Margin Notes



As a teacher and Literacy Coach I was recently challenged by elementary students to take a look at gender stereotypes in children’s literature and so I was thrilled to see this book on display when shopping for new titles at a local bookstore. I promptly purchased it and gifted it to a middle school teacher who plans to use it with her students on Monday! 

We all know the outdated role of women and young girls in need of rescuing in the traditional nursery rhymes. Little Miss Muffet is terribly afraid of spiders and the girls weep when Georgie Porgie kisses them. We love nursery rhymes because they are fun to chant, easy to remember and they make you laugh. Well, this new revamped collection of rhymes are fun to chant, easy to remember and will make you laugh as well as challenge your thinking about gender stereotypes. In Jeanne Willis’s version Miss Muffet sits down beside a giant spider and strokes their furry legs, and Georgie Porgie learns the meaning of consent before attempting to kiss girls. Doctors are female and girls can fix scooters, but it is not all girl power All readers can feel empowered whilst enjoying these non-traditional rhymes as we learn that both boys and girls are made of “sun and rain and heart and brain”.    

Isabelle Follath’s illustrations are bright and quirky and the perfect companion to these fun and enticing poems. A must have title for any classroom and teacher wishing to add fun as well as another perspective on gender stereotypes to their collection.  



Newly published, this book will resonate with any parent of a child that turns into a monster when hungry. My younger daughter was once that child and now, at the age of twenty-three, still fights the wolf when waiting for dinner to be served. Inspired by Andy’s own children when hangry, Wolfboy is the hilarious story of a young wolfboy prowling amongst the hills, forests and streams searching for his dinnerHe becomes more and more hangry as the search drags on, until he spots a pair of long ears, “Rabbits, rabbits, where are you?.  Read to find out what happens when he is ready to feast! 

The illustrations are sculpted by hand using clay and are truly unique. The detail is exceptional and inspiring for any young author/illustrator looking to express their ideas using a medium other than paper and pencil. You will appreciate the author’s note on creating the artwork and a quick YouTube search will bring up a short clip of Andy demonstrating his artistic process. 

Young children will truly enjoy this gem of a book as well as searching for hidden bunnies throughout the illustrationsA fun read aloud with great word choice to delight readers, old and young.  

Also, of note is the wonderfully scary Book Trailer which, for horror movie fans, is delightfully enticing and worth checking out 



If you are familiar with Jennifer Serravallo’s The Literacy Teacher’s Playbook K-2/ 3-6you will no doubt have tried some of the many assessment tools she suggests, helping you understand deeply what students know and can do. 

One such assessment tool is called Jot Notes and is used to determine what students understand in their comprehension of text. Jennifer states “what meaning students are making in a text is one of the trickiest parts of assessing reading.” She suggests having students write about, speak about, or answer questions about their reading to make comprehension visible and to allow students’ individual needs by offering a variety of ways in which they respond 

Jot Notes are a quick and easy way for students to respond. We may ask a student to stop and jot as they read independently or pause during a read aloud at predetermined places and ask students to jot a quick note, reaction, question, reflection, or idea on a sticky note or in their reader’s notebook. For example, if you are assessing the students’ abilities to visualize you may ask them to describe what they are picturing or to assess inference and how characters change over time, you may ask students to describe what kind of a person the character is at the beginning and at the end of the book.  

A tip that teachers have shared with us to help save time is to ask students to label stickies with their name and the date before the read aloud or independent reading, this allows teachers to collect and file them in a students’ reading profile quickly and easily.  

Try this tomorrow! 

Image is page — Literacy Teacher’s Playbook K-2 p22 Heineman 



In Richard Gentry and Gene Ouelette’s new book Brain Words- How the Science of Reading Informs Teaching we are introduced to the flip folder technique of word study for grades 2-6As teachers it is so difficult to navigate the myriad of word study activities crowding the internet, not knowing if any of the ideas presented will be effective. This Look-Say-See-Write-Check-Rewrite multisensory procedure is research based and helps students’ study and learn words. 

 Gentry and Oulette outline the steps in using this approach as follows: 

(“Brain Words”, p.111)

  1. Students place a sheet of paper under the flaps and write their word study words in the left-hand column under the Look-Say-See flap. The paper under the other two columns is left blank. 
  2. Have students open the first flap and look and say the first word. The students then close the flap and try to picture it. 
  3. Next the students lift the second flap and write the first word from memory. They then lift the first flap and check the word for correct spelling. 
  4. Lastly, after closing the first two flaps, the students lift the third flap and rewrite the word for additional practice and then they check it again with the first flap 

If you are interested in learning other techniques and procedures that are grounded in research to teach reading and spelling, then you are sure to love Brain Words. You will find many practical classroom activities for daily teaching that you can try tomorrow!  



Lucky Stars by Aron Nels Steinke is the third book in the series Mr. Wolf’s Class. Steinke teaches 5th grade and was inspired by the everyday goings on in his own class.  This series of books features the same animal characters that students are sure to see themselves in or their classmates.

In Lucky StarsMr. Wolf’s students are writing personal narratives and Sampson is struggling to think of any events in his life worth writing about until one morning, he and Margot take a bike ride and he has an accident that lands him in the hospital. After that he thanks his lucky stars that he’s going to be okay and has a sensational personal narrative to write. 

Written as a graphic novel Lucky Stars is recommended for students from grades 2 to 5 and for those who enjoy realistic fiction with some great humour 



Writing takes practice. As teachers we place great emphasis on building students’ reading stamina and yet when it comes to writing we assume students will write independently for extended periods of time without becoming distracted or giving up. If students must practice stamina for reading, why not do it for writing as well?

Early in the year many teachers find their entire class lacks writing stamina and for those who struggle to get words on the page, building writing stamina is paramount in helping students communicate their ideas.

Try these 3 simple strategies to help your students get their thoughts down on paper.

Quick Writes

Students write daily for several minutes without stopping. If a student gets stuck or runs out of ideas, they are encouraged to write the last word written over and over until ready to move on. When the timer goes off, students are asked to finish their last sentence. If students are successful in writing for the entire time, increase the amount of time up to about 10 minutes. Students need not worry about spelling as they are simply to write as much as they can in the time allotted. Some teachers have students count the number of words written and notice the increase over time.

Below are a few simple prompts to get you started:

  • Writing a list; Best/worst things that have happened to me. After students have finished writing, have them star 3 of the things on the list that they may want to write more about later.
  • All about me. Write about yourself. How old are you? Tell me about your family. Do you have any pets? What is your favorite thing to do?
  • What DIDN’T you do this summer? Make a list of all the things you DID NOT do this summer
  • Imagine you could turn invisible. What would you do? Where would you go? What would you do?

A quick google search will glean many more for you to use.

Story Cards for Fiction Writing

Engagement often increases when writers make up their own imaginative stories. Make cards for each of the following story elements: setting, characters, and conflict. Write down multiple places, different roles or people, and various problems.

Choose one of each of the three cards and have students write a story based on the setting, character or characters, and conflicts chosen. You will find some ready made on TPT!

Free Writing

Allowing students time to write in whatever genre or form they want is a sure way to increase writing stamina. Some teachers designate a journal or notebook specifically for this purpose. A set time each day is dedicated to free writing. It is not intended that the writing generated be graded but students may want to tag a page for you to read or to be shared with classmates.



I have just received my copy of Cultivating Writers by Anne Elliott and Mary Lynch and was so excited to find a whole chapter on making the why of writing visible, knowing that author’s purpose is so important in engaging young writers in the writing process. As Elliott and Lynch state “the why needs to be made clearly visible.” With my copy of the book tucked under my arm I headed into a grade 3 classroom to try out the following lesson. 

Giving the Gift of Writing is a highly engaging lesson to help students think about and articulate the various and valuable reasons we write.  

  1. Place many tools for writing into a gift bag stuffed with brightly coloured tissue paper. Include items such as pencils, markers, loose-leaf, a notebook, a greeting card, a calendar, sticky notes etc…
  2. Bring your students together in their writer’s huddle and display the gift bag to create excitement. 
  3. Slowly remove each item and ask students to think about why these items have been collected into one bag and how they are connected. 
  4. After all the items have been removed ask students to talk with a partner and think of one word that describes how the items are connected. 
  5. Have pairs share their ideas with the whole group. Some possible student responses: writing, art, making things, things to write with, gifts. 
  6. Once students have shared their initial thoughts ask them What is the purpose of writing tools?  Below is a chart of responses by grade 3 students:

7. Share all the reasons you chose to share these items with them. I cannot say it better than the authors: 


Extension: Over the next few days ask students to share the reasons they believe the authors of the books they are reading or listening to choose to write these books. Chart student thinking next to the title of the book. 

Get ready to hear your students’ thoughts about why writers write and start cultivating thoughts about why students themselves write. And use this information as data for assessment! 

Try this tomorrow… 




If you have not had the pleasure of reading, “dear sister” by Alison McGhee this is a must have for your classroom library.  It would also make a for a great read-aloud with your class to spark engaging conversation and storytelling.   

Inspired by her own children’s letters to each other as they were growing up, Alison McGhee takes you through “brother’s” journey of surviving the “not so joys” of life with a little annoying sister.  Anyone with siblings or close younger relatives can relate to the trying times of constantly being pestered, hounded and needed at the drop of the hat when you really want time and space to be alone. 

Joe Bluhm, the illustrator captures the authors narrative precisely with his illustrations depicting the perfect annoying little sister. 

The book written as a collection of letters throughout  “brother’s journey” from childhood to adulthood mixed with the loss of a special friendship and finding himself to realizing that having a sister all along was just what he needed after all.