Margin Notes



Thanks to a few Twitter friends, I was introduced to the fantastic resource writer/designer: A Guide to Making Multimodal Projects by Cheryl E. Ball, Jennifer Sheppard, and Kristin L. Arola.

The authors define multimodal as “a mashup of multiple and mode” (3). A mode is how we communicate our ideas and a text is multimodal when it combines different ways of communicating. They take the approach that “a text does not have to include bright colors or interesting videos to be multimodal (although it can). Even a research paper, which is mostly words, is a multimodal text” (4).

writer/designer focuses on five modes of communication:

  1. Linguistic- the use of language including written and spoken words
  2. Visual- images and other characteristics that readers see
  3. Aural- sound such as sound effects, volume, and tone of voice
  4. Spatial- the physical arrangement of text elements
  5. Gestural- the way movement contributes to meaning (this can also be interpreted in static images)

Each mode in a multimodal text plays a part in the overall impact and message, but the full communication of a multimodal text relies on the way the modes work together. As a result, the term text is used in this context to “refer to a piece of communication as a whole. A text can be anything from a lolcat to a concert tee shirt to a dictionary to a performance” (3).

Every writer who sets out to create a text chooses modes of communicating. Designing, like writing, is a process with essentially the same fundamental goals:

  • To think critically about the kinds of communication that are needed in any given situation
  • To choose sources and assets that will help create an effective text
  • To work within and fulfill your audience’s needs and goals
  • To improve communication through the finished text
  • To create change or encourage positive action through a text (6).

One of my favorite aspects of writer/designer is the concept that the process of writing and designing are recursive, not linear. Throughout this process of designing and redesigning (writing and revising), the author uses models and their existing knowledge of text. The use of models and the invitation to reflect through Touchpoint Activities and Case Studies makes this resource incredibly user-friendly for both a reader who is new to multimodal texts and one who is looking to enhance their current practice.



Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is a beautifully written middle level novel about two sisters who learn that speaking their truth may be what allows them to start healing from a childhood shattered by abuse and neglect. The story begins with Della (10) and Suki (16) being placed in foster care after an attempted sexual assault on Della by their mother’s ex-boyfriend, the one they were left living with when their mother was incarcerated. Fortunately for the girls, they are placed with Francine, who becomes the ally the girls so desperately need – even if they don’t realize they do.

This novel shines light on the effects of childhood sexual abuse and the lengths siblings will go to protect one another. Although Fighting Words is not always easy to read, it is an important read. The characters and the story created by Brubaker will surely open up important conversations about topics often shied away from, and in doing so, will help with the stigma around sexual abuse while offering hope to survivors. Although this title is not a memoir, the author is one of these survivors.

My greatest hope after reading this novel is that it finds its way into the hands of the students who need it most.



In a time when people are more and more physically disconnected due to a global pandemic and only connected by the reassuring hum of the home wi-fi router, we are longing for connection. Unable to easily meet face to face, we seek out stories via television series, movies, novels, newspapers and podcasts to hear the stories of the lives of others. To connect. Stories ground us in our common humanity.

Recognizing this desire for connection and harnessing the power tools of a good story to strengthen non-fiction writing is the topic of Story Matters Teaching Teens to Use the Tools of Narrative to Argue and Inform by Liz Prather.

Prather, a teacher and a much-published freelance writer and blogger, demonstrates how to teach writing from a writer’s perspective. She shares how the most effective pieces of non-fiction are full of techniques gleaned from narrative writing to increase the reader’s ability to connect with, and thus comprehend, the topic at hand.

Starting with the assumption that not everyone will make the link between narrative tools and their use in nonfiction, the first chapter of Story Matters, amusingly entitled

“Narrative as Home Base, Ground Zero, Mother Ship,” explores both an expert mentor text and a student text using narrative skills in essays. This chapter is truly a fascinating demonstration of ways to rapidly improve non-fiction writing and provides a solid foundation for the rest of the book.

The remaining chapters explore lessons on developing writing ideas, characters, tension, structure, details, and language. The author gives permission to read and explore any chapter in any order as well as an invitation to keep showing up, practicing the skills and trying to get better. A person could learn a lot from even reading one chapter of this book.

Story Matters offers many clever, authentic and absorbing lesson ideas for budding writers than most books of this genre.  In one idea generating activity Prather has her students create a timeline called “Your Life at a Glance.” Students record important personal life events for each year of their life and then research and record world, national, cultural and local events that occurred during these same years.  Students discover areas of interest for writing fodder and develop a greater knowledge of what is happening around them, becoming more grounded in the bigger world that they inhabit.

 Prather provides her students ample opportunity to explore craft moves and to discuss why the writer used the language they did or to bring attention to what the writer left out. “I want students to see every piece of writing as an artifact of someone’s decision-making.” She notes that only 20 percent of the research gathered for an information piece is used, statistically speaking. Students are welcomed to consider how important writing decisions are made, guided by the understanding that the goal is discovery, and that writing is full of possible right combinations. They are encouraged to play “even if it doesn’t end up in the final piece of writing.” This sense of autonomy when writing is essential for authentic voice and engagement.

In another exercise, Prather cuts up essays into sections and has the students play around with how the essays could be put back together with the discussion focus being “What delivers the author’s main point most effectively and why?” This is another effective way to have students reflect on possibilities for organizing structures that they can replicate in their own craft. Prather’s writing is full of a vast number of such activity examples.

“When we sail in with hamburgers, keyholes, and hourglasses, we cut students out of all the decisions, the measuring and cutting, that makes writing meaningful ……….no one knows where to start, and writing is frustration. There are no shortcuts. Students simply need to practice this decision making over and over to get a feel for the complementary zigzag moves writers make to structure a text.”

 Story Matters is an exploration of craft, of thinking about writing, of creating a bridge between the writer and the world and between the writer and her writing. It engagingly demonstrates how far educators have come in the exploration of teaching the writing craft.


Elizabeth Ann Walker is a life-long educator with a background in the performance arts and wellness. A certified yoga teacher, trained sound therapist and meditator, Elizabeth has spent many years teaching literacy in Quebec and New Brunswick. She is an avid reader slowly working on writing about a 12-year transformative experience with Lyme disease.




As the YA cannon increasingly expands its scope to include representation of young LGBTQIA2S+ readers, What If It’s Us, written as a collaboration between Adam Silvera (They Both Die at the End) and Becky Albertalli (Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda) does a wonderful job of focusing on the excitement and tension of young love, but through the experience of two teenage boys, rather than the heteronormative experiences that have long filled the shelves of young romance.
As many fans of hit Canadian Comedy Schitt’s Creek will know, one of the key factors that makes that comedy so refreshing is how gay/queer characters live their lives and loves without facing the barrier of homophobia and discrimination – while such themes are incredibly important for readers outside of that community to self-educate (Dashka Slater’s 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives) LGBTQIA2S+ students who I have taught have often said to me that they wish they could see their own lives reflected as both positive and as normal as those of the boy and girl firing Snaps back and forth in the front row.
Arthur: white, wealthy and in a position of considerable privilege has a chance encounter with Ben, who comes from a working-class Puerto Rican background and what follows for a good chunk of the narrative is the cat-and-mouse game that ensues as they try to chase each other down. But once they do, a more complex tale emerges as these two young men, try to navigate the challenges of relationship that has a ‘use by’ date stamped on it.
In addition to the pitfalls of young love, Arthur and Ben, though both hailing from equally loving and accepting families, they do differ in their socioeconomic circumstances and in their ethnic backgrounds. The conflicts that arise from these differences, including microaggressions that many identifying students will recognize and empathize with – including many from the otherwise deeply empathetic Arthur.
The story alternates between both Arthur and Ben’s perspective which works very well – the young reader who has experiences with those tricky first relationships will identify with Ben’s trials as he tries to pacify, patiently and gently, the previously boyfriend-less, Arthur’s jealousies and paranoia, of which many young teens will identify their own fears mirrored back to them.
A real must for every high school ELA shelf.
Benjamin Dowling is a G9/10 ELA teacher at Fredericton High School.



As I mentioned in my review of writer/designer by Cheryl E. Ball, Jennifer Sheppard, and Kristin L. Arola, I love the way this resource highlights the use of models and our existing knowledge of text as a key aspect of writing/designing.

I believe in the power of incorporating models and mentor texts into the writing process and I turn to mentor texts as a regular part of my own writing practice. writer/designer opened my eyes to the potential for inquiring more deeply into mentor texts through the process of rhetorical analysis.

The authors introduce the concept of rhetoric like this:

When we are talking about “effective” or “successful” texts, we’re talking about rhetoric. Texts need to be created for a purpose, to persuade an audience toward change in some way; rhetoric is the study of making texts that effectively persuade an audience toward change. Echoing that old philosophical question—if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?—if a text doesn’t induce change, then it isn’t rhetorically successful (35).

Our response to a text is the result of how well the author has addressed the rhetorical situation, specifically their intended audience, their purpose for communicating, and the context in which their text will be read.

The authors go on to say that “if you can analyze how a text works, you can often apply that understanding to the design of your own text” (37). They offer the following text components for consideration when launching a rhetorical analysis:

  • the audience an author wants to reach (the who)
  • the purpose an author has for communicating to that audience (the what and why)
  • the context in which the author wants to communicate that purpose or call for action (the when and where)
  • the writing and design choices an author makes in a text that draw on audience, purpose, and context (the how) (37)

Taking an inquiry stance toward mentor texts means approaching the text with curiosity about what it says, how it says it, and what it can teach us about writing. Guiding our inquiry through the lens of who, what, why, when, where, and how—What are the audience, purpose, and context of this text? How do they inform the writing and design choices?—helps us move beyond the text elements that are easily identified on the surface and reflect more deeply on how these craft choices came to be.

Try it out! Here are a few multimodal texts. What can you learn about them, and about writing, through a rhetorical analysis?

Poems From An Email Exchange by Hanif Abdurraquib

If Kawhi Turns His Back To The Basket, Watch Out by Michael Pina (

An Illustrated Field Guide to Millennial Pink (RubyLux)

Illustrated Six-Word Memoirs by Students from Grade School to Grad School (

The 25 Best Films of the 21st Century So Far (NY Times)



In the introduction to Read This for Inspiration: Simple Sparks to Ignite Your Life, Ashly Perez explains that she wrote the book as a remedy for her phone fatigue: “I wanted a quick and easy way to take a break from work, munch on a thought-starter, and get back to the business of being a human.”

Read This for Inspiration is bursting with “thought-starters” (and quickwrite gold)! Each “spark,” as Perez calls the entries, is a one- or two-page piece of wisdom and encouragement that combine anecdotes, interesting facts, personal reflections, and quirky artwork,

Perez provides three instructions for reading the book:

  1. You Are the Boss of This Book (read it however, whenever, and in whatever order you’d like)
  2. This Book Is Not a Checklist (use the entries for being, not doing)
  3. Inspiration Is Everywhere, For Everyone (look for and find the things that make you feel good in your own life)

Read This for Inspiration is a fantastic read-alike for fans of Mari Andrew, Haley Drew This, and Cleo Wade. It would make a cheerful addition to a high school classroom library and a writing teacher’s repertoire of writing invitations.