Margin Notes

TRY THIS TOMORROW: GOING BEHIND THE SCENES OF THE WRITING PROCESS

Jan
26

If you are looking for resources to give your students a behind-the-scenes view of the writing process, try Craft and Advice from Literary Hub and How I Wrote It from CBC Books. Both feature writers’ first-person accounts of their writing process and craft.

These would be a fantastic launching point for a craft and process study as an alternative to a more traditional form study. They can be incorporated into mini-lessons or used as invitations for students to reflect on and discuss their own writing processes. They are a powerful reminder that the writing process is not a linear one.

TRY THIS TOMORROW: 5-10-15-20

Jan
19

Pitchfork describes its 5-10-15-20 feature as “Talking to our favorite artists about the music of their lives, five years at a time.” Musicians identify the music they were listening to when they were 5, 10, 15, and so on and reflect on the impact it had on them.

This is such an interesting structure for personal writing and reflecting—it could be easily adapted for students to write their own histories using the same format. Students can use music or think about any other recurring influence over time: books, movies, tv shows, travel, friends, places they have lived, etc. Depending on their chosen focus, students might also play with the timeline. For example, they could reflect on each month across a year, select something to represent every grade in high school, or use elementary, middle, and high school to organize their ideas.

Using 5-10-15-20 is a really flexible way to incorporate personal writing.

TRY THIS TOMORROW: IT STARTS WITH A PICTURE

Dec
15

I spent the very last day of work in June reading The Confidence to Write by Liz Prather. Why did it take several more months before I found her blog? This resource offers so many ideas to try tomorrow but I am picking “It Starts With a Picture” to link you over to her page.

The only material you will need is dice, students with cellphones (if you have any students without cell phones, you can give them the heads up to add some photos to MS Teams from home or bring in some physical copies), writer’s notebooks and a pencil.

Here is her explanation:

Final exams looming, pop-up Christmas parties sugaring the halls, kids ready for a break, and I’m looking for something light and fun that also develops students’ writing skills of observation, analysis, language, and image.

This lesson also helps students develop those “dig deeper” skills, mining a universal theme, which is discovered in this single moment in time.  This lesson may also translate into something longer like a vignette or personal essay, but I encourage students to try to write in whatever short form of poetry they want for sharing.

She gives you the setup, the prompts and an extension idea so you are ready to try this tomorrow.

TRY THIS TOMORROW: THE PARIS REVIEW MORNING POETRY

Dec
08

I recently read Joy at Work by Marie Kondo and Scott Sonenshein, which suggests strategies for applying Kondo’s famous tidying method to our work environments, both physical and digital. One of the ways I have tidied my digital space is by unsubscribing to newsletters and email subscriptions that no longer “spark joy.” Over the years, I have subscribed to a number of education-related newsletters but find myself really reading only a few.

One of the newsletters that absolutely sparks joy for me is the Daily Poem. Every morning, a poem from the Paris Review archives is delivered to my inbox. This is a terrific resource for high school literacy teachers looking for contemporary poems to share with students. I love starting my day with a few minutes of poetry and have added many of the poems to my writer’s notebook to inspire my own writing. You can sign up for the Morning Poem using the Newsletter tab.

I know we often feel that we are inundated with emails, but newsletters that curate high-quality resources that we can use in our classrooms are timesavers in the long run.

TRY THIS TOMORROW: MOODY MENTORS

Dec
01

I love it when my nightly scrolling is productive. Twitter can be a fantastic resource for inspiration and sharing ideas. Kate McCook (@KMcCookEnglish) so generously shared her idea of moody mentors. Here are the steps she outlines:

  1. I decided to focus on how to add mood to our pieces.
  2. I pulled out two favorite mentor texts, the openings to the memoirs The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls & Educated by Tara Westover, and called them “Moody Mentor Texts”
  3. I handed students a list of mood words & we defined new ones.
  4. We identified moods in each piece.
  5. We identified writing moves each author used to create the moods we noticed.
  6. We reassessed our drafts to see if we had established mood (and what mood)
  7. We chose two “Moody Mini Moves” to emulate in our own drafts.

I loved this idea so I tracked down the two mentors listed. Here are some excerpts:

Text #1

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

Chapter 1: A Woman on the Street

I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster. It was just after dark. A blustery March wind whipped the steam coming out of the manholes, and people hurried along the sidewalks with their collars turned up. I was stuck in traffic two blocks from the party where I was heading.

Mom stood fifteen feet away. She had tied rags around her shoulders to keep out the spring chill and was picking through the trash while her dog, a black-and-white terrier mix, played at her feet. Mom’s gestures were all familiar — the way she tilted her head and thrust out her lower lip when studying items of potential value that she’d hoisted out of the Dumpster, the way her eyes widened with childish glee when she found something she liked. Her long hair was streaked with gray, tangled and matted, and her eyes had sunk deep into their sockets, but still she reminded me of the mom she’d been when I was a kid, swan-diving off cliffs and painting in the desert and reading Shakespeare aloud. Her cheekbones were still high and strong, but the skin was parched and ruddy from all those winters and summers exposed to the elements. To the people walking by, she probably looked like any of the thousands of homeless people in New York City.

It had been months since I laid eyes on Mom, and when she looked up, I was overcome with panic that she’d see me and call out my name, and that someone on the way to the same party would spot us together and Mom would introduce herself and my secret would be out.

I slid down in the seat and asked the driver to turn around and take me home to Park Avenue.

The taxi pulled up in front of my building, the doorman held the door for me, and the elevator man took me up to my floor. My husband was working late, as he did most nights, and the apartment was silent except for the click of my heels on the polished wood floor. I was still rattled from seeing Mom, the unexpectedness of coming across her, the sight of her rooting happily through the Dumpster. I put some Vivaldi on, hoping the music would settle me down.

I looked around the room. There were the turn-of-the-century bronze-and-silver vases and the old books with worn leather spines that I’d collected at flea markets. There were the Georgian maps I’d had framed, the Persian rugs, and the overstuffed leather armchair I liked to sink into at the end of the day. I’d tried to make a home for myself here, tried to turn the apartment into the sort of place where the person I wanted to be would live. But I could never enjoy the room without worrying about Mom and Dad huddled on a sidewalk grate somewhere. I fretted about them, but I was embarrassed by them, too, and ashamed of myself for wearing pearls and living on Park Avenue while my parents were busy keeping warm and finding something to eat.

What could I do? I’d tried to help them countless times, but Dad would insist they didn’t need anything, and Mom would ask for something silly, like a perfume atomizer or a membership in a health club. They said that they were living the way they wanted to.

After ducking down in the taxi so Mom wouldn’t see me, I hated myself — hated my antiques, my clothes, and my apartment. I had to do something, so I called a friend of Mom’s and left a message. It was our system of staying in touch. It always took Mom a few days to get back to me, but when I heard from her, she sounded, as always, cheerful and casual, as though we’d had lunch the day before. I told her I wanted to see her and suggested she drop by the apartment, but she wanted to go to a restaurant. She loved eating out, so we agreed to meet for lunch at her favorite Chinese restaurant.

 

 

Text #2

 

Educated by Tara Westover

After Dad took up preaching against milk, Grandma jammed her fridge full of it. She and Grandpa only drank skim but pretty soon it was all there – two percent, whole, even chocolate. She seemed to believe this was an important line to hold.

Breakfast became a test of loyalty. Every morning, my family sat around a large square table and ate either seven-¬grain cereal, with honey and molasses, or seven-grain pancakes, also with honey and molasses. Because there were nine of us, the pancakes were never cooked all the way through. I didn’t mind the cereal if I could soak it in milk, letting the cream gather up the grist and seep into the pellets, but since the revelation we’d been having it with water. It was like eating a bowl of mud.

It wasn’t long before I began to think of all that milk spoiling in Grandma’s fridge. Then I got into the habit of skipping breakfast each morning and going straight to the barn. I’d slop the pigs and fill the trough for the cows and horses, then I’d hop over the corral fence, loop around the barn and step through Grandma’s side door.

On one such morning, as I sat at the counter watching Grandma pour a bowl of cornflakes, she said, “How would you like to go to school?”

“I wouldn’t like it,” I said.

“How do you know,” she barked. “You ain’t never tried it.”

She poured the milk and handed me the bowl, then she perched at the bar, directly across from me, and watched as I shoveled spoonfuls into my mouth.

“We’re leaving tomorrow for Arizona,” she told me, but I already knew. She and Grandpa always went to Arizona when the weather began to turn. Grandpa said he was too old for Idaho winters; the cold put an ache in his bones. “Get yourself up real early,” Grandma said, “around five, and we’ll take you with us. Put you in school.”

I shifted on my stool. I tried to imagine school but couldn’t. Instead I pictured Sunday school, which I attended each week and which I hated. A boy named Aaron had told all the girls that I couldn’t read because I didn’t go to school, and now none of them would talk to me.

“Dad said I can go?” I said.

“No,” Grandma said. “But we’ll be long gone by the time he realizes you’re missing.” She sat my bowl in the sink and gazed out the window.

Grandma was a force of nature – impatient, aggressive, self-possessed. To look at her was to take a step back. She dyed her hair black and this intensified her already severe features, especially her eyebrows, which she smeared on each morning in thick, inky arches. She drew them too large and this made her face seem stretched. They were also drawn too high and draped the rest of her features into an expression of boredom, almost sarcasm.

“You should be in school,” she said.

“Won’t Dad just make you bring me back?” I said.

 

 

Text #3:

Here is a link to a blog post on mood with more moody mentor texts from poetry and pop cultures videos. The clip from One of Us is Lying could spark a book talk!

If you have another moody mentor, leave it in the comments!

TRY THIS TOMORROW: COLLABORATIVE POEMS

Nov
24

The New York Times Magazine used the poem Small Kindnesses by Danusha Laméris as an invitation for teen readers to submit their personal responses to the question “What small kindnesses do you appreciate?” Danusha Laméris compiled some of the over 1300 responses into Small Kindnesses: A Collaborative Poem by Teenagers From Around the World.

Collaborative poems are a novel and creative way to curate students’ ideas and make their thinking visible. You might try compiling collaborative poems by:

  • inviting students to read Small Kindnesses and respond with their own small kindness or to the first line of the poem, “I’ve been thinking about…”
  • using another short text as an invitation to share thinking after a quickwrite
  • asking students to each share the line they are most proud of from their writing at the end of a craft or form study
  • collecting students’ favorite sentences from their independent reading

 

We’d love to hear your suggestions for collaborative poems in the comments!

TRY THIS TOMORROW: THE ABSOLUTE BEST

Nov
16

Grub Street’s Best of New York series has gotten me thinking about the many ways students could use this “absolute best’ structure in their own writing to describe a topic they are knowledgeable and passionate about.

Some of my favorite examples are:

The Absolute Best Ice Cream Sandwiches in New York City

The Absolute Best Veggie Burgers in New York City

The Absolute Best Pancakes in New York City

These absolute best lists combine description, analysis, and persuasion. I can see students creating their own lists of the absolute best books they read during the year, teams in the WNBA, episodes of Star Trek, cookie recipes…the possibilities are endless!

TRY THIS TOMORROW: PUNCTUATION EXPLORATION

Oct
20

Stephen King’s forward to Castle Rock Kitchen: Wicked Good Recipes from the World of Stephen King by Theresa Carle-Sanders is delightful. This paragraph in particular caught my attention:

When I think of Maine cuisine, I think of red hot dogs in spongy Nissen rolls, slow-baked beans (with a big chunk of pork fat thrown in), steamed fresh peas with bacon, whoopie pies plus macaroni and cheese (often with lobster bits, if there were some left over). I think of creamed salt cod on mashed potatoes—a favorite of my toothless grandfather—and haddock baked in milk, which was the only fish my brother would eat. I hated it; to this day I can see those fishy fillets floating in boiled milk with little tendrils of butter floating around in the pan. Ugh.

King uses an array of punctuation to add variety and complexity to his sentences, making this excerpt a terrific mentor text for a punctuation exploration. Students can notice and name the punctuation moves King makes by following this adaption of Project Zero’s Parts, Purposes, Complexities thinking routine:

  • Record each of the four sentences on a large piece of paper with enough space around each one for groups of students to capture their thinking. (I know sentence #4 only contains one word and one period, but there is a lot to discuss about this intentional stylist choice.)
  • Ask students in small groups to discuss the sentences one at a time and capture their thinking about these invitations:
    • What are the parts of this sentence? What are its individual pieces or components?
    • What is the purpose of each of these parts? What does each part contribute to the sentence?
    • How does the punctuation support the complexity of this sentence? How does the punctuation connect the individual parts to the whole?

Once groups have finished discussing and annotating the sentences, invite them into a whole-class discussion to share their noticings about Stephen King’s punctuation use.

Close by giving students time to try out some of these punctuation moves in their writer’s notebooks by drafting their own “When I think of __________, I think of __________” paragraphs.

TRY THIS TOMORROW: WHAT I’VE BEEN STREAMING

Oct
13

Scrolling Twitter one night, I saw a post shared from a bookstore titled “I want to get back into reading, I’ve been streaming”. The image, found here, matches readers with titles based on shows they have enjoyed. I often use conversation about television as a gateway to recommending books to students and this took it to a new level.  Other sources have similar lists to promote books based on TV entertainment.

 

Penguin has a list of “What to Read Next Based on Your Fav Netflix Shows”.

Epic Reads has a list of “36 Books to Read After Binge-Watching ‘Never Have I Ever’”.

Teaspoon of Adventure has a list of “Book to Read After Your Latest Netflix Binge”.

Try it:

  • Have students come up with a list of popular TV shows and research titles that are similar.
  • Have students pick one TV show and brainstorm similar titles they have read.
  • Have students look at your classroom library and pair titles with TV shows.
  • Have students match their current read with a TV show or movie.

SORA SUMMER SERIES – STUDENT EDITION

Jun
30

the collection of titles on SORA has expanded to include titles for students in high school. To celebrate this, and to add some book buzz, Margin Notes will feature book recommendations written by high school students over the summer months. Stay tuned for some great book recommendations!

Ways teachers might use the students’ recommendations:

  • Direct students to Margin Notes to read student recommendations
  • Book talk the titles by reading the student recommendations
  • Post the recommendations in the classroom for students to read
  • Have students comment on the posts of titles they decide to read
  • Use as mentor texts for students writing their own recommendations