Margin Notes

CRAFT STUDIO: A FIELD GUIDE TO THE HEART PAIRED WITH JASON REYNOLD’S “WRITE. RIGHT. RITE.” SERIES

Feb
02

What I Was Reading:

A Field Guide to the Heart by Georgia Heard and Rebecca Kai Dotlich is a compilation of poems written and collected by two friends discussing their experience during the pandemic through a reflection of life on the topics of love, comfort and hope.

As I was reading, I came across the poem “Flight” by Georgia Heard and was reminded of a video from Jason Reynold’s series “Write. Right. Rite.”  The website describes the series by saying “Reynolds shares his passion for storytelling while discussing topics like creativity, connection, and imagination. At the end of each video, Reynolds shares a prompt that encourages young people to work toward a specific idea.”

Here are the texts:

Tell the Story of Jason’s Tiny Neighborhood

Jason Reynolds, seventh National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, challenges kids to write about a tiny imagined neighborhood.

What Moves I Noticed:

  • The author uses descriptive language such as “oval window” and “snaking green river”
  • The author uses generic characters without detail such as “woman”, “man” and “teenage boy”
  • The author uses figurative language such as “constellation of ceiling cracks” and “roar of a plane”
  • The author uses a dash for punctuation
  • There is repetition in the sentence structure in the beginning of the stanzas marked by the commas and locations of the people

 

 

 

Opportunities for Writers:

Read the poem and watch the video.

  • Write whatever comes to mind
  • Using the structure of the poem, write about what other characters could be doing in the tiny houses
  • Use the beginning phrases of the poem but change the description of what they are doing. Try out some of your own figurative language!
  • Write about what you imagine when you look at houses you walk by or look down upon in a plane.

CRAFT STUDIO: WHY THE USMNT COULDN’T GO ANY FURTHER

Jan
12

What I Was Reading:

Why the USMNT Couldn’t Go Any Further by Eric Betts (Slate, Dec 3, 2022) is an analysis of the US men’s soccer team 3-1 loss to the Netherlands at the World Cup.

This paragraph caught my attention as an example of the way a writer can create flow within a paragraph by using details to narrow and widen the lens:

More importantly, though, the USMNT simply looked drained by the effort it expended to get through its group. While it grinded out its win against Iran, the Netherlands got to coast to victory against Qatar, and the difference showed. Every team wants to make it hard to play through midfield, but this time Adams, Yunus Musah, and Weston McKennie couldn’t summon the energy to brute-force their way through the Dutch marking by outsprinting them or winning the most important duels. Much of the game was played at a slow pace that favored the Netherlands, and the U.S. didn’t have the horsepower to push it and put the Dutch under stress. They finally managed it toward the end of the second half, but that was the only moment when it looked like a comeback from a 2-0 first-half deficit might be possible.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

Breaking this paragraph apart sentence by sentence helped me see how the writer uses each sentence to shift the perspective by widening or narrowing it:

More importantly, though, the USMNT simply looked drained by the effort it expended to get through its group. (Wide lens: introduces the topic of the paragraph very broadly—the team was tired from the game it had played before its match with the Netherlands)

While it grinded out its win against Iran, the Netherlands got to coast to victory against Qatar, and the difference showed. (Narrows the lens: supports the introductory statement with details of the previous game and a comparison with the experience of the Netherlands)

Every team wants to make it hard to play through midfield, but this time Adams, Yunus Musah, and Weston McKennie couldn’t summon the energy to brute-force their way through the Dutch marking by outsprinting them or winning the most important duels. (Zooms in: specific examples of the team’s lack of energy)

Much of the game was played at a slow pace that favored the Netherlands, and the U.S. didn’t have the horsepower to push it and put the Dutch under stress. (Lens widens slightly: an analysis statement of the team’s overall play)

They finally managed it toward the end of the second half, but that was the only moment when it looked like a comeback from a 2-0 first-half deficit might be possible. (Zooms back in: offers a specific non-example but brings it back to the overall point)

Opportunities for Writers:

  • Use this as a model for experimenting with perspective and flow in a paragraph.
  • Revisit a paragraph in a draft and try using details to shift the perspective.
  • Find places in their reading where the writer uses a similar technique.
  • Notice and name other paragraph flow techniques they find in their reading.

 

CRAFT STUDIO: BE A GOOD ANCESTOR

Nov
10

What I was reading:

Be a Good Ancestor by Leona Prince and Gabrielle Prince; illustrated by Carla Joseph

“Rooted in Indigenous teachings, this stunning picture book encourages readers of all ages to consider the ways in which they live in connection to the world around them and to think deeply about their behaviors.” (Goodreads)

Available on SORA

 

What Moves I Notice the Author Making:

  • On each two page spread, the text follows the same format.
  • The first line is always “Be a good Ancestor with ________”
  • Each line begins with the word that ended the previous line.
  • Each line goes from individual, small actions to large systemic change.
  • The illustrations are symbolic of the text. (And completely stunning).

Here is an example from the text:

Be a good Ancestor with your neighbours

Neighbours become friends

Friends become communities

Communities become nations

Nations become allies

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Discuss/think about how small things can make a big impact in the world.
  • Write poems following the format “Be a good Ancestor with…, _______ become ______…
  • Write with the intention of the last word of a line/sentence being the first word of the line/sentence to show connectivity.
  • Create illustrations.
  • Share poems with another class/grade.

CRAFT STUDIO: THE LATHE OF HEAVEN BY URSULA K. LE GUIN

Nov
03

What I was Reading: The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. LeGuin

“In a future world racked by violence and environmental catastrophes, George Orr wakes up one day to discover that his dreams have the ability to alter reality. He seeks help from Dr. William Haber, a psychiatrist who immediately grasps the power George wields. Soon George must preserve reality itself as Dr. Haber becomes adept at manipulating George’s dreams for his own purposes.

The Lathe of Heaven is an eerily prescient novel from award-winning author Ursula K. Le Guin that masterfully addresses the dangers of power and humanity’s self-destructiveness, questioning the nature of reality itself. It is a classic of the science fiction genre.”https://www.ursulakleguin.com/the-lathe-of-heaven

 

The novel starts with the following three paragraphs:

Current-borne, wave-flung, tugged hugely by the whole might of ocean, the jellyfish drifts in the tidal abyss. The light shines through it, and the dark enters it. Borne, flung, tugged from anywhere to anywhere, for in the deep sea there is no compass but nearer and farther, higher and lower, the jellyfish hangs and sways; pulses move slight and quick within it, as the vast diurnal pulses beat in the moon-driven sea. Hanging, swaying, pulsing, the most vulnerable and insubstantial creature, it has for its defense the violence and power of the whole ocean, to which it has entrusted its being, its going, and its will.

But here rise the stubborn continents. The shelves of gravel and the cliffs of rock break from water baldly into air, that dry, terrible outer space of radiance and instability, where there is no support for life. And now, now the currents mislead and the waves betray, breaking their endless circle, to leap up in loud foam against rock and air, breaking…

What will the creature made all of sea-drift do on the dry sand of daylight; what will the mind do, each morning, waking?

What Moves I Notice the Author Making:

  • The use of metaphor (the jellyfish) to set up the premise of the novel. I have to admit that this was a bit jarring when I read on and realized that the book was about a dystopian future society. However, I kept thinking of the jellyfish as I was reading – so it was a very effective lead.
  • The use of hyphens – current-borne, wave-flung (see our conventions inquiry on compound modifiers for more mentor texts to study)
  • The vocabulary in these paragraphs could be studied for days. (diurnal, radiance, insubstantial, for example)
  • Repetition – the use of borne, flung, tugged in both the first and second sentences. The use of hang, sway, pulse in two sentences as well. And the repetition happens in the sentence immediately following, not later on.
  • The first paragraph is describing the jellyfish, the second paragraph is describing the obstacles and the third is questioning if the jellyfish will be able to cope with such change.
  • The second sentence in the first paragraph has a semi-colon. It is a wonderful sentence to look at carefully.
  • The last paragraph is one sentence, in the form of a question. It includes a semi-colon that joins two sentences.
  • The sentence lengths are varied.
  • The second paragraph ends with an ellipse.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Try the repetition of the words from one sentence to the next.
  • Try using the some of the vocabulary.
  • Try writing with semicolons, using the sentences in the first and last paragraphs as mentors.
  • Try to vary sentence lengths.
  • Try to use ellipses.

CRAFT STUDIO: THE TYPEWRITER IN THE BASEMENT BY BRIAN DOYLE

Oct
27

What I Was Reading:

I have been slowly reading through One Long River of Song: Notes on Wonder by Brian Doyle. This compilation of some of the best of Doyle’s writing, celebrates the wonder we can find in everyday moments when we stop, look, and listen. I’m trying to read only a few essays at a time and follow Doyle’s lead by using them as an invitation to look for the wonder (and the possibilities for writing) in my own surroundings.

“The Old Typewriter in the Basement” is one of my favorites from this collection. Written as a response to a question about how he became a writer, Doyle celebrates the impact of his father’s writing career on his own.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

  • The first thing I notice is that “The Old Typewriter in the Basement” is a mash-up of first-person essay, memoir, and poem.
  • Doyle uses repetition as he lists his reasons for becoming a writer by introducing each new idea with “Because.” At first, the responses come quickly, with each new sentence starting with because. As he progresses, elaborating more on each memory, the pattern changes and “Because” appears at the beginning of each new stanza.
  • The central focus is the typewriter, but Doyle uses his relationship with it to reveal details about his father: “Because his typewriter was a tall older model that he loved and kept using even when sleek electric typewriters came into vogue and tried to vibrate their way onto his desk.”
  • Doyle fills this piece with images such as “you could listen to it like a song,” and “you could see by the pattern of wear which letters he used more than others” that help us imagine the scenes through his childhood eyes and ears.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Use the same structure as a model for your own writing. Begin with a why question and answer it with a list of reasons starting with “Because…”
  • Experiment with the technique of repetition to embed a list into another type of writing.
  • Use an object as a springboard for describing someone.
  • Try combining the elements of more than one form into a single piece of writing.
  • Read this text as a writer to notice and name other interesting craft moves and discuss how they impact you as a reader. Try some of them in your own writing.

CRAFT STUDIO: A DAY IN THE LIFE

Oct
06

What I Was Reading:

Many English language Arts teachers are familiar with Mari Andrew’s illustrated memoirs Am I There Yet? and My Inner Sky and all the mentor text and quickwrite possibilities they offer. If you don’t already know, she also publishes a fantastic weekly newsletter called Out of the Blue.

In a recent issue, A day in the life (Or, moments in the life), Andrew explains that she is fascinated by the minutiae of other people’s days: “It astounds me how close I can be with a friend, only to stop dead in my tracks 10 years into our friendship and audibly realize, ‘I have no idea what you eat for lunch every day.’” She shares captured moments across a week to give readers a glimpse into her own life.

What Moves I Notice the Author Making:

These captured “moments in the life” are much tmore han a snapshot of Mari Andrew’s daily and weekly routine. The entries also offer a glimpse in her personality because they include backstory, explanation, and commentary.

For example, from Monday 7am we discover that Mari Andrew was once an intern hospital chaplain and that she is still impacted by that experience.

When I was interning as a hospital chaplain, I learned that hearing is the last sense to go as people are dying. That stuck with me, and I took comfort that people can still hear and understand even as their consciousness has seemingly slipped away.

Using that logic, I assume that hearing is particularly meaningful during our transition times: between sleeping and waking, for example. I try to stimulate my hearing before any other sense in the morning, so I turn on a song immediately. I go between this sweet Spanish prayer to Mother Earth, or the Maha Mantra. I lie in bed while I’m listening and either have some kind of half-awake inspiration journey or fall back asleep.

When she picks up her dry cleaning and does some shopping on Wednesday at 2pm, Andrew reflects on how New York City might lose its well-loved neighborhood business if people continue relying on delivery services.

Pick up dry cleaning and a few things from the bodega. These two establishments are so well-loved in my neighborhood. Both of them are covered in postcards and photos from customers, with sweet words like “We’re moving but we will miss you so much!” Another example of how important our community relationships are, and how much we lose if we head toward a city that runs on delivery.

Overall, Mari Andrew is giving us insight into much more than her typical routine. She is also showing us what her routine reveals about her as a person.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Using Mari Andrew as a mentor, writers can capture a week’s worth of “moments in the life” and include commentary on the action/activity.
  • Writers can follow this model for specific reflections such as moments in their reading or writing lives.
  • They can incorporate this method of documentation during an individual or group project.
  • Reading like writers, students can identify other craft moves and brainstorm addition possibilities for writing inspired by Mari Andrew.

CRAFT STUDIO: CARRIE SOTO IS BACK

Sep
22

What I Was Reading:

Taylor Jenkins Reid’s latest novel, Carrie Soto is Back, tells the story of retired tennis champion Carrie Soto who decides, while watching a young player tie her record for winning the most Grand Slams, that she will return to the game and reclaim her title.

In this scene, Carrie faces a challenger at the French Open:

Moretti strides onto the court in a white-and-navy-blue tennis dress, waving to the crowd. She blows kisses to the stands. She is sponsored by Nike, so it’s no surprise that she is covered in swooshes from head to toe. When she turns to look at me, she gives me a big smile.

I nod at her.

She starts strong after winning the toss. But I’m stronger.

15-love becomes 15-all. 30-love becomes 30-all. Deuces become ad-ins and then back to deuces and ad-outs.

Three hours in, we are now in the third set. 6-6.

The crowd is cheering. I look up at my father who is sitting elegantly behind a flower box.

It’s now my serve. I need to hold this one and break hers. And then I’m on to the quarterfinals.

I close my eyes. I can do this.

When I open my eyes again, I’m looking directly at Moretti. She hovers over the court. Her hips swaying side to side as she waits for my serve.

I breathe in and serve it straight down the middle. She returns it with a ground stroke to the center. I hit it back, deep into the far-right corner. She runs for it, fast and hard. There’s no way she’s gonna make it.

But then she does. And I can’t return it.

It’s fine. It’s fine. I can feel my knee twinging, but I have plenty more to go.

I look up at my father again in the player’s box. He catches my eye.

I can feel the hum in my bones, the lightness in my belly. I serve it again, this time, just at the line. She dives and misses it.

I hold my game and then begin my assault on her. By the time I get to match point, she’s exactly where I want her. I set her up so she’s on the far side of the court. I return it to her backhand and that’s it. She’s done.

 

What Moves I Notice the Author Making:

  • The way the writer plays with time by speeding up and slowing down the action really stands out to me in this passage.
  • After a scene-setting paragraph describing Carrie Soto’s opponent, the rest of the passage is organized into a series of short paragraphs—many are only a single line—that reads like a list.
  • The description of the first three hours of the match comprises only a few lines. Short sentences with a pattern of repetition (“15-love becomes 15-all. 30-love becomes 30-all.”) reveal the progression of the play.
  • At the third set, with a 6-6 tie, Jenkins Reid slows the action down and builds suspense by including detailed description of the narrator’s thoughts and observations, the serve, and the subsequent rally.
  • Jenkin Reid’s use of sentence break in the line “But then she does. And I can’t return it,” intentionally slows the reader’s pace by emphasizing the pause between the two thoughts. Separating one sentence into two is another interesting strategy for controlling the action in a scene. This also seems to be a pivot point in the passage as the details become more compressed and the action accelerates.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Notice and name other interesting craft moves in this passage.
  • Watch for interesting pacing strategies in other texts you read.
  • Develop a scene and experiment with time by using some of the Taylor Jenkins Reid’s techniques.
  • Try organizing ideas into a series of short paragraphs to give your writing a list-like quality that conveys many details in a concise structure.
  • Revise a draft in your writer’s notebook by incorporating some of the craft moves you notice in this excerpt.

CRAFT STUDIO: CAST AWAY: POEMS FOR OUR TIME

Jun
09

What I Was Reading:

Cast Away: Poems For our Time by Young People’s Poet Laureate Naomi Shihab Nye is a collection of poems about trash that will inspire any reader to take more care regarding the things we leave behind. Recommended for ages 10+, the poems are accessible, relevant, and relatable. Here is one of the poems in the collection:

 

Trash Talk 326

Did anyone ever say you were their girlfriend
or boyfriend and you barely even knew them?

Did they tell your friends they had insight
and could guess what you might do next?

Did they say you called them when you
didn’t even know their number?

What did you do about people like this?
Did you argue, tell them off?

Or walk calmly past them in the hallway
as if they were a locker or a clock?

 

What Moves I Noticed the Writer Making:

  • The poet speaks directly to the reader (you), which creates a sense of intimacy between poet and reader
  • The poet tells a story by asking a series of questions
  • The poet never tells the reader how she feels about the situation. Her feelings are inferred through the questions she chooses to ask
  • The first three stanzas set up the problem and the last two stanzas is where she is asking how others have handled the situation

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Use the format of the poem (asking questions of the reader) to tell your own story of an event/situation
  • Write the story of what you think happened between the poet and this person
  • Write back to the poet, answering the questions as they pertain to you
  • Write a letter of advice to the poet on what to do if she is ever in this situation again

CRAFT STUDIO: FREAK THE GEEK BY JOHN GREEN 

Jun
02

What I’m Reading: 

John Green’s short story “Freak the Geek” is the story of two friends who have been named the targets in a school tradition to be pranked for a day. The pair run to escape and reflect on their friendship, school traditions and values. The author moves the story forward at a quick pace. He uses action mixed with short dialogue to demonstrate the quick movement that is happening during the conversation. 

Excerpt: 

“I never really thought about it before,” I tell Kayley as we simultaneously duck under a low-hanging oak branch, “but just the phrase ‘Freak the Geek’ is just hugely lame.” 

 “Yeah,” Kayley says. “True. It’s almost like the name was thought up by a bunch of mustachioed purple-hued maltworms.” Kayley likes using Shakespearean insults. I get down on one knee in a flash to pull up my sock — a girl has to protect herself from poison ivy. “Richard III?” I guess.  

“Henry IV,” she says. I nod. I can hardly hear the girls behind us anymore; I mostly just hear our breath coming fast and hard and the ground scrunching beneath us.  

“Like, admittedly I am not an expert in slang,” I say, “but isn’t freaking usually kind of sexual?” Kayley turns around to me and runs backward just long enough to say, “Example?” 

 “‘Madam, I wish to freak your body.’ Or, ‘My heart desires to become freaky with you.'” 

Moves I Notice the Author Making: 

  • The author uses quotation marks to show the words spoken. 
  • Sentence punctuation goes inside the quotation marks. 
  • Each time the speaker changes, the paragraph changes. 
  • The quotation marks close for the speaker tag (“Kayley says”) and re-open to finish the dialogue. 
  • The characters have internal thoughts while speaking out loud. 
  • The character actions are described between speech. 
  • When description sets up the dialogue, there is a comma before the quotation mark. 

Possibilities For Writers 

  • Write whatever comes to mind. 
  • Write about traditions that your school has and whether or not you think these are good traditions to have. 
  • Write a conversation trying some of the craft moves in this model. 
  • Write about slang words in you vocabulary, when to use them and how they might be misinterpreted by someone who is “not an expert in slang.” 

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

Apr
21

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!