Two-Minute Mornings

Slice of Life2Thanks to the twowritingteachers blog team for this space to write, read, and respond to others. #SOL18 is a wonderful writing community!

I will let go of ….my annoyance that winter is still hanging on as evidenced by the snow that is falling and the parka, gloves, and woolen hat that I wore this morning as I walked the Corgis. No more frowns or talk about it. This morning is the last time that the word “winter” will escape from my lips. Spring will soon be here in all its glory!

I am grateful for....the twowritingteachers blog and the opportunity to write and respond to other writers during this month of March #SOL18 – my third year!  I am also grateful for the “unworkshop” week at Highlights Foundation in April to finish revisions for the book I am co-authoring with Stacey. I think about it every day.

I will focus on…. my writing this morning and afternoon. Planning and reading can be evening pursuits. My three goals (ambitious but doable):

  1. Work to complete my part in a chapter on small group work for a book I am writing with Stacey.  This is my No. 1 focus for today. Welcome to Writing Workshop is coming along nicely. By the weekend’s end, I will be finished with the remaining chapters and await Stacey’s comments.  Then, I look forward to interviewing some teachers, taking photos, and observing workshops in late March/early April. Like Rose and Diane, Stacey is very organized and is finished her first-draft writing for this book.
  2.  Begin reading Practicing Presence, a Stenhouse book by Lisa Lucas.  I think I will benefit greatly from reading this book. Lisa is an Associate Professor in the College of Education at West Chester University of Pennsylvania and a professional coach that specializes in helping others find the median between working to live and living to work.  Chandra told me two cases of her book sold like hotcakes at the Title 1 Conference in Philadelphia this February. My copy just arrived in the mail. I am itching to read it!
  3. Imagine my presentations for a workshop I am doing at the end of March on mentor texts. Today, I will make a list of possibilities for the two sessions and place a check mark next to the concepts and activities I will include. Reread a couple sections of the second edition of Mentor Texts. No pressure here. Mentor texts, a favorite topic, and I have another weekend after this one to get ready. Planning is always fun!

Writing Leads

slice-of-life2Thanks to the twowritingteachers blog team for hosting the #SOL18 where participants can write, read, and respond to fellow bloggers. A great experience to begin Spring and a rebirth of wonder! I will be back each Tuesday!

When I teach focused lessons about leads to students in 2nd – 6th grades, I begin with models from quality mentor texts. Then I try to imagine a story that I am going to write so that the models I create for students are around a single topic or seed of an idea for a particular story.

It is helpful to imagine the setting for a narrative lead. I do the same thing when we are immersed in a unit about informational or opinion writing. I find mentor text examples, then I choose a topic and write some leads.  I like to use three or four days to mini-lesson leads, posting my examples on either an anchor chart or a bulletin board. Students help me create examples through shared writing experiences in whole group, usually from a brainstormed list of topics they create with me. Then they choose one from the list or create a topic on their own to work with partners or in a small group. We post favorites around the room.

I ask students to try out all the leads we have talked about because ultimately, they will choose the perfect lead for the piece they are writing. Here are some examples around a circus setting. My characters are Rosemary Fennelly, her father, the ringmaster, Uncle Roy (brother of Mary’s mother), and Mary, a tightrope performer (not introduced in these leads).

Thoughtshot: I wonder if the tightrope walker will work without a net today?” Rosemary thought to herself and shivered inwardly.

Foreshadowing: Rosemary knew it was important to hold onto Daddy’s hand, but there was so much to see and do. She strained to break free of his hold…Daddy was much too slow today. Suddenly, she was free!

Name Statement: “I, Rosemary Fennelly, will forever be known as the Princess of the High Wire!”

Creepy Statement/Telling Detail: Our gaze shifted from the high wire, thirty feet above our heads, to the ground below – It was then we noticed there was no net.

Controversial: “Circuses!” Uncle Roy growled. “Things of the past. Should be shut down for good!”

Anecdote: Rosemary had always dreamed of walking the tightrope. As a little girl, she walked the sidewalk cracks and even tried to balance on Mama’s clothesline – only once. She had climbed the tree and positioned herself on the clothesline. Arms straight out for balance, Rosemary stepped out onto the line. Keeping her gaze on the tree that anchored the other end of the line, she started across. Mama had punished her but good when the line broke and all the almost-dry laundry came down to kiss the wet spring grass with Rosie following close behind.

Character Snapshot of Dad

Slice of Life2Thanks to the twowritingteachers blog team for creating this space for writing, reading, and responding. #SOL18 is challenging, rewarding, and pure joy!

Stretched out on the couch, his berry-brown arms and legs looked warm and perfectly tanned. The calf muscles bulged from years of running everywhere he went. Dad was always late, often making us late for our Sunday dinners at my grandparents’ home in Coopersburg to the great annoyance of my mom and my grandmom. His jet black hair slicked back by some kind of hair tonic, jet black at 59 from a Grecian formula rinse. Dad prided himself in looking young. Most people would have guessed, “Forty-five?”  That always pleased him.

His eyes closed, revealing long lashes and beautifully sculpted eyebrows that arched gracefully under a broad brow. A strong chin with a face that wore the map of Israel in a rather large nose, five o’clock shadow – no wrinkles – except for a few at the corners of his mouth created from smiles and laughter. Dad believed you couldn’t get by in life without a sense of humor and was always telling corny jokes and laughing at them.

His skin was smooth and silky to the touch. Chocolate eyes, deep and dark, could pull you in like a magnet. He lost an inch or two over the years but stood every bit of five foot eleven inches (although he would insist he was six feet tall!).  High cheekbones gave him an aristocratic look, especially when he wore one of his Italian suits made of silk and a Fedora pulled low over his forehead.  My dad could have passed for a Greek god.

Brunch, Anyone?

Slice of Life2I am participating in #SOL18. Thanks to the twowritingteachers blog for providing a space where writers and readers can congregate to learn about each other, forge new friendships, and publish their writing.

The weekend before the big snow, we picked up my sister and brother-in-law and traveled another forty minutes to Glenn Mills, Pennsylvania for brunch. We had never been to Terrain Garden Cafe before, but my sister had heard about it on a t.v. segment that reviewed where to eat in and around Philadelphia. The unique eatery is a BYOB that features a seasonal menu of local organic meals. Terrain 2

We entered the large parking area — busy — a good sign. Then we walked through an interesting gift shop filled with a variety of items such as soap, honey, terrariums, benches carved from tree trunks, orchids, jewelry, and woolen blankets and lap warmers. Much more… we would return to browse and shop on the way out.

The restaurant was housed in a converted greenhouse with long braided mats strategically hung in several spots above – probably to keep out some of the sunlight. Our waiter was knowledgeable, attentive, (just the right amount), and genuinely warm. We noticed that servers did not wear uniforms. They dressed comfortably, adding to the relaxed, homey feeling. Terrain 3

My husband and I ordered the mushroom soup – thick and delicious. I quickly realized that I would not need the salad. Bread was served in a terracotta flower pot – wonderful!  My sister had French toast with caramel apples and walnuts, slices of thickly-cut bacon cooked to perfection.  We all shared a lemon pudding with a wonderful raspberry sorbet. If you are a coffee lover, this place is for you – a special bar with practically any kind of coffee drink your heart desires – hot or cold. Instead of coffee, I enjoyed a pear spritzer that certainly would be great on a summer day, too.

When our waiter came with the bill, it was tucked inside a paperback book about birds.  How delightful!  We learned that servers each carried a paperback book of their choosing. Another unique thing about this restaurant.Terrain Cafe

After we ate, we shopped. I left Terrain with two-minute journals, some soaps, and a lap warmer covered with deer, moose, and ferns for Diane and Willie’s cabin in Maine. My sister had spied it, too, and had not seen me pick it up. When I presented it to her in the car, she and Willie laughed. “I went back for it and told Willie I should have bought it right then before brunch. It was the only one, and I was so disappointed when it was gone.”  I laughed, too. Do I know my little sister?

What a wonderful place to shake off the winter blues!  But it is not a place just for wintertime. We will return in April to eat and to buy plants for our spring gardens in their other greenhouse opposite the gift shop (actually a greenhouse, not a restaurant!). What more could we ask for — a simple outing to enjoy some time together!


Remembering Dad

I am Slice of Life2participating in #SOL2018. Thanks to the twowritingteachers blog team for their hard work and dedication to this annual March event. Slice of Life provides all of us with a wonderful writing community – a chance to write, read, and respond to others. 

This week I received a notice from the City of Philadelphia about three outstanding parking tickets that dated back to 1994.  They were tickets my dad had acquired, but not really.  Sounds like my dad – parking illegally and ignoring the tickets. Or he would have asked me to pay the fines. Or he would have asked me for money for something else, and then would have paid the fines.

But in 1994, my dad was 87 years old and not driving anymore. He did still own a car, or maybe one too many. My dad always had a fleet of used cars. A neighbor would sometimes make conversation by asking Dad if he was a car salesman or manager of a used cars lot. But no. He sold insurance and real estate and for a long time, had a little office in the 6900 block of Ogontz Avenue where my mom forbade us to visit.

Getting back to the tickets….Well, here it is 2018 and I’m going to have to drive downtown to take care of the tickets. I will have to bring a death certificate to prove my dad passed away in November 1997. I cannot mail it; I have to go in person. Really?

How did he get those tickets?  I can only surmise that he let one of his many “friends” (that is not what I would have called them) borrow his car. I do not remember what make or model it was, the color, and certainly not the license plate number. But I am almost certain it was Tony, who borrowed Dad’s car and, of course, did not care where he parked since he wasn’t going to have to pay the tickets. No, ultimately that task would fall to me.

Once again, it is my problem, falling squarely into my lap. Thank you, Dad. But really, I am not surprised or disappointed or angry. In fact, I am smiling as I write this. He was quirky and often did not know how to step up to the plate and play the fatherly role. But he had a funny sense of humor, loved animals the way I do, made a great corned beef and cole slaw sandwich on Russian black bread or rye, and sang songs with my mom (Dad did the harmony) all the way to Coopersburg each Sunday where we had dinner with my mom’s parents. And he loved when we addressed his birthday card envelopes with “Daddy”.

Dad loved us, and we loved him. We miss him. He was our dad.  So these parking tickets?  They made me remember Dad and all the crazy things he did and all the good things, too.   It’s just another Dad story I have to tell, so I’m actually grateful.

LBI 2011 (85)


Book Review: Brave Clara Barton

slice-of-life2Thanks to the twowritingteachers community for #SOL18 and the opportunity to share our writing and respond to others. Such a wonderful experience! I am gathering so many ideas here – something to look forward to each morning!


Frank Murphy’s latest Step Into Reading biography is a cradle to grave story about Clara Barton. Frank, a sixth grade teacher in Council Rock School District in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, loves the research behind a good story. Frank tells us of Clara’s shyness on the very first page, in part, because she spoke with a lisp.  He shows us how all her family members taught her something different and important.

Clara became a teacher of a one-room schoolhouse in New Jersey.  The school grew to be big, and Clara wanted to become principal, but the position was given to a man instead. When the Civil War began, Clara helped injured soldiers on the battlefield, even though many Clara Bartonmen felt women had no place there.

Frank shows the power of writing in this book. Clara wrote letters to friends in the North to ask for more supplies when they were running dangerously low.  After the war, Clara conducted a letter campaign to help families find relatives who were missing. It is amazing that she received over 63,00 letters asking for her help, and more amazing that she answered each and every one!

I learned so much about a courageous woman who overcame her shyness to serve humanity until she was almost ninety. It was Clara who helped to organize the American Red Cross after returning from Europe where she worked with the International Red Cross. Our students need to hear about people who work to make a difference in this world.

Today, we’re celebrating women around the world who have worked for change.  Read a book or poem or news article today to raise awareness for International Women’s Day,  this March 8, 2018. Thank you, Clara Barton, for your raw courage and your ability to imagine the possibilities to live a full life, breathing more courage into the world and tackling big problems!  Thank you, Frank, for giving us another biography about a woman who reminds us what human beings are capable of when they take some risks and pluck up their courage!

Follow the link to watch a video clip where I give an on-the-spot book review at Saturday’s PAWLPday Conference.


Stating the Obvious

Slice of Life2Thanks to the twowritingteachers blog team for sponsoring this marvelous Slice of Life experience (#SOL18).

Sometimes, when we are writing a narrative, an opinion, or an informational piece, we need to state the obvious. There are many reasons an author may choose to do this. For example, if it is a place where the author wants to move quickly (no exploded moment here), she may “tell rather than show”.  Good writing is a balance. When you show your readers instead of tell your readers, you are slowing things down. When you tell, you can speed things up. I like to use The Mysteries of Harris Burdick or calendar pictures to give student writers the opportunity to practice this craft move.

Start with some mentor texts. Read the beginning of Always Inventing: The True Story of Thomas Alva Edison by Frank Murphy. Explain that sometimes authors state the obvious. The year was 1847. The winter was cold and snowy. The place was a little town in Ohio.  Here is another example from Brave Clara Barton by Frank Murphy: The Civil War started. It was a war inside the United States – the North against the South.

I love this example from Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli: The kids cheered. Somebody ran for a ball. They were anxious for more. Sometimes, in writing a story you need to describe something.  Many times, you will show not tell, using lots of words to get your readers to see pictures in their mind.  Other times, it is just okay to tell the reader. Explore when that is appropriate with your writers after you have tried it out in some of your own notebook entries.

I often use the black-and-white paintings in The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg. They are all wonderful. Choose one to place under a document camera such as “Under the Rug” and then state the obvious. Chart your description for the class. You can also ask your students to help you. Here is my list:

The table is covered with a white cloth.
A big lump is under the rug.
The man held a chair over his head.
The light reflected in the man’s glasses.

My example for students includes several photos from Niagara Falls.

The Hornblower edged closer and closer to the Horseshoe Falls. I was holding onto the rail, water spraying on my face, drenching my hair.  I could barely see Ralph taking pictures as water dripped from my lashes and small rivulets ran down my forehead and cheeks. We were somewhat wet for most of our Niagara Falls vacation!

Ask students to write one sentence in their writer’s notebook for several Van Allsburg pictures, working with a partner to state the obvious. Or use calendar pictures. I have a huge collection because the pictures are great to spark topics to write about as well as help students work on the art of description. You could also hang a copy of each drawing from Van Allsburg’s book around the classroom. Give students sentence strips and place their sentences under the drawings. Students can do a “gallery walk” to read the sentences around the room with their partners. Then they can return to their notebooks to write again, if there is time. When they are finished, they can return to a piece of writing and find a place where they can try to do the same thing.

At the end of workshop time, ask several students to share the work they did. Create an anchor chart to think about why an author might use this strategy, “stating the obvious.”

  • It’s the BIG idea or aha moment – just tell it!
  • It is in a place where the story needs to move quickly (telling, not showing).
  • It helps the reader quickly share background (as in the case with Murphy’s stories about Thomas Edison and Clara Barton).
  • The writer just wrote a lengthy description about something else – so he follows with a short description next.
  • To make something seem small and unimportant on purpose (a character description to show what one character is thinking or feeling about another character).

Planning Narratives with Storyboards

slice-of-life2Many thanks to the twowritingteachers blog team for creating this wonderful community of writers. Slice of Life every March is challenging and rewarding. This year I hope to post on Tuesdays with the Slice of Life writers who continue to “hang out” together year round!

Once you hit on a great idea for a story, getting it in the right sequence is a helpful step.  This is where the storyboard comes in.  Television and movie makers as well as cartoonists use this method to create wonderful stories! This same strategy can work for kids, too!

Fold sheets of paper, work with a grid, or use sticky notes. After you read a picture book, ask the writing community to help you plot the story in storyboard form. Then find an idea for a story in your writer’s notebook as a web or brainstormed list.  In front of your students, create a storyboard for it by using sketches to introduce the main characters and setting, the problem of your story, the actions that create your plot, and the resolution.

Teach your young writers to use stick figures to quickly show character movements and plot details.  Use a pencil here – erasing is allowed!  That way you can move things around and change them if necessary.  Some students covered squares with sticky notes to revise frames or added notes to themselves such as “show not tell” or “explode this moment” to use as reminders while composing. Some writers change their storyboards during the writing process and others wait to make changes in their drafts.

Storyboard Fourth Grade Bullies

The point is, writing is recursive, not linear. Writers can revise as early as the planning stage, or they can revise as they create their first drafts. Some writers like to get everything on paper before they begin to revise. There is no “correct” way because writing processes vary by individual writers. Each writer may adjust his process to fit the genre or form he is using. So it is possible to create very differently when you are writing an essay than when you are writing a poem.

The frames here are storyboards from third graders in Brenda Krupp’s class at Franconia Elementary School.  They wrote individually and collaboratively to create narratives around social justice issues. The students began this journey by reading and discussing a text set of picture books of their choice (Brenda created about seven different sets for them) to provide some background and food for thought. These writers all agreed that they would use storyboarding again to help them plan their narratives.

Writing Script/Dialogue

Thanks to twowritingteachers blog team for this Slice of Life experience each March and every Tuesday throughout the year. Fabulous!


Lynne: Michelle, is that you?  slice-of-life2

Michelle: Lynne?!

Lynne: I can’t believe it! I almost didn’t recognize you with your hair in foils.  How are you? I think it’s been twenty years!

Michelle: My daughter’s getting married tomorrow. I can’t believe my youngest daughter is getting married. Time goes by so quickly.

Lynne: (nodding) A blink of the eye. Oh, Michelle! A June wedding…how wonderful! And the weather prediction for this weekend calls for sunny skies. How many kids, Michelle?

Michelle: Five girls. Tara is my oldest.

Lynne: I remember Tara. She was in diapers the last time I saw her. How’s your husband?

Michelle: Poor Darren died a year ago. Heart attack.

Lynne: Oh, I’m so sorry, Michelle. I lost my husband, too. Divorce…a bad one.

Michelle: That’s too bad. How are you handling it?

Lynne: I actually have a boyfriend. I think he may ask me to marry him before the year is out. He’s a lawyer and very busy lately. Sometimes, a week goes by before we can get together. But it’s so great when we are together. I think we are soulmates!

Michelle: I met someone two months ago. Tara adores him, and he is giving her away.

Lynne: Oh, I’d love to meet him. Maybe we could double date some time….like we did in college.

Michelle: Well, he should be here in an hour to pick me up. (The door to the beauty salon opens. A tall, very handsome man waves at Michelle and smiles.) Oh, there he is now. Honey, come meet a long lost friend.

Lynne: (Looking up from the magazine she is holding) Sean?

Michelle & Lynne (simultaneously): Michelle? Lynne?




Creating a Character

Nell is a very large woman with boxy shoulders and large hips. She’s not unattractive; her auburn hair is thick and silky, but usually dangles in one long braid down her back. She wears jackets with fringed sleeves, blue jeans, and beautiful leather boots. And yes, a pair of fancy silver spurs, a large hat, and a loosely tied bandana around her neck.

Nell’s hands are calloused from ranch work. She mends fences, stacks hay and straw bales in the barn loft, and mucks twenty stalls each day. Her nails are long and painted a ruby red, her favorite color.  She is able to protect her perfectly tapered nails from breaking by wearing gloves while chores are done.

Green eyes flash as she talks, and every once in awhile, she will light up a Marlboro… but not too often. She prides herself in eating right – never any sweets and never any soda pop. Occasionally, she will drink a beer or down a shot of whiskey, but everything in moderation. Nell plans to be around for a long time. Why, her dear mother and father both lived to be one hundred!

Nell is tanned a deep brown by long hours spent in the warm Kansas sun. Right now, she is sitting in the trailer of a young rodeo rider, and if we listen closely to the conversation, we realize the rider is her youngest daughter Lizzie. We learn that Lizzie raises quarter horses and often sells them as cutting horses and even show horses. She’s sad right now because Nell is sharing news –  she’s going to ask Lizzie’s father for a divorce. The shock on Lizzie’s face tells us that this news is totally unexpected. “Why?” Lizzie asks.

“Ask your father. ” Nell replies.


Thanks to the twowritingteachers blog team and this writing community for providing us with an opportunity to share our writing with educators across the country. The Slice of Life March challenge to write and post every day always inspires me to take some risks. I learn so much. Thank you!