Margin Notes



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



If you have been searching for ways to share writers’ processes, craft, and experiences, The Craft of Writing newsletter from Literary Hub has you covered. This weekly newsletter contains a writer’s first-person description of a craft technique using examples from their own work and offers links to other writers’ reflections on the same topic. This is particularly helpful for anyone looking for resources to support a craft or process study in writing workshop.

The Craft of Writing is always a quick and engaging read about writers and their writing and the newsletter format makes it easy to save them in one spot to use a resource depending on what your writers need. You can sign up here. 



Writing poetry can be daunting, which is why mentor texts are a powerful tool. Poems with a clear structure provide a scaffold for writers who might not know how to get started. Mentor poems in which repetition features prominently make it easy for them to warm up their poetry-writing muscles. Writers can rely on the same or similar repeated words or phrases while adding their own ideas. Don’t forget to share your own version with your students as another model!

Here are a few examples of poems with repetition that might get you and your writers started:

Why I Write Poetry by Leah Kindler

Students can follow Kindler’s lead and create their own “Why I Love” poem and begin every line with “Because…”

Mountain Dew Commercial Disguised as a Love Poem by Matthew Olzmann

Students can borrow Olzmann’s opening line “Here’s what I’ve got, the reasons why…” and follow the same format Olzmann uses to list the reasons.

Possibilities by Wislawa Szymborska

The repetition of “I prefer” at the beginning of each line is a terrific model to share their likes and interests.

Using poetry mentors with repetition is a quick and fun way to inspire students to get started with their own poems.



In her Author’s Note, Kate Baer describes the day she realized she could see the growing number of negative messages she encountered online and in her inbox in a new way: “On a whim, I took a screenshot of her message, blotted out some lines with the pen tool, and hit post.” Soon, she began seeing opportunities to create erasure poems everywhere. I Hope This Finds You Well is Baer’s collection of erasure poetry created from both negative and positive exchanges she has had with readers as well as from advertisements, news, and current events.

Almost any text, from a text message to a text book can be reimagined as an erasure poem. Invite students to select a text they can re-envision as poetry and then reflect on how the meaning and message has changed by the words and phrases they have erased.




The resource Teaching Living Poets by Lindsay Illich and Melissa Alter Smith offers several engaging ideas and activities to incorporate poetry in your class. This activity is one used to introduce poetry and teach theme.



  1. Place students in small groups with a poem and ask the simple question “What is the most significant word?” to represent this poem. Ask the groups to discuss their word choice and extend their discussion by explaining why they chose each word.
  2. Give each group a piece of chart paper with a marker. You will give a mini-lesson before they begin.
  3. Demonstrate how to use the concentric circles (found in the image below) to record your thinking on a poem. The focus is to defend the word choice as there are no right/wrong answers. The center circle is what the group has decided is the most important word. The next circle is for images and connections to that word. The third circle is theme. One way to consider theme is to ask, “What message is the author trying to deliver about the word written in the middle circle?”. Lastly, the outer area is for the text evidence that supports the word and theme.
  4. Students will copy the concentric circles on their own page.

For more ideas, follow the hashtag #teachlivingpoets on Twitter.

Illich, Lindsay, and Melissa Alter Smith. Teach Living Poets. National Council of Teachers of English, 2021.



In their new book, Intervention Reinvention: A Volume-Based Approach to Reading Success, authors Stephanie Harvey, Annie Ward, Maggie Hoddinott and Suzanne Carroll advocate that teachers use reading volume as an intervention strategy for all students. In part three of their book, they provide numerous practical ways to teach your students about the importance of reading volume and strategies to increase their reading volume.

One of my favorites is Encourage Student-Led Booktalks found on page 169. So how exactly does a booktalk work?  When students complete a book that they feel others would enjoy, they simply provide a short talk introducing the book and share interesting elements of the text. As always, students will need guidance and modeling before they begin sharing independently. The authors provide a quick point form lesson detailing how to introduce this to students and provide time for practice. The main points are as follows:

  • Begin by pointing out to students that booktalks are an important way to share awesome books in your classroom community. Share that you have booktalked some of your favorites (if you haven’t done this, begin by trying it yourself a few times over a couple of weeks, before introducing to students). Let students know you are going to give them a chance to booktalk one of their favorite books today. Outline the main attributes of a booktalk: a quick commercial for the book, grab the listeners attention with any interesting or unique, but remembering not to give away any spoilers!
  • Next provide the students with a model: name a title and author of a book, share the genre or format, and give a brief overview.
  • Remind students to end their booktalk with a reason why others would enjoy the book. For example, “If you love mystery and intrigue, this is definitely for you”.
  • Finally, allow your students time, perhaps ten minutes to draft their own booktalk and practice sharing with an elbow partner. Let them know that you will provide time the following day for someone to give the first daily booktalk.


Providing the opportunity for students to prepare, deliver and listen to booktalks addresses ELA outcomes for listening and speaking, reading and viewing as well as writing and representing.

To view ASD-W teachers and the literacy team modeling booktalks check out our ASD-W Margin Notes K-12 Sharepoint site.  Scroll down the homepage until you see Booktalks.

To learn more about the book Intervention Reinvention: A Volume-Based Approach to Reading Success, click here.




Many educators (including myself) will advocate that no students are too old for picture books. Picture books, as shared by Jill Davidson in an earlier Margin Notes post,  Picture Books in Grades 6-12,

“…make excellent mentor texts to use in mini-lessons or to demonstrate writing techniques since you can read them more than once in a short amount of time.  They can be used to develop background knowledge about a concept or topic or for quick writes and writer’s notebook responses.  Picture books can invite dialogue about tough topics and complex ideas. Most importantly, though, they bring students together into a shared experience that invites everyone in the reading community to celebrate beautiful words and images.”

Daddy Speaks Love by Leah Henderson is just one of these books that will provide teachers a segue to discussing difficult topics, the sharing of ideas and opportunities for critical thinking.  Motivated by the death of George Floyd during the summer of 2020 and the statement by his then six-year-old daughter that, “Daddy changed the world”, Henderson explores the relationship that fathers or father figures play in the lives of their children.  Love, support, and guidance are all explored in the text, as is unfairness and injustice.  The illustrations by E. B. Lewis will also provide teachers with opportunities to explore critical thinking activities, such as, “What does this picture say? What does it not say.”

Henderson’s words and Lewis’ illustrations provide a powerful and timely reflection on the state of social justice issues facing much of the world in 2022.  To learn more about this book and other powerful picture books check out our K-12 Virtual Books shelves on our ASD-W Margin Notes K-12 Literacy sharepoint.




Each week, THE WEEK, invites authors to share six book titles they recommend reading. Students can use these book lists as mentor texts to select six books (or movies, games, songs, etc) they would like to recommend and write short descriptions of what makes them worthy of making the list. These lists are also great mentor texts of voice in short pieces of writing.

Here are some lists you might choose to use as mentor texts:



In Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher’s newest joint publication 4 Essential Studies: Beliefs and Practices to Reclaim Student Agency, they share a great idea for writer’s notebooks. The idea is borrowed from William Stafford, former U.S. poet laureate, who suggests starting each day by returning to the last line written the day before and asking if there is more to say about what was written. What Kittle and Gallagher recommend is: after students have had a few weeks of notebook writing they can be invited to underline the last line of each of their notebook entries and choose one to copy onto a new page. They then use this line to write what more they have to say. As they remind us, part of the writing opportunities that a writer’s notebook opens up is the ability to go dig into what is already writing and find, “…the inspiration needed to move a writer forward.”



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!