Some Scaffolds to Help You Write

I am participating in #SOL17.   Tslice-of-life2hanks to the hardworking and incredible twowritingteachers blog team for
creating this community of writers. I have learned so much this month and hope to return and find all of you here on
Tuesdays.  This experience has been delightful and valuable.
This network of writers
is powerful!

When our student writers are getting ready to write, they may need some structures to help them plan their thinking.  It’s important to help them develop their ideas, the direction their piece will take, their chosen point of view. To do this, sketching, using graphic organizers, reading, and talking are great avenues for students of all ages to get ready to write. Hopefully, your students will arrive at the conclusion that writing = thinking. Let me revise. Writing = deep thinking.

Choosing a strategy or scaffold to help you plan a piece of writing often depends, in part, on the type of writing you will do – a narrative, an opinion piece, an informational piece, or a poem.  As students exam mentor texts, ask them to think about how the author organizes the piece of writing. Often, a longer text may have a global structure and many substructures to support it. Sometimes, a simple scaffold such as a repeating phrase  can be used to frame the entire text. For example, in Up North at the Cabin, Marsha Wilson Chall organizes her picture book by beginning each vignette about a summer  with grandparents with the beginning phrase, “Up north at the cabin….”

As students advance through elementary school, we discover structures such as compare-contrast, cause-effect, problem-solution, and time order.  Sometimes, students find a structure in a mentor text (the mentor text can be a student’s writing as well) that needs to be named so the community can talk about it and use it in future writing pieces. Post graphic organizers of structures in your writing center or make copies for the writer’s notebook. Here are a few scaffolds that may be useful to your students.  Try one of these structures and take a few moments to evaluate your success. Did the scaffold help you?  How so?  Share your thinking with a friend!

Structure CompareStructure MemoryStructure Story of thinkingStructure OnionStructure Made Up Story

A Day Off

Longwood Gardens March 29 2017 (2) (1024x768)

Yesterday my husband and I spent the entire afternoon at Longwood Gardens. Walking, breathing in and out, chatting, taking photographs, making a memory.  All too often my calendar is filled up with work and other obligations – preparing for presentations, traveling to places for workshops and presentations, giving presentations, working on a book (Stacey and I are about to get back to our schedule for Welcome to Writing Workshop after a break for Slice of Life), duties for Eta chapter of ADK and CCRA, PAReads editor meetings, attending conferences.

My husband often comments, “You said name of month is going to be freer, not so busy. What happened?”  And, honestly, I’m not sure what happens. The calendar just fills up. Well, to be truthful, I do know how it happens. If I see a blank spot on the calendar and I get a request for a job or to help out with an event (tonight I am reading at the B & N for Upper Moreland Intermediate School’s fundraiser), I say yes and fill the empty block. But for the past two weeks I had written Longwood on all the calendars I own and had prayed for good weather.  Yesterday, my prayers were answered.

We strolled leisurely, stopping to sit on benches and take it all in.  We were not in a hurry. I had already arranged a feeding and walk for the Corgis – thank you, Letty! – so we took our time.  Eventually, we headed to the conservatory to visit my favorite room – the silver room – and we took lots of photos. We sat by my favorite tree, the olive tree – and I imagined a trip to Greece in our future.

I bought two new house plants before we headed to The Gables. I ordered a Prosecco and a cheese tray for us. My husband enjoyed cheesesteak egg rolls, and I had a small bowl of mushroom soup. After our light dinner (we still took a doggie bag home), we headed home. It was a great day!  I need more of them.

So what have I learned?  I am writing Longwood  on my calendar – at least three days each month. Although it might not be Longwood – it will be a day for us to do something together – visit Lancaster, drive to the Poconos, go to Fallingwater (my husband has never been), drive to the shore and walk on the beach, or just walk at Mondauk Park and come home to read for pleasure. Today I awoke feeling refreshed. I am not tired. I am ready to face the day and whatever it brings. I needed a day off!

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

Are You Ready?


Are you ready? April is National Poetry Month, so why not try reading a poem each day?  We all love Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein. What about some new poets?  Here are some suggestions for great poetry selections:

Alexander, Kwame and Chris Colderley.  2017. Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

Coombs, Kate.  2012. Water Sings Blue: Ocean Poems. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.

Florian, Douglas. 2012. UnBEElievables: honeybee poems and paintings. NY: Beach Lane Books.

Grimes, Nikki. 2017.  One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance. USA: Bloomsbury.

Harley, Avis. 2008. The Monarch’s Progress: Poems with Wings. Honesdale, PA: WordSong.

Heard, Georgia. 1998.  Awakening the Heart.  Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, K-6

Heard, Georgia and Lester Laminack. 2008. Reading and Writing Across the Year. Portsmouth, NH:  Heinemann, K-2

Holbrook, Sara. 2003. By Definition. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press.

Ludwig VanDerwater, Amy.  2013. Forest Has a Song: Poems. NY: Clarion Books.

Worth, Valerie.1996. All the Small Poems and Fourteen More.  NY: Farrar, Straus.

Vardell, Sylvia and Janet Wong. 2012. The Poetry Friday Anthology. NJ: Pomelo Books,

Wong, Janet. 2007. Twist: Yoga Poems. NY: Margaret K. McElderry Books.

Young, Judy.  2006. R is for Rhyme: A Poetry Alphabet. Ann Arbor, MI: Sleeping Bear Press.

Try to pair two poems to make a mini-study of a concept, theme, structure, or perspective? In the space of a class period, it’s possible to employ multiple reading strategies your class has studied this year, just by putting two poems side by side and engaging your students’ curiosity. Consider comparing and contrasting “Dragonfly” by Constance Levy from Splash: Poems of Our Watery World and “The Dragonfly” from Insectlopedia  by Douglas Florian. The first is written in third person, and Florian’s poem is written in first person. Levy writes about the dragonfly as a giver of life, and Florian writes about the dragonfly as a taker of life. There’s so much more! If you send me an e-mail at, I will send these poems to you as an email attachment.

Happy Poetry Month, Slicers!

I am participating in #SOL17. Thanks to the twowritingteachers
blog team for creating and sustaining this wonderful community of slicers!


The Mosquito

I am Mosquito,

The vampire of summer skies.

In Spanish, my name means

Little fly.

I search

I land

I sight

Then BITE!

I munch on dogs

On boys and cats.

I drink their blood

And grow quite fat.

My antennae search for smells of hosts,

Humans, I prefer the most.

I am true vampire of the skies:

A little insect is my disguise!


With a nod to “The Dragonfly” in Insectlopedia by Douglas Florian for providing me with a mentor text for my poem.

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


Everybody Says

Everybody says

I am my father’s daughter:

the straight toes, dark hair, and thick eyebrows(at one time),

the habit of returning to the house several times for forgotten items,

the love of my native city, Philadelphia.

Everybody says

I’m the image of my paternal grandmother,

with red highlights in my hair from my paternal grandfather

and skin coloring to match.

Everybody says

My weight problem is inherited,

Great-grandmother, grandmother, mother;

All round and chubby – overweight by any standard.

Everybody says

My nose is like my father’s,

My love of writing and reading passed on from my mother

as well as her quick temper – thank goodness,

also quick to forgive and forget (my father).

Everybody says,

Everybody says,

Everybody says…

But I just want to be me.

With a nod to my mentor text: “Everybody Says” by Dorothy Aldis in Songs of Myself compiled by Georgia Heard

I am participating in #SOL17. Thanks to the twowritingteachersblog
team for creating and sustaining this community of writers.


The Wonderful World of Color: Writing Mysteries

In a previous post, I talked about using exact color words in writing workshop. Do you have students who are mystery readers?  I was such a reader, gobbling up every Nancy drew and Bobbsey Twins book that came my way. Many of our students probably would like to try writing a mystery. Here are some other ways to use your color list as an exercise to plan a piece of mystery writing or to provide more choices for possible notebook entries.

  1. If you were writing a mystery in which someone had stolen a valuable antique necklace,
  • What color(s) would the jewels be?
  • What color green would you make it?
  • Would you make the chain banana yellow?  Why or why not?
  • What color is the jewelry case?
  1. List three things that might be called banana yellow (other than the obvious choice!).
  1. If the hero or heroine of your story had green eyes, which green would you use?
  1. What color would his or her hair be?
  1. Describe the scene where the stolen necklace was found? What color(s) is the room? Ceiling? Furniture? Or if you are outside, describe the sky. Parking lot, buildings with color words.
  1. Describe the thief’s clothing with color and texture words – even brand names.
  1. Look for descriptions of famous sleuths in books and comic books such as Nancy Drew, the Bobbsey twins, the Hardy Boys, Encyclopedia Brown, Dick Tracy, Mrs. North, Lew Archer, Pierre Chambrun, Flash Casey, Sherlock Holmes, Inspector Clouseau, Batman, and the Shadow. Use colors in your character snapshots.
  1. Try writing a parody of a heroic description, using any colors you wish. For example, it is one thing to say a woman’s teeth are as white as pearls.  It is quite another thing to say her teeth are as white as antique ivory or faded linen sheets!

Have some fun!

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

I Like the Springtime

I Like the Springtime

(With a nod to “The Mist and All”
a poem by Dixie Wilson that was my mentor text for writing my poem)

I like the springtime,

The sunshine and all.

I like the warmth

On my face –

And new growth bursting from gardens

Like precious treasure.

I like the rainy

sweet April day,

And the small-and-big puddles

That beckon me to

Be a kid again and SPLASH!

I like the rain.

I like to sit

And dream a bit –

And listen to nature’s winged quartet:

Chickadees, cardinals, robins, mourning doves.

I like the springtime –

The sunshine and all.


I am participating #SOL17.

Thanks to the twowritingteachers blog team for creating and sustaining this writing community.


A Few Famous Quotes to Inspire

When I had my own class,  I often posted a quote each week and encouraged students to respond to it in their writer’s notebook. I continued to use this routine when I taught gifted education K-5.  Sometimes, I would offer a response from my notebook.  It is important for our young citizens to develop a sense of responsibility about their role as future caretakers and leaders of this planet. It is important for them to continue to find beauty and truth and remember to be kind and always demonstrate what it means to be human. Here are some favorite quotes, although I think I want to share an Arabian Proverb with you on friendship first (I carry it in my heart always).

A friend is one to whom one may pour out all the contents of one’s heart, chaff and grain together; knowing that the gentlest of hands will sift it, keep what is worth keeping, and with the breath of kindness – blow the rest away.

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. ~Eleanor Roosevelt

Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow. ~Helen Keller

 No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.  ~  Aesop

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.  ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

Hitch your wagon to a star.   ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

The price of greatness is responsibility.  ~Winston Churchill

 Whether you think you can or think you can’t – you are right.  ~Henry Ford

We can do no great things – only small things with great love.   ~Mother Teresa

 In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.   ~Albert Einstein

 For of those to whom much is given, much is required.   ~John F. Kennedy

Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth
doing.       ~Theodore Roosevelt

If man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.   ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

  It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.    ~Vince Lombardi

 I will prepare and some day my chance will come.   ~Abraham Lincoln

The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than
saved by criticism.   ~Norman Vincent Peale

The quality of an individual is reflected in the standards they set for themselves.  ~Ray Kroc

Example is not the main thing in influencing others.  It is the only thing.  ~Albert Schweitzer

Learning without thought is labor.    ~Confucius

All our dreams can come true – if we have the courage to pursue them. ~Walt Disne

It is better to rise from life as from a banquet – neither thirsty nor drunken.  ~Aristotle

Teaching Students How to Summarize

Teaching summarizing is no small undertaking. It’s one of the hardest strategies for students to grasp, and one of the hardest strategies for you to teach. Repeatedly model it and give your students ample time and opportunities to practice it. But it is such a valuable strategy and competency. Can you imagine your students succeeding in school without being able to break down content into manageable small succinct pieces?  Here are a few ideas; try one…try them all. This important strategy is truly about equipping your students to be lifelong learners.

After students have used selective underlining on a text, have them turn the sheet over or close the handout packet and attempt to create a summary paragraph of what they can remember of the key ideas in the piece. They should only look back at their underlining when they reach a point of being stumped. They can go back and forth between writing the summary and checking their underlining several times until they have the important ideas in the single paragraph.

Have students write successively shorter summaries, constantly refining, and reducing their written piece until only the most essential and relevant information remains. They can start off with half a page; then try to get it down to two paragraphs; then one paragraph; then two or three sentences; and ultimately a single sentence or one word! Give students opportunities to summarize throughout or at the end of a lesson. Teach students to go with the question markers: key words/phrases for:  Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.

Take articles from the newspaper, and cut off their headlines. Have students practice writing headlines for (or matching the severed headlines to) the “headless” stories.

Sum It Up:  Students imagine they are placing a classified ad or sending a telegram, where every word used costs them money. Tell them each word costs 10 cents, and then tell them they can spend “so much.” For instance, if you say they have $2.00 to spend, then that means they write a summary that has no more than 20 words. You can adjust the amount they spend, and therefore the length of the summary, according to the text they are summarizing. Consider setting this up as a learning station, with articles in a folder that they can practice on whenever they finish their work early or have time when other students are still working.

One Technique to Teach Summarizing

  • Ask students to highlight the words or phrases they need to answer the question. If a sentence does not contain essential information, do not highlight.
  • Move to the next sentence and repeat the process.
  • Read the first sentence and ask, “Does this sentence help us answer our question?”
  • Write it on a chart paper.
  • Generate a question or turn a subheading into a question.
  • Stop at a reasonable chunk.
  • Read the text aloud.
  • they have a copy to follow) or get them to tell you verbally.
  • Imagine that each word costs $100 so they must be careful not to choose too many.
  • Negotiate the words to be highlighted or added to the chart with the teacher or members of your group.
  • Reread only the highlighted part to see if they understand the information.
  • If too little information has been selected, go back to highlight additional, essential information.
  • Continue until you reach the end of a section.
  • Reread the question and do a quick reread of highlighted words and phrases to see if the question has been answered.  Then gradually release responsibility for this process for paired work and independent practice.

I am participating in #SOL 17. slice-of-life2

Song of Sunshine

Let sweet sunshine sing to you.

Let it pour like honey’s golden, liquid drops.

Let the sunshine gently kiss your browning cheeks.

Sunshine makes the water on the lakes shimmer.

Sunshine makes patterns and shadows in the forest.

Sunshine rubs happiness over your back.

Sunshine promises healing and cheerfulness.

And I love sunshine.

With a nod to my mentor text, “April Rain Song” by Langston Hughes in Sing a Song of Popcorn: Every Child’s Book of Poems

I a participating in #SOL17. Thanks to the twowritingteachers
blog team for creating and sustaining this community of writers.