It’s Hard to Say Good-bye

So, we have finally arrived. March 31st.  We may have wished for it, and maybe ( like me),  we are a little sad now that it is here. It has been challenging at times to write a post. I know there were days that I felt I was running on empty. Part of that feeling rose out of social distancing and grim news each day. I worried and still worry about my little sister who works at Einstein Hospital in Eagleville where yesterday it was announced on the news that there were now three patients with the virus. My heart stopped for a moment.

Every day I awoke to a purpose – to write a piece on my blog that would be shared with a large community of writers. I had even more fun exploring others’ writing. So many great ideas on this year’s Slice of Life month!  I had even more fun connecting with friends far and near. I looked for Paula, Clare, Bob, Diane, Rita, Jen, Fran, Shelly, and Stacey almost every day, reading their posts even if I did not leave a comment. I discovered, about halfway through the month, that Lisa M. had joined the community. Lisa is chair for MRA and is putting together the MRA 2021 event next April. It’s a great conference that I have attended for about five years now. I also signed up to receive post notifications on several blogs I had never visited before. I will continue to search and explore this afternoon.

It would be hard to imagine March 2021 without the opportunity to reconnect with Slicers everywhere. So while it’s hard to say good-bye, this is only a temporary parting. I plan to be back next March, eager to write, share, and grow with this dynamic writing community.

I am participating in #SOL20. Thanks to this incredible team of educators, the twowritingteachers blog team, for all you do to create and maintain this wonderful writing and learning event each March! It has been another fantastic marathon, and we’re all winners!Slice of Life2


Words, words, words…

Slice of Life2I am participating in #SOL20. Thanks to the twowritingteachers team for providing us with space to write, share, and grow.

All too often, vocabulary instruction is isolated: contiguous in time but not connected to the true point of the classroom and almost never connected to the lives of the students themselves.  Vocabulary knowledge is a critical component of text comprehension, good writing, and learning in all subject areas.

Conditions that support a love of words:

  • Teachers are fascinated by language and share their interests with their students.
  • The classroom is alive with playful and thoughtful interactions with language
  • Language is a tool for thought as students and teacher share, explore, and refine their thinking about curriculum content.
  • There are multiple opportunities to inquire, wonder, and delight in learning experiences.
  • There are multiple opportunities to think about words while reading, writing, and learning content material.
  • The classroom walls are draped with print that is meaningful to the learners and organized by the learners.
  • Poetry is read across the curriculum and there are opportunities to write poems as well.
  • The classroom is an experience-oriented one, where language and vocabulary develop as students build and refine their understanding of “big ideas” or concepts.

What does the research say?  Let’s start with Graves (2001). He recommended teaching individual words, teaching word-learning strategies (both addressed in prereading instruction), and fostering word-consciousness (postreading instruction).

Stahl (1986) reports that the strongest predictor of a text’s difficulty is the number of complex, or challenging, words it contains.  He also concludes (after a review of 52 vocabulary instruction studies) that teaching students vocabulary pertinent to the assigned text generally improves their comprehension.

Vacca and Vacca (1996) contend that students can easily learn concepts in a unit if teachers link the ideas presented in the chapter to students’ prior knowledge.  When students can associate a term with concepts or information they already know, they are more likely to remember the meaning of the word.

The process called association refers to a student’s ability to link the new term to a synonym or familiar context. Generation is a process that occurs when the students are able to link the association they have made with a product.  These products include: creating a novel sentence, designing a semantic map, drawing a picture, or creating a set of clue words/phrases to remind them of the meaning.

Here are some vocabulary strategies. Can you think of others?

  • Limit the choice of words to those that are essential to the understanding of the reading selection.
  • Categorize the words to be taught and teach them in clusters.
  • Introduce the words prior to having students read the selection.
  • Clarify and refine the definitions by consulting a dictionary, glossary, or thesaurus and how they are used in various contexts.
  • Give students multiple opportunities to practice using the new vocabulary terms.
  • As a way of enriching vocabulary study, help students find creative ways to use graphics, pantomime, antonyms, synonyms, & mapping to learn new words.
  • Provide multiple opportunities for students to use new vocabulary through conversations in reading and writing workshop as well as content area discussions.
  • Establish an inquiring classroom culture in which students become word detectives and use opportunities to uncover knowledge of words. Even the simplest words may have many meanings and many shades of gradations of meaning!
  • Show students how to use word parts to infer the meaning of words.  Include mini-lessons on structural vocabulary as well as content vocabulary as often as possible.

Vocabulary Square






Opposite, effective against



Antibiotic: substance that inhibits the growth of micro-organisms; used to treat diseases

Antibiotic vocab square



Establishing a Sense of Who We Are

Having a sense of who we are as readers and writers is an important aspect of motivation and engagement. Classroom activities to foster an awareness of reading and writing identities:

  • Write and talk about previous reading or writing experiences with others.
  • Write and talk about reading/writing habits, likes, and dislikes.
  • Write and talk with others about reasons for reading or writing.

The National Writing Project, along with the New York Times Learning Network and Figment, celebrated the why of writing by collecting essays from people from all walks of life, interviewing authors, collecting student essays, spreading the word through Facebook and Twitter—and more—as one way to celebrate the National Day on Writing  on October 20, 2019.  Below is an example from Evan Grant, creative technologist and founder of seeper,  For more examples, open the hyperlink and visit for myriad responses.

Why I Write: Evan Grant’s Words Seep into His Technology

Evan Grant describes the different ways he writes and the cathartic release he feels during the process. “It is a cathartic release that helps structure my thoughts and direction in life,” he writes.

Asking students to write about “Why I Write” and “Why I Read” is important. It brings an identity to the surface level and it’s inspiring to share the responses of classmates. Of course, it is important to model with your own response.

I write to remember my past and all the stories I have to tell. I write to leave a little piece of my life story behind, sending my thoughts and feeling out into the world like small pryers to be received. I write to make my thinking visible to others and so that I can think about my words and have opportunities to revise them.  When you share your writing with others, your ideas, feelings, stories are out there, traveling to places you cannot go.  Best of all, writing helps me lose myself in the pages of a story or the depths of a poem and helps me find myself when I write to learn, to understand, to give me some authority in a topic. For me, that topic has been mentor texts.

I read to grow my imagination and knowledge. I read because it reduces stress, particularly useful during this time of  “social distancing.”  If I read, hours can pass by where I am in “the reading zone” and not thinking about all that is troubling me about this time of the global pandemic.  Reading is almost always a better source of entertainment than watching television, even if you are watching a movie. Reading makes us smarter, and since I always need to learn more about almost everything, I can read and build a reservoir of knowledge that helps me be a better conversationalist, a better writer, and a better mentor.

Try it out. Write some thoughts about “Why I Write” and “Why I Read.”  To start a new school year, model for your students and give them time to write about it. Share as posters with artwork and/or photos in your classroom or the hallway. Perhaps the entire school can participate before the fall parent conference sessions or the first Open House. Post student responses on your canvas page or in a newsletter that goes home to parents. It’s all part of helping students think about themselves as readers and as writes at a conscious level – of being able to declare, “I am a reader,”  “I am a writer.”

Slice of Life2I am participating in #SOL20. Thanks to twowritingteachers team for providing the space for us to write, share, and grow.


Zoom, Zoom, Zooming Away!

Slice of Life2I am participating in #SOL19. Thanks to twowritingteachers team for creating this space to write, share, and grow.

My husband and I have been busy trying to learn about Zoom. I had to learn quickly as my Arcadia class had to switch to online learning on March 12th. I was given two days’ notice and really panicked.  I quickly registered for Zoom – paid so my meetings could last longer than forty minutes – and conducted several test runs with Ralph.

Then I learned about opportunities to chat and to share videos and slide presentations.  My Arcadia students are quite savvy about technology and online learning, so they easily navigated author studies and issue presentations with slides, videos, and handouts made visible to the entire group. I was thrilled to have Matt Kay, author of Not Light, But Fire, join us on Thursday for a short presentation. This Thursday, high school librarian Sue Powidzki, will join us for a workshop on evaluating websites.

Last night we “Zoomed” with several close friends who were able to change their backgrounds – very cool.  We tried, but our images were not clear. My husband researched – our computer processors are too slow, so we would need to place a green cloth behind us in order for the backgrounds to be clear. Really?!!  My laptop is about three years old and apparently not able to handle some of the newest features that online apps such as Zoom are offering.

This afternoon, Ralph and I will practice chatting with breakout groups. We may enlist some friends to help us test this feature. We are still playing with slide presentations involving embedded videos and thank goodness Ralph is patient and can do some troubleshooting.  My Arcadia class ends on April 30th – five classes to go. I am trying to make them as meaningful as possible, but I do miss the face-to-face interaction. The last night is always pizza and salad as we do our professional book talks – my treat.  I will miss this gathering, but I plan to invite the class to my home for a summer date when things return to normal.  Gosh!  I hope things will return to normal by summer!

Happy Zooming, everyone!



Why is it important that teachers and students are familiar with writing process?

When students understand process, they are likely to produce a better product. Besides, there are many opportunities to learning along the journey. We do not delay learning until we arrive at our final destination! Writing process is recursive in nature, not linear. We may revise as early as the planning stage and even begin to edit as we compose our first drafts.  Knowledge of writing process affects teacher expectations and your teaching in five important ways:

There will be a great deal of variability in students’ confidence, abilities, styles, and approaches.

Process-oriented teachers know students need regular and frequent practice in a variety of writing types (modes).

These teachers emphasize the writing process – especially prewriting and revising, in their assignments and instruction – providing time for conferences along the way.

The more teachers know about process, the more they understand that writing is hard work!

These teachers will emphasize content over the form. They respond primarily to the meaning in students’ writing and view the mechanics as secondary but an important consideration. It is important to understand that writing across content areas may mean the writing is often informal and unfinished. The teacher is not expected to grade everything! You may ask, “Its value?”  My response would be to give the writer the opportunity to look back and trace changes and development in learning and thinking (Learning logs, admit and exit slips, double-entry journals and more).

There are five elements to an assignment that educators should consider when designing one:

1. Choosing a Topic – Teachers can select a general topic but still allow for choice.

2. Specifying an audience and purpose for writing – helps writers to determine the content, the stance or voice to take, and what will best meet the needs of their readers.

3. Writing in a variety of modes, voices, perspectives – to gain confidence and avoid boredom.

4. Accommodating the writing process – supporting pre-writing decisions & data collection, allowing sufficient time for drafting & revising, & time for peer/teacher conferences.

5. Introduce a writing project in increments while offering guidance at each stage (See recommendations by Graham & Perin, 2007)

Slice of Life2I am participating in #SOL2020. Thanks to twowritingteachers team for creating this space for us to write, share, and grow1

Looking Ahead to Summer Days

Slice of Life2I am participating in #SOL20. Thanks to twowritingteachers for providing this space to write, share, and grow.

Yesterday Ralph and I made plans.  That’s what you do when you are dreaming of a better tomorrow. I love being home, but not when it is not a choice but a necessity.  So Ralph and I made plans. We booked a room at the Camden Riverside Hotel in Maine. Three nights and four days in early August. My sister and brother-in-law will join us for Friday evening and stay overnight in Camden before returning to their cabin in Weld.

The hotel has parking and a path that crosses a little wooden bridge and leads you right into town.  There are beautiful hanging plants on the walkway across the little creek and benches to rest and dream. Or eat ice cream! A wonderful ice cream stand is located on the other side of the bridge, a street that has a bookstore and an antique store. From there, you can walk anywhere. Camden is a tourist town for sure!  We booked a sunset cruise, too, for Friday evening on the schooner Appledore.  Drinks and hor d’ oeuvres as we sail into the sunset. We’ll look forward to eating dinner before the cruise at a restaurant that has a water view.  There are many to choose from.

Saturday, we’ll shop after a leisurely breakfast and visit Camden Hills State Park and take photos of the harbor from atop of Mt. Battie. We have visited Camden twice. This will be our third time, but we love Maine, and it will be worth the eight-hour drive to help erase the memory of huddling at home and watching the countless broadcasts about Covid19.  Standing on top of the hill and feeling the sun and the breeze on my face will feel soooooo good. I cannot imagine we will still be practicing social distancing in August. It was never a favorite month because I don’t like really hot days. But I think that in 2020, August just might be my very favorite month. We just have to get there.

Here are some photos from a previous trip:

Inspired by a mentor text

In Up North at the Cabin by Marsha Chall, the narrator is a grandchild who spends the summers at the cabin with her grandparents. With wonderful simile, metaphor, specific nouns and verbs, hyphenated adjectives, and personification, the author takes the reader through her myriad experiences at the cabin. There are many “I” statements throughout the book, leading readers through the summer days from the beginning of her stay to the time when she must leave.  The powerful comparisons anchor images in the reader’s mind.

Up north at the cabin,
I am a smart angler.
Grandpa tried pink spinners, leeches, and dragonflies – but I know what fish like.

Up North at the Cabin
I bait my hook with peanut-butter-and-worm sandwiches, then jig my line and wait.



Up north at the cabin,
I am a great gray dolphin.
The lake is my ocean…

I wish I could share more with you, but the book is worth owning and could be used with second graders through middle school. Here is one of my examples from my notebook:

Up north in the Poconos,
I am a silent deer,
cautiously crossing the narrow road
as the sun sinks behind the edge of the lake
and spreads its golden light on the surface of the water.
Pines darken and become silhouettes just as
the glowing cabin lights suddenly appear in our view.

When Rose Cappelli and I co-facilitated Writing and Children’s Literature for the PA Writing & Literature Project, we often used this book as one of our mentor texts. Today, as I was rereading this picture book, I discovered a note written to me by one of the participants. Valerie wrote:


Dear Lynne,

Thank you for getting me started on ideas
for my own future children’s book. This story
has inspired me to write about my childhood
memories with my grandparents.



I hope this book inspires you to write summer memories and more!


I am participating in #SOL20. Thanks to twowritingteachers team for creating this space for writers to share and grow.

Slice of Life2


Possibilities for a Reading Response Journal

Slice of Life2I am participating in #SOL20. Thanks to the twowritingteachers team for creating this space to write, grow, and share.

Reading response journals is a place for students to write, draw, and share their opinions, ideas, or respond to the text that they are reading or you have shared through read alouds or book clubs.

My List of Possibilities:


Powerful sentences

Leads that invite you to read on





Graphic organizers


Strong verbs and nouns

Unusual or favorite words


Notes from focus lessons





Character descriptions

Personal ah-has!

Books to read

Books read


Can you add some additional ideas here?

Story Leads: Take the Time to Write Them!

Slice of Life2I am participating in #SliceofLife20.  Thanks to twowritingteachers for creating this space to write, share, and grow.


                 A good beginning “leads” a reader into the story. It makes them want to continue to read. A lead sentence captures readers’ attention, enticing them to read more. The first page of a book and the beginning of any story is the hook that helps the writer “reel” in his audience.  Sometimes, leads can be a combination of two or more sentences. It is absolutely okay to write your lead paragraph, knowing that when you finish your story (any fiction work, memoir, even biography, and autobiography), you can return to the lead paragraph to do some revision work. So your first lead may be a placeholder.  This is usually true of your title, too. Here are some examples of great leads that you may have introduced to your students.  I hesitated to include the book I wrote with Rose Cappelli here, but I believe it is a great resource for writing fiction pieces. So you can find more in Mentor Texts: Teaching Writing Through Children’s Literature (Stenhouse, 2017):


If only Billy had known that he was tall enough to ride the “Rolling Thunder.” Why did he always talk before he thought things out?

Short, Choppy Statement:

No. No. I’ll never do that again!

Name Statement:

I, Lyddie Jones, will never,  ever take my younger brother to an amusement park with my best friends.

Thoughtshot (see Barry Lane’s After THE END: Teaching and Learning Creative Revision, 2nd edition):

“Why am I afraid to tell my sister how I feel?” Billy thought to himself.


The old cars moaned and groaned as they were pulled up the wooden track by invisible hands.

Creepy Statement:

The track rose up like a dark spirit across the blue sky, turning my insides to mush.


A soft rain spattered against the car windows as we drove down the New Jersey Turnpike. As we approached Great Adventure, the rain came down in driving sheets, fierce and angry. The few cars in the giant parking lot seemed to float like ducks on top of a puddle-pond that was growing larger by the minute.

Quote (what people say):

My mother always said that Lyddie should have been born the boy. Lyddie, who was always daring, courageous, and full of life.

Controversial Statement:

Amusement parks! They should really be called torture chambers!

Your Turn: Try to write some leads in your writer’s notebook for a story you are writing or have already published. Try to use a combination of leads. Choose one or two you have never used before. We grow as writers because we take risks and try new things. I have provided some settings for you if you want to start a new piece of writing. Happy writing!

a circus                                                                                            on a rocket ship to Mars

camping near a river                                                                    climbing a mountain

a ski vacation in Colorado                                                            arriving at Ellis Island

at the seashore                                                                                sailing on the Titanic

a deserted island                                                                             an apartment in the city

scuba diving near a coral reef                                                      at a holiday party

Gestures to Enhance Memoir, Realistic Fiction, Personal Narratives, Fantasy, and Vignettes

I am participating in #SOL20. Thanks to the twowritingteachers team for providing this space to write, share, and grow.Slice of Life2


Using gestures in fiction writing can add telling details to our writing, bringing our characters to life in new ways. Consider what we learn about Mrs. Buell in the following excerpt and how something as simple as pushing up the sleeves of a sweater can stay with you, anchoring a memory.

From “Mrs. Buell” in Hey World, Here I Am! By Jean Little

In winter she wore the same sweater every day, a man’s gray one, too big,   with the sleeves pushed up. They kept slipping down and she’d shove them back a million times a day. Yet she never rolled up the cuffs to make them shorter. (p. 44)

Her going had left a hole in my life. Because I knew, for the first time, that nothing was safe – not even the everyday, taken-for-granted background of my being. Like Mrs. Buell, pushing up her sweater sleeves and giving me my change. (p. 46)

From “Mrs. Buell” in Hey World, Here I Am! By Jean Little

In winter she wore the same sweater every day, a man’s gray one, too big,   with the sleeves pushed up. They kept slipping down and she’d shove them back a million times a day. Yet she never rolled up the cuffs to make them shorter. (p. 44)

Her going had left a hole in my life. Because I knew, for the first time, that nothing was safe – not even the everyday, taken-for-granted background of my being. Like Mrs. Buell, pushing up her sweater sleeves and giving me my change. (p. 46)

Here is another example from The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis:

Me and Joey cracked up. Byron kind of chuckled and Momma put her hand over her mouth. She did this whenever she was going to give a smile because she had a great big gap between her front teeth. If Momma thought something was funny, first you’d see her trying to hide the gap, then, if the smile got to be too strong, you’d see the gap for a hot second before momma’s hand would come up to cover it, then she’d crack up, too. (p. 4)

“And Mrs. Watson,” said Dad, “you can’t possibly deny that this is your child. You can tell this boy has got a ton of Sands blood in him, look at those ears!”

Poor Byron. If he’d have known how far his ears stuck out to the side I bet he never would have gotten that butter!

Momma put her hand over her mouth and said, “Lord, don’t blame that on my side of the family, someone switched this child at the hospital!” (p. 98)

Did you notice the action of Momma trying to hide the gap between her front teeth when she smiled widely? This anecdote in the story about Byron getting that haircut. A “butter”  is a  1960s hairstyle that was popular with some African Americans.  It involved using caustic chemicals to straighten the hair so that it could be styled in different ways.

Here is a partial list from my notebook where I write sentences that include a gesture:

  • He touched his chin as thinking.
  • April shrugged her narrow shoulders. Then she shrugged them again.Enough said.
  • Little Johnny threw his hands in the air. “Daddy.”
  • He pressed his hair back with both hands. “My dad is going to kill me.”
  • She shoved her hands deep into her pockets and slouched, as if trying to hide.
  • She held her palm out to him. “Whatever.”
  • She stared at her feet. As if her fingers had a mind of their own, they played with her coat zipper.

Here is my attempt at trying it out in a story about an ex-jockey, Leo McMorrow. April was one of my best friends when I was in my teens, and she is another character in this story:

“What’s a tea cozy?” I whispered to April. I stole a quick glance. She was leaning slightly forward, her thin hair – the color of winter wheat – hanging limp and damp around her shoulders.   She shrugged her shoulders – one small movement – and continued to sit still and silent on the crooked wooden chair.  Perhaps she didn’t want to shift her weight on a fragile chair that was destined to be broken and discarded. But everything about April was understated.  I looked at her, waiting for some response. Another shrug. No words. She didn’t even glance in my direction. She was definitely my polar opposite, and I loved hanging out with her.

Try it out!  Make a list of gestures in your writer’s notebook. Return to drafts and even published pieces to try it out!