Margin Notes



Margin Notes posted about the Poetry RX column in The Paris Review here. Dr. Maya C. Popa (@MayaCPopa), an acclaimed poet in modern poetry, has used her “X” platform to share the same idea of “Poetry Rx”. Read more about her work on her website.

She shares an ailment on “X”, and her followers will offer their prescribed poems, sometimes with explanations and other times without. The conditions are often timely with world events, seasons or connected to real people. Here are some examples:

These posts become curated poetry and art text sets on a topic/theme.

How to try this tomorrow:

Poetry Prescription Gallery Walk:

  • Curate a gallery of poems that were previously prescribed for various problems.
  • Divide students into small groups and have them rotate through the gallery.
  • Ask each group to analyze and discuss why a particular poem might have been prescribed for a given problem.
  • Encourage them to consider themes, tone, and literary devices – whatever mini-lesson you taught.

Classwide Poetry Prescription Database:

  • Create a shared online document or database where students can contribute poems they find or write for specific problems.
  • Have students categorize the poems based on the problems they address.
  • Students can take out the collection of poems when they need support in that area.

Rotating Poetry Prescription Circles:

  • Establish rotating small groups within the class.
  • Each group is responsible for identifying a problem and prescribing a poem to address it.
  • Rotate the groups periodically to ensure that students have diverse experiences in exploring and discussing different problems and poems.

Collaborative Poetry Prescriptions:

  • Assign each student a specific problem or challenge to explore through poetry.
  • Have them collaborate in pairs or small groups to find or create poems that address their assigned issue.

Poetry Playlists:

  • When teaching about character and theme development, have students create a poetry playlist to represent the emotions, actions or motivations of a character.

These ideas involve students actively engaging with poetry prescriptions, encouraging critical thinking, collaboration, and reflection on the choices made in selecting and discussing poems for specific problems.



Artists on Spotify can see every playlist their music is added to. A Tiktok artist @Johnwritessongs takes these playlist titles to create songs and have fun with the different spaces his music lands on Spotify. He has a whole playlist called songwriting challenges you can find here. You can listen to an example of a song written by playlist titles here.

*Teachers should preview all examples for language and content before showing a class.

Try this tomorrow:

Write your own found poetry: Have strips of paper cut up. Students can use their own Spotify playlist titles or search for the playlist titles of their favorite songs. Write each playlist title on a strip of paper and organize them into a poem. Encourage them to experiment with different themes, tones, and structures as they compose their poems. Collaborate, share and enjoy!

Analyzing structure and form: Have students analyze the structure and form of the found poems created by @johnwritessongs. Discuss how he uses the titles of Spotify playlists to construct lyrics and create meaning. Students can examine the organization of the playlists and how the artist selects and arranges the titles to create coherence and flow in the poem.

Understanding tone and mood: Explore the tone and mood conveyed in the found poems. Discuss how the choice of playlist titles influences the overall tone of the poem and contributes to the mood. Encourage students to identify specific words or phrases that evoke certain emotions and discuss how they contribute to the overall meaning of the poem.

This is a fun and playful way to bring poetry into the classroom but also provides a deeper conversation about how we build communities and connect through artistic expression. Use this lesson idea to embrace contemporary culture and the intersections of music, writing, social media etc.



What I was reading:

Accountable by Daska Slater brings readers into the unsettling aftermath of a high school student’s private Instagram account where racism and sexism are disguised as humor. Slater explores the complexities of accountability in the digital age, probing the impact of harm behind screens and challenging readers to think about what it truly means to be held accountable in an online era. Read the Margin Note’s recommendation here.

This book is full of craft studies as it uses a variety of forms to tell the history, context and personal stories behind the account. The text for this craft study can be found here.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

  1. Repetition: The repetition of “You can…” establishes a pattern, emphasizing the various ways harm can be inflicted. This creates a rhythmic flow, intensifying the impact of each method described.
  2. Conventions around the repetition: The repeated pattern starts with a single word to describe how you can do it followed by a comma and a more detailed description. Ex: “You can do it indirectly, through rumors or exclusion or assumptions.”
  3. Analogies and Metaphors: By likening racism to a weapon—a blade honed by repeated use—the author employs vivid imagery, creating a tangible and visceral understanding of the pervasive and enduring nature of racism’s impact.
  4. Historical Context: Referencing “centuries of wounds” contextualizes the weight of racial discrimination, underscoring that every act or expression carries the weight of a history stained with injustices.
  5. Rhetorical Question: The closing question—”So what do you do with all that history?”—engages readers, prompting reflection and inviting contemplation on how individuals grapple with the legacy of racism and its pervasive effects.


Possibilities for Writers:

Writers can:

  • Write where their thinking takes them after reading the text.
  • Borrow the craft moves. Use the beginning line “THERE ARE LOTS OF WAYS TO ___________ ANOTHER HUMAN BEING” and follow the repetition of “you can *single word*, *more description of single word*
  • Write about how they would answer the question the text ends with.

“So what do you do with all that history? The person who made the joke or used the slur didn’t commit all of racism’s many crimes, but they still used the same weapon, its blade honed by repeated use.”

  • Write their own opinion piece on the topics in the text.



Reading When Kids Can’t Read: What Teachers Can Do by Kylene Beers and Words Their Way, the word sort activities stood out as a method of teaching morphology with a focus on spelling patterns. Word sorts are an engaging and effective activity that unveils the intricate world of morphology and spelling patterns for learners. Through this hands-on approach, students categorize words based on shared features such as roots, prefixes, suffixes, or spelling patterns. This activity fosters a deeper understanding of how words are formed and how they relate to one another, empowering students to decipher unfamiliar words by recognizing recurring morphemes. By actively sorting and discussing words, learners not only enhance their spelling abilities but also gain insight into the structural makeup of language, promoting a more robust vocabulary acquisition and decoding skills. Word sorts encourage exploration, analysis, and discovery, making them a valuable tool in unraveling the complexities of language structure and spelling patterns.

Here is an example using the patterns -ible and -able from When Kids Can’t Read: What Teacher Can Do:

  • Students are in small groups looking at the -ible and -able pattern to learn the rule (rather than memorize it)
  • Word list:
achievable edible possible
avoidable excitable remarkable
believable horrible returnable
breakable legible terrible
comfortable notable debatable
transportable observable visible
  • Students sort the list into two big groups: words ending in -ible and -able. Encourage students to look at the root words to divide the -able list into two. The pattern they are looking for is that some of the root words end in “e” and others do not.


  • Students then look at the lists to see if they can understand the rules at play in the division. The suffix -able is typically used when the root word can be a standalone word (comfortable/comfort) or can be a standalone word if you add the “e” (debatable) and -ible is mostly used when the root word is of Latin origin, and without the -ible, they are not a standalone word.


  • Ask students to write a rule they discovered using the terns “root words” and “suffixes”. Here is what her students wrote:

By delving into morphology and spelling patterns through active sorting, students not only decode unfamiliar words but also grasp the intricate fabric of word formation. As demonstrated with the -ible and -able patterns, this hands-on method encourages exploration, enabling learners to discern nuanced rules around root words and suffixes, fostering a deeper understanding of language structures.

Bear, Donald R., et al. Words Their Way: Word Study for Phonics, Vocabulary, and Spelling Instruction. 7th ed., Pearson, 2021.

Beers, Kylene. When Kids Can’t Read: What Teachers Can Do. 2nd ed., Heinemann, 2023.



A real whodunit. Nick Brook’s Promise Boys is the story of a murder and the search for truth. Urban Promise Prep is a private school that “vows to turn boys into men.” The principal, Kenneth Moore, has proudly self-titled his strategies as the “Principal Moore Method” and is dedicated to the extremely rigid rules, with equally extreme discipline. It’s these strict policies that have landed three students in detention during the shooting that killed Principal Moore. Each of the three students had left detention at the time of the murder and fingers are pointing in all directions – after all, wouldn’t their punishments be motive? It becomes clear that unless these boys band together to find the murderer, their reputations will be forever changed.

Promise Boys is a fast-paced mystery told through multiple perspectives and a narrative mix of prose, text messages and police reports. Although there is a layer of systemic racism when it comes to criminal justice, the book focuses on the power dynamics within a school, between teachers and students as well as between staff members and within the students themselves. The varying perspectives show the labels and assumptions people place on each other and how that thinking changes when you dig beyond the surface. Students attend school together every day; but do they really see what is going on?

I would recommend this book to fans of Karen McManus, Jason Reynolds and Angie Thomas. Every teacher has the mystery/thriller lover in their class just waiting to read this book!



Rez Ball by Byron Graves takes the reader into the heart of the Ojibwe community where Tre Brun is finding his way after an accident killed his brother. The story follows his resilience, shows insight into his struggles, and gives readers hope that his story will have a positive outcome. The reader is truly rooting for him! Tre has spent his summer improving his basketball skills with the goal of making the varsity team and continuing the legacy his father and brother started by taking the team to their first state championship win. He battles conflict from unaccepting teammates, racist communities, unrequited love, friendship disputes and family grief.

In his author’s note, Bryon shares that many of the elements of this story are true, and even the selections that were created for the story are based in the his experiences of growing up as an athlete on a reservation. Beyond the grief, the pressure to party, and the racism experienced, there is a beautiful story of community. Tre has the unwavering support of his lifelong friend Wes, his new acquaintance Kiana, the memory of his brother and the entire reservation.

Byron Graves’ writing is both engaging and thought-provoking, inviting readers to immerse themselves in the world of Rez Ball and gain a deeper understanding of the challenges and triumphs of Indigenous athletes. The plot and voices of the characters are a realistic depiction of teenage experience – including the curse words and slang. Rez Ball is a must-read for sports enthusiasts, as well as anyone interested in the intersection of sports, culture, and resilience. It celebrates the power of the human spirit and the transformative influence of basketball within Indigenous communities.




What I was reading:

Things to Look Forward To by Sophie Blackwell is a collection of small and large joys. She acknowledges that there are many big long-term achievements to look forward to but we can also look forward to the everyday things. She describes these as “things that will buoy our spirits and make us laugh and help us feel alive and that will bring others comfort and hope.”


Moves I noticed the author make:

The moves can change with every selection! Here is one example:


If we are lucky, when the rain has stopped and a fine mist hangs in the air, sunlight might enter through tiny droplets, bend as it hits each surface, bounce off the back wall of the raindrop, and bend again as it exits. And if we happen to be standing facing away from the sun and raising our sights 42 degrees, that refracted, reflected, and dispersed light might form a shimmering rainbow. Then we can make a wish. 



  • Uses the “if, and, then” format
  • Descriptive wording – “tiny droplets/shimmering rainbow”
  • Repetitive sounds – “bend/bounce/back”
  • Uses tiny details – “raising our sights 42 degrees”
  • Rule of three – “refracted, reflected, and dispersed”

 Possibilities for writers:

  • Notice something in the text.
  • Name what it is that you noticed.
  • Talk about what impact of what you noticed.
  • Choose a symbol in your own life and try using this writer’s craft to write about any 
  • Using the “if, and, then” format, write your own passage of Things to Look Forward to.
  • Zoom in a moment to write in descriptive, tiny details.
  • Try out the rule of three in a descriptive writing paragraph.




”I think you can make a declaration in your heart about who you want to be. But then you have to reflect that in your actions. You have to make it real.”

You know the Nike ad that set shoes on fire and you have heard of the kneeling. What happened before? Colin Kaepernick’s memoir Change the Game tells his story of being a Black student, adopted by White parents and attending a largely White school. Everyone in his life is encouraging him to pursue baseball and accept one of the offers that come his way.  It’s the story of how it can be a challenge to go against the majority and listen to yourself instead.

Many readers will relate to the struggle of making a decision. Kaepernick says that “sometimes, one path seems easy. The sun in shining on it. It’s neatly paved. You could just take that path and go . . . but just because a path is easy, does that make it the right way to go? What if there’s something else waiting for you out there?” The surface story is about a young athlete choosing between two sports, but the messages are much deeper.

Beyond sports, it’s a story of a young Black man dealing with micro-aggressions and finding his voice. In one scene Kaepernick calls out a player for being racist and the coach tells him (Kaepernick) to back off. He narrates his reflection by saying “I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I was so angry. If I didn’t speak up, it felt like something would eat at me inside. But when I did speak up, apparently I was doing the wrong thing.” This internal conflict of when to speak up is an important theme to understanding Kaepernick’s decisions but also a meaningful feeling to name for young people. Exploring how one person controlled their internal conflict can be a powerful example for readers managing their inner battles.

I would recommend this graphic novel to readers ages 12 and up who enjoy non-fiction, activism and sports. It’s an accessible text that takes a reflective look at the story behind the athlete and activist we know, Colin Kaepernick.

To learn more about the work Kaepernick continues to do, visit Kaepernick Publishing whose mission is “to elevate a new generation of writers with diverse views and voices through the creation of powerful works of all genres that can build a better and more just world.”




Four Eyes by Rex Ogle and Dave Valeza is a graphic novel dealing with the adjustments of starting middle school. The memoir focuses on when Rex begins a new year without his elementary friends due to re-drawn school catchment areas. He is faced with all the typical drama of locker combinations, height differences, trying to fit in and new academic expectations. As if that is not hard enough, Rex discovers that he needs glasses which his mother cannot afford.

This piece of Ogle’s story includes important themes around the topics of divorced families, poverty, bullying, friendships and school. Although very age-appropriate, he does not shy away from the realities of divorced parents fighting about money, the cruelness of peers and generational conflict.  At the same time, this realistic coming-of-age story encompasses the sweetness of grandparents, an accepting portrayal of stuttering and the joy of new friendships.

Ogle’s portrayal of how friendships change was powerful. People change and those who were your friends throughout elementary may not be the same as you grow up. The message that you don’t need to change to find a group of friends that show belonging, laughter and support is one that every middle grader needs to hear. This book would be a great addition to a grade 5 and 6 classroom library.



Nic Stone begins her book Chaos Theory with a beautiful letter to the reader where she shares a glimpse of her personal story and reasons for writing this book. It, along with the following page, offers several content warnings. She cautions readers about suicide and self-harm discussions as well as triggering content around “living with brain chemistry that functions in a way that occasionally obliterates your innate survival instincts.” Yet, her letter also details that these topics are exactly why she wrote the book. She hopes the story provides comfort for those who relate along with compassion and learning for those who are watching from the outside.

Chaos Theory follows Shelbi and Andy through a chance connection and weaves together their stories of struggle, friendship and love. These teens are dealt situations with alcoholism, abortion, bipolar diagnosis, divorce, and betrayal. Sounds heavy, right? It is. But it is also a positive view of seeking therapy, creating support systems, owning mistakes and taking action to live your best life.

Through a narrative mix of text messages and prose, the story shares the message that mental health is as important as physical health – and how the two are linked. The topics covered make this recommendation one for mature YA readers.