her students every week.

Simple in nature, Expedition Monday incorporates the workshop elements of sharing, time to read, independent choices, and community. Our intention is to discover the unlimited supply of nonfiction resources that surround us. Children are simply given time to explore self-selected topics free from the guidelines of our content studies. The effects of this routine and ritual have been far reaching, and just like Poetry Friday, have made a significant difference in the lives of my students. - Andrea Smith

To learn more about Expedition Mondays and how to integrate it into your Reading Workshop read Expedition Mondays: Launching the Week with Nonfiction by Andrea Smith at Choice Literacy. Rekindle your students' passion for reading and learning with nonfiction!


Nonfiction Book Lists:

NCTE Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children

Through The Looking Glass Children’s Book Review

Informational Texts Using the 3-2-1 Strategy

Lesson Overview
Being able to effectively read informational texts is a fundamental quality of successful readers. In this lesson, students learn to use the 3-2-1 strategy, which involves writing about three things they discovered, two things they found interesting, and one question they still have. After teacher modeling, students read a magazine article independently and use the 3-2-1 strategy to comprehend what they read. This strategy can easily be adapted for use with Expedition Mondays.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Saturday, February 7, 2009

Creating a Video Slideshow with Animoto

Animoto is a cool online tool that lets you create short animated videos from digital pictures. It takes just minutes to produce a video and is really easy to use. First you upload the images you want to include, then choose the music, and the program does the rest. You can email or embed the videos into your blog or download them to your computer for in-class presentations! Registration as an educator is required.

In one of my literacy groups we were reading a play about fairy penguins. Both the students and I wondered if fairy penguins were real or if we were going to be reading about magical creatures. Non-fiction or fantasy? A quick internet search helped us locate photographs and links to lots information about fairy penguins.

We learned that they are the smallest penguins in the world, they live in New Zealand and Australia and they are endangered. We also read about an effort to protect fairy penguins using sheepdogs!

Saturday, January 31, 2009


David Pearson and other researchers studied proficient readers to identify how they process text. They identified seven core strategies that help readers comprehend.

A strategy is a plan of action a reader can use to increase their understanding of a text. With continued practice, the strategies become skills that the reader will apply automatically and flexibly when reading.

Activating background knowledge to make connections between new and known information. Proficient readers make many connections: text-to-self, text-to-text, and text-to-world.

Questioning the text. Proficient readers are always asking questions while they read.

Drawing inferences. Proficient readers use prior knowledge about a topic and information in the text to make predictions.

Determining importance. Proficient readers prioritize information as they read.

Creating mental images. Proficient readers create mind pictures and visualize as they read.

Monitoring and repairing understanding when meaning breaks down. Proficient readers stop and use "fix-up" strategies when they don't understand.

Synthesizing information. Proficient readers make connections, ask questions, and infer to integrate new understandings.

To learn more about teaching comprehension strategies:

Teaching with Intention by Debbie Miller

Into the Book: Strategies for Learning

Mosaic of Thought: Teaching Tools

Merging Comprehension with Content Learning
PODCAST with Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis

Sunday, January 25, 2009

WRITING WORKSHOP: Planning a Unit of Study

What do you want to teach your students how to do next in writing? Persuade? Describe? Explain? As teachers of writing guided by curriculum and Grade Level Expectations, we know what to teach. The challenge comes in deciding the best way to do it.

Katie Wood Ray
has written a wonderful book called Study Driven: A Framework for Planning Units of Study in the Writing Workshop that outlines a framework for designing units of study based on inquiry. The framework involves these steps:

• Gathering Texts
• Setting the Stage
• Immersion
• Close Study
• Writing Under the Influence

Katie's framework reminds us about the importance of immersing students in the genre by providing lots of opportunity for students to read mentor texts. Close study of the genre allows students to notice and identify the characteristics of the genre before they begin to write. This 'joint construction of knowledge' engages students and empowers them to tackle new writing challenges. An inquiry based unit looks very different than one that begins with a teacher explanation of the genre's characteristics and a rubric.

Try it and you will discover that students who participate in inquiry based genre studies are successful and motivated writers.

Preview Chapter 3 of Katie's book.
Read Write Think inquiry based lesson plan: Investigating Animals: Using Nonfiction for Inquiry-based Research
Thinking Through Genre: Units of Study in Reading and Writing Workshop 4-12 by Heather Lattimer

Friday, January 23, 2009

VOCABULARY: What does it mean to know a word?

By the end of 4th grade students are expected to have a variety of strategies for identifying the meaning of unfamiliar words. They should have acquired a breath of vocabulary knowledge about word meanings and understand how words are related. They should be able to identify synonyms, antonyms, and homonyms. Finally, they should be able to use context to select appropriate words when writing.

There are degrees or stages of knowing a word and these stages can be represented as points along a continuum of knowing.

Stage 1: Never saw it before.
Stage 2: Heard it, but don’t know what it means.
Stage 3: Recognize it in context as having something to do with _____.
Stage 4: Know it well.

Readers have a 5-20% chance of learning a new word from just reading it in text (Krashen). This is one reason why independent reading is such an important component of our literacy framework. But all students benefit from explicit instruction to learn new words and increase the number of partially known words on the continuum that ultimately become well known.

Begin by teaching students how to monitor on vocabulary when they read (Harmon). Metacognitive students are independent learners. They ask themselves questions:

• Do I know this word?
• Do I need to know this word to understand what I am reading?
• If I think this word is important, what do I already know about it?
• What does the word have to do with what I am reading? What is it referring to?
• How is it used in the sentence? Does it describe or show action?
• Do I see any word parts that make sense?

To find out more about effective vocabulary instruction, check out these websites:

ReadingQuest: strategies for reading, writing, organizing, discussion, and vocabulary in Social Studies (and all subjects!)

IDEA: Institute for the Development of Educational Achievement
Vocabulary in Beginning Reading

Read Write Think Lesson Plan
Using Word Storms to Explore Vocabulary and Encourage Critical Thinking

For students:

Merriman-Webster's Word Central: Build Your Own Dictionary, Daily Buzzword, Games