Margin Notes



Last spring, literacy coach Sonja Wright and I participated in a virtual book study with several teachers in ASD-W on Being the Change by Sara K. Ahmed.

While this book focuses primarily on building personal identity, awareness, and classroom community, it does so through a wide variety of literacy activities that span all strands our English Language Arts curriculum.

Ahmed organizes the text through a collection of 6 chapters beginning first with personal identity and then moving outward to understand the acts of listening, being candid, informed, as well as personal responsibility. The book ends with the process of working together. Each chapter provides real world classroom activities curated by Ahmed illustrating possible discussions, teacher samples (anchor charts), student work, and recommended literacy “stacks” to engage students with each big idea.

Lessons and activities allow for multiple literacy connections; from the implementation of a writer’s notebook, and personal reflections through quick writes, use of mentor texts for poetry writing, opportunities for speaking and listening with think-pair-share activities and multiple inquiry activities . This list does not begin to scratch the surface of the possible literacy learnings that could arise when implementing Ahmed’s strategies.

In conclusion, I can not recall a professional resource that I have read recently that offers more meaningful and authentic classroom learning connections for students and teachers. To find out more about Sara K. Ahmed and Being the Change click here.







A New York City-wide blackout brings a stream of panic induced reminders that every moment and emotion counts reducing you to a state of impulsivity you have never felt before. Forcing people to stop and think smaller yet seeing the big picture at the same time. To quickly reevaluate what’s important and what’s not. Feeling alone and crowded in the same breath. Blackout, co-written by today’s executive YA authors Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon, takes its readers on an emotional tour of a blackout in the dead heat of a New York City evening while encapsulating the love trials of young people of colour.

One of my favourite movies to re-watch for comfort is 2011’s “New Year’s Eve” directed by Garry Marshall starring Zac Efron, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Sarah Jessica Parker to name a few. The characters are showcased in their own vignettes throughout the film, until the end when it is revealed how their separate stories have intertwined. Blackout follows this creative plot development format- creating 6 vignettes, each written by a different author, explaining 6 different love stories, with 6 different outcomes, while bringing them altogether in the end. This format did not disappoint- keeping the energized reader invested throughout.

What I enjoyed about this YA novel, as an adult reader, is how each author captured their characters’ emotions in such diverse relationships. Not just captured- but nailed it on head: the relationship that’s just starting out, or the relationship that is losing passion, or the relationship that you know is going to change you forever. No matter what your relationship history may be, you’ve experienced these feelings of safety, insecurity, confusion, anticipation, or relief. Overall, these authors have created inclusive love vignettes that will be mirrors for some and windows for others.

I am 100% recommending this novel to my students.

Sara Bamford is a high school English teacher who escapes her busy mom-life by digging into good books and journaling. Her passion is to find her students the novel that makes them want to read another novel to ignite the passion of getting lost in a good book.



In their new book, Intervention Reinvention: A Volume-Based Approach to Reading Success, authors Stephanie Harvey, Annie Ward, Maggie Hoddinott and Suzanne Carroll advocate that teachers use reading volume as an intervention strategy for all students. In part three of their book, they provide numerous practical ways to teach your students about the importance of reading volume and strategies to increase their reading volume.

One of my favorites is Encourage Student-Led Booktalks found on page 169. So how exactly does a booktalk work?  When students complete a book that they feel others would enjoy, they simply provide a short talk introducing the book and share interesting elements of the text. As always, students will need guidance and modeling before they begin sharing independently. The authors provide a quick point form lesson detailing how to introduce this to students and provide time for practice. The main points are as follows:

  • Begin by pointing out to students that booktalks are an important way to share awesome books in your classroom community. Share that you have booktalked some of your favorites (if you haven’t done this, begin by trying it yourself a few times over a couple of weeks, before introducing to students). Let students know you are going to give them a chance to booktalk one of their favorite books today. Outline the main attributes of a booktalk: a quick commercial for the book, grab the listeners attention with any interesting or unique, but remembering not to give away any spoilers!
  • Next provide the students with a model: name a title and author of a book, share the genre or format, and give a brief overview.
  • Remind students to end their booktalk with a reason why others would enjoy the book. For example, “If you love mystery and intrigue, this is definitely for you”.
  • Finally, allow your students time, perhaps ten minutes to draft their own booktalk and practice sharing with an elbow partner. Let them know that you will provide time the following day for someone to give the first daily booktalk.


Providing the opportunity for students to prepare, deliver and listen to booktalks addresses ELA outcomes for listening and speaking, reading and viewing as well as writing and representing.

To view ASD-W teachers and the literacy team modeling booktalks check out our ASD-W Margin Notes K-12 Sharepoint site.  Scroll down the homepage until you see Booktalks.

To learn more about the book Intervention Reinvention: A Volume-Based Approach to Reading Success, click here.




Many educators (including myself) will advocate that no students are too old for picture books. Picture books, as shared by Jill Davidson in an earlier Margin Notes post,  Picture Books in Grades 6-12,

“…make excellent mentor texts to use in mini-lessons or to demonstrate writing techniques since you can read them more than once in a short amount of time.  They can be used to develop background knowledge about a concept or topic or for quick writes and writer’s notebook responses.  Picture books can invite dialogue about tough topics and complex ideas. Most importantly, though, they bring students together into a shared experience that invites everyone in the reading community to celebrate beautiful words and images.”

Daddy Speaks Love by Leah Henderson is just one of these books that will provide teachers a segue to discussing difficult topics, the sharing of ideas and opportunities for critical thinking.  Motivated by the death of George Floyd during the summer of 2020 and the statement by his then six-year-old daughter that, “Daddy changed the world”, Henderson explores the relationship that fathers or father figures play in the lives of their children.  Love, support, and guidance are all explored in the text, as is unfairness and injustice.  The illustrations by E. B. Lewis will also provide teachers with opportunities to explore critical thinking activities, such as, “What does this picture say? What does it not say.”

Henderson’s words and Lewis’ illustrations provide a powerful and timely reflection on the state of social justice issues facing much of the world in 2022.  To learn more about this book and other powerful picture books check out our K-12 Virtual Books shelves on our ASD-W Margin Notes K-12 Literacy sharepoint.




Each week, THE WEEK, invites authors to share six book titles they recommend reading. Students can use these book lists as mentor texts to select six books (or movies, games, songs, etc) they would like to recommend and write short descriptions of what makes them worthy of making the list. These lists are also great mentor texts of voice in short pieces of writing.

Here are some lists you might choose to use as mentor texts:



“We all make mistakes, right? And almost never see the fallout coming.” 

If you enjoyed her books One of Us is Lying or The Cousins, you will be happy to pick up You’ll be the Death of Me. I enjoy a mystery and, even more than that, I appreciate how McManus captures the complexities of relationships in high school. Students gather together in one spot each day yet their experiences inside and outside that building are vastly different. This story centers around Ivy, a rich blonde who feels unseen under the comparison to her brother; Mateo, a mysterious student who is working multiple jobs to support his mother while also protecting his cousin; and Cal, an artist who romanticizes a middle school adventure as he experiences the life of an outcast in high school. 

The unlikely friendship that connects these three begins with the desperate need to escape their current situations. The trio once happened to experience “The Greatest Day Ever” in the 8th grade and circumstances have brought them together to try to recreate this before graduation. The fantasy of this adventurous escape, paired with the deep nostalgia of good times passed, is one with which teenagers can relate. Unfortunately for them, “The Greatest Day Ever” sequel starts with the discovery of a dead classmate and a witness describing one of them as the murderer.  

McManus’ writing is fast paced with vivid description casting a movie in your mind. Her depiction of the complicated nuances of relationships with friends, parents, siblings and partners creates a connection between the reader and characters. The book is another title to add to your mystery collection.  




What I Was Reading:

In Speaking of Nature: Finding language that affirms our kinship with the natural world, Robin Wall Kimmerer (author of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants) reflects on the grammar of animacy and how the language we use to describe nature reflects our relationship with it. In this passage, Kimmerer contrasts her roles as a scientist and an Indigenous woman:

I have had the privilege of spending my life kneeling before plants. As a plant scientist, sometimes I am collecting data. As an indigenous plant woman, sometimes I am gathering medicine. These two roles offer a sharp contrast in ways of thinking, but I am always in awe, and always in relationship. In both cases the plants provide for me, teach me, and inspire me. When I write as a scientist, I must say, “An 8 cm root was extracted from the soil,” as if the leafy beings were objects, and, for that matter, as if I were too. Scientific writing prefers passive voice to subject pronouns of any kind. And yet its technical language, which is designed to be highly accurate, obscures the greater truth.

Writing as an indigenous plant woman I might say, “My plant relatives have shared healing knowledge with me and given me root medicine.” Instead of ignoring our mutual relationship, I celebrate it. Yet English grammar demands that I refer to my esteemed healer as it, not as a respected teacher, as all plants are understood to be in Potawatomi. That has always made me uncomfortable. I want a word for beingness. Can we unlearn the language of objectification and throw off colonized thought? Can we make a new world with new words?

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

I was particularly drawn to this passage because of the way Kimmerer uses repetition to contrast her experiences as a scientist and an Indigenous plant woman.

  • The second and third sentences follow the exact same structure but with a slight variation in the wording: “As a plant scientist, sometimes I am collecting data. As an indigenous plant woman, sometimes I am gathering medicine.” This is an effective and efficient way to demonstrate how these two roles differ in their relationship to plants.
  • Juxtaposing examples of the difference in the way she would write about plants in each of these roles further clarifies the different relationships each one entails: “When I write as a scientist, I must say…” and “Writing as an indigenous plant woman I might say…”.
  • Kimmerer continues the repetition in structure by following both quotations with a sentence or two of analysis to further highlight the contrasting views of plants encompassed within each role.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Read this text as a writer to notice and name other interesting craft moves and discuss how they impact you as a reader.
  • Model a pair of sentences of your own after Kimmerer’s by repeating the structure and changing a few words to compare or contrast.
  • Experiment with repetition for effect in your own writing. Where can you incorporate repetition of wording or structure to show your reader how something is alike or different?

Here’s my example:

I have had the joy of spending my life exploring books. As a teacher, sometimes I am thinking of the booktalk I will give when I finish reading. As a writer, sometimes I am thinking about what I can use in my own writing as I savor the author’s words.



Ruta Sepetys celebrated the 10th year anniversary of Between Shades of Gray by adapting the story into a graphic novel- and it does not disappoint. The graphic novel was adapted by Andrew Donkin with art by Dave Kopka and colour by Brann Livesay who worked brilliantly together to provide the readers with an emotional connection to this historical depiction through images.

Between Shades of Gray is an important read. Considered historical fiction, Sepetys provides readers with a perspective that, to most, was overshadowed by the many horrific events of World War II. The story follows the deportation of Lithuanian citizens to the bleak back world of Siberia under Stalinism. Thousands were herded like cattle into boxcars and blindly shipped across the continent, only to endure inhumane conditions. The story is told through the eyes of a young girl, Lina, whose family is deemed as criminals by Stalin, and are subjected to deportation. Lina’s artistic talent lies within a pencil on paper- she uses this talent to record the horrific conditions and treatment, along with mapping their travels to Siberia in hopes of connecting with her father again. This is a story of power in love and hope- to be able to return with her family to Lithuania someday.

This was an illuminating read for me- to learn of the enslavement of Lithuanians by the Soviet Union and the continued discrimination years after the war. Sepetys provides historical context at the end of the graphic novel to inform readers that these stories are not as prevalent because for years after the war, Lithuanians were treated as criminals and forced to keep their experience quiet through harsh surveillance by the government. Sepetys also reveals that although the characters are created based off of many stories heard from survivors, one character, Dr.Samodurov is real.

This graphic novel adaptation literally illustrates the haunting horrors of WWII Soviet prisoner camps. Kopka and Livesay vividly capture the bleakest moments of the story in colour choices and words that leave the reader simply staring at the page to capture each emotion.

Sara Bamford is a high school English teacher who escapes her busy mom-life by digging into good books and journaling. Her passion is to find her students the novel that makes them want to read another novel to ignite the passion of getting lost in a good book.