Margin Notes



We Will Rock Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins is the companion book to the #1 New York Times bestselling book We Don’t Eat Our Classmates. Penelope has returned as the only T-rex in her class who is (believe it or not) often overlooked.  Since learning that she could not eat her classmates, Penelope has made many friends at school.  However, being a T-rex, as you can imagine, makes it difficult for Penelope’s classmates to “see” her rather than the dinosaur. The thoughtful use of both traditional narrative text and speech bubbles will allow children and teachers to share this book in a variety of ways. Possibilities to consider include using as a reader’s theatre or mentor text after sharing as a read aloud.  However you decide to use this text, I am sure you will agree that Ryan T. Higgins has once again crafted a delightfully funny story about  the fear of trying something new, self-doubt and the power of support and friendship in overcoming that fear.  I bet the ending will make you smile too.



With many teachers moving to teaching using the workshop model, and with an emphasis on choice to give voice and autonomy to the writers in our classrooms, we are frequently asked, “How do you teach mini-lessons in workshop when students are writing in many different genres and forms?”. Studying craft and process are two ways in which you can organize mini lessons that are not genre dependent.

Here is an example of a craft study:

Yesterday as I was preparing to book talk Heroine by Mindy McGinnis, I was refreshing my memory of the book by reading the back cover, which includes:

“I am not a wasted person. I am not prowling the streets. I am not an addict. I am a girl spinning her locker combination. I am a girl who got a B on her math test. I am a girl who has two holes on the inside of her arm, but they do not tell the whole story of me.”

I was struck by the use of what Jennifer Serravallo calls “Tell What It’s Not (to Say What It Is)” and I was thinking what a great mentor text this excerpt would be for students.  Following the advice from THE RULE OF THREE (BECAUSE THREE BECOMES A THING), which states, “Three makes it a ‘thing’. Three (or more) similar texts allow students to answer the question, “What do you notice about the way these texts are written?” and find commonalities across the samples.  Groupings of texts widen the opportunities for writers to look at the text and ask themselves what elements they might like to incorporate into their own writing.  So, I asked myself where else I have seen this strategy used, and I remembered the following two pieces:

Excerpt from Hunger by Roxanne Gay: “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 leg of my former, fatter self’s jeans. This is not a book that will offer motivation. I don’t have any powerful insight into what it takes to overcome an unruly body and unruly appetites. Mine is not a success story. Mine is, simply, a true story.”

Excerpt from An Open Letter to Those Who Want to Liberate Me From Wearing My Hijab by Amira B. Kunbargi: “I don’t need your life jacket. I am not drowning in dogmatism or ideological idiocy. Nor am I prisoner to a patriarchal rampart. I am not brainwashed, backward, or bound. You don’t need to rescue me so stop trying to save me. I don’t need saving. What I need is respect.”

Studying craft in a variety of genres (in this case fiction, memoir, open letter) allows students to see how craft moves work across genres and helps them envision where, when, and for what purpose they may use the craft move being studied. For more ideas on studying craft in your writing workshop, check out the Craft Studio section of Margin Notes.



Throughout the year we will be sharing a round-up of resources that might be helpful as you develop opportunities for learning to share with your students. The following are suitable for K-5.

I Am Reading by Kathy and Matt Glover is full of ideas to invite and inspire young readers to make meaning and find the joy in reading any text. Open the book to find whole-class minilessons, suggestions for establishing reading workshops in K-1, action plans to get you started and 25 online video clips of children making meaning and teachers supporting them.

A must read for anyone working with young emergent readers!

Jennifer Serravallo, the author of A Teacher’s Guide to Reading Conferences takes you through the art of conferring with students, replete with infographics and special features including 9 videos of her teaching in K–8 classrooms.

If you are passionate about getting books into the hands of students, then Game Changer by Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp is the resource for you. It is packed with practical and resourceful information on, but not limited to, curating successful school and classroom libraries, the power of book ownership, and the importance of accessing books with many cultural and social representation.

In the second edition of Reading with Meaning, Debbie Miller shares her new thinking about how to teach comprehension strategies to children in grades K-3.  You will find specific examples of modeled strategy lessons for inferring, questioning and synthesizing information to name a few. Do not skip the chapter on how to successfully develop book clubs as a way for children to share their thinking.

Try This Tomorrow: How Sure Are You? (Uncertain to Certain Line)


Research shows that students already know up to 40% of what we teach them.

Let’s sit with that fact for a minute…40%.

To me? That’s a lot of wasted time. A lot of time we don’t have to waste! 

So, it is really important that we take time figuring out a way to determine what our students already know, before we teach it to them anyway. 

In the book “Developing Assessment -Capable Visible Learners: Grades K-12” by Douglas Fisher,  Nancy Frey and John Hattie, they describe many wonderful activities to help us create assessment capable learners. One of my favourites is the “How Sure Are You?” strategy.  



Here is the strategy in a nutshell:

  1. You draw a line on the white board like this:

2. Then, depending on what you are introducing, you give the students a term, question, or statement to define or answer on a post-it note.

3. Then you ask “How Sure Are You?” and have students place their post-its on the line. Here are some grade 6 students answering the question “What is poetry?” and putting their post-it notes on the line.

This is what it looked like when they had placed their answers.

You can see they are all over the place! Some students were certain, some uncertain and some in the middle.

Important information gleaned from this 5 minute activity:

  • Most students said something to the effect of “poetry has to rhyme”.
  • The majority of the students were uncertain or thought their answer was probable.
  • Some of the students who were certain, really weren’t!

I gleaned all that just from reading their post-it notes quickly as students were transitioning to the reading corner.

Later that day, the LA teacher and I debriefed and decided to focus on poetry mentor texts the next day. I brought in a crate full of poetry books and we had the students read widely. They wrote down what they noticed about the poems. Then, we co-constructed a list as a class.

Here are some of their thoughts:

  • Can tell a story
  • Is descriptive
  • Can be emotional
  • Poetry has a form
  • Can be written in shapes
  • Does not need punctuation
  • Rhymes (or doesn’t)



Without doing this quick check-in activity, we wouldn’t have known what the students’ confusions and misunderstandings were about poetry.

Try it tomorrow!



“Teachers who are engaged readers do a better job of engaging students as readers. According to Morrison, Jacobs, and Swinyard (1999), ‘perhaps the most influential teacher behavior to influence students’ literacy development is personal reading, both in and out of school’ (p. 81).” Preparing Teachers with Knowledge of Children’s and Young Adult Literature, NCTE, 2018).

When we read and bring our reading lives into the classroom, our students benefit. Our experiences as readers help us develop literacy curricula that is responsive and authentic, and they help us develop a shared language for reader-to-reader conversations. Our personal and professional literacy lives provide us with the insider knowledge we need to support our students on their own journeys of developing and growing as readers, writers, communicators, listeners, thinkers, and citizens.

One of the simplest ways to make our reading lives visible to students is with the mentor text and book talk combo.

In What you Know by Heart, Katie Wood Ray describes what it means to read like a teacher of writing:

“Every time we see writing, we are seeing what we teach. We are seeing examples of what’s possible in writing, and so we have to read the texts we encounter across our lives differently than other people. We read these texts like teachers of writing. We are on the lookout for interesting ways to approach the writing, interesting ways to craft sentences and paragraphs and whole texts, interesting ways to bring characters to life or make time move or get a point across. When we read, we are always on the lookout—whether we intend to be or not—for interesting things we might teacher our students how to do.”

Reading in this way is a habit of mind for us as literacy teachers; we read everything with our eyes open for mentor text possibilities.

When we share these mentor texts with students in mini-lessons, writing conferences, inquiry units into genre or form, or quickwrites, we can incorporate a quick book talk or description of our how we came across the text and give students a glimpse into our life as a reader.

A few years ago, I started collecting these mentor possibilities in my writer’s notebook. This reading ritual has helped me developed the skill of reading like a teacher of writing and it provides an artifact of my reading life that I can show students when I share my notebook:

Combining book talks with mentor texts is a quick and easy strategy for sharing your reading life with students that you can try tomorrow.



In this short and visually appealing text, Beth Bacon shares the strategies of young readers who work hard to “get out of reading”. Readers of this text will be entertained and probably won’t be able to keep from laughing out loud, which makes it a great read in and of itself, but the fast pace of this book and the short amount of time it takes to read from cover to cover, will help build confidence…and may leave students thinking that maybe reading isn’t so bad!


Here are some sample pages:





The first weeks of writing workshop are filled with establishing daily routines, getting to know our students as writers, setting up writer’s notebooks and supporting students in generating topics that they might want to write about. In Anne Elliott and Mary Lynch’s newest professional resource, Cultivating Writers, they share a neat activity to show student writers “…that their neighborhood, community, city, country, and world are all sources of writing potential.” The activity is called Destination Known/Unknown.

Using the template shown below, follow/model the following:

  1. Show students that the center represents the location closest to where they live (i.e neighborhood) and subsequent circles moving outward represent increasing distances from their home: community, city, country, world.
  2. In the innermost circle, model for students how to generate places in their neighborhood they enjoy going to and are linked to a memory; e.g, local park, hockey arena, skate park, local diner, variety store, etc.
  3. Have students generate ideas for other destinations. Whether students have first-hand knowledge and experience traveling to a particular destination or need time to investigate and research a dream location, writing about a place opens up a world of endless landscapes and adventures.
  4. Once students have generated ideas for each circle, have them share some of the locales and tell the class about an adventure they had there, or an adventure they dream of having.

This activity will surely generate some great writing topics, but activities like these do so much more. They connect student’s writing to their world outside of school, they let us better know our students, and they build an authentic writing community with the sharing of ideas.

This is just one activity from this amazing resource, and we recommend Cultivating Writers to every teacher of writing who believes as these authors do that: “We have the responsibility, the obligation, and the duty to create an environment in which kids flourish into writers who have the skill and the will.”

Here is the template:



Crafting Reader Profiles K-5


“When someone tells us they are not a reader, it is not enough to simply hand them what we deem to be a great book.  The first step is to ask why and then get to know that child. “  Pernille Ripp

As we begin another school year our first few weeks of school are inundated with activities. In primary school, interest inventories circle around asking children what their favorite colors are, favorite animals, and what they like to do for fun.  But what if you had an inventory that would gather so much information about a child that you could have weeks’ worth of planning beyond knowing their favorite color?

The “I Am A Reader Who” list poem, from Anne Elliott and Mary Lynch’s Cultivating Readers book (Grades 3-8), encourages teachers to dig deeper into getting to know their students in order to support them in recognizing how they have developed as readers over time and exploring their reading habits and preferences.

Before students create their own,” I Am a Reader” list poem, the authors suggest posting promts around the room on chart paper to encourage classroom discussion and support students in thinking about themselves as readers.

Questions as suggested by the authors include:

  • Where do you like to read?
  • When do you like to read?
  • How do you choose books?
  • Who do you like to read (authors)?
  • What do you like to read (topics/genres)?

It is important to model your own thinking aloud before having students independently travel between the charts individually or in small groups to add their own ideas. I also love the authors’ suggestestion of having follow-up conversations that highlights any trends, connections, and a-ha moments before having students create their own I am a Reader Poem.

Check out, an “I Am a Reader” poem already completed by a student this year:

Try this Tomorrow: BHH Reading (Book, Head, Heart)


My favourite way to get students talking, thinking, and writing about a text is to use the BHH Framework from the book Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst.

BHH Anchor Chart

This anchor chart can be introduced and displayed in the classroom and can be referred to all year long.

I generally introduce the questions with a Picture Book. But, any text that stirs emotions will work.

Some of my go-to, thought provoking reads are:

As I read, I pause and “think aloud” as I model answering the questions that the book inspires me to answer.(Not all questions need to be used every time with every text).

Then, using different texts, we think and respond to the questions as a class, sharing our thoughts and feelings. It doesn’t take long before students are using the questions to independently think and write about texts!

I really love how open ended the questions are, and how they can lead to all sorts of conversations and writing ideas.

Here are Kylene and Bob talking about the BHH Framework:

The BHH Framework really does encourage students to think deeply about texts. And, as an added bonus, this framework can be used across subject areas and with all ages.

I have seen this used successfully in classrooms K-12.  

Try it tomorrow!