Margin Notes



Reflection is an important part of daily learning for students, and the end of the semester/year provides an opportunity for students to combine all those reflections and think deeply about what they learned, their growth, and what they can take with them as they move forward. It provides an opportunity to analyze what they have learned/skills they have gained throughout the entirety of a course. Providing opportunities for students to reflect allows them the time necessary to gain insight into themselves as learners. As important as it is that teachers know their students as learners, it is equally important that students understand who they are as learners, and what this means for them as they navigate life both inside and outside of school.

Below you will find some prompts that could be used in conferences, in a written reflection, or as a whole-class discussion. These prompts could be shared with students who can then choose the prompts that will best guide their reflection. It is important to note that these questions are just that – a guide – not a list of questions that must be answered, as not all prompts will connect with the learning of every student.

Sample Reflection Invitations:
• What is the most important thing you learned this year about yourself as a reader/writer?
• What challenges did you face thisyear and how did you work through them?
• What text(s) most changed your thinking on a topic this year?
• How does what you learned this year connect to your life outside of school?
• What required the most effort from you?
• What goals did you set for yourself that you were able to accomplish? How did you do this?
• What were your most memorable learning experiences this year, and what made them so?
• What areas of reading/writing/speaking are you more confident in at the end of this year and what do you think helped gain that confidence?
• What makes you proud of your work this year/semester?
• Who were you as a reader in September and how has that changed?
• Who are you as a writer now, in comparison to who you were in September?
• Did your work this year confirm/challenge or change your thinking about yourself as a learner or the world?
• How did mini-lessons/feedback/conferences/peers motivate and support your learning?
• What do you want to take with you from this class into your other personal and academic pursuits?
• What is a goal you made for yourself and what steps did you take to work towards that goal?
• What is something you hope your teacher next year knows about your learning?



There are four stories woven into the Schusterman’s brilliantly conceived novel, Roxy. Brother and sister, Isaac and Ivy Ramey, are accompanied as narrators by two anthropomorphized drugs: Roxy (OxyContin) and Addison (Adderall). The siblings recount their experiences with prescription drugs while Roxy and Addison unfold the tales of themselves and their party-going friends who frequent an exclusive club that pits them in a competition to get their ‘plus-one’ into the VIP Lounge.

I very much loved this book, and contend that it is essential reading for teens. North Americans are in the torment of an opioid crisis. Among people aged 12 or older in 2020, 3.3 percent (or 9.3 million people) misused prescription opioids in the past year and opioids were involved in 68,630 overdose deaths in 2020 (74.8% of all drug overdose deaths).1 Until recently, the term “drug use” typically referred to illegal substances like cocaine, heroin or crystal meth. Today’s teens are more likely to get hooked on prescription medication, especially painkillers. Most often teens receive opioid prescriptions after dental procedures and sports injuries. Similarly, adolescent abuse of Ritalin and Adderall is largely driven by the belief that these drugs can improve academic performance. This is more urban myth than reality; it is true that stimulants will heighten energy and focus in the short-term, but after the brain adjusts to the presence of such drugs, these effects are weakened and become more elusive.2

This pervasive problem is addressed in both the dedication: “For those in the throes of addiction, may you find the strength to fight off the demons who pose as gods“; and in the authors’ opening note that reads in part: “It is our hope that everyone who reads Roxy will leave the story with a clearer understanding of how insidious, seductive, and dangerous these drugs can be.”

Isaac and Ivy have relatable teen lives and plausible experiences that lead them to be prescribed opioids. Isaac receives Roxy (OxyContin) after a painful soccer injury, and Ivy takes Addison (Adderall) to help her focus on increasing her failing grades so she can graduate on time. With a popular post-modern nod, we begin at the end: “They tag your toe with the last name on your ID, and your first initial: Ramey, I.”(4) and then flash back through time unravelling how this pivotal moment came to be. Who dies: Isaac or Ivy?

Roxy introduces herself with confident self awareness : “I am so hot right now. And everyone knows it. It’s like I own the world. It has no choice but to yield to my gravity” (16). You enter the party with her, where: “Al greets [you] at the door, a glass of champagne in each hand… Al’s older than the rest of us,” Roxy amiably explains, “been around longer, but he carries his age well” (16). At the bar, you can catch a glimpse of Addison: “He’s dressed in a conspicuous style, like he belongs to a yacht club that his father owns. All prestige and privilege” (17). Also spotted: Molly, Mary Jane, Rita, and the Coke brothers, Charlie and Dusty. Each of them act predictably, like the drugs to which their names nod, and readers get a multi-sensory tour of how they work. For example,  we find Addison sitting at a piano recital with his older sister, Rita, comparatively ordinary next to their cousins: Crys, and the twins, in their “white silk suits and flashy jewelry, lounging in a private booth like they own the world, making the party come to them” (33) they instead, calm kids, help them focus– play the piano flawlessly, or as Rita points to her own ward in the audience, sit still through a performance.

The book is awash in delightful craft moves. There are six character-titled “interludes”, each matched with their molecular formulas (you can Google them– they are hyper-linked in this post for your convenience) and explore further the chemical literature of the National Library of Medicine‘s entries for each compound: Mary Jane (C21H30O2); Dusty & Charlie (C17H21NO4); Lucy (C20H25N3O); Phineas (C17H19NO3); Vic (C18H21NO3) and Hyde (CH2O). On their own, they provide poignant personified snapshots of marijuana and it’s legalization and medical use; cocaine, who boasts of his long historical significance, including once being the key ingredient in Coca-Cola (until replaced by caffeine); the powerful taunting of an acid trip; morphine as the Prince of Palliative Care, vicodin (Roxy’s brother) and even formaldehyde, the final drug used, when the character is embalmed for their funeral.

Michelle Wuest is and English teacher & SPR at Leo Hayes High School with over 20 years helping students find the right book. When not teaching or reading you’ll find her tap dancing, practicing yoga, walking her Doodle, seeing live music with her husband, or listening to her son rattle of random NFL stats for the eleventy-billionth time.



What I was Reading:

A middle school novel by Lawrence Hill? Yes, please! Beatrice and Croc Harry is a genuine and creative romp filled with fascinating words, a new land full of adventure, an intriguing and brave protagonist and a talking crocodile, who build a curious and complex relationship out of intellect, wit, and sincerity. “Using playful language and a comic touch, the novel explores themes of identity, the courage to confront injustice, and the possibility that perpetrators of injustice and those who have been harmed might find themselves in a place of healing and respect” (from Lawrence Hill’s website).

Moves I Noticed the Author Making:

  • Complex words in a new and complex world: Throughout the novel, Beatrice and Croc Harry share witty banter full of wild new vocabulary words that are wielded almost as weapons used to challenge and outwit. Some words will be new to readers, some are completely made up, and some are related to local/cultural dialect. It looks like this:


Croc Harry exhaled loudly. “Attitudinous brat!”

“How dare you call me attitudinous,” Beatrice said.

“Well, you are!”

“Is that even a word?”

“It’s a word in my books. It means too mouthy for your own good.”

“Well, if I’m attitudinous, it so happens that you smell like an unwashed bear. And you are positively assitudinous.”

“I bathe daily,” Croc Harry said. “And assitudinous is not a word.”

“It is in my books,” Beatrice said.

“So what’s it mean, then?” Croc Harry asked.

“Stubborn like a donkey.”

  • Create an authoritative text to make it real: The author gives a specific name to the made-up dictionary that holds many of these creative and complicated words and concepts explored by Bea and Croc Harry, which makes them seem more meaningful. As complex vocabulary is introduced, the words are often defined by one of the characters or by Beatrice’s unique dictionary. Hill names the dictionary in this story “The St. Lawrence Dictionary of Only the Best Words, Real and Concocted.”

Possibilities for Writers

  • In March 2022, the New York Times’ Learning Center encouraged teens to compete by creating new words and definitions. Check it out here: 24 New Words Invented by Teenagers – The New York Times ( See what exciting words your writers can come up with. Build a word wall to display what new words students have learned and created.
  • Challenge your writers to invent a new dictionary to hold these exciting new words. Create elaborate definitions for words and come up with a creative name for individual dictionaries. You could also make this a collaborative event in the classroom by creating a classroom dictionary of weird and wonderful words.

Cristina Furey is a UNB student who loves sharing words and stories with people of all ages. She believes there is no better feeling than recommending good books to the readers who need them most and always hopes the magic of storytelling will capture attention and foster the joy of reading in all hearts and minds.



On our continuing mission to engage students with writing, what better way than to have them write about who they are and perhaps even what they like to write about, while highlighting that they are all authors. One way to do all of this is by having students write their own author bio, that they can include with any writing pieces throughout the year.

To begin the lesson, a craft study on a varied selection of author biographies would be ideal. Below are a few example mentor texts that I would select. As we move through them, I would ask students to notice what makes each one similar or different than the pervious one. In other words,  what elements do author bios require, and which ones can be included by choice?

  • Karina Yan Glaser has had many jobs, including waitressing, community organizing, and teaching literacy in family homeless shelters. She is now a full-time writer, as well as a contributing editor to Book Riot. She lives in Harlem, New York City, with her husband, two daughters, and assortment of rescue animals. On of her proudest achievements is raising two kids who can’t go anywhere without a book.
  • Alex Gino loves glitter, ice cream, gardening, awe-fun puns, and stories that reflect the diversity and complexity of being alive. They are the author of George and You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P! George was a winner of the stonewall Award, the Lambda Literary Award, and the Children’s Choice Book Awards, among a host of others.
  • Dana Alison Levy was raised by pirates but escaped at a young age and went on to earn a degree in aeronautics and puppetry. Actually, that’s not true- she just likes to make things up. That’s why she has always wanted to write stories. Her previous books, The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island, and This Would Make a Great Story Someday, have garnered starred reviews, been on multiple Best Of and state award lists, and were Junior Library Guild selections. Also, her kids like them. Dana was last seen romping with her family in New England.

Some examples of what you and your students may tease out from author bio mentor texts is that they must include third person voice, state where they are from or currently live, and that they might contain the author’s interests, pervious jobs, literary accolades, points of pride, and a note about the people they share their life with.

Next, it’s your students’ turn to write one, keeping in mind the essentials while also getting the opportunity to make it their own. Their author bios can be as factual or as imaginative as they would like, and in this way, each student may decide whether this assignment is fiction or non-fiction, or a combination of the two.

Some possible extensions to this writing opportunity might include having students to work collaboratively by interviewing each other and writing a bio for their partner. Another possible extension could be having them represent their bio by including a self-portrait and designing the interior of a book jacket, for example.

Chanelle Coates can be found at a local cafe with an iced vanilla latte in hand, reading, writing, and painting with watercolours. The rest of her time she spends thinking about skincare, re-watching Grey’s Anatomy, and FaceTiming her partner Sam.



From Tommy Greenwald, the author of Game Changer, comes another high-stakes, youth sport story that takes us through the risk and reward of contact sports, using a plethora of different multimedia to tell a relevant and compelling story. Dinged is a story about Caleb Springer a high-school freshman who has just made the starting quarterback position at his school. Caleb lives and breathes football, but when Caleb’s dad, an ex-NFL star, starts to act differently and begins to forget things, Caleb begins to worry that the game he loves so much could come at a great risk. Soon Caleb realizes he will have to make a choice, football, or his life. Dinged approaches the complex issue of CTE and the dangers of contact sport in a way that helps us understand Caleb’s struggle with playing the game he loves and understanding the risks involved.

One thing I have loved about Tommy Greenwald’s writing, is the way he uses multiple forms of media to tell his stories. Dinged follows the same script, as Greenwald tells Caleb’s story through text messages, school newspaper clippings, sports announcements, and radio shows. This format allows readers to get a clear insight into Caleb’s life, and the pressure he is feeling from all angles. It also gives some insight into his motivations as a character, while giving the thoughts of the people surrounding him. While reading you can start to understand Caleb’s insecurities, motivations, and understand that he is a very self-aware character trying to make a seemingly impossible choice. This format is very student-friendly, especially for readers who enjoy breaks from all-prose text. It would be a great novel to use as a craft study on different text formats, such as using text messages to convey dialogue between characters. It would also be an engaging read aloud that would encourage some thoughtful group discussions about character motivations and the influences we feel from the people we surround ourselves with, as well as the culture surrounding sports today that is just accepted as part of the game.

This book would be a great addition to classroom libraries middle school and up. Students who enjoy sports, especially football, will love the football commentary throughout the book, and will be invested in Caleb’s freshman season. However, this is not simply just a book for sports fans. I would recommend this to adults and youths alike. It has such a powerful message, told in a way that doesn’t just provide criticism but also allows for compassion. Greenwald uses his authors note to convey that that he doesn’t want to tell you want to think, he just wants to encourage you to think about the subject.

Lauren Sieben is a Grade 8 ELA teacher at Perth-Andover Middle School. Her favourite activity is reading books. Her second favourite activity is talking about them.




Zachariah Junior, ZJ to his friends, is an 11-year-old boy who seems to have it all: three great friends, a superstar father football player who adores him, a doting and caring mom, and a passion for writing songs. Told in the voice of ZJ, the story is narrated between the past of remembering the glory days of his father’s famous football career: riding high on his shoulders, the loyal fans, the Super Bowl ring, and the many conversations they had over stats, to the present reality of watching his father suffer from the injuries he sustained during his football career. What remains constant is the love between ZJ and his superstar dad, Zachariah 44. Readers will enjoy the playful teasing, and back and forth conversations shared, along with the tight- knit father -and-son bond. ZJ is affectionally know to his dad as “little man.” This proves to be important throughout the story. ZJ knows his dad is having a good day when he calls him by this name. At times, his dad struggles to remember.

Each chapter is a memory, or a present-day reality, all lovingly told from ZJ’s perspective.  Throughout the novel we are carried through good times of remembering the Before and there are too many great memories to count, to the Ever After, the hardship as ZJ and his mom worry about his father’s increasing headaches, memory loss and change in personality, all the while feeling very frustrated at the doctors’ inability to come up with a solution.  All mother and son hope for is a diagnosis to explain why he is in so much pain. Any reader who has longed for the way something used to be, will feel ZJ’s sadness as he remembers and wishes for his old dad back. The love and loyalty of his three friends: Ollie, Darry, Daniel, help ZJ to navigate his emotions during this hard time and to be there for their friend.

Jacqueline Woodson’s historical novel, Before the Ever After, is perfectly suited for pre-teens and teens as there is much to gain from reading this novel in verse. She draws the reader in by the flow of her writing, each page a delight to read. Themes of family, friendship, dealing with adversity and staying positive when times are tough, will give each reader something to think about while reading.

For teachers, this novel is full of mentor -text opportunities and invitations to show students how to write well: figurative language, strong voice, and lessons on descriptive word choice are definite mini lessons in any ELA classroom. More importantly, read this book out loud- you will not be disappointed.

Tina Kelly teaches language arts at George Street Middle School. She has over 25 years of experience with middle schoolers and loves nothing more than recommending and sharing great literature. Inspired by Nancie Atwell, she believes in the philosophy of the Readers Workshop and the importance of giving students the choice to read what they want.



A trend in contemporary poetry collections is the inclusion of prose writing. In general, prose is a writing style that does not follow a structure of rhyme or meter. It uses words to compose phrases that are arranged into sentences and paragraphs and is used to communicate concepts, ideas, and stories to a reader. However, prose poetry is a type of writing that combines the elements of poetry, such as meter, repetition, alliteration, language and literary devices with elements of prose.

To introduce students to prose poetry, I recommend using the work of  Lang Leav, a poet and novelist whose poetry collections feature beautiful examples of prose poetry. She has such a way with words and presents her ideas through her writing in unique and gripping ways. Some titles you may wish to explore with students include:

Three Questions by Lang Leav

Crossroads by Lang Leav

A Dream by Lang Leav

The Redwood Tree by Lang Leav

Until It’s Gone by Lang Leav

Her by Lang Leav

Lover’s Paradox by Lang Leav

Talk Again by Lang Leav

Students can explore these titles as a class, in small groups, and/or independently, and notice and name the moves they notice, and the impact they may have on the reader. They can then experiment with writing their own prose poetry, revising a piece they are currently writing to include a move inspired by something they saw today, or reflect on the impact of this blending of forms.

Taylor Floris is an aspiring English and Business teacher, currently completing her Bachelor of Education degree from the University of New Brunswick. In her spare time, she can be found cozied up, with a coffee in-hand, indulged into the life of fiction and poetry.



As teachers, we often seek out learning opportunities that provide a means for analysis and recognize the intentional writing choices of authors. One opportunity you may wish to try with your students is analyzing poetry though a “gallery walk”.  Here is how it works:

  1. Choose poems you want your students to analyze for craft (I will link some of my favourites at the end of this post!)
  2. Create stations around your classroom with a copy of each poem taped to the middle of a piece of chart paper.
  3. Model annotating a poem, where you think aloud for your students.
  4. Place students in small groups to move through the stations that each feature a different poem.
  5. After reading a poem students will record the moves they notice the poet making on the chart paper.
  6. After they have had time to do this, each group will rotate.
  7. From here, they will read the next poem, consider the annotations made by the previous group and add any further annotations that they notice.

The goal of this learning activity is to engage students in texts to notice craft moves that they may not have without a targeted reading purpose and collaboration, so a nice debrief is to then share the final collection of annotations for each poem either as a whole-class or with one final “gallery walk”.

Some potential exit slip questions could be:

  • What is a craft move you noticed in a poem today that impacted your reading of the poem? How did this move deepen your understanding of either the poem or the intentional moves writers make?
  • What is a craft move another student made that helped you see something new?
  • Did you see any craft moves in the poems you read today that you would like to try in your own writing? Tell me how or when you might use it.

Here are some poems you might consider using:

Good Bones by Maggie Smith

Home by Sarah Russell

The Rose That Grew from Concrete by Tupac Shakur

Blank Sonnet by George Elliott Clarke

And Lang Leav’s poem “Leaves”

Taylor Floris is an aspiring English and Business teacher, currently completing her Bachelor of Education degree from the University of New Brunswick. In her spare time, she can be found cozied up, with a coffee in-hand, indulged into the life of fiction and poetry.



If you have students who struggle to find reading material and seem to spend more time browsing than reading, here is something you can try tomorrow. Check out the magazine selection on SORA. Over 70 magazines are available at all times and there is no limit to the number of checkouts. If you wish you had more non-fiction choices in your classroom library, now you can- through SORA.

Here are just a few of the titles available:

"National Geographic Magazine" (magazine) cover"Newsweek" (magazine) cover"Car and Driver" (magazine) cover"Popular Mechanics" (magazine) cover"Outdoor Life" (magazine) cover"HorseWyse" (magazine) cover


For information about SORA, please have a look at the EECD Virtual Learning Sharepoint.



I must admit, as a middle school teacher, I was hesitant to read this title out loud, however this cheeky title is a great read. Readers will love how the author, Huda Fahmy, writes about growing up and moving to a small town in Dearborn Michigan. As a Muslim teen, Huda knew exactly who she was in her old town, but in her new town, she feels lost. Huda is trying to figure out what every teen is essentially trying to figure out: their identity. With essential themes of micro aggressions and stereotypes, family and friendships, Huda retells her high school experience.

The story centers around her upbringing in a family of five girls and two loving parents who have high expectations of her. Huda finds every moment to make us all laugh at her awkward high school moments. Students will be able to relate to the idea that fitting in is hard and knowing who your true friends are is not always easy to figure out. Along the way she tries a variety of friend groups to see where she belongs. It takes an incident in the Principal’s office with her mother to make her come to terms with who she wants to be. I enjoyed this graphic novel in one sitting, and I highly recommend it for your classroom library.

Tina Kelly teaches language arts at George Street Middle School. She has over 25 years of experience with middle schoolers and loves nothing more than recommending and sharing great literature. Inspired by Nancie Atwell, she believes in the philosophy of the Readers Workshop and the importance of giving students the choice to read what they want.