Book Talks Energize Research Reading & Writing

The Power of a Chart

About two weeks ago, my students and I sat down with two sheets of giant yellow chart paper. On it, we listed every way to take notes that came to our brains; we drew pictures of what they looked like, and we talked about reasons we might chose one over another. I have done this before with my students; it is nothing new. Although I have certainly discussed things like this with my students before, I have never made a wall-chart of note-taking options (See bottom of page 43— Energize Research Reading & Writing).

However, since that chart has been on the wall, it has become one of our most used resources. I see students skimming an article and then glancing up at the chart. They know the importance of choosing the best technique for the source at hand. And they also know that I am holding them accountable for their notes.

Truth be told, I have never placed too much value on notes. I knew they were important, and I told the kids which kind to take and when, but I never spent more than a day going over them. Two weeks later, these are common phrases heard in our workshop:

  • I like how you used different colors to show differences.
  • Do you think I need a Ven Diagram or is this more like a T-Chart?
  • I love bullets, but I think this bullet list needs subtitles.
  • I’m rereading my notes and highlighting them in different colors so I know what information I need, for different sections.

And then on Friday, in block two, the ultimate teacher joy:

  • I love research.
  • Can we research again next week? With new topics?
  • Now I really love this!

What changed?

1. I had them annotate their articles as they read them.

  • They put hearts around places they loved and question marks when they were confused.
  • They highlighted things they knew they might use in their papers.
  • They wrote new questions that were brought up by the text.
  • They drew pictures and labeled them to help them understand.

2. After they had annotated two articles, they took notes.

  • They found ways to bring their thinking on the two articles together.
  • They chose a note-taking format that would work for them.

3. We had an in class gallery walk

  • Everyone left their notes open and we all walked around with post-its leaving comments on our peer’s notes.

Somehow, in the mist of all this, research has become fun.  Kids are using YouTube videos as sources and taking notes on interviews. Their topics are ranging from Child Labor in shoe factories, to Justin Bieber and his musical roots. They’re not complaining about taking notes, in fact, they’re walking back to the chart on their own and spending time thinking about the best way to organize their notes for their paper and for their reading.

All this from a chart? Who knew?

Stay tuned as we learn how to take the notes and create interesting nonfiction feature articles from them!

Classroom Reading Writing

Product of: Starbucks, Conversations, and Dreaming

Yesterday I was trying to figure out if we have been in school for two weeks or three. I’m starting to feel a sense of urgency in just about everything I do. During the summer there was Starbucks, conversation, and dreaming. Now I reflect, plan, and do, praying that a little bit of sleep makes it into the equation somewhere.

But, I feel like we are gearing up—I’m giving them the tools and structures they’re going to need for the journey this year.

  1. Lots of Reading & Post-It making
  2. A ton of Partner Talk
  3. Generating Ideas to write from

Post-Its. I’m a teacher; I love them, that comes naturally with the job. However, it wasn’t until this summer at Columbia University’s Reading Project that I understood their value for my students. I’m modeling strategies for responding to text in ten-minute mini-lessons and then watching the kids use that strategy on Post-Its in their Independent Reading book. It’s a beautiful thing to see their thinking sticking out on brightly colored notes between the pages of a book.

Partner Talk. I was pretty good about remembering partner talk last year with writing. I understand the importance of talk within the writing process, but this year I added reading partners to the mix. Now, my kids are talking purposely at least twice during the block. Once during reading; once during writing. I’m modeling this talk with my coteachers and other kids in mini-lessons, and mid-workshop interruptions. Sure, I’m hearing off topic talking. Sure, this is taking up valuable time. But, I’m thinking, give me another week or two and everyone will know my expectations for both reading and writing partners—from that point, these partner talk relationships will become invaluable to my instruction.

Generating. It’s weird to say I teach my kids to think up their own ideas. It’s even weird to me that they can’t just do it on their own. I mean they have facebook; they like to post. But, in response to their cries of, “What should I write about today?” I’ve learned the importance of teaching them to generate their own ideas. I try to give them about one generating strategy a week in the beginning of the year to get them going with ideas. Then later in the year, if they come to me with the awful, “What should I write about today?” question, I can simply point them to my wall charts and move on with a smile.

It’s the end of week two, it’s the product of: Starbucks, conversations, and dreaming.

Classroom Writing

poetry & revision

I fell in love with poetry this summer, spending summer nights in the West Village Bowery Poetry Club listening to Carlos Andres Gomez bring the house down with spoken word.


Carlos wasn’t the first time I fell in love with poetry; in fact the first unit I was ever proud of as a teacher, was a poetry unit I did at Benchmark School using the book Bronx Masquerade. Drew McCorkell & I were quite the team, teaching kids to write with passion and encouraging them to take risks as writers.

Then there is now, in my classroom. I’ve been working with kids, watching them craft poetry in their journals. Sometimes they sit there, scribble down a few obviously unheartfelt lines, close up their journal and claim they are done. My blood begins to boil; I’ve taught them to revise, to reflect, to dialogue; why are they doing this to me?

And then I realize, poetry is different. It’s not always safe to share and revision happens differently. I would have to teach my kids how to spend time with a poem, revisit it, and clarify the poem to make their message clear and yet still have that foggy quality that only poetry can have. As I started thinking, I realized I don’t often do these things in my own poetry, and I wasn’t sure how authors did it either. So with the help of my kids and authors like Ralph Fletcher and Sarah Kay, along with Katie Wood Ray and maybe a little Barry Lane, we came up with this helpful list for revising.

Here is our wall chart of Poetry Revision Strategies:

  • Star your favorite line.
    • Move that line to the top of your poem
    • Craft a new stanza after that line
  • Add in Similes and Metaphors
    • It’s a poet’s love language
    • It lets people connect
  • Take out words
    • Take out as many words as you can
    • Poets leave room for people to think for themselves
  • Line/ Stanza Breaks
    • Create drama and set a mood
    • Breaks say to the reader—think about that
  • Use Repetition
    • Draw attention to the importance of a line or phrase
  • Craft strong conclusions
    • Leave the reader with a feeling, image, connection, or question

I’m thankful that my classroom is a learning community and that we can create these lists and journey together. Initially, I wasn’t sure that they would go for these strategies, but after spending a year together taking risks they seemed thankful that we could take the mystery out of the process—bring it back to the familiar writing routine we loved— and allow the risk to be within the content only . I was thankful that I wasn’t going crazy, and that we had all remembered to revise, to reflect, to dialogue.