Margin Notes



Children are naturally curious and come to our classrooms well versed in posing questions. On an average day, children ages 2-10 typically ask 288 questions (Frazier, Gelman, & Wellman, 2009). What could happen in a classroom where teachers leverage that natural curiosity into meanful and purposeful reasons to question and read?  This very idea is explored in a 2016 article When Readers Ask Questions: Inquiry-Based Reading Instruction”, by Molly Ness in The Reading Teacher, volume 70 (2).   One activity explored in this article that can leverage their natural curiosity to ask questions is referred to as Book Bits.   

Book Bits begins with a pre-read aloud or pre-reading activity that has the teacher sharing short phrases from the text.  These phrases are important to the text and provide hints about characters, setting, plot, resolution and narrative structures. The book bits support the reader by capturing their curiosity, activating background knowledge, stimulting predictions and setting a purpose for reading. Children are not shown the book or given the title.  Students are provided with one fragement or phrase on an index card.  Each child only sees one book bit (see example). Students are asked to make or jot down a quick prediction based on their book bit. Students then have an opportunity to share their book bit with 2 or 3 other students.  Once this is done students can then add to and revise their original predictions. The teacher then leads a whole class discussion based on student predictions. 

(When Readers Ask Questions: Inquiry-Based Reading Instruction”, by Molly Ness in The Reading Teacher, volume 70 (2)) 

To extend the lesson into a question generating session, share the entire list of book bits and model using who, what, when, where, why, and how to kick start questioning. For example, “How did their fingers get callused?” As well, consider checking in with students and guide them in turning their predictions into questions. The teacher can then record all of the questions generated by the class (see example). 

 (When Readers Ask Questions: Inquiry-Based Reading Instruction”, by Molly Ness in The Reading Teacher, volume 70 (2)) 

Once this list of questions is generated it is time to share the text.  As students prepare to listen,Bits ask them to put their thumb up every time they think they hear something in the text that answers one of the questions. Pause when thumbs go up and discuss both the question and how the book provides the answer. 

Have students talk with an elbow partner about some of the questions they have that were either unanswered or outside the scope of the text. Record those questions (see example). This unanswered list of questions can lead to further inquiry during the literacy block or other project-based learning opportunities. 

(When Readers Ask Questions: Inquiry-Based Reading Instruction”, by Molly Ness in The Reading Teacher, volume 70 (2)) 

Book Bits provide students with powerful ways to generate questions and read with purpose.  As they generate further questions after reading, children can learn that proficient readers need to use multiple sources to answer questions, gather data and form opinions. According to our Atlantic Canada English Language Arts Curriculum Grades 4-6, …”children by the end of grade 5 should be able to answer with decreasing assistance their own questions and those of others by selecting relevant information from a variety of texts”, and Book Bits is one activity that supports students in meeting this outcome

 To Read the whole article try the ILA search on the International Literacy Association website (if you have a membership) or use the Ebscohost link. 


Ness, M. (2016). When Readers Ask Questions: Inquiry-Based Reading Instruction. The Reading Teacher, 70(2), 189-195. 





Author and illustrator, Chris Saunders shares a tale of true kindness, and friendship through a compelling story about Rabbit who has unexpectedly been granted three wishes.

His touching story takes you on a journey with Rabbit who has never had a wish before as he seeks out the advice of others of what they would do if they were granted a wish. Rabbit selflessly grants each of his friends wishes giving him more than he expected when his friends then share their wishes with him.



As a teacher, something that fills me with joy is the ability to quickly locate something I need, precisely when I need it and without a lot of frantic searching. 

So, in an effort to make the lives of K-12 literacy teachers easier across ASD-W, the literacy team has developed a SHAREPOINT site.

This has been a labour of love and I’m excited to show you what we’ve developed!

You can find the link at the bottom of this post (link will work for all teachers in ASD-W).

The first thing you’ll see is:

Buttons that take you to our Margin Notes Blog, to information on the three strands and a link to the EECD curriculum site.

Scroll down bit and you’ll find:

Buttons that take you to “Essentials” – all the documents you’ll need to teach Literacy K-12.

Then, if you keep scrolling:

You’ll find more buttons that take you to resources that you will find helpful and interesting.

Keep scrolling…

And you’ll find our Literacy Webinars!

Lastly, you will find…

Upcoming Literacy Events! You can add these to your outlook calendar to stay up to date.

We encourage you to check it out and please share this blog post with others who might this information helpful. We hope teachers will feel like we’ve handed them the easy button!




I have just received my copy of Cultivating Writers by Anne Elliott and Mary Lynch and was so excited to find a whole chapter on making the why of writing visible, knowing that author’s purpose is so important in engaging young writers in the writing process. As Elliott and Lynch state “the why needs to be made clearly visible.” With my copy of the book tucked under my arm I headed into a grade 3 classroom to try out the following lesson. 

Giving the Gift of Writing is a highly engaging lesson to help students think about and articulate the various and valuable reasons we write.  

  1. Place many tools for writing into a gift bag stuffed with brightly coloured tissue paper. Include items such as pencils, markers, loose-leaf, a notebook, a greeting card, a calendar, sticky notes etc…
  2. Bring your students together in their writer’s huddle and display the gift bag to create excitement. 
  3. Slowly remove each item and ask students to think about why these items have been collected into one bag and how they are connected. 
  4. After all the items have been removed ask students to talk with a partner and think of one word that describes how the items are connected. 
  5. Have pairs share their ideas with the whole group. Some possible student responses: writing, art, making things, things to write with, gifts. 
  6. Once students have shared their initial thoughts ask them What is the purpose of writing tools?  Below is a chart of responses by grade 3 students:

7. Share all the reasons you chose to share these items with them. I cannot say it better than the authors: 


Extension: Over the next few days ask students to share the reasons they believe the authors of the books they are reading or listening to choose to write these books. Chart student thinking next to the title of the book. 

Get ready to hear your students’ thoughts about why writers write and start cultivating thoughts about why students themselves write. And use this information as data for assessment! 

Try this tomorrow… 




Since 1954, the United Nations has marked “World Children’s Day” on November 20th. The intent of this day is “…to promote international togetherness, awareness among children worldwide, and improving children’s welfare.” (source) Originally called “Universal Children’s Day”, November 20th marks the day that the “Declaration of the Rights of the Child” was adopted by the UN Assembly. 

This day is worthy of celebration! It provides an opportunity for us to have important conversations with our students about their rights and responsibilities as children and citizens of the world. 

UNICEF CANADA has created a poster-sized version of The Convention on the Rights of the Child  written in child-friendly language that you can share with your students. You can click this poster to find a printable version. (More resources are listed at the end of this post) 

Picture books (click on the books for info and resources):

And one more suggestion!

“Where Children Sleep” is a photo essay by James Mollison. You can view many of the images on his website, which you can access by clicking on the book cover. I love this book so much! It is such a simple concept. He visited different parts of the world and took pictures of where children sleep. It demonstrates so well the economic disparities that exist in the lives of children around the world.

More resources:

Happy “World Children’s Day”!



If you have not had the pleasure of reading, “dear sister” by Alison McGhee this is a must have for your classroom library.  It would also make a for a great read-aloud with your class to spark engaging conversation and storytelling.   

Inspired by her own children’s letters to each other as they were growing up, Alison McGhee takes you through “brother’s” journey of surviving the “not so joys” of life with a little annoying sister.  Anyone with siblings or close younger relatives can relate to the trying times of constantly being pestered, hounded and needed at the drop of the hat when you really want time and space to be alone. 

Joe Bluhm, the illustrator captures the authors narrative precisely with his illustrations depicting the perfect annoying little sister. 

The book written as a collection of letters throughout  “brother’s journey” from childhood to adulthood mixed with the loss of a special friendship and finding himself to realizing that having a sister all along was just what he needed after all. 



As another year of work together as a literacy team begins, we have continued our ritual of beginning our meetings with time to write together. We write in response to a short text and discuss our writing and responses as a group. I’ve written about this ritual of building a community through writing here.

Putting writing first on the agenda gives us the gift of time to write and always leads to fascinating discussion. These quick writes generate writing in our notebooks that we can use later as artifacts of our writing lives. They also center us in doing the work of readers and writers that we know is critical for literacy educators.

Here are some of the texts we have used so far this year:

How to Read a Book By Kwame Alexander and Melissa Sweet


Can You Spot the Difference from Incidental Comics


The Little Hummingbird by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas

We’ll continue to share the texts we incorporate into our meetings this year and hope that you’ll try out a few with colleagues and PLCs. If you have texts to recommend, please share them in the comments. Happy Writing!





I have been a Shawna Coppola fan for a while now. I found her on twitter a few years ago. Her tweets about teaching writing have really made me reflect on my own notions and biases of what “counts” as writing. I’ve also enjoyed reading her zines and seeing her watercolour paintings on Facebook.  Also, her dog is adorable.

Her new book is Writing, Redefined: Broadening Our Ideas of What It Means to Compose (Stenhouse Publishers, 2020).

I feel all writing teachers should read this book!

Shawna brilliantly, and with a great deal of humour, shows us how our print-heavy writing workshop is damaging to our students’ writing lives and identities. She argues that we are missing out on some pretty amazing writing opportunities when we only “allow” pencil and paper as tools in our writer’s workshop. 

Shawna explains why other modes and forms of composition (visual, aural, etc.) should be part of our writer’s workshop. She equips us with the language to explain why we are teaching those forms and modes (to folks who might look at us quizzically) and the confidence that we are still teaching to the writing standards if we incorporate zines, podcasts, videos, picture books, infographics, etc. In Chapter 2, she lays out the “elements of inquiry” that we can use to introduce different forms and modes (no matter the age of the group).

Writing, Redefined: Broadening Our Ideas of What It Means to Compose” by Shawna Coppola is a book that our students need us to read.

Learn more about Shawna Coppola here.