Margin Notes

WHAT YOU NEED TO BE WARM: A POEM OF WELCOME BY NEIL GAIMAN

Apr
30

What do you think of when you hear the word “warm”? What images or feelings might that conjure up for you?

For  Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Refugee Agency Neil Gaiman, the idea of “warmth” was top of mind when winter was settling in and he knew there would be many refugees living rough…without the comfort that warmth brings. He went to Twitter to ask a simple question: What are your memories of being warm?

Well, Twitter did not disappoint.

Gaiman received thousands of replies, compiled all the responses and, with the help of 12 talented illustrators, created this unique book: What You Need to be Warm: A Poem of Welcome.

Every page is full of “warmth” both in the words and the illustrations.

This would be a beautiful mentor text to use during poetry month. You could examine the way that Gaiman uses language to evoke feelings and look at how the illustrations help to bring the text to life. You could also discuss how Gaiman took all the memories and wove them into a poem.

A great way to do low stakes poetry writing is to a collaborative poem. Students could each create a poem (based on a question or prompt) and then could put them together into one longer text. Then, students could be encouraged to illustrate different parts. This could be done with paper/pencil or with technology.

Here are some ideas for prompts:

  • Home is…
  • Blue is… (Sample lesson plan here)
  • Choose a character from a class read aloud and write a poem describing them

This book reminded me a bit of Ain’t Burned All The Bright, a collaboration between Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin, because of the collaborative nature of the work. Here are two blog posts about that book.

What You Need to be Warm: A Poem of Welcome would make a great addition to a read aloud stack for Poetry Month, or any time of year!

 

 

 

 

TRY THIS TOMORROW: FIVE FAST FACTS

Feb
29

When I find an author that I love, I will often follow them on social media. This gives me the opportunity to find out about upcoming book releases and gives me a glimpse into their life and thoughts.

I was checking out K A Holt’s Twitter/X the other day, and noticed a link in her bio to her author’s website. K A Holt is the author of middle grade fiction and picture books. (She has written some of my favourite books in verse, like House Arrest and Rhyme Schemer.)

On her website she has a “For Kids” page.

And I was delighted to see:

FIVE FAST FACTS ABOUT KA HOLT

  1. Kari Anne was born in Atlanta, Georgia on September 10th, 19somethingsomething.
  2. When she was 13, Kari Anne accidentally stomped through a gerbil cage, resulting in five stitches on her calf. You can still see the zigzag scar.
  3. When she was young, her favorite author was Paula Danziger, followed closely by Lois Lowry.
  4. Kari Anne’s favorite food is almost always a taco, but there are times when a cheeseburger wins.
  5. She has synesthesia, which means she sees letters and numbers as colors, and she sometimes mixes up other senses, too. (Examples: the letter C is orange, the number one is icy white)

I instantly thought – what a great way for students to share facts about themselves…or about any topic, really. This would make a great quickwrite, or a way for students to organize their About the Author pages for their writing. Try this tomorrow!

 

TRY THIS TOMORROW: I ADD

Feb
15

Teachers, are you looking to enhance depth and detail in your students’ writing ? If so, you might want to head to TikTok!  Kate Roberts, literacy coach, has been doing a series on TikTok about teaching writing. In a recent video, she describes a great strategy for narrative writing: “I ADD”.

  •  I – Inner Thinking
  • A- Action
  • D- Dialogue
  • D- Description

Kate describes the strategy this way: “When you are stretching out a moment in a narrative, what you want to do is go line by line and sort of switch it up.” She then goes on to model an example in the video, showing how she incorporates the different parts of “I ADD”. 

I just thought this was a brilliant, yet simple, strategy that students could try immediately. Her other videos have more ideas for elevating student writing.

Kate Roberts is one half of kateandmaggie.com. Kate and Maggie Roberts are literacy consultants and coaches. Their latest book is DIY Literacy. You can follow them on Instagram @kate_and_maggie and on Tiktok @kateandmaggie.

 

 

CRAFT STUDIO: BECOMING A WORD COLLECTOR

Jan
18

Whether you call it “word collecting”, “looking for interesting language”, or “word harvesting”, it all boils down to the same thing: you and your students are looking for words, writing those words down somewhere, and then discussing those words.  Collecting words can be done in a myriad of ways, and for a variety of reasons in the classroom.

 

One reason might be for looking at, and discussing, author’s craft.  This could be modeled through a “Think Aloud”, where you read aloud a text and pause and write down a few words/phrases that you want to think about later. Then, after reading, you discuss what you’re thinking (and students can join in). You can then have students collect words/phrases from their own books.

Here are some things you and your students might notice about words in the books you read:

Words/phrases that are:

  • descriptive
  • setting the mood/tone
  • figurative language
  • rare words (uncommonly used)
  • colloquialisms
  • synonyms/homonyms, etc.
  • alliteration

After students have collected words, you can discuss their meanings and why the author might have chosen that word/phrase:

  • How does it affect the meaning?
  • What other words could the author have used?
  • How would that have changed the story?
  • How can we use that word/phrase in our own writing?

Research has demonstrated that helping students become “word aware” is an important part of vocabulary acquisition. Taking the time to discuss words and frame it as “author’s craft” is another way to expose students to words and their meanings, while also supporting word choice in writing.

 

 

BOOK RECOMMENDATION: BIG BY VASHTI HARRISON

Jan
09

“Once there was a girl with a big laugh and a big heart and very big dreams.” So begins the picture book Big by Vashti Harrison. This thoughtful book tells the story of a little girl who just wants the freedom to be herself, and not what society has deemed she should be. A fantastic read aloud option for middle and high school; there are many themes and craft moves students could explore.

 

Here are a few things that you might considering noticing with students:

Author’s Craft

  • The use of colour to depict mood. In the story, the main character is always accompanied by the colour pink. The hue becomes more or less saturated as the story unfolds. What colour would you choose to depict your mood?
  • The word choice. Vashti Harrison fills this book (both in the story and out) with descriptive words…(hint: take off the book jacket and have a look). This would be a great book to use a 
  • The use of different fonts when different characters speak. Students could try this out in their own writing. 

Watch the video below with your class…Vashti Harrison talks about her motivations for writing the book, as well as a lot of the craft moves she makes as an author.

Here are some different articles that you could pair with Big: Girlhood Interrupted, Weight Bias

And here are some books available on SORA that would make a great text set to delve further into the topic: 

TRY THIS TOMORROW: HETERONYMS, SYNONYMS and ORONYMS…OH MY!

Nov
23

As I was scrolling through Twitter/X on the weekend, I came across two separate posts about words and language that were so interesting.

One post, by Dr. Tim Rasinski, included this image, on the right, from an issue of Reader’s Digest’s “Language Matters”.

I’m sure I’ve heard the term “Heteronyms” before, but I can’t be sure I remembered what it meant. I won’t forget now! These examples are so fun to read, and perfectly encapsulate why the English language really is so hard to learn.

 

 

Another post, this one by Nell K. Duke, delves even further into “word-nerd-dom” (as she calls it) and shows the all the semantic relationships that words can have in a handy anchor chart:

When I saw the definition of “oronym”, I immediately thought of the words “disgust” and “discussed”. For some reason, these two words fascinate me, but I didn’t know they were called “oronyms”.

 

 

Here are a few things you could try tomorrow:

  • Use the sentences from the Reader’s Digest’s “Why English is so Hard to Learn” as a warm-up. Have a discussion about what makes the sentences tricky to read.
  • Discuss the different types of semantic relationships (synonym, heteronym, etc.) in the anchor chart.
  • Talk about the word parts -nym (Greek for “name”), -phone (Greek for “sound”), -graph (Greek for “write”). How does knowing the meaning of those word parts help us understand the words’ meaning?
  • Create lists of words with -nym, -phone, -graph.
  • Create stories or poems using “oronyms”. Here are some mentor texts: Fun With Words. 

Have fun!

BOOK RECOMMENDATION: WATERCRESS by ANDREA WANG

Oct
17
What I was Reading:

Watercress by Andrea Wang, pictures by Jason Chin is an Caldecott award-winning picture book that tells “a story about the power of sharing memories—including the painful ones—and the way our heritage stays with and shapes us, even when we don’t see it.” (Publishers Weekly)

This book is available on SORA and there are many ways that it could be used as teaching points in the grade 6-12 ELA classroom. 

Text Form Analysis:

As Andrea Wang states in this interview with John Schu, “Watercress is like a slice-of-life memoir in picture book format – it wouldn’t exist without one specific memory. I’ve been unable to forget picking watercress by the side of the road as a child. It took me a long time to figure out why my feelings about that experience were so different from my parents – and that realization was based on my mother’s memories of her own childhood in China. Her memories changed how I saw my parents, the same way the girl’s attitude toward her parents and eating the watercress changed when the mother in the book shares one of her own memories. Memories are essentially stories, and just like fictional stories, they can transform people’s lives. Not only did I develop more empathy for my parents, I think I became a more compassionate person after they eventually shared their memories with me.”

This book would be perfect to introduce memoir writing, to use as a mentor text for the different forms in which memoirs are told, and to help students build a must/might chart for memoir writing (a sample lesson plan for building a must/might chart can be found here)

Additional suggestions are below:

Discussion questions to practice/model reading comprehension and text analysis and criticality:

  • What is the main character’s attitude toward watercress? Her mother explains that it is “free.” What does this reveal about the girl’s parents? What does “free” mean to the girl? What in the text or images makes you think this?
  • The main character compares the taste of watercress and her mom’s memories as “delicate and slightly bitter.”
    Discuss whether the mother is “slightly bitter” about her previous life. What do you see in the text or the images that makes you think this?  Why have the mother’s memories been difficult to share? What in the text or images makes you think this?

More discussion questions can be found here

Process/craft moves that students could notice, name and try:

  • Similes (“Mom’s eyes are as sharp as the tip of a dragon’s claw.”)
  • Repetition (the way the author repeats certain words like “free” and “ashamed”)
  • How the author goes between first person narration and dialogue to tell the story (this helps propel the story forward and helps us better understand the characters). 
  • Multiple meanings of words (using context clues – like the word “bitter”). 

Other books available on SORA that could be used as mentor texts for memoir writing include:

BOOK RECOMMENDATION: TEGAN AND SARA: JUNIOR HIGH

Aug
22

Tegan Quin and Sara Quin, identical twin songwriting duo of many indy-pop songs (including “Everything is Awesome” from the LEGO movie), are back again, following the success of their book NY Times best-selling book High School, with a delightful middle grade memoir entitled Tegan and Sara: Junior High.  Set in modern day, but based on their own childhood experiences, this graphic novel beautifully depicts the trials and tribulations of being 12. From friendships, to budding romance, to sibling rivalry, their story will be so relatable to so many.

This book takes the reader through Tegan and Sara’s Grade 7 school year. They have just moved to a new town. So, not only are the girls going to junior high, it’s with none of their old friends. They seem to make friends quickly, but it’s all more complicated than at first glance. The story highlights the importance of being yourself and standing up for what’s right, even when it’s hard.

I loved the way the kinship and love shines through with the sisters- even during the difficult times. Tegan and Sara explore issues of identity, queerness, puberty and finding your true passion with humor and grace. Tillie Walden’s illustrations add depth to the story. Highly recommend for middle/high school classroom libraries.

 

 

BOOK RECOMMENDATION: BE THE BUS…THE LOST AND PROFOUND WISDOM OF THE PIGEON AS TOLD TO MO WILLEMS

May
16

The Pigeon and I go way back. All the way back to the early 2000’s. My oldest child started kindergarten in 2004 and I discovered this hilarious book called Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! that we read over and over. By the time my youngest child came along, there were even more books in the series to read and love. All of them continue to be family favourites. If you asked my (now) teenage children if they remembered The Pigeon, you would probably get a chuckle and a nod.

It is because of my fondness for all things Pigeon, that I was so excited when I was gifted the book Be the Bus: The Lost and Profound Wisdom of The Pigeon as told to Mo Willems.

This book is hilarious. Written for a more mature audience (making it a fun read-aloud for high school students!) this book is full of fun and delight. For example, “Like Plato already said, “Never trust a quotation.” and “I regret nothing…except that last half hotdog”.

If you are a fan of Mo Willems or have students who remember The Pigeon from their younger days, this is a book you will want to read and share. 

Mo was interviewed about the 20th anniversary of The Pigeon and his new book Be the Bus. He has some great advice to share for adults in this video.  

My advice to you? Be the Bus…

TRY THIS TOMORROW: INSTRUCTIONS ON NOT GIVING UP by ADA LIMON

Apr
20

Last week, on an episode of The Good Doctor, the main storyline was quite compelling. It was about a woman with Long Covid who was suffering from debilitating brain fog. She yearned for the days before she caught Covid; when she was able to do her job as a biologist, remember daily tasks and string words together that made sense.

To counteract her symptoms of brain fog, she would write out poems in her notebook and try to memorize them. The poem Instructions on Not Giving Up by Ada Limon was the poem she reads at the end of the episode. My first thought was “How have I not heard this poem?”. It’s such a beautiful evocation of spring.

This would be a great poem to enjoy during Poetry Month.

Ada Limon reads the poem here: https://poets.org/poem/instructions-not-giving

Instructions on Not Giving Up by Ada Limon

More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.