SOL 17 & the Poetry Friday Roundup: “Out of Wonder”


“Writing is a tool to carve out our dreams”
~Kwame Alexander ~

Welcome to the Poetry Friday Roundup! (Not sure what Poetry Friday is? Find out more from Renée LaTulippe here.) I’m happy you’re here because I have a stunning new collection to share today. Just in time for National Poetry Month, Newbery-Medal winning poet Kwame Alexander has teamed up with Chris Colderley, Marjory Wentworth, and Ekua Holmes to create a spectacular gift to poetry lovers of all ages, Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets (Candlewick Press, 2017).

In the Preface to Out of Wonder, Alexander explains his mission for this book is introduce readers to “…twenty of my favorite poets. Poets who have inspired me and my co-authors with their words and lives.” He and his co-authors also hope readers will see these poems “as stepping-stones to wonder” about the poets, poetry in general, and the poetry within themselves.

The book is divided into three parts. Part I, “Got Style,” includes poems written in the style of Naomi Shihab Nye and e.e. cummings, among others. “In Your Shoes” includes poems written about favorite topics of celebrated poets. Emily Dickinson’s love of flowers, Walter Dean Myers love of basketball, and Judith Wright’s love of the earth are just a few of the themes used to inspire new poems. The final section, “Thank You,” pays tribute to beloved poets themselves, including Gwendolyn Brooks, William Carols Williams, and Sandra Cisneros.

Ekua Holmes’s mixed media collages explode off the page, adding another layer of beauty to these pages. Her color schemes are perfectly suited to the poems. Subtle, muted hues create the winter woods of Robert Frost, while bold primary colors give wing to Maya Angelou’s “free bird.”

A brief biography of each celebrated poet is included at the end of the book, as well as a chronological listing of the poets and their country of origin. This section is a jumping off point for teachers and students who want to learn more about these poets.

In an interview with Rachel Martin on NPR, Alexander stated that he had “three aims for the book — to encourage kids to read poetry, to introduce them to great poets, and to inspire them to write poems of their own.” He goes on to say “It’s a lofty goal.” Lofty yes, but one he and his collaborators exceed in this joyful book.

Want to know more about Kwame Alexander’s thoughts about poetry? Read his conversation with Nikki Grimes here, and his article with co-author Chris Colderley about why poetry matters at the Poetry Foundation. In addition, Poetry Friday’s own Mary Lee Hahn wrote a terrific Teacher’s Guide that is chock-full of suggestions for sharing Out of Wonder to inspire your students.

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, MelanieLisa and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

And now for the Roundup! Please click to add your link and read more poetic offerings.

SOL 17: “Making Notebooks Live Everyday in Writing Workshop”

Eric Hand began his session “Making Notebooks Live Everyday in Writing Workshop,” at Teachers College Saturday Reunion last weekend by sharing this quote from friend and fellow slicer, Michelle Haseltine:

Yes, a notebook is all of that, and more. Eric’s presentation focused on the “place to take risks” portion of Michelle’s quote. How, he wondered, “can we make our writing notebooks more than just a place for generating ideas?”

Eric structured his session to reflect the stages of the writing process to uncover opportunities where we, and our students, can return to our writing notebooks to take those risks.

We all have some tried and true techniques for generating ideas, and Eric shared a few of his favorites. For narrative pieces, he suggested this: “What do you do every Saturday?” A small moment might be hiding in the resulting list. You could substitute Saturday for any day of the week, or any month, season, or holiday. This is a prompt that has endless variations and possibilities.

For the rehearsal and planning stage of writing, Eric suggested trying out different formats or organizational structures. Another idea is to “write the blurb for your story using the “somebody/wanted/but/so” summary structure. This can be added to by including details about the main character’s feelings, the setting, and so on. This allows writers to think more deeply about their stories and will help as they begin drafting.

When working on informational pieces, Eric provided these “Prompts to Write Long.” Thinking about these sections of informational essays can help kids ensure they know enough about a topic before they begin writing. This process could also be used to try out different topics.

The drafting phase is done outside of the writing notebook for many reasons, including

  • helping students understand the concrete steps of the writing process
  • creating a sense of momentum
  • helping writers stay focused on one piece
  • making revision easier
  • helping kids stay organized and find the piece they’re working on

Notebooks are a valuable tool during the revision process. Eric outlined four levels of revision and explained the role of the notebook at each level.

Small revisions include adding a word or phrase. This can be done right on the draft with the  use of a carat.

Medium revisions might entail adding a sentence or two to clarify or elaborate. Spider legs are an easy way to accomplish this. (see photo below)

Large revisions may involve rewriting the opening, whole scenes, or the ending. Notebooks are the perfect place to play with different options until the writer is happy with the result. When large revisions are needed, flaps can be attached to the original draft. This allows the writer to hang onto the original version and gives her flexibility with her choices.

MEGA revision is redrafting the whole piece. The notebook is ideal for this type of revision. Again, writers can approach their piece in a completely different style or format.

 Each of these revision options “helps kids be purposeful…and gives them control over decisions” about their writing.

Eric also suggested using mentor texts to support revision. To demonstrate, he displayed the opening scene in Cynthia Lord’s Half  A Chance (Scholastic, 2014). After studying Lord’s craft moves in this scene, Eric shared a piece of student writing and had us revise the piece trying out one or more of the techniques from Half  A Chance. Again, this is exactly the kind of work the notebook is for: a risk-free space to play with new ideas.

When revising informational pieces, Eric suggested using the notebook as a place to sketch layout options. He also noted that students can try different types of text features in their notebooks. This will help them be more purposeful with their use of text features. “Effective use of text features is a craft move,” Eric reminded us.

Audience is a major focus in opinion writing, and can be the focus of revision also. Asking students to consider different audiences, then think about how their writing would change based on a specific audience, is authentic revision at its best.

Editing for conventions and spelling is usually done on the draft itself. But this could be an opportunity to “lift the level of language” used in a piece. There is a fine line here between editing and revision; the point is that the writer is polishing his piece to the best of his ability. The notebook offers a place to try out different possibilities, such as adding figurative language, without committing to major changes.

Writing notebooks can play a role in publishing also. Students could write an author bio in their notebook, or revise the blurb they wrote in the planning stage to match their finished piece. Brainstorming places to publish their writing is another possibility.

I left this session excited to share these options with my colleagues and students. Bravo, Eric, for packing so many ideas and suggestions into one hour!

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, MelanieLisa and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

SOL 17: No Yelling!

I love my job. I love my colleagues as well as the challenge of working with such a diverse grade range (K-8). I know I’m not supposed to have favorites, but I really love working with our Kindergarten teachers. They are enthusiastic, have embraced the reading and writing units of study, and are incredibly creative. And, because I moved into a new room over the summer, I see them and their amazing students every day. Some mornings I stand by my door just to say hello.

Last Friday, I received this email from Ms. M.:

Of course I went down to see them as soon as I had a minute. I found the K2 writers hard at work on their persuasive pieces. One student had turned hers into a song. During music that morning, the music teacher set her words to a simple tune, and they recorded a video of them singing “No Yelling!”

Screenshot of a few K2 singers.

Unfortunately, I don’t have permission to share the video so you can hear them, but here are the lyrics:

No Yelling!
by M.

No, no yelling!
No, no yelling!
can disturb,
can disturb
other people.
Yes, it’s true!

Don’t you love her use of repetition to make her point?

Take it from me. If you’re having a bad day or just need a smile, head to the nearest Kindergarten classroom. You’ll feel better the minute you walk in the door. Just remember, no yelling!

Proud author!

 Thank you to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, MelanieLisa and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

SOL 17: A Literary Feast: TCRWP’s Saturday Reunion

Today I was immersed in words. Powerful words. Poignant words. Inspiring words. This is what happens when you attend a Teachers College Reading and Writing Project Saturday Reunion.

This day-long celebration of literacy is a veritable feast of learning and professional development. Educators travel from around the world to be part of this amazing experience. As I have for more than ten years, I left my house before dawn this morning to join them. By the end of the day, my head was spinning with all I had learned. I need time to process by notes and clarify my thoughts. In the meantime, here is a peek into my day.

Made it to the station in time!


This thought-provoking interview in the current issue of the Horn Book kept me company on the train.


“Subway” by Billy Collins was the Poetry in Motion poster on the shuttle from Grand Central.


Alfred Tatum urged us to ensure that meaningful literacy exchanges that move our humanity and that of our students forward are always part of our literacy instruction.


Eric Hand opened his session on writers notebooks with the wise words of friend and fellow Slicer, Michelle Haseltine.


Emily Butler Smith shared these quotes as an option for using literacy skills to support work in social studies.


Annie Taranto shared ideas for making writing goals public.


I met Slicer and TWT co-author Lanny Ball at Mike Ochs’s session on grammar and vocabulary instruction. (The bottom line? Read. Read more.)

By the end of this session, my cold was getting the best of me and I reluctantly decided to miss Lucy’s closing keynote. Thanks to the wonder of Twitter, I was able to tune in to Lucy’s moving words as she remembered Kathleen Tolan: “It is an enormous act of love to see potential.”

My thanks to everyone at TCRWP who makes these Saturday Reunions possible. Your words of guidance, support, and encouragement help me see my students with new eyes. Your words help me see their potential.

A fitting view from the train as I headed home.

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, MelanieLisa and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

SOL 17: A Scrabble Lesson

A lesson to review syllable types and spelling patterns?

Not a problem.


This was the gist of a conversation I had with two third grade teachers recently. Then I sat down to plan the lesson.

Not a problem? What was I thinking? I know my syllable types, don’t get me wrong. But where to begin? I needed a really strong connection to get this lesson off the ground.

As it happened, my son and his girlfriend had been home the weekend before. Part of our routine when they are home is a game of Scrabble. Of course. Knowing syllable types and spelling patterns makes you a better Scrabble player. (Vocabulary helps too, but that’s another post.) That’s my way in.

I grabbed the bag of letter tiles out of the box, and pulled out 7 letter tiles, just as if I was playing a real game.


Yes! An A and an E. As I played with these letters, I realized that the R was complicating my options, so I traded it for a random letter. I pulled an N. Perfect.

The rest of the lesson fell into place pretty easily. I used a sentence strip to make my Scrabble letters big enough for modeling, chose a Joyce Sidman poem that had a lot of juicy words that would build the kids vocabulary as well, and headed down to third grade.

The lesson went fine, even though it was clear immediately why the teachers had requested my help. This is ongoing work, and I’ll be heading back to third grade on a regular basis.

But this story doesn’t end there. One of the joys of teaching is that you never know what will strike a spark in kids. As it happens, a Tier 3 student I’ve been working with was in one of those classes. When I picked him up after that lesson, he said to me, “Can we play Scrabble today?”

I was shocked. The Making Words lessons (thank you, Patricia Cunningham!) we had done each week had engaged him, but interest in words, let alone enthusiasm, hadn’t appeared to be part of his personality.

“Sure,” I replied, not wanting my excitement to deter his interest. In my mind, I was frantically wondering if I even still had a Scrabble game at school. My recent move to a smaller space caused me to do some serious weeding.

Thankfully, the Scrabble board was right where it belonged. Soon, the board was out, our tiles were drawn and we were ready for the serious business of playing Scrabble.

Since I started working with this boy about two months ago, he has moaned and groaned his way through lesson after lesson.

“I read this book.”

“I’m tired.”

“My stomach hurts.”

We all know this child. But now that his cleaning my clock at Scrabble, he sits up a little taller and is full of questions about the books we read. He hasn’t had a stomach ache all week.

I’m not naive enough to think that playing Scrabble with this boy every day is the answer to all the concerns we have about him. But for now, it has captured his interest. And sometimes that is where the breakthrough begins.

 Thank you to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, MelanieLisa and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

SOL 17: By the Book

Every Saturday, my day begins with the New York Times Book Review over breakfast. One of my favorite features is “By the Book.” In this column, an author with a recent or upcoming book is interviewed about his or her reading. I’m always astonished at the breadth of reading of these authors. So many books and writers I’ve never even heard of! Still, I’m fascinated by the responses and each week come away with a list of books I’ll probably never read.

I’d always thought this would be a good format for a Slice of Life, and last year, another Slicer (sorry, I don’t remember who) thought so too. Now I’m going to borrow their idea.

“The New Novel” Winslow Homer, 1877 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What books are on your night stand now?

I always have at least three books going at once. I just started Dava Sobel’s The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars. In another life, I might have been an astronomer. Everything about our universe fascinates me. The jacket copy states that this book “is the hidden history of the women whose contributions to the burgeoning field of astronomy forever changed the understanding of the stars and our place in the universe.” Dava Sobel is an excellent writer who makes her subjects engaging and accessible. Her book Longitude is one of my favorites.

See You in the Cosmos, by Jack Cheng, was just published by Penguin Random House. I have an ARC on NetGalley that I was hoping to read this weekend, but life got in the way of that plan. Maybe I’ll get to it on Tuesday during the blizzard.

My book discussion group is currently reading Dispatches, by Michael Herr. This first-hand account of Herr’s experiences as a war correspondent in Vietnam is brutal and unsparing, but written with the style and grace of a poet.

Speaking of poetry, I also have Billy Collins’s latest The Rain in Portugal, in the pile. Elaine Magliaro’s charming Things to Do is right underneath. I have long been a fan of Elaine’s poetry, and am thrilled for her that her first book has been published. I’m looking forward to sharing it with our Kindergarteners and writing “Things to Do” poems with them soon.

Finally, there is Naming the World and Other Exercises for the Creative Writer, edited by Bret Anthony Johnston. This book is chock-full of ideas and ready to come to the rescue when I need one. There’s a section on “Getting Started,” “Character,” and more. I’ve been dipping in and out of each, and I’m sure one will show up here in the next few days.

There are at least ten more books beneath these, patiently waiting their turn. What books are on your night stand?

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, MelanieLisa and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

SOL 17 & DigiLit Sunday: Blended Learning


This post is also part of “DigiLit Sunday,” hosted by Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche. This week’s topic is Blended Learning. Please be sure to visit Margaret’s blog to read more Digilit Sunday contributions.

“A human must turn information into intelligence.”
~ Grace Hopper ~

On an ordinary day in 1972, something very extraordinary appeared in the Resource Center of my elementary school. Two teletype computer terminals were installed, connecting our little school to the mainframe computer at the local university. A telephone receiver had to be positioned in an acoustic coupler (aka modem) to make the connection. After typing in a series of commands, the mainframe computer “ran” our program, and the result (usually a image of an animal created with Xs) was printed on yellow paper. Welcome to the computer age!

I would never, even in my wildest imaginings, have predicted that forty-five years later I would be able to sit at my kitchen table, pull up images of that miraculous machine, type these words, and then, with a single keystroke, send them instantly out into the wide world.

But here we are. And for all the news of hacking and worries about keeping our data secure, computers and technology have enhanced education in countless positive ways, and the possibilities for its use are endless.

As a literacy leader in my school, it’s essential that I keep up to date on developments in the world of literacy education. Blended learning is the most effective way for me to accomplish this. Attending a conference in real life is energizing. It’s always a thrill to meet one of my literacy heroes, and I love the being able to talk with other educators about their experiences face-to-face. But conferences are expensive and not always available.

With Slice of Life friends at ILA last summer.

However, thanks to the advent of webinars, YouTube, and TED Talks, I can attend a conference in my living room. I can usually replay key points for better understanding. Best of all, I can share with my colleagues and we can learn together. Follow up discussions often yield more insights and new ideas for application. Reading books and articles related to these topics only leads to deeper understanding.

Twitter and blogging is another key component of my blended learning life. Joining Twitter chats lets me have real-time conversations about a particular topic with other teachers. Through blogging, I’ve made connections and become friends with educators from around the world. These brilliant people enhance my learning and my teaching practice every day.

My experiences with blended learning have been essential to my growth as an educator. They have also been critical in helping teachers plan similar opportunities for their students. Opportunities that will nourish their curiosity and imagination, and give them the skills to prepare for a future we can hardly imagine.

Favorite Professional Learning Resources

  • Heinemann: A wealth of samples, webinars, podcasts, and more are available on this website
  • Stenhouse Publishers: Previews of new books, study guides, a newsletter and more are available here.
  • The Educator Collaborative: Led by Chris Lehman and many other rock star educators, this group, among other services, hosts an online Study Group series for a small fee that brings focused, topical PD into your school. (Or living room!)
  • The Two Writing Teachers Blog: In addition to hosting the March Slice of Life challenge, this blog and the incredible women and man who run it consistently post high-quality content for writing teachers at all levels.
  • Teachers College Reading and Writing Project: From weekly Twitter chats to week-long Summer Institutes and free Saturday Reunions, TCRWP is a goldmine of information and knowledge.
  • Good to Great Twitter chats are held every Thursday evening. Dr. Mary Howard and friends always have thought-provoking guests to spark the conversation.

This is just a short list of the resources available for online learning. What are your favorites?

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, MelanieLisa and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.