Margin Notes

Craft Studio: Hunger by Roxane Gay


What I Was Reading:

Roxane Gay opens Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by telling us exactly what it isn’t:

“The story of my body is not a story of triumph. This is not a weight-loss memoir. There will be no picture of a thin version of me, my slender body emblazoned across this book’s cover with me standing in one of my former, fatter self’s jeans. This is not a book that will offer motivation, I don’t have any powerful insights into what it takes to overcome an unruly body and unruly appetites. Mine is not a success story. Mine is, simply, a true story.”

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

* Roxanne Gay takes a unique approach to introducing her memoir. Instead of attempting to capture the reader’s attention by indicating what she will discuss in the pages to follow, she states very clearly what she will not. She clearly defines what this memoir isn’t.

* She acknowledges and addresses what readers might be expecting of a traditional weight-loss memoir: motivation, insight, success. Each is ruled out explicitly.

* The image she creates of herself standing in one leg of her jeans to display how much weight she has lost is easy for the reader to imagine because it has become a cliché. She seems to be letting us know up front that if we think it is that kind of typical weight-loss memoir, we are terribly mistaken.

Possibilities for Writers:

* Students can discuss the impact of beginning a piece of writing by addressing the reader directly and tell them what their writing isn’t going to be. They can brainstorm a list of possibilities.

* Invite students to borrow Gay’s technique in a draft. For example:

-This restaurant review is not going to tell you how excellent the food is. Instead, it will describe the stellar service.

-This essay is not going to persuade you to vote for a particular candidate. This is essay is about why you should vote.

-Most memoirs are about a lesson learned. I’m going to tell you about a lesson taught.

Try This Tomorrow: Poetry Rx


On the Paris Review website, you’ll find a regular column called Poetry Rx. Here is the description from the site:

“In our column Poetry Rx, readers write in with a specific emotion, and our resident poets—Sarah Kay, Kaveh Akbar, and Claire Schwartz—take turns prescribing the perfect poems to match. This week, Claire Schwartz is on the line.”

The letters are emotional and honest and the recommendations are fascinating. The recommending poet also includes a description of why they made the selection and bits of analysis of the poem are woven into the response.

Not only is this interesting reading and a terrific source of poem suggestions, it would also be an engaging activity for students to undertake. They can recommend a poem to a literary character, historical figure, person in the news, or even an inanimate object and provide the reasons for their choice modelled after the originals.

Guest Writer Devin McLaughlin Recommends Wildcard by Marie Lu


Wildcard is the much-anticipated sequel to Marie Lu’s Warcross, a dystopian sci-fi novel set largely in the world of virtual reality. Wildcard begins almost immediately after the conclusion of Warcross, throwing the reader into a whirlwind of action, paranoia and technology. Emika Chen, our protagonist, is torn between the man she loves, Hideo Tanaka, with his controversial ambitions and the man she was initially hired to capture, Zero. Zero and his crew will stop at nothing to put a stop to Hideo Tanaka and his entire plan. Meanwhile, Emika finds herself as a target when someone puts a bounty on her head. This is just the beginning of the action-packed, adrenaline fueled adventure that serves as a worthy follow-up to the original.

In some ways I find myself torn with Wildcard. On one hand, the secondary characters take a bit of a backseat in this sequel. For example, a lot of what made Warcross compelling was the way Hideo’s character was established and later developed; readers would regularly be wondering what was going on in his mind and how his actions should be interpreted. Here, we see and hear very little from Hideo and unfortunately this simplifies Emika’s relationship with him in some ways. I found myself wondering why she still wanted to be associated with him. On the other hand, Marie Lu continues building Emika as an intelligent and skilled hacker/bounty hunter. We follow her through seemingly insurmountable situations that test her physical and emotional abilities, while further shedding light on her recklessness.

For students in upper middle school and high school, there is plenty to enjoy in Wildcard. As a true “sequel” it brings even more action, adventure, mystery, and intrigue. But where Wildcard truly excels is in its exploration of themes associated with online privacy, teamwork, the importance of free will and the responsibility that comes with having power over others. These are not only heavy issues in this book, but they play a role in the lives of youth today. As Emika determines where she stands on these issues, the reader follows along, likely challenging their own thoughts and perspectives. All in all, students who enjoyed Warcross will want to read Wildcard too, at the very least to conclude the story. Upon finishing it, they may find themselves thinking more about video games and social media and how those online platforms can affect the decisions we make in our day-to-day lives.

My name is Devin McLaughlin and I am a middle school Language Arts teacher at Harold Peterson Middle School in Oromocto, NB. I love reading and my favourite aspect of teaching is introducing students to new and exciting books and seeing their reactions as they make their way through them.

Try This Tomorrow- Taylor Mali’s Metaphor Dice


It’s all fun and games until someone writes a poem. Taylor Mali, who many teachers know from What Teachers Make, launched a KickStarter campaign to develop Metaphor Dice.

Each set of Metaphor Dice contains 12 dice: 4 red concept dice, 4 white adjective dice, and 4 blue object dice. Players are instructed to “Roll the dice until you formulate a metaphor that speaks to you, one that you think you could explore for a few minutes of writing.” There are options for playing alone and playing in a group.

We begin every literacy team meeting with a quick write and recently we decided to try out the dice. We each took a set, rolled once, and wrote for a few minutes off of the combination we got on the first try. Initially, I had no idea where time+backhanded bullseye would take me, but I ended up getting started on a piece of writing that I will return to because I ended up having lots to say. By stringing those three, seemingly unrelated words together, I found the seed of a writing piece that I probably would not have otherwise discovered.

Taylor Mali’s Metaphor Dice are a unique way to mine for writing idea and inspiration and to experiment with combinations of words.

Try This Tomorrow: Editing The Gray Lady


If you are not following Editing the Gray Lady (@nyt_diff) on Twitter, you are missing out on a never-ending source of mini-lesson ideas. This account tracks changes made to New York Times headlines during the editing/revision process.

There are so many options for using this resource in your classroom, from highlighting specific changes in mini-lessons about conventions, sentence structure, and word choice to inviting students to reflect on why specific changes were made and their impact on the overall effect.

Book Recommendation: Gmorning, Gnight! Little Pep Talks For Me & You by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Illustrated by Jonny Sun


Some of you know Lin-Manuel Miranda as the creator of Hamilton: The Musical, but if you follow him on Twitter, you will also be familiar with his Gmorning and Gnight tweets. Miranda has teamed up with author and illustrator Johnny Sun to compile some of his most popular tweets into this lovely collection.

The Introduction, appropriately written as a poem itself, tells the story of how the book came to be:


The greetings are sometimes flirtatious,

Or cheeky, or weirdly specific.

They’re pulled from my life or my brain or my thoughts,

Terrific’ly Twitter prolific.


I don’t have a book of quotations

Or wisdom I pull from my shelf;

Most often the greetings I wish you

Are the greetings I wish for myself.


So if I write “relax,” then I’m nervous,

Or if I write, “cheer up,” then I’m blue.

I’m writing what I wish somebody would say,

Then switching the pronoun to you.


Each double-page spread features a pairing of a Gmorning and a Gnight complemented by Sun’s illustrations. These short poems are witty, emotional, inspiring, and extremely relatable. This is the kind of collection you can read straight through or savor slowly over time. You can dip into it anywhere and get a quick fix of positivity.

Gmorning, Gnight! Is overflowing with possibilities for mini-lessons, craft studies, quick writes, and poems to read aloud for the sheer enjoyment of it.



Congratulations to Lori Jones-Clark and Sonja Wright for winning #ASDWReads for the month of December! Thank you for sharing your reading moments and we will have a book in the school mail for you ASAP.

If you would like to enter the next draw, just snap a picture of a book you read in January and post it on Twitter under #ASDWReads. We are looking forward to seeing what books you bought over the break!

Craft Studio: Why America Is Terrible At Making Biscuits


What I Was Reading:

When I saw the tweet from The Atlantic linking to an article called, Why Most of America is Terrible at Making Biscuits, I was intrigued. I have only attempted biscuit-making a few times and the results were always underwhelming. They never seemed to turn out as well as my dad’s, but I suspect the magic of his biscuits resides in a combination of the specific juice glass he used to cut them out after rolling them and my childhood nostalgia for them.

In this article, Amanda Mull describes her experiences as a Southerner transplanted to New York in search of a good biscuit. In her words, “With every dense, dry, flat, scone-adjacent clump of carbohydrates, I became more distressed.” Mull decides to take matters into her own hands. Using her mother’s recipe, Mull makes a batch of biscuits that turns out to be “just as terrible as all the other ones in New York.”

This passage describing her process caught my attention:

“In subsequent attempts, I tried everything I could think of to get it right. I worried about the buttermilk, so I bought an expensive bottle at the farmer’s market, which did nothing. I tried different fat sources, including butter and lard, which made small differences in flavor and texture but still resulted in a shape and density better suited for a hockey rink than a plate. I made sure all of my ingredients were ice-cold when I started mixing, which is a good tip in general, but did not fix my problem. I kneaded the dough more or less, made it wetter or drier. The only thing left was the flour, but I figured it couldn’t be that—wasn’t self-rising flour the same everywhere? We had just used grocery-store flour back home.”

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

* We often give writers feedback along the lines of “vary your sentence beginnings and endings” and “avoid repetition.” This is a terrific example of breaking those “school writing” rules for effect. This paragraph reads more like a list of all the possible solutions the author tried and their results. The repetition of “I” at the beginning reinforces the image of her trying one thing after another after another.

* Most of the sentences follow a similar pattern: I __________, detail, description of how the attempt failed. As I read, I noticed my own investment in this biscuit project growing with each disappointment. I wanted, as I’m sure Mull did, the next one to work. This series of sentences, each following a similar construction, underscores the attempts as a process of elimination.

Possibilities for Writers:

* Read this passage as a writer to notice and name interesting craft moves and discuss how they impact you as a reader.

* Examine one of the longer sentences and describe the role of the commas. Use the same structure to create an original sentence of your own.

* Organize a series of events or actions into a paragraph using similar repetition.

* Watch for other examples of effective repetition in your independent reading.

* As you read, find examples of writers breaking “school writing” rules and consider why they might have made those choices.