Monthly Archives: June, 2015

#TCRWP: Day 1 Reading Institute 2015


This was what I expected the streets of New York to look like after hearing Lucy Calkins call to action at Monday’s Reading Institute at Riverside Church (The Doors and “Light My Fire” were a part of my picture – No, not teachers setting fires! See why we can’t allow “personal connections” in the CCSS!).  One story was about camping and “This Little Light of Mine” and yet her passionate plea to the 1300 teachers, administrator, authors and leaders from 40 nations and 42 states was to notice the detail in story and in our lives in order to find the learning!  Quotes from “the Dons”, Georgia Heard, and Susan Boyles provided a back story for

“I hope that you are on fire as a learner and teacher of reading.

Learn from the whole of your life!

What you do in hard times tells a lot about you as a reader!” Lucy Calkins (june 29)

The reality was more like this as we surged through the streets back to campus.

fire two

How are you going to embrace trouble and be on fire as a learner?

How are you going to be a “Star Maker” in your organization?


2015 Reading Institute 


Session 1:

1st grade – Elizabeth Dunford Franco  – State of the Art Curriculum to Support First Grade Readers

We had the good fortune to explore excerpts from the new reading units of study.  In first grade Unit 1 is “Building Good Reading Habits”.  Teachers currrently using the Writing Units of Study will appreciate the familiarity of the structure of the new reading texts.  A new piece is the growing anchor charts that thread across each bend and unit with “pre-made” pieces.  Liz had us all repeat an oath that we would NOT laminate the post-it pieces.

The three areas of focus for “Developing Readers Across the Year” in grade 1 are:

  • Word – Solving
  • Fluency
  • Comprehension

Liz shared that time is spent discussing that habits are what people do automatically without any reminders, so students will draw on their learning from kindergarten as they build habits before, during and after reading.  If the goal at the beginning of the year is to “Start Off Strong, students will need to:

  • Read a lot
  • Practice re-reading a lot


That means that teachers will need to plan for predictable problems and we were off to work.  We identified possible problems and strategies/tools to aid in these areas:

Engagement / Independence

Stamina / Volume

Partnership Routines

Here is an example of a tool we created to help partners with taking turns.

Mini-chart Partner Take Turns Speak & Listen

We were thinking that this could be a two-sided card with speaking on one side and listening on the other.

What would you create to help first graders with Engagement / Independence, Stamina / Volume. or Partnership Routines?

Session 2

Katie Clements – Embracing Complexity: Teaching Kids to Tackle and Love More Complex Nonfiction (Grades 3-6)

In what ways are nonfiction texts complex?

Research notes:

Nell Duke – Fewer kids are signing up for science class or science majors, due to complex NF texts and they don’t have skills / to read them.

1992 – over last 60 years the complexity of science texts has increased.

ACT – clearest differentiator is ability to read complex text

Richard Allington – Students reading of NF peaks in grade 3 and plummets afterwards

What is “Complex Text”?

Webster – A whole that is made up of complicated and interconnected models.

What are some of the factors of Text Complexity?

  • word level (words in text, how frequently used, whether unique, length of word)
  • sentence level (structure, length)
  • structure level  (one simple conventional or multiple in text)
  • meaning level  (abstract or not as clear)
  • knowledge demands (Is thecontent familiar? Arethere allusions to current events?)

What are some quotes about text complexity?

Vicki Vinton – “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

Stephanie Harvey – “Complexity resides in what’s not written.”

Mary Ehrenworth – “Complexity is not equivalent to difficulty.”

So what do teachers need to do?

  1. Buildi up Background Knowledge  This is critical when studnets lack knowledge in content. They will revert to reading pictures because text is too hard.

Mini – lesson Possible Teaching Point

“Today, readers, I want to teach you that when researchers find the texts on a topic are just too hard to read, they can get some other texts that are way easier. If you read an easier text first- really studying the words, the ideas, so that you master them – those easier texts can give you the prior knowledge you need to handle the hard texts.”

2. Deepen knowledge of genre –

Give students more knowledge of the nonfiction genre.  Tell them the names of the craft being studied so thesecrets are unveiled! Specifically teach the language of the genre to sudents.

Complex nonfiction texts are a lot like snowflakes – no two are alike!

Our continued work:

What are the ways the text gets complex?  What are the strategies that we can use?

The Explicitness and Complexity of Meaning/Central Ideas and/or Author’s Purpose

  • the number of ideas
  • the explicitness (implicitness) of the ideas

Language/ Vocabulary

  • familiarity of words , multiple meaning words – and then use secondary meanings
  • easy definitons in understandable words

Structure (including text features)

  • number of structures
  • Signals that structure is changing

Knowledge Demands

  • the amount of prior knowlege a reader is expected to bring
  • the degree of support the text provides
  • the amount of information the reader is supposed to absorb

Read some nonfiction text. What makes it easy?  What makes it difficult?

Closing Workshop

Developing Fluency and Understanding Figurative Language in Longer Books: Getting to Know a New Unit of Study – Brianna Partlisis

The “Fluency” work in the second grade units is based on the work or Tim Rasinski and involves the 3 P’s.

1. P – Phrasing – how you scoop your words together so not one word at a time.


What sounds right?

Try multiple ways.  Have the students mark up text, try it out and then try another way using wiki sticks (session 3).

2. P –  Prosody – matching expression!

Expression/Voice should match characters.  If a boy and Dad, they should sound different!

3P – Pace


Just right pace – session 5

Goldilocks connection

You do want students to be aware of this – NOT too fast, too slow, but ust right!


Session 1 – reread aloud and in your head!


We read parts of our book again and again,

We read parts of our book again and again,

We read parts of our book aloud and in our head.

Understanding Literary Language

K L language – Metaphors, similes, idioms, homophones

“Sizzling like a hot potato” means . . . . .

Why would an author use that specific phrase?

This contnt seems to work best when aligned with poetry!

How are you explicitly teaching fluency, rereading and literary language?

slice of life

Tuesday is the day to share a “Slice of Life” with Two Writing Teachers. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here. 


#TCRWP: 2015 Reading Institute

tcrwp three


Today’s the day!


ID and letter for admittance

New bag

Today’s the day!

Off to Riverside Church

Rousing call to action

Lucy Calkins as an orator

Today’s the day!

Race to class

Read, listen,think!

Session 1!

Lunch – packed from “home”

Look for friends


Pick a Closing

Today’s the day!

Race to class

Read, Listen, Think!

Session 2!

Off we go!

Closing Workshops

Scurry home

Rest my brain

Today’s the day!

My learning schedule today:

7:30 Registration

8:30 – 9:30 Lucy Calkins – Keynote Riverside Church

9:45 – 11:35 1st grade – Elizabeth Dunford Franco = State of the Art Curriculum to Support First Grade Readers

11:35 – 12:35 Lunch

12:35 – 2:30 3-6 Katie Clements – Embracing Complexity: Teaching Kids to Tackle and Love More Complex Nonfiction

2:40 – 3:30 Closing Workshops

What’s on YOUR learning schedule for today?

#TCRWP and Mentor Texts


What is a Mentor Text?

Are all books mentor texts?

Should all books be in the pool of mentor texts?

1. All books that are read aloud to students are NOT, especially for this blog post, considered mentor texts.  For this post, I am defining mentor text as that ONE, yes, ONE text that matches the writing genre that I am teaching and that is completly covered in post-its because it is my “Marked – Up Mentor Text”.  Source: Celena Larkey, June 2015 TCRWP Writing Institute.

2.  I am not choosing my most favorite book for my mentor text because I am going to read it OVER and OVER and OVER as we study and write. It has to be a high quality book, but that may not be the newest book.  Instead, I am opting for the book that has clear instructional points that works for the writers.

3. I am considering the interests of my students.  I am NOT choosing a mentor text because I LOVE it.  Instead, I am choosing a book that has content that the students will relate to – be a part of their lives – to increase their own belief in their ability to “write just like this author in this book”.

*    *    *    *

I am going to ask you to pause for a few minutes and go read Shana Frazin’s Blog post titled ‘“Have You Read . . .?” The Art of Recommending Books’

Please, GO read it now!  Click on that blue link above.  You can always come back by using the “back arrow”!

And did you subscribe to the blog so you can continue to read about talk and its power for literacy?

Shana’s post was about the qualities that you would discuss when choosing texts and how you might teach this to students.

I’ve been asked at least three times to post “lists” of books that we worked with at TCRWP this week.  A list does follow.  But here’s the “instructional piece” (and yes, I know you HATE when I do that!)!

  • You need to know your students.  They may not love a book you recommend and ever worse, may not love a book that I love.
  • I work with teachers K- 12. Not all books will be appropriate for all grade levels.
  • I may have left titles off the list because I already own those books.  This list began as my “wish list” and is therefore my “wish to purchase” list!


  • All of the trade books that came with the grade level Writing Units of Study.  Here is the link at Heinemann to the K pack and you can find the others by grade level as well.
  • Shana’s 10 Books of the Month for 2015-16 slideshare
  • My Spring Robin – Rockwell
  • Charley’s First Night – Hest
  • Owl Moon – Yolen
  • Kiss Good Night – Hess
  • Short Cut – Crews
  • Goal! – Javaherbin
  • “Let’s Get a Pup!” said Kate. – Gordan
  • Z is for Moose – Bingham/Zelinski
  • One Green Apple – Bunting
  • Salt in His Shoes – Deloris Jordan
  • Lunch – Naomi Nye
  • Yard Sale – Bunting
  • Neighborhood Sharks – Roy

Happy Reading!

What book do you believe should also be on this list?

#TCRWP: Summary and Day 5 Writing Institute 2015


For a lovely recap of the June 2015 TCRWP Writing Institute, please read Tara Smith’s post here because she explains why the images and tweets matter.  That intentionality grounded in the question “WHY?” has been a theme reiterated through all the sections, closing workshops and keynotes this week at Teachers College.  In other words, if you don’t know “why” you are doing this or “why” you are asking the students to do “x” in workshop, you may need to consider the need for additional reading and / or writing on your own part.

Another source of information about the writing institute is always to follow @TCRWP and #TCRWP.  You can review the thread for additional charts, photos, and tweets that share out learning from all the masters at TCRWP.

In Summary:

WHAT a week!

We began the week with wise words from Lucy Calkins at Riverside Church and we ended with a celebration that included both wisdom and humor from Sarah Weeks, powerful reading of personal writing from our peers, and closing comments again from Lucy Calkins.  As educators, we must continue to be the voice for and of our students.  We must also be the readers and writers that we expect our students to be.  We must also be the public vision for literacy.

It will NOT be easy.

But when has life or teaching been about taking the “easy” route?

08 May 2001 --- Exploding head --- Image by © John Lund/CORBIS

08 May 2001 — Exploding head — Image by © John Lund/CORBIS

 Day 5

Celena Larkey – Toolkit for Narrative Writing K-2

Possible statements for a checklist for Fairy Tales:

  • I tried to bring my character to life by using names, details, talking, actions, and inner thinking.
  • I used show not tell to add details.
  • I gave my character a quest or adventure.
  • i gave my character a problem to solve or overcome.
  • i used elements of magic in my story.
  • I chose strong words that would help the reader picture my sotry.
  • I have elements of three in my story.

And then we worked with Exemplar Texts.  We created our own for our toolkit and we talked about the perameters of student Exemplar texts that may not be error-free but would also be great additions to our toolkit.

Kindergarten:   3-4 page story with 3-4 lines of print on each page.

First Grade:      5-6 page story with 8-10 lines of print on each page.

Second Grade: 5-6 page story with 10-12 lines of print on each page.

Which takes me full circle back to questions from Monday:

Are our students writing enough?  What does the daily writing volume look like?

Shana FrazinUsing the Best, New Children’s Literature as Mentor Texts:  Support Sky High Writing (3-8)

I continue to go back to this picture.

architecture of a small group

Many folks are adept at small group work and already understand the connection, teach, coach, and link process.  But if one returns to the title, the word “ARCHITECTURE” is a deliberate choice.  We, in Iowa, love it as we are most known, movie-wise, for “Build it and they will come” in reference to “Field of Dreams”.  But architecture conveys that deliberate, planned work that sustains and even lifts up students so they can do the neccessary work.  I love that this framework does not say the number of minutes that should be spent; yet I fear the number of minutes spent in group work is not the best use of time for students.

Any ten minutes of group work could be ruled productive if students leave writing or better yet, have even already begun the writing demonstrated in the group work.  Group work is not all about the teacher talking during the entire session either.  Group work is not about the scheculed 30 minutes time on the lesson plan.

Why does it matter?

The time that a teacher uses for “talking” takes away from student writing time.

The time that a teacher uses for “management” takes aways from student writing time.

The time that a teacher does not use for “writing” takes away from student writing time.

Small group time could be a waste of time if it does not lead to additional writing volume by the students.

Students will not achieve “sky-high” writing without writing TONS!

I believe that “writerly” teachers know and understand this.  I believe that “writerly’ teachers need to continue to model the many iterations that could show how group work is a short, focused work time for students!

After a week of narrative K-2 toolkits and 3-8 Mentor Texts for “Sky-High” Writing, what are your big Ahas?  And your continuing questions?

TCRWP: Day 4 Writing institute 2015

For the record, “The King and I” deserved even more Tony awards.  it’s an amazing musical and an “Absolutely MUST See” at Lincoln Center.  Incredible use of space in every single scene!

teachers college

Otherwise, Back at Teachers College . . . Thursday is always the Dreaded “Day 4” of any institute where the pace and intensity increases as the end (Friday) is in sight.

Developing a Narrative Writing Toolkit (K-2) Celena Larkey

Today we mined three pieces for “what” we would be ready to teach to our younger readers:

1) text that was picture only

2) pictures with labels

3) simple story line

This work was HARD and was best done in collaborative groups in order to have many voices chime in.  We began with the list of skills that could be taught from both pictures and text and then moved into the strategies that we have been talking about all week when we revise to make the work more readable, structured, and / or developed.  We also looked at student work with a checklist and briefly considered qualities of a checklist more specific to “other writing” at our grade levels.  So one group, for example, looked at creating a checklist for “fairy tales”.  This work is continuing through tomorrow.  I was reminded of the upper grade checklists that I have seen Tara create here.  I am learning during this primary session how to create checklists for a unit from the “If/Then” book.

Using the Best, New Children’s Literature as Mentor Texts:  Support Sky High Writing (3-8)  Shana Frazin


Love work with theme?

Dread work with theme?

How do you teach it?

What if you gave the students a list of just a few common themes and then asked “Which ones apply to the text?  Where do you see evidence that supports it?”  (feels different, doesn’t it?)

common themes in literature

This list of eight would probably be too many for a third or fourth grade class working with theme, but it may be “just right for a seventh or eighth grade classroom that has worked with theme many times.  Shana reminded us that some “tests” boil theme down to one or two words but our goal is to continually ask, “Why does this theme matter?” and with mentor texts, “What craft (including structural moves) did the author use in order to help us understand theme?”

We also worked with crafting a series of mini-lessons on a topic.  I’m still thinking about this and how it would go.  The gist was to be more planful in considering the data and the needs of the students.  The instruction might begin with “inquiry” with a piece of literature and then move into more specific study depending on the desired outcomes.  This feels like the right work to move students more quickly to independence!

Closing Workshop:  Going Digital with Planning Tools and Resources to Make Work (and Life!) More Collaborative  Gerrit Jones-Rooy

This closing session was an “Appy Hour” where we literally explored tools and shared what we found with a partner.  If you like being organized, I can’t say enough about the app “Cam Scanner”.  I installed it on my phone and have been playing with it ever since.  It’s very handy for adding whole documents AND/or partial documents with quick and easy cropping. Doctopus also has many practical uses.  Veteran TCRWP attendees were also excited by a Cornelius Minor sighting at this session!

Apps for Teacher Collaboration

Student app use included the following resources (sorry, not clickable links).  For current newsela users, do note that an elementary version now lives at  Some articles are available for even younger readers than before.  As with any tools, check to make sure they meet your purposes and needs.  The dancing letters may be quite clever, cute and entertaining but the “actual letter sounds” may not be the sounds used by your young students!

Apps for Students

The final keynote was with Naomi Shihbab Nye.  I loved hearing about our oasis and our “spa” at Teachers College. More about Naomi when I “talk” about actual books and new resources!”


What did you read today?

What did you write today?

How are you continuing to GROW as a professional?

#TCRWP: Day 3 Writing Institute 2015

writing workshop

This is the third in a series of posts about my learning at the Teachers College June Writing Institute.  Day 1 is available here.  Day 2 is available here.


Developing a Narrative Writing Toolkit (K-2) Celena Larkey

Writing Workshop

Goal:  Writing drafts using all we know about powerful narrative.


  • Read through the examples in my notebook.
  • Mark one to explore again.
  • Reread that one.
  • Box out a line or phrase to use.

Begin with that phrase or line.  Close my notebook and then draft. (YES, close the notebook, begin with that small moment and draft AGAIN!)  Focusing on this idea of revision will keep students from “recopying when they are in the revision step” of the writing process. Students CANNOT copy when the notebook is closed.

While Writing – Tell a little, draft a little (rinse and repeat) . . . and then find a spot to stop and reread your own writing. Ask yourself, “Am I including conflicting emotions (happy and yet bittersweet moment) that fit my plan for writing?” (If check while writing, development of both flows more evenly.)  IF yes, continue on; IF not, go back and add in to your writing NOW.


  • Write on one side of the paper.
  • Write on every other line.
  • Use colored drafting paper (Very visible – feels important and very special!).

Tips for Narrative Endings (Choose one):

  • End it quickly (most narratives last two pages too long)
  • End it with a strong emotion
  • Leave the reader wondering
  • Set the reader up for a surprise ending
  • Circular ending – weave back to the first line of the story

Stop / Pause / Think

What are you going to do differently in writing workshop?

How will you know if it’s working?

Using the Best, New Children’s Literature as Mentor Texts:  Support Sky High Writing (3-8)  Shana Frazin

Today’s Big Learning Points centered around Crafting Teaching Points and Mini-Lesson Tips

Crafting Teaching Points 

crafting a teaching point

Further Development and Planning

Consider the question that precedes the prompt that was listed in the chart above:

  • What – What is the skill, habit or quality of good writing? “Today I want to teach you that . . .”
  • How – What is the step by step process? – “We can do this by . . .”
  • When / Where – Students may be doing this but not at the right time so you may use “Writers usually do this when . . .”
  • Trouble – What is the predictable trouble that I envision for my class? ”Remember . . .”  or “One thing to pay attention to . . .” “When I do this . . .”
  • Why – What is the purpose for this mini-lesson? – “This matters because . . .”

It’s summer time and it’s time to re-examine your mini-lessons.  How effective are they?  How do you know?  Consider the use of a “Demonstration Sandwich”!

Quick mini lesson tips


Engage …in the work!

Connect – this year, previous years, life

Name the TP


Demonstration Sandwich (Before the demo“you need to watch me do …”(bread), demo – really do it (meat/protein), and then “Did you notice how I . . .?”(bread))

Active Engagement

Set-Up – How students will practice the skill from instruction

Monitor and Coach – “A teacher on her feet is worth a hundred teachers in their seats.” @drmaryhoward


Assignment, Repertoire, Managed Choice – The three most important words are “Off you go!” It’s the practice that students need. Remember “under – practiced” from last year!

Stop / Pause / Think

How does this  match up to your teaching points?

How does this match up to your mini-lessons?

What might you consider doing differently?


Closing Workshop:

Raising the Level of Literary Essays by Raising the Level of Interpretation (6-8) Katy Wischow     @kw625  

I had a hard time choosing a closing workshop as there were several that I REALLY needed to attend.  But last week during a class, we really struggled with defining a thesis so I thought this might be a good place to grow my knowledge.  GUESS what?  Literary Essays and Raising the Level of Interpretation does NOT have to be BORING!!! So helpful to have some easy and energizing ways to get middle school students (and their teachers) INTO the work.

Poem Used:

To a Daughter Leaving Home

Linda Pastan

When I taught you
at eight to ride
a bicycle, loping along
beside you
as you wobbled away
on two round wheels,
my own mouth rounding
in surprise when you pulled
ahead down the curved
path of the park,
I kept waiting
for the thud
of your crash as I
sprinted to catch up,
while you grew
smaller, more breakable
with distance,
pumping, pumping
for your life, screaming
with laughter,
the hair flapping
behind you like a
handkerchief waving

  • Has the trajectory for literary essay flattened at grade 6 or 7?

  • Are kids phoning in their essays?  (on autopilot?)

  • Do you get a 10 page retell of Harry Potter?

Then you will need strong reading work in order to get strong writing work.  “Three big problems kids tend to have with literary interpretation…That drastically impact their literary essay work

  1. Kids have nothing to say about the text.
  2. Kids have cliches to say about the text.
  3. Kids don’t have enough to say about the text.”

Use a common text that is accessible for the students.  All of our work was done with the above poem.  Here are some possible solutions for those three big problems:

1. If nothing to say:

  • take away the requirement for paragraph responses
  • show students other visual representations – let them “choose” another way to show understanding
  • use a write – around focusing on a quote or picture that represents the poem
  • dramatize with frozen scene – act it out

2. Kids have clichés to say about the text

  • create metaphors from pictures the teacher has collected from google images
  • use pictures to create new images
  • lift a line and connect the line to your big idea

3. Kids don’t have enough to say about the text

  • Choose cards from the writing craft techniques
  • Choose goals cards
  • Use the language from the cards to annotate the text
  • Explain how the author used a technique to support a goal

Stop / Pause / Think

What fun, easy, and effective way will you use to raise the level of literary essays?

tcrwp three

Thank you for reading #TCRWP:  Day 3 Writing Institute 2015!

#TCRWP – Day 2 Writing Institute 2015

TCRWP Highlights from Day 1 and 2 with Celena Larkey (Develop Toolkits to Support Narrative Writing – Advanced K-2)


“In five days, you will get a good start. You will not be able to say, ‘It’s done!’”

“During this week, we will make and use tools to lift writers’ process, qualities, and behaviors daily.”

Share – “Pay it forward” – share with partner so you can have the idea as well.

Teacher writing folder is not conferring toolkit.

Toolkit is my “wingman” so I can have it if I need it.

A memoir is not just person, place or time because it also includes either:

  • Conflicting emotion time
  • Turning point times

Planning – blank page – try them on and discard (“don’t have to be married to the page”)

Even when planning in 2nd grade: Say, sketch, and then Picture, picture, picture.

Planning – Make it quick; don’t make it good!

Scaffold – only if needed. Don’t have to have something to “leave behind every time.”

Check to see if “it’s sticking first”… If yes, good to go. If not, use scaffold.”

Our schedule for the week:

Monday – narrative

Tuesday – Launching/ Small Moment

Wednesday – Authors as Mentors/ Lessons from the Masters

Thursday – Realistic Fiction

Friday – Fairy Tale and other (adaptations)

If you choose to continue on, you will learn more about:

A. Primary Writing Process (K-2) and Volume of Writing

B. Tiny Topic Journal

C. Marking up a Model Text

Thank you for continuing on .  .  . 

A. Primary Writing Process

k-2 writing process

  1. Gather ideas
  2. Plan your ideas
  3. Write your ideas

Teach how to do the first three steps with ease and automaticity but be mindful of these three parts so students can practice all them! These go very quickly as students will blink and say, “I am done!“

Written pieces are the beginning of the process. You do NOT designate a day for gathering ideas, a second day for planning or a third day for writing. And you also don’t learn how to do this in one day and then you are done and you don’t ever do it again. Think about learning something new like “how to shoot a basket.” You, the learner will NEED lots of practice in order to shoot baskets well. Similarly, pieces by beginning writers will not be sophisticated.

What is the expected volume of writing for primary students?

This should be a focus for primary teachers!

Grade Level Number of Pieces /Each Week
Kindergarten 5 new pieces
First 3-5 new pieces
Second 2-4 new pieces
  1. Revise a lot (Exception in K, if child cannot read back to you – no point in revision)

Revision (re- vision) want to see it with fresh eyes (or new perspective) so it sometimes means the child is starting over. A student needs to revise on many drafts before moving on in the process.

What do K-2 students revise for?

Readability (Language / conventions)



When writing has additional pages, cross outs, revisions start tipping to the side of quality! At this stage behaviors would include: “I can go back, get a revision pen and revise” or “when I start a new book, I would apply my revision in the air.”

Revision can happen on the first day by adding to the picture, a page, or adding on to the ending. At the primary level ADD is synonymous to revision. Students are not really “taking out” much.

AFTER MANY, MANY revised pieces, THEN

  1. Choose 1 piece to “fancy up”! (this is not visible in the picture/it was at the bottom of the chart)
  2. Further Revise
  3. Publish

Stop / Pause / Think

How does this process match up to the process that your K-2 students use?

What is different?

Where might you begin your study of the writing process?

B. What is a “Tiny Topic Journal”?

  • Tiny topic notebook
  • “There is narrative in anything (not the Pulitzer), but yes a story!”
  • Tools for oral verbal work
  • “I tell a part, you tell a part”
  • Small Moment writing ideas will be recorded here.

When might you consider using a “Tiny Topic Journal”?

  • Are your kids writing a summary of their actions?
  • Are your kids just recording information?
  • Are your kids just making a list?

You will need to model how you observe life around you and how you pull ideas from “everyday life” to record in your “Tiny Topic Journal”? This could also be to jot down “current” topics for those of us who are older and tend to revert back to “when I was a child” for our small moments. We need to show students how we find ideas as we live our lives.

Stop / Pause / Think

Do you have students who need to work on “observing” life around them for ideas?

How would a “Tiny Topic Journal” or “Seed Journal” be helpful?

C. Toolkit Text

For the purpose of this work this week a Toolkit Text is that one text, “one book that I use”, that I can pull everything from for conferring. It’s not my “model and teach” stack of books. It’s one book that I have marked up with EVERY single thing that I can teach on the page! The stickies stay on the pages!

The toolkit Text that Celena shared was Goal!

Mentor Text Tips

  • Paperback
  • Put in toolkit

Make mentors

  • Read like a reader
  • Read like a writer
  • Mark it up and keep in toolkit
  • Don’t use your best literature!

The table that we are using looks like this and we used Henry and Mudge and the Happy Cat for our mentor text markup.

 Henry and Mudge and the Happy Cat – Mentor Text for K-2
What do we see? What do we call it? Why would we use it? Who else tried it?
p. 5 title question Create interest
p.5 “and” Repeated word structure
p. 5 “Henry” Repeated word S – and to show relationship to Henry
p. 5 ‘ apostrophe Possessive – show relationship/connections
p. 5 Henry, father, Mudge Characters Introduce characters
p. 5 “one night” “watching TV” setting Jump into story

I would have all these items marked in my book. They would be color coded by: structure, development, and conventions. And because I work with teachers of many grades I would also have those ideas in mind that I would consider using for an author study of Cynthia Rylant with upper elementary students that MIGHT have these additional boxes for this page.

Henry and Mudge and the Happy Cat – Mentor Text for UPPER ELEMENTARY
What do we see? What do we call it? Why would we use it? Who else tried it?
p. 5 Chapter title Hook Create suspense, as a form of foreshadowing, if we haven’t seen the title
p. 5- 3 characters Build relationship between the 3 characters Develop theory of characters – how they will interact
p. 4 picture of family Text/picture match As a part of “show, don’t tell”

The way this looks in my mentor text . . .

Henry and Mudge one

Seventeen words

Seventeen words and we found six things for K-2

Seventeen words and we found three additional things for grades 3-6+

Seventeen words from Cynthia Rylant

Structure – green; Development – pink; and Conventions – blue

Seventeen words

Rich and powerful!

Stop / Pause / Think

Do you have ONE mentor text marked up for your conferring toolkit?

How do you organize your “annotations” in your mentor text?

Thanks to Celena Larkey for this awesome learning at the 33rd Writing Institute at TCRWP!  Errors in this blog are due to “old ears” and “lack of understanding” – not the fine, fine, fine quality of instruction!

#TCRWP: Day 1 Writing Institute 2015


You might have seen my line up of events on Friday . . .

Keynote – Lucy Calkins

Advanced K-2 Session – Celena Larkey

Advanced 3-8 Session – Shana Frazin

Closing Workshop Choice  (toss -up as two were to be repeated Monday and Tuesday)  – Maggie B. Roberts

I was expecting

a LOT! 

And my expectations were exceeded!

This picture is how my head felt at 4:00 pm when I was thinking about my learning for the day.

08 May 2001 --- Exploding head --- Image by © John Lund/CORBIS

08 May 2001 — Exploding head — Image by © John Lund/CORBIS

The fire was fully ablaze by the time Lucy finished her keynote in the glorious Riverside Church.  Her stories, examples, and carefully chosen videos all told us that we must “have faith.  Faith that the student has something to say and faith that the student has the language to ‘say it'”.  (You can check the #TCRWP hashtag for additional “Lucy-isms” often identified as “LC”, “Lucy C” or “Lucy Calkins” .)

It continued to flame on all day long.  For this post, I am focusing on my upper grades Advanced Section

Using the Best, New Children’s Literature as Mentor Texts:

Support Sky High Writing (3-8)  with Shana Frazin to count as a very public “self-assignment”.

New Vocabulary and Processing: 

“ouevre” – collection of works Eve Bunting (tackling tough topics) and using Yard Sale as our demo!

(New processing angle:    Partner A – if name comes first in alphabet and Partner B – next alphabetically as it was possible to be in triads)

Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 2.35.05 AM

Reading Mentor Texts as Readers (3 types)

1. Classic Interactive Read Aloud

The teacher chooses text, places, action and the kind of action we want the students to DO in the text.

2. Shared Interactive Read Aloud

“So you guys know how usually I choose the place we will stop and the work we will do. If you think we should stop – ‘stop in the name of reading’ (hold up hand) and we will stop and you will tell us what to DO with that text.”

 Advantages of Shared Interactive Read Aloud:

  • As a tool it reveals to you when the students think it is worth stopping and sets the stage to work with secondary characters and their relationships!
  • Students can use any prompt to “talk/discuss”.
  • Students are listening differently for the “shared interactive read aloud”. 

3. Read Aloud Roles

The teacher looks at data to determine what does particular reader, club, or partner need to work on (could be Turn and Talk) and the teacher assigns the role for multiple practices.

Process:  The student receives a card with the role.  Student focuses on the card as the teacher is reading.

(Data changes as do the needs of kids change, so read alouds should change across the year.)

Our group role card said:  “Change – characters and their feelings, traits, lessons learned or not learned, setting, and tone”  Our task was to talk about the part of change we could see in the text that had been read.

Delightful new learning . . . I was thinking about how and when to use these three types (and whether I would be able to explain the differences upon returning home) when the next sequence was introduced as

“Reading Mentor Texts Like a Writer”! 

1.  Classic interactive with mentor text

Our mentor texts was a teacher demonstration text, “Moving Thoughts”

and we were using ideas from a chart based on Ralph Fletcher’s thinking.

(Words are easier than subject so they are often a beginning level.)

2. Shared interactive with mentor text

“Stop in the name of reading like a writer” – Students choose places to stop and name writing craft.

(“You have read already read this once as reader. Now you are rereading as a writer, with a different lens.”)

3.  Shared Interactive Read Aloud roles with mentor text

Again, specific assigned roles on cards for partners/tables to respond to.

Example:  “Word or Phrase –  What words or phrases did the author

use that… Surprised you? Puzzled you? Inspired you?”

And finally,

Writing under the influence!

“For 5 min. – write under the influence of reading; What stories did ‘Reading Like an Author’ lead you to?”


After collecting my notes, discussing this at dinner, and then writing this blog post, I am wondering:

What data will I use to determine whether I am “Reading Like a Reader” or “Reading Like a Writer”?

Will I use the set of 3 “Reading Like a Reader” before the 3 “Reading Like a Writer” each time?

Will this be “Black and White”?

What other considerations should guide my thinking?

Obviously, I am still at the “new learning stage” but I love the whole concept of “Writing Under the Influence” as well as “Thank you for coming to class today!”  I feel totally blessed, as an educator to be at Teachers College learning from and with so many talented teachers!

slice of life

Tuesday is the day to share a “Slice of Life” with Two Writing Teachers. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here. 

#TCRWP: Sunday Learning in NYC

What did I learn on Sunday in New York City?

Retrieved from wikipedia

Retrieved from wikipedia

Who Knew?  This is a map that lists the neighborhoods in Manhattan (sorry, Brooklyn friends).  They are literally also divided into “uptown”, “midtown”, and “downtown”, as well as “east side” and “west side”.

Not this “farm girl” from Iowa!

What sparked this interest in the “make-up” of Manhattan?

The Tenement Museum

“We tell the stories of 97 Orchard Street. Built on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1863, this tenement apartment building was home to nearly 7000 working class immigrants.”

Do check out the linked museum title above because the “Education” tab includes lesson plans and primary sources that history aficionados will love.  The whole premise of learning about the “lives” of these families from the historical documents of the times as well as the personal stories is spellbinding!  Goosebumps!

The “sweatshop” tour was our goal and Janeen was an amazing tour guide.  She enabled us to time travel back to the 1890s to imagine what life what like in a 3 room 352 square foot apartment occupied by the Levine family – no running water, no electricity, privies in the back yard, . . .

When I hear the word “sweatshop” this is an example of the image that comes to my mind.


Sweatshop – 1890 from wikipedia

But the original sweatshops, before electricity and the “factory” model, existed in the tenement apartments where individuals would run their own business, hire workers, and work incredibly long hours in their own living quarters.  Here is a photo of a postcard purchased at the museum (no pictures allowed on the tour) of an example of a dress made in this apartment rented by the Rogarshevky family.


Sewing the dress pictured above (sold for $15 retail) netted this business $0.25.  How many dresses would they need to complete during their six-day work week to make $10.00?  The virtual tour is linked here so you can see and hear this information yourself.

What do you know about the history of immigrants in your own family?  

Where did they come from?

Where did they live and work once they arrived in the US?

How did they have to adapt in order to survive?

What is the role of “oral histories”?

We ended our day at Isabella’s with a different bit of learning.  Fellow slicers, TWT bloggers, #tcrwp attendees gathered for fun and fellowship.


Vicki Vinton, Sandy Brumbaum, Julianne Harmatz, Allison Jackson, and Tara Smith and myself.  What a great beginning to our “TCRWP” learning week!

TCRWP Writing Institute begins today!

Where and what will you be learning this week?

Focus: #TCRWP, Books, and Professional Reading


It’s real!

I’m in NYC!

So excited to be back, with friends, literally from around the country, to learn, live and celebrate writing this week! (Can you guess my favorite punctuation?)

The Saturday before #TCRWP Writing Institute found several “slicers” meeting up at Bank Street Bookstore.  Our goal, Julieanne Harmatz (@jarhartz) and I, was to meet Sally Donnelly (@SallyDonnelly1), a fellow slicer up from the Washington, DC area.  We had met Sally, oh so briefly at the March Saturday reunion, and were interested in longer conversations.  We all found ourselves purchasing Cynthia Lord’s A Handful of Stars that had been highly recommended by fellow traveler Allison Jackson (@azajacks). (sidenote:  What’s up with the @?  Those are twitter names to follow.  If you aren’t following these three, why not?  Oh, not on Twitter; well, why not?  You should be!)

a handful of stars

Amazing book.  A dog balancing a blueberry on his nose should “hook” you right into this book!  Bank Street Bookstore was also the site of an amazng toddler read aloud with parents, toddlers and accompanying strollers filling the aisles.  And that’s all I have to say about that topic because of another book that I purchased that I will be gifting soon. (Hint – book is by Jimmy Fallon; yes topic connected to the new addition to my family.)

We adjourned to the Silver Moon Bakery and cafe for some coffee and much, much, much conversation.  Sally is returning to a third grade classroom after years as a reading specialist.  We had advice about techonolgy, blogging, professional books (Good to Great: Focusing on the Literacy Work that Matters by Mary Howard) and fellow bloggers for additional advice.

Good to Great Teaching cover

My one little word is “Focus” so I am thinking about my own professional reading for this summer.  This book and my all time favorite What Readers Really Do are my re-reads for this summer along with Colleen Cruz’s, The Unstoppable Writing Teacher,  and Jennifer Serravello’s, The Reading Strategies Book,  as my two new books.  Only four – but rich, savory texts that will feed my soul and brain for the year to come.

what readers

the unstoppable writing teacher

the reading strategies  book

What professional reading will you FOCUS on this summer?

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