Margin Notes

Try This Tomorrow: Editing The Gray Lady

Jan
15

If you are not following Editing the Gray Lady (@nyt_diff) on Twitter, you are missing out on a never-ending source of mini-lesson ideas. This account tracks changes made to New York Times headlines during the editing/revision process.

There are so many options for using this resource in your classroom, from highlighting specific changes in mini-lessons about conventions, sentence structure, and word choice to inviting students to reflect on why specific changes were made and their impact on the overall effect.

Book Recommendation: Gmorning, Gnight! Little Pep Talks For Me & You by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Illustrated by Jonny Sun

Jan
10

Some of you know Lin-Manuel Miranda as the creator of Hamilton: The Musical, but if you follow him on Twitter, you will also be familiar with his Gmorning and Gnight tweets. Miranda has teamed up with author and illustrator Johnny Sun to compile some of his most popular tweets into this lovely collection.

The Introduction, appropriately written as a poem itself, tells the story of how the book came to be:

 

The greetings are sometimes flirtatious,

Or cheeky, or weirdly specific.

They’re pulled from my life or my brain or my thoughts,

Terrific’ly Twitter prolific.

 

I don’t have a book of quotations

Or wisdom I pull from my shelf;

Most often the greetings I wish you

Are the greetings I wish for myself.

 

So if I write “relax,” then I’m nervous,

Or if I write, “cheer up,” then I’m blue.

I’m writing what I wish somebody would say,

Then switching the pronoun to you.

 

Each double-page spread features a pairing of a Gmorning and a Gnight complemented by Sun’s illustrations. These short poems are witty, emotional, inspiring, and extremely relatable. This is the kind of collection you can read straight through or savor slowly over time. You can dip into it anywhere and get a quick fix of positivity.

Gmorning, Gnight! Is overflowing with possibilities for mini-lessons, craft studies, quick writes, and poems to read aloud for the sheer enjoyment of it.

Winner!

Jan
08

Congratulations to Lori Jones-Clark and Sonja Wright for winning #ASDWReads for the month of December! Thank you for sharing your reading moments and we will have a book in the school mail for you ASAP.

If you would like to enter the next draw, just snap a picture of a book you read in January and post it on Twitter under #ASDWReads. We are looking forward to seeing what books you bought over the break!

Craft Studio: Why America Is Terrible At Making Biscuits

Jan
08

What I Was Reading:

When I saw the tweet from The Atlantic linking to an article called, Why Most of America is Terrible at Making Biscuits, I was intrigued. I have only attempted biscuit-making a few times and the results were always underwhelming. They never seemed to turn out as well as my dad’s, but I suspect the magic of his biscuits resides in a combination of the specific juice glass he used to cut them out after rolling them and my childhood nostalgia for them.

In this article, Amanda Mull describes her experiences as a Southerner transplanted to New York in search of a good biscuit. In her words, “With every dense, dry, flat, scone-adjacent clump of carbohydrates, I became more distressed.” Mull decides to take matters into her own hands. Using her mother’s recipe, Mull makes a batch of biscuits that turns out to be “just as terrible as all the other ones in New York.”

This passage describing her process caught my attention:

“In subsequent attempts, I tried everything I could think of to get it right. I worried about the buttermilk, so I bought an expensive bottle at the farmer’s market, which did nothing. I tried different fat sources, including butter and lard, which made small differences in flavor and texture but still resulted in a shape and density better suited for a hockey rink than a plate. I made sure all of my ingredients were ice-cold when I started mixing, which is a good tip in general, but did not fix my problem. I kneaded the dough more or less, made it wetter or drier. The only thing left was the flour, but I figured it couldn’t be that—wasn’t self-rising flour the same everywhere? We had just used grocery-store flour back home.”

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

* We often give writers feedback along the lines of “vary your sentence beginnings and endings” and “avoid repetition.” This is a terrific example of breaking those “school writing” rules for effect. This paragraph reads more like a list of all the possible solutions the author tried and their results. The repetition of “I” at the beginning reinforces the image of her trying one thing after another after another.

* Most of the sentences follow a similar pattern: I __________, detail, description of how the attempt failed. As I read, I noticed my own investment in this biscuit project growing with each disappointment. I wanted, as I’m sure Mull did, the next one to work. This series of sentences, each following a similar construction, underscores the attempts as a process of elimination.

Possibilities for Writers:

* Read this passage as a writer to notice and name interesting craft moves and discuss how they impact you as a reader.

* Examine one of the longer sentences and describe the role of the commas. Use the same structure to create an original sentence of your own.

* Organize a series of events or actions into a paragraph using similar repetition.

* Watch for other examples of effective repetition in your independent reading.

* As you read, find examples of writers breaking “school writing” rules and consider why they might have made those choices.

Guest Writer Wendy Carlisle Recommends House Arrest by K.A. Holt

Dec
17

House Arrest by K.A. Holt is written in free verse poetry form which makes it an easy read for students; however, it does not take away from the powerful message of family responsibility and the will of one boy, Timothy, to take care of his sick baby brother and his mother. Timothy finds out sometimes doing the wrong thing can be the right thing to do, even if it has consequences.

Twelve-year-old Timothy is under house arrest for stealing a wallet and charging his baby brother’s medication on it. He is assigned a probation officer, James, and a court-appointed psychologist, Mrs. B., whom he talks to in the journal he must write for the whole year he is on probation. Through this journal, Timothy talks through his helplessness of having a sick baby in the house and the frustration and anger he feels for his dad who up and left their family after his brother, Levi, was born and needed a trach to breathe. Legally or not, Timothy already feels like he is under house arrest. Not having enough money for 24/7 nursing care and no father around to help, Timothy must step up to help his mother.

Timothy feels that they are too proud to accept help from charity until he finds a solution to cure his brother. He relentlessly writes letters to the doctor who can help his brother and the push is on when a new nurse encourages Timothy’s mother to put Levi in a long-term care facility. He is desperate to try to keep his family together and when relief is finally in sight, Timothy must once again break the law to save his baby brother.

I highly recommend this book as it is written in a way that students would find easy enough to read but powerful enough to make them think and reflect. Some students will be able to relate to the main character with his relationships with his family members and friends and trying to figure out his feelings.

In the acknowledgements, K.A. Holt reveals, she has had first-hand experience with a son who lived with a trach and successfully had his trachea reconstructed.

Bio:

Wendy Carlisle teaches grade 7 at Ridgeview Middle School in Oromocto.  When she is not busy chasing after her two daughters, Peyton and Kassidy, she can often be found reading or watching General Hospital.

 

Guest Student Writer Paige J. Albert Recommends Maybe A Fox by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee

Dec
13

Maybe a Fox is a heartbreaker of a read, showing an eleven-year-old girl’s devastation at her sister’s sudden unexpected death and a fox hidden in the woods that will stop at nothing to help the young human.

Jules Sherman’s father had one golden rule, “never go near the Slip”. Her sister had one golden wish, “to run faster”. Jules still had the mitten that had slipped off Sylvie’s fingers when she tried to restrain her sister from running into the woods to toss her wish rock in the river. But Sylvie had gotten away. She had run too fast. And the Slip had taken her as a prize. They never found her body. Now Jules must find a way to keep hold of her sister, like the mother whose memory had dribbled through her fingers like water, leaving barely a wisp of anything for her to remember.

A parallel story develops alongside Jules’-deep in the woods, a fox is born. From the very first day, Senna, the young fox, knew that she was meant to find someone. She tingled with energy to track down the human girl she was destined to serve.

As the book progresses, Sylvie, Jules and Senna’s stories intertwine.  When Senna places a strand of the headband that Sylvie was wearing the day she died at Jules’ feet, Jules is plunged into a mystery and her burning desire to understand her sister’s wish intensifies. Jules will stop at nothing to solve her mystery, even if it means breaking her father’s golden rule.

Maybe a Fox is a beautifully structured novel that perfectly demonstrated the oblivion felt after a loss and the extreme measures to which people will go in order to do what they believe will heal them. Its burning display of characters driven by a dream is comparable to Beth Hautala’s, Waiting for Unicorns and Kathi Appelt’s, The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp. Though it was a rather simple read, the raw emotions were crafted into words in a way that everybody can relate to. Maybe a Fox will keep you pressed between its pages long after you’ve finished reading.

Bio:

Paige is a 13-year-old student at George Street Middle School in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Outside of school, Paige is involved in Highland dance and enjoys creative writing, drawing and spending time on her scooter. Paige is passionate about literature and is more than pleased to share her personal opinions on various novels so that other children like her can share in the joy of reading a good book.

Guest Writer Meghan Lyons Recommends The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell

Dec
10

The fact that this book is about wolves, a girl who trains them, a rescue mission to save her imprisoned mother and that it takes place in the cold forest of northern Russia, makes “The Wolf Wilder” my favourite read of 2018.

Feodora, or Feo, is a young girl growing up in the frozen forests of Russia. Both she and her mother rescue abandoned wolves that have been dropped off in the forest by their owners who no longer can handle their wild pets. Their job is to retrain them to be wolves again. How to hunt. How to sense danger. How to survive.

Their unique job attracts the attention of a local army general who shows up at their cabin and takes Feo’s mother hostage. He is well known for exerting his evil power on the people in the surrounding villages. Feo manages to escape, but not before injuring the general. With her pack of wolves, she embarks of a long, cold journey to rescue her mother with the help of an unlikely group of children who also want to stand against the oppression from the general.

If you like adventure, unique settings, and girl power, this book is for you…oh, and wolves are pretty cool too!

Bio:

Meghan usually teaches grade 6, 7 and 8 in Stanley, New Brunswick but is on deferred leave this year working on her Masters in Education.

Microstyle: The Art of Writing Little

Dec
06

Christopher Johnson begins Microstyle: The Art of Writing Little by explaining that we are living in the age of The Incredible Shrinking Message.

“Some of the most important verbal messages we encounter are also the shortest. Headlines, titles, brand names, domain names, sound bites, slogans, taglines, catchphrases, email subject lines, text messages, elevator pitches, bullet points, tweets, and Facebook status updates are a few examples.”

Johnson goes on to define microstyle:

“Messages of just a word, a phrase, or a short sentence or two—micromessages—lean heavily on every word and live or die by the tiniest stylistic choices. Micromessages depend not on the elements of style, but on the atoms of style. They require microstyle.”

Microstyle highlights many examples of short micromessages we encounter in day-to-day life and analyses what makes them effective or, in some cases, ineffective (and humorous). Through these examples and nonexamples, Johnson identifies the key ingredients of powerful and memorable micromessages.

His focus on taglines, those short memorable catchphrases or slogans often used to market movies, tv shows, and brands, made me think about possible classroom applications. Taglines are meant to capture and communicate the most important details or features of a product with precision and clarity, so why not invite students to create their own taglines to:

* summarize their learning,

* describe the book they are reading,

* identify the purpose of a piece of writing they are working on,

* introduce themselves to others,

* articulate the gist of a text,

* put words to an image,

* describe their performance on a task, or

* give feedback to a peer.

Creating taglines and other micromessages can be a quick, easy, and creative way to encourage students to consolidate and share their learning.

Guest Writer Sarah Bacon Recommends Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner

Dec
03

Good Bye Days is a novel that will no doubt touch the hearts of all who read it but it is especially relevant to high school students.

“Where are you guys?” are the four words that forever changed Carver Briggs’s life. A simple text message results in a fatal car crash, taking the lives of his three best friends, Eli, Mars and Blake The novel follows that aftermath of the tragedy, and the impact that the death of his friends has not only on him but their families. Carver can’t help but feel responsible for the accident and does not know how to move forward. One can’t help but feel Carver’s pain, as it is so raw and real. This novel sheds light not only on the importance of not texting and driving but how to make a wrong right and move forward.

Unfortunately, Carver is not the only who feels that he is to blame for the death of his three friends. Mars’s father is an influential attorney who is making sure that the accident is investigated, and Eli’s twin sister is using her social status at school to make Carver feel even more alone.

Carver does not have many people in his life whom he can trust and find support. Blake’s grandmother reaches out to Carver and asks him to help her say goodbye to her grandson. She proposes that they spend one day together sharing memories and doing everything that she would do with her grandson Blake if she had just one last day with him. The other families learn about the “Good Bye Day” and want the same for themselves. Carver wants to help his friends’ families grieve, but at what cost?

Bio:

I am a grade 9 English teacher, wife and mother of a three-year-old. I do my best at keeping up with the latest young adult novels, as I strongly believe in knowing what my students are reading.

Try This Tomorrow: Judging a Book by Its Cover

Nov
29

Judge

Literary Hub is one of my favorite bookish websites.  They regularly post round-ups of their favorite book covers of the month with brief explanations about their choices-for example-October, September, and August .

These brief reactions make terrific mentors for students to pay attention to and reflect on the covers of the books they are reading.  Why not ask students to discuss if the cover played a part in their book selection, whether or not the cover captures the essence of the book, what connections they can make between the cover and the content, how the cover has changed over different editions, etc.?  Students can read these round-ups to create a running list of options for commenting on book covers.

Designer Chip Kidd has made a career of trying to make readers judge a book by its cover.  This Time photo essay highlights some of his most iconic covers.

So, go ahead and judge a book by its cover and invite your students to do the same.