Mentor Text Wednesdays: Infographics!


Mentor Text: See Learnist board 

Genre-Based Workshop: Infographics

Technique-Based Workshop: Using visuals as evidence in writing

Background: We usually study mentor texts in isolation, but sometimes it can be useful to show students a group, or cluster, of mentor texts all at once.

Studying a group of genre-specific mentor texts helps students identify the traits of that genre. Studying a group of craft-specific mentor texts help students understand how certain techniques work across a variety of genres. Rebekah recently wrote about using a cluster of mentor texts to think about purpose and audience.

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Writing Our Way Into Critical Thinking

Way back one month ago, I made some resolutions for my classes. Among them was a switch-up that would turn the Quick Write into a broader Notebook Time — giving my students lots of varied opportunities to play with words in different ways.

In short, switching things up has been invigorating for my students. I no longer hear a low groan reverberate throughout the classroom when “Quick Write”  appears on the board. In itself, that feels like victory.

By far, their favorite way to spend Notebook Time — and the way that has proven most profitable — is playing with raw data.

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Writers Have Plans: Using Next Lists to Build Writing Lives

Last night I tossed and turned, hunting for an idea for this week’s post.

This morning at the breakfast table, a steaming cup of coffee beside me, I scan through a Google folder labeled “Blog To Do List.” Rebekah and I created this file months ago, preloading it with ideas for future entries. I feel myself begin to relax as I consider the possibilities. I am grateful for these plans.

Penny Kittle has said that “readers have plans.” Students keep to-read-next lists in their notebooks, recording titles, authors, and genres they want to delve into as soon as they finish their current read. Kittle writes that the next list is a “critical” component in her “teaching and organizing towards independence for students” (64).

I love this concept. It’s simple yet powerful, and it works for writers, too. Encouraging students to make long-term writing plans is one of those things that distinguishes teachers of writing from teachers of writers.

Writers have plans.

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Mentor Text Wednesday: Using Pixar’s Up to Teach Scene and Summary


Mentor Text: Up. Dir. Pete Docter. Pixar, 2009.

Story is the lifeblood of all good writing. But students don’t realize its power until they are explicitly shown how it works across all genres of writing.

An editorial tells the story of an issue. A memoir tells the story of a life. An analysis tells the story of how something works.

Students needs ways of talking about story before they recognize it as a powerful tool for all kinds of writing. Continue reading

A Lesson for Tomorrow: Layering Annotations for Richer Writing

As my IB seniors approach their exams — not to mention college life — I want to take these last months of teachable moments to take what they are already doing well and build on it. Push them deeper. Expel the idea that there is ever an “enough” point in their thinking and writing.

In their writing, my students often quit after presenting the first smart thing they have to say about a particular piece of textual evidence. And they do write smart, persuasive ideas. But then they stop. I want them to probe more deeply, searching for multiple layers of nuance, contradiction, and sophistication in the text.

To visually demonstrate the “more” that I keep asking for, I had my students bring a passage of significance from In Pharaoh’s Army, the text we are currently studying.  Students studied the passage and crafted a commentary on it. Rather than spending my time underlining anemic explanations in their papers, I asked them to return to class the next day with another, blank copy of the same passage on which they had just written.

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Responding to the Writer, Not the Writing

Lucy Calkins’ wisdom about teaching the writer (and not the writing) continues to reverberate decades after the publication of her book The Art of Teaching Writing. Yet many of us do not teach in a way that promotes writers. I know because I was one of them.

In the past, I taught writing one composition at a time, units with finite beginnings and endings. Each stack of papers collected was an island…I gave little thought to how one student’s paper fit into the larger scheme of her writing. Students received grades and feedback, and we moved on without much reflection. I taught writing in this way because I didn’t know any better. I had good intentions, but I didn’t know another way.

Until two years ago when a colleague put Penny Kittle’s Write Beside Them into my hands, and reintroduced me to Don Graves and writing workshop through Penny’s work.

Writing workshop changed everything. It refocused my teaching and convinced me that teaching writing–even teaching writing well–is not enough. We have to teach writers.

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Mentor Text Wednesday: An Article About Peyton Manning to Teach Supporting Evidence

MentorTextWednesdayMentor Text:  “Better With Age” by Chris B. Brown. 30 January 2014.

Writing Technique: Supporting an argument with evidence


Truth be told, I am not a sporty girl. Athletic metaphors in the writing classroom do not come naturally to me. Thus, whenever I see one of my favorite cultural institutions write about sports, I jump on it. Because while I am not athletically-inclined, this is the native tongue of many of my students. Examples of smart sports writing can often be a persuasive mentor for these students — an entry point through which they can connect more deeply with their own writing.

Students need to be able to support an argument with evidence in many different writing genres.  In a traditional literary analysis essay, in an editorial, in a persuasive appeal, even in a memoir, students’ ideas require support. However, they often have trouble understanding what evidence looks like on the page.

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