Waiting for Spring

Yesterday I walked around the backyard with my Corgis. They were looking for squirrels and chipmunks and barking at the birds. They did not seem to notice the cold, but I did. An icy breeze was blowing. It seemed like Old Man Winter was complaining about having to leave. “Just go!”  I shouted into the wind.

But there were signs of spring everywhere: buds on the forsythia, crocuses flowering, daffodils surviving the snow, the beginnings of day lilies and hasta.

My neighbor Kate appeared with Rocky the pug this morning. Rocky is the girls’ best friend. The Corgis just adore him! Kate was bundled up in a wool sweater and a heavy winter coat. “The meteorologists are predicting a hot spring and summer,” she said. Just great, I thought. That’s how it goes. In another month or two, I’ll be wishing for March’s cool breezes!

Making Reader/Text Connections

Making Reader/Text Connections

 In the age of Common Core Standards, we ask our students to cite evidence directly from the text. In some classrooms, there is an absence of time to make a personal connection to the text we are reading. And yet, this is the first thing we do as a reader. Should we try to eliminate what comes natural to us? A personal response is a human response. But we’ve all had responses like this. After reading Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner (or any other dog story, for that matter), how many teachers have heard, “I have a dog.”  What often follows is a description or anecdote about that reader’s dog, followed by a flurry of other stories. By the time the students are finished sharing, there’s not much time to discuss the ideas found in the actual text.  So how do we find the balance?

One way is to develop text sets of mentor texts that will help students link their personal connection to something specific they can refer to in the text. Specificity is the key to good writing, and it’s the key to meaningful response. Although I could write a chapter (or even book) about this topic, I have provided you with six important categories for making reader-text connections here.

The key is to use a mentor text as a read aloud, and then model with your text connection (oral and written). You may have to repeat the process with another mentor text read aloud. Then ask students to return to their shared reading experience and find a place where they connect to an experience, find a place in the text where they were surprised, make a connection to a character’s feeling, etc..  Ask them to share (talk) with a partner before they write.

If you have any suggestions for mentor texts for these categories, please share!

  1. Make a personal connection to an experience in the text.


  • Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth
  • My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother by Patricia Polacco
  • Down the Road by Alice Schertle
  • Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco
  • Small Beauties: The Journey of Darcy Heart O’Hara by Elvira Woodruff
  • The Goodbye Walk by Joanne Ryder
  • Nana in the City by Lauren Castillo
  1. Make a connection to an important feeling in the story.


    • One Green Apple by Eve Bunting
    • The Summer My Father Was Ten by Pat Brisson
    • Coming on Home Soon by Jacqueline Woodson
    • Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco
    • The Memory String by Eve Bunting
    • Happy Like Soccer by Maribeth Boelts
    • Fireflies by Julie Brinckloe
    • The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig
  1. Would you like ___________for a friend?


    • Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot by Margot Theis Raven
    • Meet Damitra Brown by Nikki Grimes
    • Odd Boy Out: Young Albert Einstein by Don Brown
    • The Goat Lady by Jane Bregoli
    • Shoeshine Girl by Clyde Robert Bulla
    • Ralph Tells a Story by Abby Hanlon
    • The Recess Queen by Alexis O’Neill
  1. Using evidence from the text, explain if you would ever want to………


    • Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin
    • The Raft by Jim LaMarche
    • Momma, Where are you From? By Marie Bradby
    • Appalachia: The Voices of Sleeping Birds by Cynthis Rylant
    • Bats! Strange and Wonderful by Laurence Pringle
    • I Want to Be an Astronaut by Bryon Barton
    • Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
    • The Bone Detectives: How Forensic Anthropologists Solve Crimes and Uncover Mysteries of the Dead  by Donna Jackson
  1. Did you like this story/article? Why or why not?


    • A Bad Case of Stripes by Davis Shannon
    • Pebble: A Story About Belonging by Susan Milord
    • Allison by Allen Say
    • Odd Velvet by Mary C. Whitcomb
    • Enemy Pie by Derek Munson
    • Everglades by Jean Craighead George
    • Trouper by E.B. Lewis
    • The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson
    • Working Cotton by Sherley Anne Williams
    • It’s Disgusting and We Ate It!  True Food Facts from Around the
      World and Throughout History by James Solheim
  1. What part of the story was most interesting or surprising to you? Why?


  • Goin’ Someplace Special by Patricia McKissack
  • The Wretched Stone by Chris Van Allsburg
  • The Stranger by Chris Van Allsburg
  • The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
  • Belinda Blue by Jack Prelutsky
  • My Sister Ate an Orange by Jack Prelutsky
  • Blackout by John Rocco
  • Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathman


I am participating in #SOL17. Thanks to the twowritingteachers
blog team for creating and sustaining this wonderful community of writers. slice-of-life2

Ocean Playmate


Last day of summer at the beach
I stay beyond the ocean’s reach.

The sand is dark with Ocean’s stain,
It’s claiming beach – that much, is plain.

The ocean is so big and strong,
I know we’ll never get along.

My family loves an ocean swim,
The twins especially, Kim and Jim.

They wave and shout, “Come in, don’t quit!”
But all I think: “I just don’t fit.”

I look away, then at my feet…
They’re still beyond the ocean’s reach.

Sandpipers make tracks on the beach,
While just above me, seagulls screech.

A beachball floats, alone and free,
I will not save it – no, not me!

A wave sneaks up to touch my toes,
Ocean’s waves, in rows and rows.

As time goes on, it grabs my legs…
“Come in and play,” each breaker begs.

My heart pumps faster, pounding beats,
I think about a sneak retreat.

But gingerly, I’m inching in,
And now the water’s to my chin!

I jump the waves and shout with glee,
The waves and sky are all I see.

I can be brave! I can fly high!
What matters most is that I try.

My eyes light up, and then I grin…
And laughing, I exclaim, “You win!”

When day is done, I need a rest,
My ocean playmate is the best!

Each day next summer, here, I’ll be,
My ocean playmate waits for me.

I am participating in #SOL17. Thanks to the two writing teachers blog team for creating and slice-of-life2sustaining this wonderful community of writers!

Writing from Ice Cream

In our Mentor Texts books on writing with children’s literature, Rose Cappelli and I have five Your Turn lessons at the end of each chapter. These lessons are different from the five-minute mini-lesson that we often do.  Sometimes, the Your Turn lesson spans two days and often introduces an important strategy to our student writers. It is called Your Turn because we hope both teachers and their students will try it out. Teachers of writers are teachers who write!

This lesson does not appear in our books.  I have adapted it different ways to get students to write enthusiastically in their writer’s notebook in early September or in June when students are beginning to think about summer vacation! See the list about ice cream books at the end of this lesson.

Although Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s book is not about ice cream, I have included it here on this list. I was a big fan and am currently reading her  Textbook  published by Dutton (2016). She will always remain a mentor, not only for the books she gave us, but for the way she lived her life.

Your Turn: Creating an Ice Cream Memory to Use Your Senses

Hook:  Read a book about ice cream such as Ice Cream: The Full Scoop by Gail Gibbons. How many of you like ice-cream, sherbet, or frozen yogurt?  Turn and talk with your partner about your favorite flavors. Let’s share with the whole group (Teacher records some on the board).

Brainstorm: (Planning) Make your own list in your writer’s notebook.  Students share in small group before you distribute your list. Take your favorite flavor and create a word storm in your notebook (feelings, senses, thoughts, opinions, associations). You may use it later to write another notebook entry. Turn and talk with a partner.

Purpose: Today we are going to use ice-cream flavors to help us recall a vivid memory for our writer’s notebook.  The entry will be short, maybe four to eight sentences.  You will probably use many writing strategies quite naturally such as appeal to the senses, color words, strong verbs, and vivid adjectives.

Model:   Teacher writes ice-cream memory on the board in front of the students, thinking aloud and sharing his/her writing process.

As it rolls down Durham Street, the light, tinkling music from the Good Humor truck pulls the children from their houses like a powerful magnet.  Slap-slaps of screen doors are followed by the jingling of coins stuffed deep into shorts and jeans pockets as we dash for the street. Each child has a favorite.  Mine is the rocket with its creamy vanilla ice-cream swirled with chocolate.  I like to push up the ice-cream slowly so I can enjoy the cool taste on a hot August day for a long time.  My younger sister Sandy, with huge baby blues and ringlets of gold that jiggle as she jumps up and down in front of the truck window, always asks for an orange creamsicle.  She is slow to lick the melting sides. The drops spatter the sidewalk with sticky sweetness – a prize for the ants!

Guided Writing: Turn and talk about the memory.  What did you like about it?  Open your notebook and try to write an ice-cream memory. It may be helpful to have students brainstorm settings and write one sentence about each before deciding on the entry.  For example:

 Boardwalk – I sat on the hard, wooden bench and watched the waves rolling in and out, licking my creamy vanilla cone in rhythm with the waves.

The teacher walks around the room and peek at what you are doing (Roving conferences with clipboard).  After some time, have students share in small groups and in whole groups.  Copy some of their sentences on chart paper to include as “expert” samples.

Independent Practice:  Now try to write a notebook entry about a real ice-cream memory.  Think a moment, do a web or list to get started, refer to your word storm, settings, or just start writing. Remember, you are not writing an entire story!  Here is my example (Share on overhead or distribute your thoughts on a handout).  Give students time to write and share (even if only with a partner).

Reflection: Let’s look at my paragraph.  What writing strategies did I use?  (alliteration, appeal to the senses, character description, strong verbs, simile, proper nouns, short and long sentences)

Reflect on the strategies you seem to use naturally and automatically as a writer.  What are your “fingerprints”?

Write and Reflect Again:  If you would revise this entry, what is one thing you would absolutely do?  Try it out.  Perhaps rewrite your entry as a poem in any format.  Compare entries.  Which do you like better?  Why?

Projection (Optional): Create a goal for yourself that will help your reader to visualize your words.

  • Try to appeal to a sense you don’t usually use – like smell, taste, or touch.
  • Look at your adjectives. Are they vivid and exact?
  • Do you use color?
  • Examine past portfolio entries to see how you have used the senses to create description. Choose a piece for possible revision(s).
  • Find examples in your reading where authors appeal to the senses and copy them into your notebooks. What strategy has an author used that you could try on for size?

Books About Ice Cream

Gibbons, Gail. 2008. Ice Cream: The Full Scoop. Holiday House.
Gutman, Dan. 2004.  Babe Ruth and the Ice Cream Mess. Simon Spotlight.
Henkes, Kevin. 2003. Wemberly’s Ice-Cream Star. Greenwillow Books.
Ingalls, Ann. 2013. Ice Cream Soup. Penguin Young Readers.
Krouse Rosenthal, Amy. 2013. I Scream Ice Cream! Chronicle Books. ***
Metzger, Steve. 2011.The Ice Cream King. Tiger Tales.
Rey, H.A. 2011. Curious George and the Ice Cream Surprise. HMH Books for Young Readers.
Sellers, Heather. 2004. Spike and Cubby’s Ice Cream Island Adventure. Henry Holt & Co.
Sis, Peter. 2015. Ice Cream Summer. Scholastic Press.
Taus-Bolstad, Stacy. 2012. From Milk to Ice Cream. Lerner Classroom.
Willem, Mo. 2011. Should I Share My Ice Cream? Disney Hyperion.

 ***A book of word play, but I had to include it!


I am participating in #SOL17. Thanks to the twowritingteachers blog team for creating a wonderful writing community!

Love That Sharon Creech!

If you haven’t read Moo: a novel by Sharon Creech, find it and enjoy a wonderful story told by a master storyteller.


            a wide silk of bluesilver

            spotted with treegreen islands


            a banner of bluewhite sky

If you loved reading Love That Dog and Hate That Cat, you will not want to miss Sharon Creech’s newest tween novel, Moo. This story is about a family’s momentous move from the city to rural Maine, and an unexpected bond that develops between twelve-year-old Reena and one very ornery cow.

When the family moves to Maine, Reena is dreaming of picking blueberries and eating all the lobster she wants. Instead, she and her younger brother Luke are volunteered by their mother to help an eccentric neighbor named Mrs. Falala who has a pig named Paulie, a cat named China, a parrot named Crockett, a snake named Edna, and an enormous belted Galloway named Zora.  What happens next is amazing…

Moo by Sharon CreechTold in a blend of poetry and prose with defining variation in print of different fonts and sizes and unusual placements of words on pages to create word pictures for the reader, this delightful story will warm your heart. It is just right for so many middle schoolers who are stuck between wanting to be children and wanting to be adults. The story has a full range of emotions from light and funny to sad and reflective. The characters are so different that they complement each other completely.

Moo is a story about opening our minds and hearts to new experiences and letting others into our life so that we can grow, develop relationships and insights, and be renewed. Themes of loss, friendship, courage, and family are represented here in a story to love long after you finish reading the final page!

I am participating in #SOL17. Thanks to the twowritingteachers blog team for creating this wonderful writing community for reading, writing, sharing, and responding!slice-of-life2


Writing with Color

There are so many ways to explore color in writing workshop. Here are some interesting examples.

  1. Three color names I like best are:
  1. Three color names my friend likes best are:
  1. We think these three colors are exciting:
  1. Write ads to sell three items – a bicycle, a piece of clothing, a stuffed animal, a doll, or anything else you can think of. Be sure to mention the colors of the item.
  1. Write a snapshot of setting in 3 to 6 sentences. Include three specific color words.
  1. Write a snapshot of character. Include three specific color words.
  1. Create an unusual adjective to describe a noun. Your adjective may commonly be used as a noun. Here are some examples: tangerine sky, chocolate eyes, winter wheat hair

Use paint strips, home decorating magazines, online inside and outdoor galleries offered by paint manufacturers such as Behr, coloring boxes, and colored pencil sets. Share the color word list you have created with a friend.  Take turns reading the colors to each other.

Shades of……

Blue:  Baby blue, azure, aquamarine, indigo, turquoise, marine, midnight blue, navy, cobalt, peacock, robins-egg, lapis lazuli, periwinkle, Mediterranean, teal, delphinium, sapphire, cadet, Wedgewood, slate

Purple: lavender, magenta, orchid, mauve, violet, hyacinth, mulberry, periwinkle, plum, damson, fuchsia, indigo, maroon, heliotrope, violet-red, blue-violet, amethyst, lilac, burgundy

Red: scarlet, cherry, coral, blood, lobster, ruby, rosy, cardinal, strawberry, raspberry, Chinese, vermillion, fire-engine red, chestnut, blood bay, poppy, salmon, orange-red, terra cotta, brick, barn, crimson

Green: emerald, verdant, olive, ivy, pea, jade, apple green, sea green, celery, parsley, chartreuse, viridian, Nile, shamrock, hunter, Kelly, British racing, jungle, khaki, pistachio, lime, forest, winter, blue-green

Amber: honey, cognac, green-yellow, lemon yellow, green and cream-yellow, goldenrod, sandy-brown, and moccasin

Gray: storm cloud, sleigh bells, elephant’s skin, dusk, antique gray, downpipe,  grill master gray, far-horizon gray, mourning dove, tea kettle gray

Can you think of more names for these colors?

*See Jane Yolen’s Color Me a Rhyme and Mary O’Neill’s Hailstones and Halibut Bones

*For adult reading, there’s Primary Colors by Alexander Theroux – his three essays devoted to the colors red, blue, and yellow include every color allusion imaginable: artistic, literary, linguistic, botanical, cinematic, scientific, culinary, climatologial, and lots more.  Here’s a sample: Theroux points out that these things are yellow: the sun, cowardice, third prize, honey, school buses, urine, New Mexico license plates, Penzzoil, Easter, butter, and arsenic.  The sequel is titled Secondary Colors.

What should I read next?

Students in all grade levels are always asking, “What should I read next?’  It’s an important question because you want your students to continue to find books that they can read independently  – inside and outside of school. In Readicide author Kelly Gallagher talks about McQuillan’s study of reluctant readers (2001). It that showed a statistically significant gain in reading and writing fluency and writing complexity with students who had had a negative attitude towards reading at the beginning of the year, but at the semester’s end had improved significantly after having finished several books on their own.   How did this happen?  The students were given time to read books of their choosing in school without having to complete a book report, track points, or fill in a worksheet.

Csikszentmihalyi (1990) talked about reading flow – where students can get lost in the pages of a book and achieve true pleasure in the act of reading for reading’s sake without the promise of extrinsic rewards or grades.  If we want our students to achieve this state of reading flow, then we have to help them find books that are interesting and inviting to them. We must provide the time and space for them to read in school before we can hope that they will read outside of school. Often, we find our busy schedules do not allow much time to consider the question, “What shall I read next?’  We find that even during a library special, we hurry from the room lined with inviting books just waiting for a recommendation (“Pick me! You’ll find adventure here!) to use the prep period to record reading, math, and writing data on the schoolwide system or respond to a parent’s phone call or e-mail. There is always so much to do, and yet….

Perhaps you can try to answer the question about what book to read next with another question. Ask your student to think about why he liked the last book he finished.  Was it a mystery or fantasy or a book about animals?  Did he like the way the author told the story?  Was he drawn to the subject matter or the illustrations throughout the book? Tempt students with a beautiful poetry book like National insects sneed collardGeographic’s  Book of Nature Poetry. For YA readers – was it a dystopian novel or a Steampunk novel such as Heart of Veridon by Tim Akers or Cold Magic by Kate Elliott.  Is your teenager looking for books about teen anxieties and the discomfort of free choice/will?  Perhaps Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson or The Perks of Being a  Wallflower by Stephen Chobsky or Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith will be a good fit. For some of our readers, it may be a picture book like Kate Messner’s Over and Under the Pond or Insects: The Most Fun Bug Book Ever by Sneed B. Collard III.Over and Under the POnd

Text sets are always a powerful way to engage students in discussion, using vehicles such as book clubs, literature circles, book talks, and book reviews. Since these books can offer classroom opportunities for individual, small group, and extended learning, multiple copies (at least two or three) make reading a book even more inviting.  it is a good idea to write a short blurb on a sticky note and place inside on the end pages. “This book is for you if you enjoy reading,,,,”  Students can preview books and post an invitation to read a particular book on a bulletin board. In this way, students naturally create a response partner(s).  And encourage rereads!  Students of all ages and stages benefit from a second read of a beloved book.

Finally, we need to really, truly believe that allowing students to read independently in school will not only lead to more reading outside of school; it will serve as test preparation, too. Independent reads build vocabulary and content knowledge as well as the stamina and endurance to read lengthy passages on PSSA tests and the Keystone exam. The most powerful strategy we have to build lifelong readers is to provide the time for reading daily within our classroom walls. Here are some things we can all do:

  • Visit your school and local library and browse.
  • Talk with librarians to find out what is new, exciting, and available to your students. Follow book recommendations on twitter.
  • Read reviews on  Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the NY Times Book Review.
  • Talk with your colleagues.
  • Update your classroom library and organize it in ways most useful to your students (perhaps they can help with its organization).
  • Highlight books each week and display them on a shelf so that students can have a full view rather just looking at the book spines.
  • Then talk with your students about good books – all kinds of good books just waiting for someone to pick them up and remain in what Nancie Atwell refers to as “the reading zone” – a place where readers are submerged in a text until they must “come up for air.’


I am participating in #SOL17. Thanks to the two writingteachers blog team for creating this wonderful community of writers!

Her Words and Vision, True Today

I am participating in #SOL17. Thanks to the twowritingteachers blog team for creating this wonderful community of writers.

One Life.slice-of-life2

One Vision.

One Woman.

Many lives changed…

and changing.

Committed to improving the quality of life,

To expanding opportunities for children,

To promoting an understanding of cultures,

their attributes and values.

To speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,

To make us see the injustices of prejudice,

To infuse the need for humanitarianism

Everywhere in our world and

in everything we do:

Every thought,

Every action,

Every prayer.

The legacy

and dreams


Pearl S. Buck.

We Need Poetry in Our Classrooms

My Kind of Town  Milenium Park (1)

Chicago is…

Filled with things to do,

An exciting, busy place.

Coming to Chicago?

You’ve made a great choice!

You could stay forever,

Or just for a weekend.

But you’ll want to start with

“The Bean.”

Because if you’ve never been to Chicago,

Or if you’ve been here before,

You’ll visit “The Bean.”

What else can you see?

Millenium Park,

The Navy Pier,

Shedd Aquarium,

Art Institute of Chicago,

The Field Museum,

Skydeck Chicago,

360 Chicago,

Lincoln Park Zoo,

Second City Comedy Club,

Museum of Science and Industry,

Palmer House Hilton lobby.

My kind of town….

 Poetry Month is Coming in April!  Are you ready for it?  Here is a rationale for using poetry in your classroom all year long!

  • Children love the sound of language.
  • Poetry is a genre that has been a part of children’s lives since birth.
  • It can help us see differently, understand ourselves and others, and validate our human experience.
  • Poetry easily finds a home in all areas of the curriculum.
  • It is the great equalizer – a genre especially suited to the struggling or unmotivated reader/writer.
  • Poetry enhances thinking skills and promotes personal connections.
  • Reading poems aloud captures the ear, imagination, and souls of the listeners.
  • The playfulness of language and the ability of words to hold us captive with their intensity, beauty, and genius are particularly apparent in poetry.
  • A poet helps us see things in new ways.
  • Poetry helps to broaden children’s experiences.
  • Poetry can be the voice to claim and name the events we live through.
  • Poetry turns the ordinary into extraordinary.
  • Poetry validates our feelings and helps us make sense of the events of our lives.
  • It gives us ways to gain new insights on old problems.
  • Poetry grants us a place of beauty.
  • Carefully selected poetry has the power to engage readers’ minds, and to elicit sensory reactions, passions, and intense emotions.

I am participating in #SOL17. Thanks to the twowritingteachers


blog team for creating this wonderful writing community.