Margin Notes



Writer Hanif Abdurraqib started SIXTYEIGHT2OHFIVE as a playlist project. When he expanded it to a website, he began inviting writers to contribute essays “in praise of or in reflection of an album (within this window of years) that changed their life.” The Essays on Albums library, searchable by decade, is an absolute mentor text treasure trove.

These first-person essays combine memoir, analysis, and personal reflection. They can be used as mentors for students to reflect on the music (or any other media, person, or experience) that has impacted them. Excerpts of beautiful passages and sentences can be used as micro-mentors or incorporated into craft studies and mini-lessons.

This project is a gift to music lovers and to writing teachers.



What I Was Reading:

The Book of (More) Delights by Ross Gay is based on the same premise as his previous collection, The Book of Delights: a year’s worth of brief essays, beginning and ending on his birthday, that celebrate the delights he encounters in his daily life. Gay explains that for the second collection he “kept to the same constraints—write them daily, write them quickly, and write them by hand—though truth be told, I was a little looser with those this time around, for one of the delights of a constraint, or a rule, is breaking it.”

Also like the previous collection, these essayettes as Gay calls them, are filled with inspiration for developing our own personal practice of delight by tuning into and documenting the small and large things that bring us joy.

Gay’s prose often reads like his poetry—alive with rhythm and energy. His sentences are complex, filled with strong imagery and emotion, and uniquely punctuated. This sentence is just one of a hundred I marked while reading:

As is my mother’s way sometimes, she offered this dime of wisdom as we were driving home from a sweet Christmas at my brother’s, almost in passing, dipping into a serious or serious-ish conversation, grave maybe is the better word, as is common for us, when she said—describing her grandchildren, now sixteen and fourteen years old, who will forevermore call her Munga, which is precisely how the oldest couldn’t say Grandma, both of whom still sometimes like to sleep over, or come over for a meal, and for whom she always bakes a this or a that (that requires some clarification: the best pound cake, eighteen kinds of cookies, etc.), and goes to games major and minor, traveling often quite far to sit on the hard stands despite the arthritis creeping into her lower spine, and worries on their behalf, for she changed their diapers and bathed them and when their parents were off early to work she was the one who got them off to school, which included, after waking them up very gently, soothingly as a loon singing their diminutive names, I kid you not, making for them whatever breakfast they wanted, I think they called it putting in our orders, usually eggs and bacon for the one, and chocolate chip pancakes for the other, and who still not infrequently takes them to doctor’s appointments and always makes the award ceremonies and the concerts, and if ever their folks are caught up she’s the one takes over—They saved my life.

What Moves I Notice the Author Making:

  • There is a lot going on in this sentence punctuation-wise!
  • One of the unique elements of Gay’s style that I really appreciate is the way he interrupts himself in his writing. In this sentence, Gay pauses his original thought to add background details about his mother and sets them apart with a pair of dashes. It feels as though we are in conversation and he has veered off mid-thought to give me the important backstory.
  • When I read this extra-long single sentence with its variety of punctuation and combination of phrases, I could feel the energy behind the pacing. I felt myself inhale with the first dash and exhale when I reached the second one.
  • At first glance, this appears to be a giant run-on sentence, but it is really an exemplar for comma use and transition words.
  • This sentence would be perfect for a fluency mini-lesson that invites students to describe how the punctuation guides their reading expression.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Notice and name other interesting craft moves in this passage.
  • Explore the types of punctuation and their unique purposes in the sentence.
  • Identify the transition words and explain how they connect parts of the sentence to the whole.
  • Reflect on how the punctuation impacts the way you read it. Watch for interesting pacing strategies in other texts you read.
  • Use Gay’s technique of interrupting a shorter sentence by adding details such as anecdotes or examples.
  • Revise a draft in your writer’s notebook by incorporating some of the craft moves you notice in this excerpt.





When all 2 hours and 2 minutes of The Tortured Poets Department dropped, the reactions of swifties and non-swifties alike dominated online spaces. Since students (and their teachers) are reading and debating the merits of these digital texts, it seems like an excellent opportunity to leverage this current engagement and create a mini craft study.

After I pulled together a small collection of reviews that range from glowing to mixed to negative, I identified a learning target from our ELA curriculum: evaluate an author’s effectiveness using textual support. Then, I selected a paragraph from each of the reviews that demonstrates the use of textual support:

Taylor Swift: The Tortured Poets Department / The Anthology Album Review  (Pitchfork)

It’s not Swift’s fault that we’re so obsessed with her, but this album gives the impression that she can’t quite hear herself over the roar of the crowd. Tearjerkers like “So Long, London” and “loml” fall short when every lyric carries equal weight. There’s no hierarchy of tragic detail; these songs fail to distill an overarching emotional truth, tending to smother rather than sting. It would help if Swift were exploring new musical ideas, but she is largely retreading old territory—unsurprising, perhaps, given that the last three years of her life have been consumed by re-recording her old albums and touring her past selves. The new music is colored in familiar shades of Antonoff (sparse drum programming, twinkly synths) and Dessner (suppler, more strings). Songs sound like other songs—“I Can Do It With a Broken Heart” like Midnights’ “Mastermind”; the intro of “So Long, London” like that of Folklore’s “My Tears Ricochet.” Her melodies feel staid, like they are made to fit the music, rather than the other way around.

Taylor Swift’s ‘Tortured Poets Department’ Is More Puzzling Than Poetic  (Huffington Post)

When it comes to Swift’s music, I often think of a concept introduced by Bowen Yang and Matt Rogers on their podcast Las Culturistas: Taylor Swift vs. Tayla Swiff. In their analysis of “folklore” and “evermore,” they posit that at her best, Swift portrays her genuine self in her music, exuding raw emotion and vulnerability. At other times, she leans too far into Tayla Swiff (the name they have given her public persona), and tries to wink at her listeners that she’s in on the joke of her celebrity, or worse, garner pity for her struggles as one of the most powerful women in the world. Tayla is alive and well on “The Anthology”: She writes of the hyper-attention on her breakups, saying, “Come one, come all / It’s happenin’ again / The empathetic hunger descends” in “How Did It End?” and in “The Prophecy,” she claims, “Don’t want money / Just someone who wants my company”…

Taylor Swift: The Tortured Poets Department review  (AV Club)

Swift is hardly the only artist whose work is in conversation with itself, nor is she the first to return to ideas on multiple albums. But The Tortured Poets Department exists in the inescapable shadow of the incredible volume of music immediately preceding it. It’s easy, on many tracks, to point to an analog, musically or lyrically, from a previous album. “Who’s Afraid Of Little Old Me?” is this album’s “mad woman”; the reference to CPR on “So Long, London” inevitably recalls “You’re Losing Me.” Perhaps this wouldn’t be a detriment if we had time away from these repetitive themes. But Swift has released eight albums in the last four years, and the influence of that hyperproductivity is evident in Tortured Poets. Production-wise, many of Swift’s collaborations with Jack Antonoff sound like Midnights B-sides, or worse, like 1989 Vault Tracks (essentially, C-sides). Songs that are brand new feel done before within this Taylor Swift Experience context.

Taylor Swift’s ‘The Tortured Poets Department’ Review  (Billboard)

Furious rhetorical questions and errors in judgment dot the Tortured Poets Department lyrics, as Swift aims at a target beyond vulnerability, that allows her wide listenership to understand her heart and mind. In a career defined by her songwriting, Swift has never placed so much emphasis on her words — the production, courtesy of Swift and close collaborators Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner, seems to evaporate at points, the music almost incidental compared to the lyrics. The warm synth-pop of Midnights serves as the closest reference point, but that album was cleanly orchestrated, while The Tortured Poets Department wants to get in the mud with soft-loud dissonance and tracklist sprawl. Really, the album is in conversation with her entire catalog — a country-pop chorus here, a Folklore folk tale there — while still making time to explore the unknown.

Album Review: Taylor Swift’s ‘The Tortured Poets Department’ is written in blood (NPR)

Swift’s musical approach has always been enthusiastic and absorbent. She’s created her own sounds by blending country’s sturdy song structures with R&B’s vibes, rap’s cadences and pop’s glitz; as a personality and a performer, she’s all arms, hugging the world. The sound of Tortured Poets offers that familiar embrace, with pop tracks that sparkle with intelligence, and meditative ones that wrap tons of comforting aura around Swift’s ruminations. Beyond a virtually undetectable Post Malone appearance and a Florence Welch duet that also serves as an homage to Swift’s current exemplar/best friendly rival, Lana Del Rey, the album alternates between co-writes with Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner, the producers who have helped Swift find her mature sound, which blends all of her previous approaches without favoring any prevailing trend. There are the rap-like, conversational verses, the reaching choruses, the delicate piano meditations, the swooning synth beats. Antonoff’s songs come closest to her post-1989 chart toppers; Dessner’s fulfill her plans to remain an album artist. Swift has also written two songs on her own, a rarity for her; both come as close to ferocity as she gets. As a sustained listen, Tortured Poets harkens back to high points throughout Swift’s career, creating a comforting environment that both supports and balances the intensity of her storytelling.

Taylor Swift’s New Album, ‘The Tortured Poets Department,’ Could Use an Editor: Review  (NY Times)

Plenty of great artists are driven by feelings of being underestimated, and have had to find new targets for their ire once they become too successful to convincingly claim underdog status. Beyoncé, who has reached a similar moment in her career, has opted to look outward. On her recently released “Cowboy Carter,” she takes aim at the racist traditionalists lingering in the music industry and the idea of genre as a means of confinement or limitation.

Swift’s new project remains fixed on her internal world. The villains of “The Tortured Poets Department” are a few less famous exes and, on the unexpectedly venomous “But Daddy I Love Him,” the “wine moms” and “Sarahs and Hannahs in their Sunday best” who cluck their tongues at our narrator’s dating decisions. (Some might speculate that these are actually shots at her own fans.) “The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived” is probably the most satisfyingly vicious breakup song Swift has written since “All Too Well,” but it is predicated on a power imbalance that goes unquestioned. Is a clash between the smallest man and the biggest woman in the world a fair fight?

Invite students individually or in small groups to notice and name the various types of textual evidence as well as the range of techniques for incorporating it they find in each of the excerpts. Then ask them to rank each of the reviewer’s use of textual evidence from most to least effective and explain their decision. In other words, they’ll be evaluating the reviewers’ effectiveness using textual support.

You could use these reviews for a number of different mini craft studies, including:

  • Select paragraphs that focus on the same element of TTPD and compare points of view or perspectives.
  • Give students different highlighters to identify analysis, summary, and examples and compare the ratio across excerpts.
  • Compare sections of each text where the writer is persuading the audience. List the techniques and evaluate their effectiveness.

This framework for organizing mini craft studies (curate a collection of texts, identify a learning target or focus, select a paragraph or excerpt from each text, and inviting students to notice, name, and evaluate the effectiveness of the techniques) can be adapted for any collection of responses, reactions, reviews, and hot takes on something your students are reading and talking about (a new product/movie/series/game, the outcome of a sporting event, a current event, etc).

No matter what your mini craft study focuses on, you can extend students’ learning by asking them to find examples of similar craft moves in their reading and by incorporating them into their writing.




In the author’s note of How to Write a Poem, Kwame Alexander defines a poem as “a small but mighty thing. It has the power to reach inside us, to teach us to ignite our imaginations.” Yet, he observes that poetry is often regarded as complicated, intimidating, and inaccessible. To counteract poetry becoming the neglected genre, he and Deanna Kikaido wrote this book to ”help each of us find our way back to an appreciation of words…to remembering the wonder of poetry.”

Alexander and Nikaido have written a delightful poem that combines beautifully with Melissa Sweet’s wonderful artwork to invite and inspire us to pay attention to the world around us for ideas to kindle our imagination. This is where “the words have been waiting to slide down your pencil into your small precious hand and become a voice with spark.”

How to Write a Poem is brimming with possibilities for poetry month and beyond. Here are just a few:

  • Explore and discuss the many poetic elements of the poem.
  • Read like writers and use How to Write a Poem as a mentor text for how-to poems on other topics.
  • After reading, invite students to quickwrite about their process for finding writing ideas.
  • Use think-ink-pair-share for students to reflect on and then share the line that most resonates with them as a writer.
  • Launch the writer’s notebook as a tool for noticing and capturing the seeds of writing ideas with a text set that incorporates How to Write a Poem with picture books such as I Wonder by K.A Holt and Kenard Pak, Ideas Are All Around by Philip C. Stead, and Noticing by Kobi Yamada and Elise Hurst. You can also include selections from collections like The Book of Delights by Ross Gay and World of Wonders by Aimee Nezhukumatathil.
  • Build a text set on the power of noticing that combines How to Write a Poem with What to Put in Your Notebook by Grant Snider, Poetry is the Act of Paying Attention by Clint Smith, and The Patience of Ordinary Things by Pat Schneider.
  • Begin a craft or process study with How to Write a Poem and resources that provide behind-the-scenes views of writers and their writing. Interviews with Poets, Craft Advice, and How I Wrote It are terrific places to start.



April is Poetry Month and Margin Notes will be featuring ideas for celebrating poetry this month…and all year long.

We’ve updated our Poetry Month Resource Round-Up. You can access it here.

For more inspiration, enjoy Pamela Spiro Wagner’s How to Read a Poem: Beginner’s Manual, Introduction to Poetry by Billy Collins, and Understanding Poetry by Grant Snider.

You will also find poetry ideas in our Craft Studio and Try This Tomorrow posts.

Happy Poetry Month!



We love the practice of introducing texts, topics, authors, and genres to students by reading the first chapter aloud. First Chapter Fridays are a wonderful opportunity to end the week with reading joy. It’s also a strategy that, when planned with intention, can support most aspects of the curriculum. This post is part of a series that will introduce ideas for leveling up your First Chapter Fridays without diminishing its central purpose of engaging readers. Read the previous posts here, here and here.

Because one of the goals of First Chapter Fridays is introducing a wide variety of texts, you can easily add graphic texts and comics into this routine by projecting the first few pages for the class to view while you read. Of course, it’s important to remember that graphic texts are a form and not a genre, so within this category you’ll find a wide range of both fiction and non-fiction options.

Here are some suggestions for incorporating graphic texts in First Chapter Fridays:

  • Use the text like any other to support word study, vocabulary, comprehension, and criticality/text analysis. Revisit portions of the text in targeted mini-lessons.
  • While reading, stop and model your use of specific strategies to comprehend the combination of words and pictures.
  • Introduce some of the unique and specific features of graphic texts. This is a good source of basic terms and concepts.
  • Invite students to take a closer look at a portion of the text by using a variation of the NY Times Learning Network What’s Going on In This Picture prompts: What is going on in this excerpt? What do you see that makes you say that? What more can you find?
  • Use See, Think, Wonder, Parts, Purposes, Complexities, or other protocols from Project Zero’s Thinking Routine Toolbox to explore portions of the text in more detail.
  • If possible, compare the graphic version with a print version and invite students to articulate their personal preferences, analyze decisions made and the impact these have on the reader, etc.




When Taylor Swift announced her forthcoming album, The Tortured Poets Department, swifties around the world celebrated. At the same time, ELA teachers sent up a cheer because their mini-lesson for the next day had been written.

We all know that learning about grammar happens best in the context of authentic writing, and I loved every minute of following the social media debates over apostrophe usage. (Taylor, if you’re reading this, please incorporate a semicolon in your next album title.)

Literary Hub quickly posted the explainer, Is the phrase The Tortured Poets Department grammatically correct? This is a fantastic explanatory mentor text that can be used specifically as a model for students to write their own grammar explainer or more generally as an example of explaining something using an “if this, then this” structure.

Here are a few other options you might add to build an inquiry unit about explainers:

Quanta Magazine has an archive of Explainers that combine videos and articles to explain detailed scientific and mathematical concepts and phenomena. These can be shared as complete texts or you can pull out specific passages to demonstrate craft moves like word choice, use of context clues, and examples to support readers’ understanding of technical language.

Life Kit from NPR is a podcast that offers” how-to” advice from experts. Most episodes are shorter than 30 minutes and cover a wide range of topics, including 5 Simple Ways to Minimize Stress, How to Have a Healthy Relationship with Caffeine, and Popular Myths About Sleep Debunked. Life Kit episodes blend relatable examples and anecdotes with research presented in an accessible way and most of them conclude with a helpful recap.

Randall Munroe has created a playlist of short videos based on his books, What If? I and What If? II. The videos are under 5 minutes and combine words and images to answer such questions as “What if Earth suddenly stopped spinning?” and “What if NASCAR had no rules?”.




We love the practice of introducing texts, topics, authors, and genres to students by reading the first chapter aloud. First Chapter Fridays are a wonderful opportunity to end the week with reading joy. It’s also a strategy that, when planned with intention, can support most aspects of the curriculum. This post is part of a series that will introduce ideas for leveling up your First Chapter Fridays without diminishing its central purpose of engaging readers. Read the previous posts here and here.

Word study instruction focuses on close investigation of words. Students explore patterns in words and learn how to apply word analysis strategies to read unfamiliar words. Word study supports both reading and spelling.

Here are some suggestions for supporting word study with First Chapter Fridays:

  • Preteach some vocabulary words that are essential to students’ comprehension of the chapter by identify their word parts or patterns.
  • While reading, stop and model your use of word-solving strategies when you encounter unknown and complex words.
  • Identify a word from the chapter with a specific affix. Discuss its meaning and invite students to brainstorm other words they know with the same affix. Discuss the similarities and differences in meanings.
  • Revisit portions of the text in a targeted word study mini-lesson. Possible areas of focus include word-solving strategies (dividing into syllables, root words and origins, background knowledge, context clues), using syllable patterns to decode longer words, and recognizing morphemes and how they affect word meaning.
  • Invite students to select a word from the text to add to their Language Field Guides.



When Emily Weiss, founder of the cosmetics company Glossier, was a high school student in Connecticut, she got a job babysitting for a neighbor who worked for Ralph Lauren. Her belief that it “just can’t hurt to ask” led her to inquire about the possibility of an internship and soon after, she was interning in the women’s design department. Weiss’s boss at Ralph Lauren was so impressed by her, that she recommended her for an internship at Teen Vogue. And her boss at Teen Vogue was so impressed that she recommended her for a role on the MTV reality show The Hills. These backstories set the stage for the combination of entrepreneurship, drive, connections, and never letting a possible opportunity go unexplored that led Emily Weiss to launch Glossier as a start-up in 2014 and lead its growth to an expected 275 million dollars in sales this year.

Weiss had been writing a beauty blog called Into the Gloss and saw the potential market for her own products. After securing initial angel investors and venture capital funding in 2013, Weiss started Glossier the following year with only 4 products and the slogan “Born from content; fueled by community.”

Glossy: Ambition, Beauty, and the Inside Story of Emily Weiss’s Glossier by Marisa Meltzer is much more than a business biography. It also explores the challenges faced by women in leadership roles, examines the phenomenon of influencer marketing, and analyzes the problematic and diminishing nature of the term, “Girl Boss.”



We love the practice of introducing texts, topics, authors, and genres to students by reading the first chapter aloud. First Chapter Fridays are a wonderful opportunity to end the week with reading joy. It’s also a strategy that, when planned with intention, can support most aspects of the curriculum. This post is part of a series that will introduce ideas for leveling up your First Chapter Fridays without diminishing its central purpose of engaging readers. Read the previous post on Supporting Fluency with First Chapter Fridays.

Vocabulary is fundamental to reading comprehension. We learn the meanings of words indirectly through oral and written language and from direct instruction.

Here are some suggestions for supporting vocabulary with First Chapter Fridays:

  • Preteach some vocabulary words that are essential to students’ comprehension of the chapter by.
  • While reading, stop and model your use of vocabulary strategies to solve unknown words.
  • Use a Knowledge Rating Guide or a Vocabulary Prediction Chart for complex vocabulary in the chapter.
  • Revisit portions of the text in a targeted vocabulary mini-lesson. Possible areas of focus include how morphology affects meanings of words, use of contextual clues for solving unknown vocabulary words, figurative language, and shades of meaning.
  • Select a short passage and ask students to identify which word they think is most important and then discuss their choices in small groups.
  • Invite students to select a word from the text to add to their Language Field Guides.