InstaPoetry: a Unit of Writing Study with Resources


Recently, I was wandering around a Target while my daughter was at Girl Scouts, and I was amazed to find six (six!) collections of poetry in the book section! Poetry! At Target! I was so moved that I took a picture and Tweeted,

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I suppose what moves me is that I don’t think it’s coincidental that we are at an unprecedented moment of social and political unrest and uprising (and renewal?) in this country and suddenly Rupi Kaur is a New York Times bestselling poet and collections of poetry are for sale to the masses at Target.

It seems poetry has gone mainstream, at least in part, because we constantly swim in a current of excess language. There seems to be some kind of universal agreement that it’s time to pare down. To distill talk until it’s just truth.

Poetry has been a bit out of vogue in education over the last few years. At least in Virginia, poetry is not longer found on state tests. So unless students take an AP or IB literature course, reading poetry has been largely erased from most classrooms. After all, why invest valuable instructional time on a cognitively challenging genre on which students won’t be tested?

Of course, we all know better. Of course, we must do better.

Rupi Kaur , r.h.sin, Amanda Lovelace, and the other poets whose collections can be purchased at airport newspaper stands write in sound bytes and Instagram posts. Their poems can often feel more like an inspirational coffee mug than classic verse. And while I don’t think that Cyrus Parker should replace Seamus Heaney, Instagram poets can open the gate for our students into a bigger world of reading and writing poetry.

So, why not create a unit of study around Instapoets — reading them, analyzing their writing, contemplating what makes them so popular, and then creating our own (hopefully viral) Instapoems.

A Unit Map:

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Newsletters – My New One-Stop Mentor Text Shop

Finding mentor texts can be hard. And time consuming.  This, we know.

Even after years of making mentor texts the fulcrum on which the rest of my writing instruction pivots, finding the right set of texts for the students in front of me can be a challenge. In Writing With Mentors, Allison and I share a list of our go-to sources for mentor texts of all kinds — a list that continues to grow and evolve as we read and teach.

But recently, I’ve discovered a whole new kind of mentor text repository. And one that comes straight to my inbox. Email newsletters.

Email newsletters — the “modern day version of the ‘newspaper on your front porch’” —  are on the rise, and there are thousands of them, appealing to every topic and audience imaginable. In this over-saturated age of digital content, the email newsletter feels almost old-fashioned, quaint, friendly. Instead of sifting through all of the Internet, newsletter editors carefully pick, choose, and sort through the noise for you, giving you the best-of-the-best as quickly as possible. It’s like a juicy email from your best friend sharing a bunch of articles she just knew you’d love. 

How’s that for “current, engaging mentor texts”?  

While you can quickly and easily get your news digested for you in popular newsletters like the Daily Pnut and The Skimm, English teachers can strategically subscribe to an array of newsletters that make our job easier by sending a quick-and-dirty round up of standout articles and essays. This has been a true innovation in my planning life. Why?

  • Email newsletters are already curated. While I still fish for mentor texts on my favorite haunts, it’s a treat to have a list of articles & essays come to me already vetted. It’s like having a part-time mentor text assistant.
  • Newsletters get me outside of my favorite haunts.  The Internet is so deep and so wide that no matter how wonderful my favorite sites are, I am bound to miss things. Newsletters have a tendency to push my own reading boundaries, introducing me to new sites and new writers that I might not otherwise encounter. Some of these make it to my favorites list and become a regular stream of mentor texts.
  • Newsletters can provide a launching pad for building a cluster of texts. On occasion, a newsletter will give you a cluster of mentor texts in an single issue. But, more often, the Internet wormholes I get pulled into — a new site full of amazing content, a prolific new writer, similar articles Tweeted by a particular writer — help me build new mentor text clusters of exciting material for students.  
  • No pressure. If I am having a particularly frantic day when one of my newsletters rolls in, I can easily press delete, clear my inbox, and move forward. But if I’m looking for a five-minute break or waiting for an appointment, I have available food for thought.  Newsletters give me the flexibility to read (or not read!) when I am ready.

So which newsletters? What kind of mentor texts? Here are a few of my favorites along with a mentor text or two I picked up from them just this week!

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 10.28.44 AMFiveThirtyEight’s Significant Digits

From the data journalism hub of, comes this daily newsletter. I use this source for raw data mentor texts fit for Notebook Time. One I’m sharing with my students this week:

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I’m predicting stories about the world’s oldest people, poems about aging, and musings on the reliability of birth certificates!

What We’re Reading

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Excerpt from the May 17, 2016 What We’re Reading Newsletter

Allison and I often say that if were stranded on an island and could only use one source for mentor texts for the rest of our lives, we’d save The New York Times. This newsletter is compiled by writers for the Times!

Twice a week (usually on Tuesday/Wednesday and Friday), the Times staff pulls together a list of five favorite articles they are reading from other writers in other outlets. These texts run the gamut of journalism on the web, and there is constantly something surprising to be found.

The What We’re Reading newsletter just directed me to this article (that I wouldn’t have otherwise found) on the BBC: “India’s Dying Mother”, a moving article about pollution in the Ganges river.  You have to click that link and look at this article if for no other reason than the stunning way  images, graphics, shifting maps, and online scrolling are used as evidence to support and push the story forward. Using images as evidence, not just decoration, is a lesson I revisit often with my students. I’m filing this away for next year!

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 10.34.08 AMThe Ringer

The Ringer is a newsletter that soon promises to become a full-fledged website, edited by Grantland (RIP) guru Bill Simmons.  Touting the same smart, incisive commentary as its predecessor, The Ringer sends a handful of full-length original articles your way a few times a week — primarily stellar sports and pop culture writing of all kinds.

Just this week, The Ringer sent me three original articles that could each be used in a study of analytical writing in my classroom: “Steph Curry vs. Kevin Durant Is the Western Conference Finals Duel We Deserve”, “Game of Thrones’ Baptisms by Fire” and “Meghan Trainor and the Limits of #Flawlessness”.  The Ringer is a must-read for the mentor text savvy teacher.

LitHub Daily

Touted as the “best of the literary Internet”, LitHub Daily may well be the only newsletter you need.  Through this newsletter, my eyes have been opened about how much authentic, real world writing about literature exists — Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 10.35.42 AMand the many ways this can speak to students’ experiences writing analysis of literature.  LitHub Daily pulls from all of the Internet as well as its own site, full of delicious and unusual ponderings about books.

Next year, I’ll use this piece from The New Yorker on “What Makes an Essay American” with my seniors when we study Annie Dillard and craft our own ruminating essays.  I’ll use “Searching For Salvation in Charlotte Bronte’s Villette as a mentor text for showing my students how deep, analytical writing can meld personal experience and literature.

Brain Pickings

This newsletter offers “the week’s most unmissable articles across creativity, psychology, art, science, design, philosophy, and other facets of our search for meaning.” Brain Pickings highlights more long-form articles and boasts beautiful design –Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 10.36.06 AM– incorporating images and illustrations into its weekly newsletter.  This is a source through which I often become lost for hours, clicking here and there as one discovery leads to the next.

In last week’s newsletter,  I was introduced to W.H. Auden’s Commonplace Book, which I promptly purchased as a mentor text for potential commonplace-book-making next year with my students! Creating a similar piece would be a wonderful synthesis activity for them across a single text or multiple texts! Or, perhaps, we could add elements of a commonplace book to our writer’s notebooks. See? My brain is already churning.


Email newsletters have the potential to totally change your mentor text game — giving you  wider scope and greater variety without ever leaving your email!  Do you subscribe to email newsletters? What are your favorites! Let’s swap! Leave a comment below, or Tweet me @RebekahOdell1, or continue the conversation with us on Facebook!

Happy New Year from Moving Writers!

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2015 was a momentous year for us at Moving Writers: we published a book with Heinemann, and collected over 52,000 views on our blog!

This is all thanks to you, dear readers, for your support, your questions, and your continued interest and enthusiasm in our work. As a thank you, we are reposting our top five posts of 2015!

#1 So I quit grading… | October 2015

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In this post, Rebekah shares the story of her brave experimentation with doing away with grades altogether in her upper-level IB English class. She shares what she does in lieu of a traditional grading system, some student feedback, and the results so far. She promises another post in 2016 once she has gone gradeless for a full school year!

#2 Thinking about Mentor Texts for Literary Analysis | April 2015

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This post explores the problem of needing to teach literary analysis in a world in which literary analysis doesn’t really exist (outside academia). The solution: authentic mentor texts! In this post, we share our approach to culling mentor texts for teaching literary analysis. We cover mini mentor texts and whole mentor texts pulled from sources like The New Yorker and A.V. Club that highlight the skills our students need to write literary analysis in smart pop culture reviews.

#3 Mentor Texts for the First Week of School | July 2015


This summer we compiled posts that explored the use of mentor texts during the first few days of school. In this post you’ll find simple one-day activities for kicking off the year as well as a more in-depth project called The American Teenager Project that will move you into the first writing workshop study while teaching all of the procedures and habits your students will need for a successful year of writing.

#4 Writing Workshop Workflow: A System for Tracking Student Progress | October 2015

Submission Form

Submission Form

In this post we share a way of tracking student progress and collecting work during a unit of study using both digital and paper media.  This post contains lots of goodies — a code for tracking student progress, conference summary sheets, writing study cover sheets, and more templates to make your life easier and your workshop smoother!

#5 A Different Way to Teach Literary Analysis: A Literature-Based Analysis Study | May 2015

In this post we share a literature-based analysis study built on the poems of Seamus Heaney. This project offers a rich and exciting way of incorporating analysis into your classroom: analysis of a text, analysis of a writer’s choices, analysis of one’s own writing. The best part? No boring literary analysis essays in sight!

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Two years ago, when Rebekah and I decided to form our own two-person PLC, we had no idea it would lead us HERE. But every day we shared resources, brainstormed together, and wrote about our work.

If we could give you, our readers, anything it would be the gift of a PLC. Kick off 2016 by forming your own microPLC. Share this post with a colleague or two and commit to trying new idea in January. Then write about it!

As always, please let us know if there are topics or questions you would like us to explore at Moving Writers in the new year — leave us a comment below, find us on Facebook, or connect with us on Twitter (@rebekahodell1 and @allisonmarchett). We have been working on some exciting changes and additions to the blog for 2016 and are anxious to share them with you. Stay tuned for some amazing guest posts, a blog series, and more!


Allison & Rebekah

Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 2.56.21 PMLike what you’ve read here? Check out our new book, just published by Heinemann, Writing With Mentors: How to Reach Every Writer in the Room Using Current, Engaging Mentors Texts. (Available here and here and here — wherever your holiday gift card takes you.)

What Happens at NCTE Doesn’t Stay at NCTE

This weekend Rebekah and I travelled to Minneapolis for the NCTE Annual Convention. For the past 96 hours we have been immersed in the world of language arts, and while we’re exhausted and our backpacks are overstuffed, our brains and hearts are full and we just can’t shut up about NCTE.

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Rebekah and me at our first book signing!

We can’t stop processing and thinking and imagining and reading and cracking open everything we learned this weekend. As I draft this post on our flight home, Rebekah sits next to me reading Colleen Cruz’s (@colleen_cruz) Independent Writing (we feel so lucky to have met this rock star this weekend!) and making lists in her notebook.  When we get home later, we will hug our children tight and linger in mommyhood as long as we can – and when our babies are in bed we’ll most likely subject our poor husbands to a rehashing of everything NCTE. When we see our department members in the morning, everything we learned over the weekend will bubble up again. The joy and energy and brilliance and collaboration and creativity and thinking that occurs over a 96 hour period will continue to feed our planners, our notebooks, and our teaching souls for hours and days and weeks and months until we head to Atlanta next year. What happens at NCTE doesn’t stay at NCTE, and it’s a beautiful thing.

Whenever I leave a professional development experience I take a few minutes to describe the things that really stood out to me over the course of the conference. There’s so much good stuff that you don’t want to fall through the mental sieve. I find the following three categories helpful—things I can do in my classroom tomorrow; ideas I want to write about; ideas I want to let marinate—in making the most of what I learned at the conference.

NCTE Feeds My Planner, or Five Things I Can Do In My Classroom Tomorrow

  1. Kelly Gallagher (@kellygtogo) begins each writing unit with a several days of low-stakes writing to help students generate ideas. He uses infographics to inspire and motivate his students.
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    An infographic to inspire writing during Notebook Time!

    Here are a few infographics he shared with us that I plan to use during notebook time over the next few weeks.

  1. Georgia Heard (@georgiaheard1) knows how to get her students to revise so their writing sounds more like them. One phrase she uses to help students add detail to their writing is, “What’s the picture you have in your mind? Just say it to me, as you would say it to a friend.” I am definitely using this strategy in conferences tomorrow!
  2. Donna Santman (@dsantman) helps her readers talk about what they are reading by offering them different ways of thinking and questions for each part of the plot. Once students understand the basic narrative arc, and can describe where they are in a book, they can ask various questions to help raise the sophistication of their reading. For example, in the exposition, students might ask “Who’s here, how are they connected, and what are they like?” But during the rising action, students might ask, “What’s the trouble? What are the obstacles? How do the characters deal with them?”
  1. Dan Feigelson (@danfeigelson) leads his students to deeper thinking about what they are reading with revision lessons. After a read aloud of a few pages, Dan asks his students to jot down what they are thinking at this point in the book. Then he reads a few more pages, asks them to draw a line under that initial thinking, and invites them to jot down more: Has your idea changed at all? Do you want to add anything to your idea? Do you want to delete any part of your idea? This simple activity reminds readers that revision isn’t just for writers – it can be a powerful tool for comprehending what we read and developing increasingly more complex understandings about characters, plot, and theme. Below is another way of visualizing this activity:
My 1st idea How my idea changed and why

NCTE Feeds My Writer’s Notebook, Or Things I Want to Do Some Writing About in the Near Future

  •      Ralph Fletcher (@fletcherralph) talked about the revision dynamic between editors/writers and teachers/writers. He suggested that teachers should be more like editors in that teachers make suggestions, but students have the ultimate ownership over the writing and should not be penalized for leaving something the teacher advised he take out, for example. On the contrary, a writer must be willing to let go of a narrow interpretation of his own story to make room for others’. This realization may pull the writer away from his original draft.
  •      When planning for lessons, Penny Kittle (pennykittle) asks herself these three questions to help her prioritize her teaching. What are my answers to these questions?
    • What is essential?
    • What is important?
    • What is nice to know?

NCTE Feeds my Teaching Soul: Big Ideas I Want to Let Marinate

  •      Brian Sweeney (@mrsweeneynyc) admitted that he does his best teaching after school, in his school’s elective journalism class. Here he truly guides students through the writing process and they write for authentic audiences. He wondered how we can bring the journalism culture into our English classrooms—how can we all do this?
  •      Georgia Heard suggested that all writing is revision. How can we reframe writing as revision for students? How might this change the shape and sequence of our minilessons?
  •      Kelly Gallagher reminded us that the best teacher in the world (Nancie Atwell!) doesn’t grade individual papers. She grades portfolios and looks at the students’ learning over a period of time. How can I bring this practice into my school? How can I convince my administrators of the power of feedback over grades? How can I communicate to the parents of my students with written progress reports rather than letter grades and numbers?

These are just a few of the big and small ideas that are spinning around in my head. I promised my husband I’d take a little break from teaching on Thanksgiving, and I will—but there’s always Black Friday for this work! 🙂

Were you at NCTE? If so, what were your big takeaways? Or if you attended another PD conference this year, what are those ideas still swimming around in your head? Leave a comment on the blog, on Facebook, or say hi on Twitter (@allisonmarchett @rebekahodell1 ).

Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 2.56.21 PMWRITING WITH MENTORS, HEINEMANN

September 2015

Available on Amazon or Heinemann!

If you’re in town on April 30…

On Thursday, April 30, Rebekah and I are presenting at the Central Virginia Writing Project’s Spring Writing Mini-Conference at the University of Virginia. We will be talking about using mentor texts (surprise!) and also about our experience of turning our teaching ideas into a blog and eventually a book.

If you attend one of our sessions, you will be entered into a raffle to win a free copy of our book due out in September!

Win a free copy of our book!

Win a free copy of our book!

Below are the descriptions of our presentations:

Session 1: Using Mentor Texts From Planning to Publication

Presenters: Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell

Audience:  9-12      Room: Ruffner 206

Classroom teachers and new Heinemann authors, Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell will share how to use multiple, current, engaging mentor texts to reach every writer in the room. They will show how mentor texts inspire and instruct students through every stage of the writing process, from planning to publication.

 Session 2: Turning Teaching Ideas into Publications

Presenters: Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell

Audience: Teachers K-12       Room: Ruffner 206

Authors Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell, will share their experiences turning their teaching practices into a blog and then a published book with ideas about how teachers can do the same. They will give suggestions for ways to take a seat at the English Ed table and join a bigger professional conversation through writing and speaking.

We will be presenting alongside some amazing speakers, including the keynote speaker Dr. Natasha Henry, whose talk is titled “Beyond Tradition: Reconsidering Writing Instruction and Student Writers.”

Click here for more information about the mini-conference and registration materials.

Mentor Text Round-Up: Year-End Lists

As I’ve trolled my Twitter feed in the days after Christmas, it seems that everyone is publishing their year-end lists — bests, worsts, most-shockings, favorites. I started thinking about what a fun mini-study this could be, especially when we return to school at the beginning of a new year and the end of a first semester of school. As Allison reminded us last week, this time of year is ripe for reflection, and we could use this genre as form for our ruminations.

A year-end list seems simple enough, but when I started looking at them with a writer’s eye, I noticed that there are actually many opportunities for craft lessons embedded within this genre. Year-end lists require an incredible amount of synthesis and are useful in helping students draw — and write about — their conclusions on a topic. They require evidence and ask the writer to give a “so what?”

Digital year-end lists also often include interesting multimodal presentation pieces — video clips, images, playlists, and hyperlinking. What an interesting way for students to engage in this kind of thinking — what do these insertions add to the text? When does a video clip work better than a still image? How can hyperlinking extend their ideas through other texts?

Your students don’t have to compose year-end lists. They could work on favorite lists — favorite movies? Favorite sports moments? Favorite mentor texts they have used in their first semester writing?  What about a synthesized, annotated list of books they have read in the first semester? A top-ten of things they have learned during semester 1 — in your class or in all of their classes combined? My students may well work on lists of Most Important Things You Should Know After Maternity Leave. Or, save this mini-study for the end of the year — perhaps for their exam writing? As a way for them to present their own writing portfolio?

Here are seven mentor texts for your year-end list studies and a couple of their most interesting features:

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Resource Roundup: Using Evernote for Conferring

Over my years teaching in a writing workshop, I have developed scads of forms and charts in an attempt to track my conversations with students during reading and writing conferences. Binders. Whole-class charts. Individual student charts. You name it, I have spent hours in Excel creating it.

And, every year, by the spring, I have ditched it, relying on my memory and my students’ memory of what we discussed last time.

That sounds irresponsible, I know. And it probably is. While I appreciate putting the onus on my students for remembering where we left off, I should probably be 100% sure of that, too. So, I am spending some time this summer re-thinking the way I gather data on student reading and writing performance.

I’ve toyed with the idea of tracking conferences in Google Docs. Last year, Allison used Confer, which has some strengths and weaknesses. Right now, I am thinking of jumping on the Evernote bandwagon.

Here are some of the interesting things I am reading:

Using Evernote to Confer with Students from Two Writing Teachers

Student Conferences with Evernote and KustomNote from Miss Spink on Tech

Organize your @evernote account with @kustomnote from Purely Paperless

Conferring Tool #2: Evernote from The Together Group (This post talks about importing rubrics into Evernote for conferring and tagging individual students’ strengths and weaknesses!)

Conferring with Kustom Note from Ms. Pana Says


Do you have a favorite digital tool for managing conferences?  Brilliant tips for using Evernote that I should hear about? Leave a comment below or find us on Twitter @RebekahODell1 and @Allisonmarchett. 


Resource Roundup: Mentors for Teaching Satire & Humor Writing

When people ask me if I’m excited for summer, I sound my barbaric yawp over the schoolhouses of the world–but not for the reasons most suspect.

Don’t get me wrong: I love waking up to my own internal clock and sipping on my coffee slowly. I love having time to wade through all the house projects that fell on the back burner during the school year. I love talking extra long walks with my dog and watching him chase butterflies. I love swimming in the chilly lake waters of Maine as my husband fires up the grill.

But at the risk of sounding like a total teacher’s pet, I’m going to tell you one of the reasons I really love summer:

Summer provides ample time to reflect on my teaching practice, curate new resources, develop curriculum, and read all of those books stacked next to my bed.

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