Margin Notes

Opinionated Students


We would like to share an idea we have used with a teacher in grade 8 to get the students thinking about writing persuasively.

Our goal is for the students to be able to choose a topic they feel passionate about so they can write with an opinion, see both sides of an argument, to have a purpose for their writing, and to identify the audience they are writing for. In the past, we felt like we had taught this kind of writing like a formula and it ended up being painful for both the students and the teacher. The students had little real interest in their topic and we were bored of teaching it as it always seemed to drag on forever. The writing it produced was generally appropriate against our writing standards but if we were really honest, it just ended up being a compliance writing piece and not truly authentic for the majority of students.

We looked at two main books for inspiration, Kelly Gallagher’s “Write Like This” and Linda Rief’s “Read Write Teach”. After reading their work, we realized in the past we hadn’t spent enough time building students’ capacity in being able to have an opinion and back it up with evidence. This had resulted in dry topics like, “Why cats are better than dogs”, “Why we shouldn’t have a dress code”, and “Why the Montreal Canadiens are the best hockey team”.

We decided to spend more time on the prep work to get them thinking, talking, and writing while building their background knowledge so that hopefully when it is time to choose what they are going to write about, they will be ready. We are also hoping to create some urgency and energy around the writing piece so it doesn’t drag on for weeks once they start it.

We started with a simple and fun game of “Would You Rather” to get them to practice having an opinion and be able to say why. We read the questions aloud, the students turned and talked, then we came back together as a group and shared a few. While the students were turning and talking, we listened in and facilitated where necessary. The two big things we noticed-some students still wanted to say, ” I don’t know” and we had to do a couple of whole class reminders to state their why. We really wanted to focus on these two skills as they are essential and easily transferable to this kind of writing.

Here are some sample questions we got off the internet: would you rather…be covered in scales or fur? Be able to fly or talk to animals? Find a suitcase with $5 000 000 in it or true love? Give up bathing or the internet for one month?

With about ten minutes left, we had them choose one or two questions to write about in their Writers Notebook which was easier for them to do after they had practiced first by talking and listening to their classmates. We noticed this was an essential step that we had often skipped or glossed over and we were happy to rectify the situation!



Tonight the streets are oursArden Huntley seems to have it all: family, a best friend, a gorgeous actor of a boyfriend, and good marks. But things change, and people change.

Arden has always taken care of the people in her life; she is loyal to a fault. Now she feels her loyalty is being taken for granted when her mother leaves, her best friend lets her take the fall for drugs found in their locker, and her boyfriend cancels on plans for their 1-year anniversary celebration. This is when Arden stumbles upon a blog called “Tonight the Streets Are Ours” and becomes fascinated by the New York author Peter. She feels connected to him and starts to live vicariously through his blog posts.

Setting out on a road trip to find and meet Peter, Arden, and her best friend Lindsey, have a crazy night. This includes Arden discovering that Peter is not who she thought he was; he is not who he portrays in his blog. But this night also propels Arden on a journey of self-discovery, which leads her to reconnect with her mom and repair her relationship with Lindsey.

This story begins with, “Like all stories, the one you are about to read is a love story. If it wasn’t what would be the point?”. Readers looking for a book that includes a unique perspective on this theme will surely enjoy Tonight the Streets Are Ours.

Angela Lardner is a teacher at Stanley Consolidated School. She teaches English 9, English 112, English 122 as well as Resource. Her greatest joys are reading and her 2 dogs: Thor and Apollo.



As teachers, most of us have probably read our students’ writing accounts of events in their lives, such as “What I did this summer…”, “Over Christmas I…”, “On my trip to…”, “When we were in Florida…”, “At Cadet Camp…” etc. How often have these writing pieces been dry? Taken over with monotonous details? Lacking creativity in the writing?

All of Me Photo.jpgWhat I Was Reading:
As I was reading Chris Baron’s debut middle school novel in verse, All of Me, I was mesmerized by how beautifully and succinctly the main character, Ari, describes the night of his cousin’s bat mitzvah. All of Me follows Ari, a young boy who struggles with being overweight and being a victim of bullying, on his journey to self-discovery and finding a sense of belonging.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:
• The details of the event are brief and pinpointed to specific memories of his experience
• The sentences vary in length: some verses are an entire sentence on their own while some are made up of a series of short sentences
• The punctuation is grammatically correct even though the structure is unconventional
• The commas allow for pause and flow
• The feeling of being loved is expressed through describing the actions of the family, without directly stating the feeling
• Dialogue is written in italics to set it apart as what was spoken aloud
• The sensory details coming together – sight, touch, taste, hearing, smell – allow readers to experience the event for themselves

Possibilities for Writers:
• Choose an event in your life to write about. Start with writing down the brief details you remember
• Think about each of the five senses and write down any additional details that some to mind from the experience – Be brief!
• Consider which parts of the experience you most strongly remember – What did you feel?
• Attempt to describe the details of what influenced those feelings
• Use commas to create pause and to separate the details
• Use a colon to introduce a list (of food, of games, of people, etc.)
• Imagine a fictional event and follow the same steps, creating a character’s memory of the experience



Frankly in Love

In Frankly in Love by David Yoon, Frank Li, a Californian Korean-American, narrates his journey through his final year of high school, desperate for his first “Summer of Love”. But he will have to find the girl first. Early on, Frank and the white and wealthy Brit Means hit it off, so all should be golden, right? Not exactly. As the son of Korean parents, having a romantic relationship with a partner who is not Korean (the world’s most ethnically homogeneous culture and racial identity, we are informed) is rarely welcomed by mom or dad. Frank’s older sister Hanna and her African American boyfriend have already vanished to the other side of the country and are no longer spoken of in the Li household – Frank knows what is at stake.

Race and racism are key to this unique coming-of-age story. Frank refers to himself and his fellow first-generation Korean American friends as the “Limbos”; who, ever since being born, have all been regularly thrown together at family gatherings. The parents drink and share stories in their mother tongue, whilst their children, who only truly speak the language of the only home they have ever known, try to enjoy each other’s company without ever having had anything in common outside of a shared culture. Yet it is through his fellow “Limbo”, Joy, herself dating a Chinese American boy, that a clever, covert plan is concocted: if they pretend to date each other, they will be awarded the time and freedom they need to date their real partners. The excitement that ensues as this plan is put into place gives the novel some real pace and takes the story in a direction that comes as a surprise.

One question that, as an immigrant myself, I love to ask students who were born in other parts of the world is, “Where is home to you?” Frankly in Love brings to light this issue by helping the reader understand that, even if you have never set foot on the land that your parents were born and raised upon, the power with which this place casts over you and your family complicates the notion of what home is. As Frank complains, he “just wants to be carefree, like in those teen movies where all the kids (meaning all the white kids) get to… act out their love dramas… on moonlit lawns to gaze up at the stars and wonder about the universe and fate… not B.S like the racism of their parents.”

The story tackles race and racism in a very interesting way. There are lots of current Y.A novels currently tackling these complex issues at the moment. But rather than focusing on the devastating effects of racist violence or xenophobic political climates, real or dystopian, Frankly in Love, looks at the tough question of what a young, liberal teenager does when the most racist people he knows are the two people whom he loves so much. Frank’s mom and dad, without any pause or irony, will openly state that “ninety-eight percent” of black people are criminals, without any of the knowing irony that they as immigrants themselves could be the targets of racism. And, also, they know that Frank’s best friend is African American.

I lived in Korea for seven years, and more than the U.K, I miss it as home. In Frank’s parents, David Yoon has created two adults who, despite their flaws, I feel quite sure I have met a thousand times over back in Seoul. The passages written exclusively in Korean were of personal interest as I wanted to see if I could still read the language, but, like Frank, I had great difficulty following these parts that include the discussion of the complex issues regarding race. It is these issues that eventually threaten to tear the families apart.

Though Frank’s voice may not be for everyone – this is an academically gifted student applying to schools in the Ivy League whose view on certain situations, the cutesiness to his inner voice, and his dialogue with like-minded friends can grate at times – this is a wonderful addition to my high school classroom library. Students in Grade 12, may make a particular connection with Frank and his friends as they move towards the exciting precipice of the end of high school. I have already recommended it to a Canadian student of Korean descent in grade 11, who came to me the next day and just gave a very firm nod. In Frank, David Yoon has crafted a nuanced character who, as the child of immigrant parents who have given up everything for their children, quite literally carries the full weight of their expectations on his shoulders. I know there are many students, regardless of where their parents are from, who can identify with that.

Ben Dowling teaches ELA9 at Fredericton High School. He has just gotten a lovely new armchair and Frankly in Love is the first of many that he hopes he shall consume in it.



Read-Alouds are a powerful, and we believe essential, component to building an engaged and empowered community of readers in the literacy classroom. Frank Seragini and Suzette Serafini-Youngs say it best in their professional resource Around the Reading Workshop in 180 Days:

“What occurs during reading aloud and discussing literature affects how individuals transact with texts independently. How literature is discussed during the read-aloud provides the most concrete demonstration of the ways we want students to read and think on their own and in small groups. If things don’t happen during whole-group instructions, why would we expect them to happen when we send students off on their own to read?”

When we are reading aloud, we want our students to be engaged and captivated. Anne Elliott and Mary Lynch, in their book Cultivating Readers, discuss the ways students are drawn in by a read-aloud: “Students need to hear and see a reader who reads with great pace, tone, phrasing, expression, and intonation.” They also explore the many purposes a read aloud can have in our classrooms:

• Exposure to different genres
• Reading for enjoyment
• As a mentor text for writing
• For making thinking visible
• As opportunities for dialogue and discussion about rich text and topics
• As fuel for higher-order thinking questions

Knowing our purpose, selecting quality texts, planning how the read-aloud will benefit the readers in front of us, and responding to the “teachable moments” that arise during the authentic discussions all work together in creating a community of readers in our classrooms.

When selecting a read-aloud for your classroom, keep in mind all of the rich, quality types of text that are available aside from an engaging full-length novel:

• Sections from novels
• Non-fiction
• Poetry
• Short stories
• Images
• Articles
• Videos
• Comics
• Infographics
• Artwork
• Picture Books

To help you get started in exploring options for read-alouds in your classroom, we put together this Read-Aloud Padlet of resources that includes a variety of texts you might consider. If you are interested in learning more about how read-alouds can contribute to growing an engaged community of readers in your classroom, we suggest checking out the following:

Article: “The Power and Promise of Read-Alouds and Independent Reading” by The International Literacy Association
Blog Post: “Never too old: Reading aloud to independent readers” by Donalyn Miler
Blog Post: “Reading Books Aloud – Teaching Readers, Knitting Hearts” by Valinda Kimmel
Podcast: “Why Read Aloud Matters” with Rebecca Bellingham
Podcast: “A Novel-Approach Read Aloud” with Kate Roberts

As always, if you are looking for support or want to chat further about how to use read-alouds in your classroom, please send us an email!



Sadie.jpgSadie goes missing just months after her thirteen year old sister Mattie has been found dead – murdered just outside of Cold Creek. Sadie has been declared a runaway, but West McCray, a podcast producer, thinks there’s something more to the story.

Readers learn about Sadie, Mattie, and their absent mother, Claire, through McCray’s interviews with May Beth Foster, the manager of the trailer park where the girls lived, and other people he connects to Sadie along the way. The book jumps between McCray’s interviews and Sadie’s perspective, where readers learn in small doses about what Sadie’s been up to and where she’s headed. Sadie defies society’s obsession with stories such as hers, keeping both McCray and readers at bay – she’s always one step ahead, revealing details about her journey, her life, and her suffering only in part.

Sadie explores the ways in which society is at once mesmerized with stories of dead women and, somehow at the same time, complicit in women’s suffering. The book questions assumptions about addiction and challenges systemic issues surrounding abuse, neglect, social services, patriarchy and objectification. It challenges the media’s obsession with highlighting pain and sensationalizing crime.

the girlsA downloadable podcast accompanies the book, making it accessible to a wide range of students. Readers can listen in on McCray’s interviews, feeling his anticipation as he unravels Sadie’s story and steps closer to finding the missing teen.

The book is fast paced and engaging, offering something we can all connect to.

After all, Girls go missing all the time.

Amy Bourgaize teaches at Fredericton High School. She has read 50 books so far this year.



I had the pleasure of attending the National Council of Teachers of English conference and presenting as part of a #BuildYourStack panel. Our theme was curiosity and I chose to share 5 titles to inspire secondary writers to get curious about the stories that live in their worlds. These titles pair nicely with writer’s notebooks and encourage students to observe and capture potential writing topics and ideas in their environments. Here they are:


I Wonder, written by KA Holt and illustrated by Kenard Pak, follows a group of children across a day as they wonder about and question the world around them. It ends at bedtime with the final curiosity of the day: “I wonder why I wonder so much.”

This picture book is an invitation for students to notice and record all their wonderings, questions, and curiosities over a day or longer.


The Art of Noticing by Rob Walker is a charming and quirky book filled with 131 exercises, meditations, and invitations designed to help us explore our surroundings with joy and curiosity. As Walker writes in the introduction, “Every day is filled with opportunities to be amazed, surprised, enthralled—to experience the enchanting. To be, in a word, alive.”

The activities range from simple (notice something new each day or make an auditory inventory) to more challenging (create a field guide or develop a personal annotated map). This book is a treasure trove of ideas for sending writers out into the world to practice the art of noticing.


In Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor Lynda Barry shares writing and drawing exercises from her classes. One of my favorite activities is called X-Pages. Barry asks her students to draw a large X across a notebook page, creating four large triangles, and spend five minutes recording what they did, what they saw, what they heard, and a sketch from the day.

This nightly five-minute ritual not only encourages writers to be more attentive and observant, it helps generate a large volume of details in the notebook for them to go back into to when looking for seeds of more writing.

A Mind Spread Out

A Mind Spread Out on the Ground is a collection of first-person essays by Alicia Elliott, a Tuscarora writer from Six Nations of the Grand River. Each of these essays is powerful in its own way, but the essay called “Half-Breed, A Racial Biography in Five Parts” offers a beautiful mentor structure for writers.

In it, Elliott shares five vignettes from her life—beginning in early childhood, moving through high school, and ending after the birth of her child. These culminate in a final reflection. Students can use this structure to name an aspect of their own identity and write five snapshots to create their own biography in five parts.


Here by Richard McGuire is an astonishing, almost wordless, picture book that tells the story of one corner of one room over thousands of years. The narratives from different times periods are layered across the pages, almost like collages.

This text invites students to visually depict the passage of time in their own lives by marking the changes in one thing, possibly a particular location or a meaningful object.







“The most powerful words in English are, ‘Tell me a story’”
– Pat Conroy

Start With JoyWe are very excited to join educators tonight on Twitter for the ShelfieTalk with Katie Egan Cunningham centered around her book Start With Joy (2019)!

In her chapter on “Story”, Katie talks about the power of image reading:

One of the simplest ways to spark a storyteller voice in students is to have a daily image to talk about. It can be an image from a recent read-aloud, an image of children the same age as your students engaged in something joyful, or a compelling photograph of somewhere you’ve been or of a landmark site. When the image is character driven, it can spark discussion about what the character might be thinking, feeling, or saying. Students get to image the life of the character beyond the photo as they develop their storyteller voice. When the image is setting driven, it can spark discussion about what students see, what makes them think, and what makes them wonder. Any image can be used to imagine other sensory details like smells and sounds that we can’t see but we can invent. When images are used as a foundation in understanding stories, students are given a primer in the craft techniques that will soon make their verbal and written stories that much stronger (p. 108-109).

Three of her suggestions for using images to encourage students to ask, “What’s the story here?” are:

• Invite students to create their own captions for what they see
• Join online conversations to see what students around the world come up with
• A weekly caption contest

In her book Teaching Talk, Kara Pranikoff suggests using these three questions to springboard idea growing around images:teaching talk.jpg

• What are you thinking?
• What ideas do you have about this picture?
• What specific details give you these ideas?

Visible Thinking suggests the following sentence starters to spark talk around works of art, images, and other interesting things:

• I see…
• I think…
• I wonder…

The New York Times suggests asking these questions of images:

• What’s going on in this picture?
• What do you see that makes you say that?
• What more can you find?

If you are interested in using images with your students as a way to spark your storytellers, to use talk to grow thinking, or to inspire wonder, here is a compilation of resources to find images that might work for you:

“The best photos of 2019” by National Geographic 

“2019: Top 100 Photos” by Time Magazine

The New Yorker: Daily Cartoon

“Paintings That Will Make You Question Everything Wrong In This World”

“Images to Inspire” by Once Upon a Picture

“Elderly People Look At Their Younger Reflections In This Beautiful Photo Series” by Tom Hussey

“A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words” from Odd Stuff Magazine

“What’s Wrong With Today’s Society Captured In 58 Though-Provoking Illustrations” By Al Margen

“What’s Going On in This Picture” by The New York Times



pumpkinheads coverPumpkinheads is a YA graphic novel created by the well-known writer Rainbow Rowell and the award-winning artist Faith Erin Hicks.

The story is about two high school seniors doing their final night shift together at a seasonal pumpkin patch. After three years of being autumnal best friends and workmates at a famous pumpkin patch, Josiah the MVPPP -Most Valuable Pumpkin Patch Person- and cheerful Deja have differing ideas on what should happen during this final shift. Josiah wants a routine Halloween night shift at the Succotash Hut, but Deja has a plan for the two of them to make the night the best Halloween ever by eating all of their favorite Halloween snacks, and finally getting “Josie” to speak to the co-worker he’s been mooning over for three years, nicknamed “The Fudge Girl.” 

From the first page to the last you can feel and taste the sweetness of friendship and all those amazing autumnal colors and food. I believe it is a story that many YA readers will adore. I very much like the way the story depicts how bittersweet the senior years can be when you are dangling between adolescence and adulthood.

The character strengths of Josiah: hardworking, committed, ambitious, and those of Deja: generous, kind and supportive, along with the themes of empathy, responsibility, cultural diversity and teamwork, work together to create an engaging story. I believe that these two adolescents could be role models for students in many ways and this is one reason why I highly recommend this book.

All in all, Pumpkinheads is more than a story about a last evening at a popular pumpkin patch; it is about authentic friendship and speaking honestly, as can be seen in a few of Deja’s remarks to Josiah during their final shift:

” I’m your friend. And friends don’t let friends live small lives.”

” I can’t ever get a sense of someone until I meet them.”

” We could be friends for all seasons.”

” It’s not fate that brings people together. It’s people!”

” I don’t want this girl to achieve mythical status in your life just because you never talked with her.”

 Rezvan Dehghani, originally from Iran, is an EAL instructor at Devon Middle school in Fredericton, NB.