Margin Notes



Photo essays are a powerful form of multimodal writing. I fell in love with them when I was introduced to James Mollison and his incredibly important books: “Where Children Sleep” and “Where Children Play”. These books show, through pictures and words, the inequities of children’s lived experiences around the globe.

When I show these photo essays to teachers and students, they are equally struck by how profound a form of writing it can be. This usually leads to students wanting to write their own photo essays.

So, together as a class, we co-constructed “What makes a quality photo essay?”. We read lots of examples – both in book form and digitally – and answered the following questions:

What do you notice about the photo essay?

How would you define “Photo Essay”?

What makes a quality photo essay?

Some of the books we read were:

Where Children Sleep by James Mollison

James and Other Apes by James Mollison

Before Their Time: The World of Child Labour by David L. Parker

Earth Then and Now: Amazing Images of a Changing World by Fred Pearce

We also looked at digital photo essays that I compiled on a SWAY so the students could view them on their own devices.

Since students will be creating digital photo essays, it’s important that you show them different online tools that they can use. Canva, SWAY, Powerpoint, and Piktochart were the ones we explored.

I find that the photo essays students create tell a lot about themselves and how they view the world. Spending some time on personal photo essays at the beginning of the school year would be a great way to explore identity.



Here are some literacy events taking place in September 2022.

September 8th

International Literacy DaySince 1967, International Literacy Day (ILD) celebrations have taken place annually around the world to remind the public of the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights, and to advance the literacy agenda towards a more literate and sustainable society. Despite progress made, literacy challenges persist with at least 773 million young people and adults lacking basic literacy skills today.”


September 15th – ish

International Dot Day “Imagine the power and potential of millions of people around the world connecting, collaborating, creating and celebrating all that creativity inspires and invites. I hope you will join the growing global community of creativity champions using their talents, gifts and energy to move the world to a better place.”


September 18-24

Banned Books Week “Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types — in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular. The theme of this year’s event is “Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.”

Check out these events, and more, on our ASD-W Margin Notes Literacy K-12 SharePoint.




There are just some authors who are an immediate “yes”. Tae Keller has become one of those authors for me, ever since reading her Newbery Medal winning novel “When You Trap a Tiger“. So, when I found out that she had a new middle grade novel coming out on April 26th, I pre-ordered it. And, let me tell you, it does not disappoint.

Mallory, the narrator of the story, is so real and raw. I love how we are privy to all of her thoughts, insecurities, and feelings. She is a complicated character and is not simply “good or bad”. The shame and guilt she feels over her actions and those of her friends is written with sensitivity, and I certainly felt empathy for her- despite the fact that as a parent and a teacher I wanted to tell her to give her head a shake many times.

This is a story of bullying, aliens (yes, I said “aliens”), being the “new kid”, standing up for what is right, and speaking up for others EVEN when it makes you stick out. This novel would be an amazing read aloud for a grade 6 or 7 class.

I highly recommend you add this to your TBR stack of summer reads. And if you haven’t read “When you Trap a Tiger”, add that one too!

CRAFT STUDIO: AIN’T BURNED ALL THE BRIGHT by Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin


What I was reading:

Ain’t Burned All The Bright by Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin.

From the book blurb: “Jason Reynolds, using three longgggggg sentences, and Jason Griffin, using three hundred pages of pocket-size moleskine, hav mind-melded this fierce-vulnerable-brilliant-terrifying-whatiswrongwithhumans-hopefilled-hopeful-tender-heartbreaking-heartmaking-manifesto on what it means not to be able to breath, and how the people and things at your fingertips are actually the oxygen you need.”

What moves I noticed the writer/illustrator use:

  • The text and the artwork are equally prominent 
  • The author and the illustrator work together to create the text (true collaboration)
  • All the art is created in a Moleskine notebook
  • Some of the words are crossed out but kept visible
  • On a few pages, blackout poetry is used
  • The text on each page appears to be cut out of a larger page and taped down in the Moleskin
  • Many art media are used – ink, pencil, paint, chalk, collage, stencils, etc.
  • The text is an example of a prose poem
  • The artist uses nature themes as a metaphor for the pandemic
  • The text is an example of a remix. Learn more about remixes from educator Paul W. Hankins here.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Try your hand at writing prose poetry and then play around with cutting it up, changing it, adding to it – in other words- remix it. 
  • This book is a true collaboration. Try collaborating with another person to create a text together using a poem and art. This could be your poem, or someone else’s. 
  • Create a blackout poem from a old book, newspaper or magazine

Here is a sample:

You can also make blackout poems using a Blackout Poetry Maker. 

Most of all, have fun! 



Poem In Your Pocket Day (PYID) is celebrated every year during National Poetry Month.

From the League of Poets website:

“On PIYP Day, select a poem, carry it with you, and share it with others at schools, bookstores, libraries, parks, workplaces, coffee shops, street corners, and on social media using the hashtag #PocketPoem.”

I was thinking about all the digital options available for accessing poetry and how our phones can fit in our pockets and then it occured to me that selecting a poem on a social media platform and then sharing said poem on your socials is literally “a poem in your pocket”.

Here are some fantastic sources for poetry:

Button Poetry

Button Poetry is very active on all social media platforms, including TikTok and Instagram, YouTube and Facebook. If you click the link above and then scroll down to the bottom of the page, you can find all the links. They share amazing spoken word poetry on TikTok.

Poetry Foundation

Publishers of the magazine POETRY. They are active on instagram, and have a podcast called “Audio Poem of the Day”.

Brett Vogelsinger

Brett is a high school ELA teacher, and each year in March he tweets and blogs about poetry – leading up to Poetry Month. You can find this year’s tweets here. is active on Twitter and has a poem-a-day section on their website. They tweet using the hashtag #poemaday

League of Canadian Poets

On their website, you will find selections of poems for Poem-in-your-Pocket Day for the past 6 years.

PIYP Day 2021 / 2020 / 2019 / 2018 / 2017 / 2016

With all these options, I can guarantee that your students will not only find a poem that speaks to them, but will be excited to share that poem to the world. And, don’t forget to use the hashtag #pocketpoem!




When I am driving anywhere, the car radio is generally tuned to CBC. On this particular day, I just happened to catch an episode of the Podcast Playlist where the host was interviewing Helen Zaltzman. Helen is the host of one of my favourite podcasts –The Allusionist. Near the end of the show, the interviewer asked Helen for some of her podcast recommendations and Helen then went on to describe a club she is in…one of the coolest “clubs” I’ve ever heard of: Podcast Clubs.

Here is how it works:

Helen and her friends all choose an episode of a different podcast for their friends to listen to during the month.  This can be any podcast, but it should be one that they really enjoyed and think their friends would too. Then, they meet online to discuss the podcasts. I believe there are 5 people in this podcast club. Meaning that they would have 5 podcasts to discuss. They do this on a monthly basis.

Well, my mind was blown. And, I was a little disappointed that I hadn’t thought of this myself.

What a quick and easy kind of club to set up! It’s something that wouldn’t require a lot of prep time. All you would need are some podcasts for you and your students to listen to, along with format for discussing the podcasts.

Since I love podcasts, Here are some podcasts that I would recommend:

Grades 6-8:


The Radio Adventures of Dr. Floyd

Brains On!

Grades 9-12:



This I Believe

Code Switch (best episodes for kids)

Hidden Brain

Anthropocene Reviewed

99% Invisible

Instead of listening to different podcasts, you could have the whole class listen to an episode of the same podcast.

For the discussion, you could have the students use the BHH-Book, Head, Heart. These questions are an excellent way to get conversations going and for sparking thinking.

I would also give some thought about the purpose for listening to the podcasts:

  • Is it Author’s Craft? Maybe, you want students to think about how the podcast was crafted and notice details of the and then try out some podcasting of their own. Students might make note of the interview style of the host.
  • Is it Author’s purpose? Maybe you are having students examine the “why” of the podcast. What makes this topic important and worth discussing? What is the message? What does it prompt you to do?
  • Is it Speaking and Listening? Maybe you want students to work on their discussion skills.

Podcast Clubs would be an excellent way of exploring the following ELA outcomes:

1. Build understanding by listening to, reading, and viewing a range of spoken, written, and visual texts representing all voices.

2. Respond personally and critically to the works of authors, creators, illustrators, and speakers

3. Speak, write and represent to learn about self, others, and the world

Try it out! And, we’d love to hear how it goes.

Oh, and if you’re interested in the podcasts Helen Zaltzman recommended…here you go!



Linda Rief has been an educator and mentor-teacher for a very long time. She taught Grade 8 ELA in Maine up until her retirement a couple of years ago. Writing, and the art of teaching writing, are her passions.

Her latest book, The Quickwrite Handbook: 100 Mentor Texts to Jumpstart Your Students Thinking and Writing is simply a beautiful book. The text is divided into four sections: Seeing Inward, Leaning Outward, Beyond Self and Looking Back. In each section there are a myriad of text forms to use as mentors: poetry, cartoons, excerpts from YA novels, essays and short stories written by her former students, as well as examples from Linda’s own writer’s notebook. If you are looking for quickwrite ideas, this book has you covered. Each mentor text has an accompanying lesson idea.

If you are intrigued by the idea of quickwrites, but are unsure how to begin, the introduction of the book will answer all your questions. It gives a great summary of what a quickwrite is, the benefits of using them with your writing community, as well as ideas for teaching with quickwrites.

You can learn more about this book here.




Christophe Chabouté is a renowned author in France, known for his detailed black and white illustrations and storytelling style. Originally published in French, most of his books have now been translated into English.

His graphic novel Alone is one of my all time favourite books. It tells the story of a man who was born on an rocky island with a lighthouse and has never left its confines. He has spent most of his life alone. All he has to entertain himself is a goldfish, a dictionary and his imagination. As the tale unfolds, he receives a gift that opens up his world in unexpected ways.

Told through mostly illustrations. this book is one that will linger in your thoughts long after you finish reading it. I just “happened” upon this book by accident and decided to order it based completely on the cover art. I am so glad I did!

Add this to your TBR list! It would also make a great addition to your classroom library.

TRY THIS TOMORROW: PHILOQUESTS Adventures in our minds


Philoquests: Adventures in our minds is the creation of the Institute of Philosophy, Citizenship and Youth (L’Université de Montréal). This amazingly unique website has over 100 reflections for teenagers about creativity, solitude, help, worry, hope, change, and resilience. Created at the beginning of the pandemic, it was developed for teens to use at home while in lockdown. I can, however, envision lots of ways for them to be used in the classroom. 

Here is an introduction to the website:

Here is one example of a reflection for the topic of change: Philosophical Picnic (you could replace “family” with “classmates”.)

A change for the better?

ObjectiveTo feed your philosophical reflections on change with your family’s help during lunch!

Duration: 30 to 75 minutes


  • Sheets of paper and pen
  • Coloured pencils and markers
  • Your family


It’s time to eat! Gather your family around the table for an appetizing dialogue about change. Explore the following questions, finding inspiration in the thinking prompts as necessary. Together, think of reasons to explain your positions and try to build an answer by combining your ideas! But don’t worry if the urge to keep talking doesn’t subside… philosophical picnics are an insatiable quest!

  •  Question 1: Does everything change?
    • Thinking prompts: The French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr famously wrote, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” But how can that be? Aren’t change and sameness in conflict? With your family, try to figure out whether you think that everything changes or not. Since change is such a big concept, it may be helpful to work in categories: living things, objects, ideas, etc. What brings about change in each of these categories? Alternatively, what causes them to stay the same? Wonder together if you think change is important. Are there several types of change or different reasons to change? When we talk about changing our socks, is it the same as talking about changing our minds? Have a look at the definition you came up with in your first Idea Stretching mission, and see how it compares to what you are discussing with your family. Does the concept’s meaning change (oh my!) depending on the context? Why or why not?
  • Question 2: Is change hard?
    • Thinking prompts: As humans, we seem to be faced with changes constantly—even when it’s not what we want! Whether it’s as simple as changing out of pyjamas on a cold day or as major as changing schools, the experience of changing can be tough. But why? To inspire your thinking, you can read the comic below. Together, brainstorm why you think people might resist or fear change. Are they uncomfortable or insecure perhaps? How might they react negatively to change? Then, consider the opposite viewpoint: Can change be easy, even peaceful? Share some examples from your own lives when change felt hard and when it felt easy, and try to determine some criteria to understand the different experiences. What changes are necessary to a good life… and might there be changes that no one should ever have to experience? How might humans deal with change better?
  • Question 3: Can anyone change the world?
    • Thinking prompts: Have you ever heard the word “changemaker?” It’s a term used to describe people who want to make the world better so they actively create change for the greater good. But can anybody really have that power? Can one person make a difference? As a family, exchange ideas about what it might mean to be a changemaker… and if you have what it takes. Should everyone do their part to improve the world? Hmm… maybe it depends on how each person defines improvement! Perhaps if everyone tried to change things, it would cause more mess than progress. Could there be a dark side to wanting to change the world? Together, think of some of the good and bad consequences. Finally, try to finish the sentence: If change didn’t exist, then _________.

I’m sure you can envision ways of using these questions to spark discussion. They would also make great quickwrite prompts!

You can check out Philoquests: Adventures in your mind here.



As someone who struggles with developing a writing habit, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about a book called The Writer’s Practice: Building Confidence in your Nonfiction Writing. Honestly, it sounded like work. And I was not expecting to be enthusiastic about reading it. But, because John Warner is also the author of “Why They Can’t Write”, which was a book I really enjoyed, I was willing to give this one a go. And I’m so glad I did!

Warner has written an entertaining and engaging book that is a roadmap for how to write non-fiction well. He developed this book through years of teaching freshman writers, most of whom couldn’t write anything beyond a five-paragraph essay.

If you teach high school ELA, I would highly recommend this book. I can envision it being a great addition to the writer’s workshop. And, at the back of the book, Warner gives you a possible sequence of the activities that you could use as mini-lessons and guided practice over 15 weeks.

As Warner says, “This book is for anyone who wants to improve their writing, which is everyone because everyone is a writer.”

You can find out more about the book here.