Margin Notes



The New York Times Learning Network series Annotated by the Author invites writers, student writers and journalists, to annotate their writing and bring their process to life. In their notes, the writers describe the craft decisions they made while composing their piece, how their writing supports their topic and purpose, and the impact they hope to have on their audience.

These are fantastic opportunities to get an inside view of a writer’s process and would make wonderful additions to craft, process, or form studies. They are also powerful mentor texts for students to use for reflecting on their own writing. Consider asking students to reflect on their growth as a writer by selecting a piece of their own writing to annotate in this way.

Annotated by the Author is yet another incredible free resource made available by The Learning Network.



I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Gordon C. James is a beautifully written picture book that celebrates the worth of every child. Vibrant illustrations capture the reader’s attention, and the lyrical text resonates with self-affirming “I messages.”  

As with most picture books, this book has endless opportunities for classroom use at all grade levels. The easy-to-read text makes it accessible as an independent reading choice. This book can be used to open discussions around value, importance, empowerment, and resilience. My students naturally went to those discussions after I shared it in my classroom. If you are looking for a mentor text to introduce spoken word poetry, this book is a natural fit. “I am one eye open, one eye closed, peeking through a microscope, gazing through a telescope, checking out the spaces around me and plotting out those far-off places I have yet to go -but will.”  Writing opportunities could include students writing their own “I message” in the style of the book. 

This book needs a place in every classroom library. It will be a book that students go back to again and again, each time digging a little deeper to find new meaning. It will meet students where they are and nudge them to deepen their thinking. “I am a sponge, soaking up information, knowledge, and wisdom. I want it all, and I am allllll ears.” Our students need to know that they are “every good thing” and to look for that in everyone. Happy reading! 

 Angie Graham Debertin is a Grade 2 teacher at Centreville Community School. She has spent her career questioning and learning alongside her students and instilling a belief that anything is possible. Her passions include inspiring lifelong readers and writers, encouraging a love of science, using meaningful technology, and lifelong learning. 



I find Twitter to be endlessly fascinating. It never fails to surprise me. One day, as I was scrolling, I saw a tweet that stopped me in my tracks. First, I laughed out loud (which is a rarity for me lately). Then, I thought to myself – this would make an amazing mentor text for review writing!

Let me introduce you to Room Rater (@ratemyskyperoom):

So, their twitter handle tells the whole story. They rate the rooms of people being interviewed from home. This treasure of a twitter account would not exist if it weren’t for the pandemic.

I can see so many possibilities for use as a mentor text:

-The authors write the reviews with short, concise sentence fragments – but they flow beautifully and tell a complete story.

-They give a rating out of 10.

-They give specific feedback and also give specific suggestions for improvement.  So, these tweets could also be used if you’re working with your class on improving their peer feedback.

Here’s another example:

Students could try it out and rate some rooms!  Here are some room interiors.

You can find Room Rater on Twitter. a bonus, here are some reviews of public bathroom sinks on TikTok (@sinkreview):

(Click the picture to check them out)



Author Ruta Sepetys, well known for historical fiction novels such as, Salt to the SeaBetween Shades of Gray, and Out of the Easy has once again offered readers a powerful and hauntingly beautiful novel entitled The Fountains of Silence. Set in 1957 post war fascist Spain, 18-year-old American, Daniel Matheson has come with his oil tycoon parents to Madrid.  His father’s company has hopes of inking an oil deal with dictator Franco, while Daniel hopes to learn more about his mother’s birth country, Spain, through his passion for photography. 

As a child of privilege Daniel is soon learns that not all Spaniards enjoy a comfortable and secure lifestyle.   Ana, an employee of the hotel at which Daniel is staying, and the young daughter of teachers who sided against Franco during the Spanish Civil War, slowly introduces to him another Spain. A Spain that encompasses hardship, hunger, and fear.  Fear of the Guardia Civil (Franco’s military force), fear of landowners, and fear of one’s neighbors. Daniel soon realizesSpain, its institutions, and its residents have many secrets. 

 Sepetys masterfully and slowly begins to peal back the layers of the secretthrough the short and fast paced chapters narrated by multiple characters.  Each narrator powerfully begins to shed light on the dark corners of Spain in eye opening detail. In addition, to the prose, Sepetys weaves primary sources throughout the story at the end of each chapter to provide a greater depth and context to a time in history previously unrealized by many western nations. 


The Fountains of Silence like other novels by Sepetys, explores heartbreak, love, and the lasting repercussions of hate and war. Once I began this novel, I was immediately invested in the characters and their journey. I didn’t want the story to end. 



With a target audience of Grades 3–8 teachers, Jennifer Jacobson, a former elementary school teacher and the author of fourteen children’s books, has drawn upon a treasure trove of experience in writer’s workshop to create No More How Long Does It Have to Be: Fostering Independent Writers in Grades 3-8 (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019).

 A useful compilation of strategies to implement in order to engage and support writers in the classroom, this manual begins with sections on planning for independence, routines to support independent writers (minilessons, building stamina, conferring, and author’s chair), and moves into explicit lesson plans when exploring units on the narrative, informative, and persuasive writing. The final section is a chapter on assessment, standardized testing, and publication.

Each chapter contains useful tips and ideas that can be put into use right away. One such gem is the fun suggestion to approach the focused editing of conventions by using a designated crayon or pen color for each target (use a blue crayon for capitalization errors, green for punctuation, and purple for spelling).

Jacobson’s section on what to do during writing conferences is explicit and valuable. The focus, she writes, should: 1) be on the student’s writing goal (ex. adding voice), 2) use “mirroring” when the teacher retells what they heard to increase the sense of audience for the student and create value for the student’s writing, and 3) give the opportunity for the student to extend the subject matter while experiencing the writing in a fresh way, and 4) teach one new skill.

The lesson plans offered in units for teaching narrative, informative, and persuasive writing are brief and easy to read. Organized into approximately five days of lessons, they include exploring mentor texts, brainstorming, think aloud possibilities, rubrics and activities that encourage metacognition of the writing process. A five-minute quick write activity she suggests, for instance, is “What will readers gain from reading your story?” Each unit also incorporates suggestions for additional lessons related to the teaching focus.

This book is another teaching resource worthy of a look-see for its discerning focus on writing in today’s classroom.

Elizabeth Ann Walker is a bilingual educator with a background in the performance arts and wellness. A certified yoga teacher, trained sound therapist and meditator, Elizabeth has spent many years teaching literacy in Quebec and New Brunswick. She is an avid reader slowly working on writing about a 12-year transformative experience with Lyme disease.






The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes is a fun, fast-paced, riddle-filled, Cinderella story, perfect for readers who like to crack codes and solve mysteries. With riddles that are reminiscent of the Truly Devious series, The Inheritance Games sees female protagonist, Avery, living in her car, when she is summoned to  the late billionaire Tobias Hawthorne’s estate, just to find out that he has made her the heir to his fortune. Avery works alongside Tobias’ four disinherited grandsons, who believe this is all just some elaborate game by their grandfather, to try to solve years’ worth of clues and riddles, and to figure out why a complete stranger has named her as the main beneficiary on his multi-billion-dollar estate. However, the inheritance comes with a catch. Avery must also live in the house with the remaining members of the Hawthorne family that are certain she must have conned her way into the inheritance, and are determined to get the money back from her, whatever the cost.

This would be such a fun addition to a high school classroom library, especially if you have students who love mysteries and solving riddles. Perfect for readers who need a high-interest novel, Barnes does really good job of hooking the reader right away by immediately digging into the plot and mystery of the Hawthorne estate. So much so, that even after the short first few chapters, the reader will be trying to figure out what is going on. Another real strength in this book is the characterization of the Hawthorne House itself. The sprawling mansion and grounds are a twist of secret passageways, hidden clues, and dark secrets. Barnes brings the house itself to life and, in doing so makes it a major player in this book, and these sections could easily serve as a mentor for other descriptive and personification narratives. This book will get everyone who reads it trying to solve all the puzzles and readers will want to talk about them once they finish the book. I cannot wait to talk about this book with my students!

Lauren Sieben is a High School ELA teacher at John Caldwell School in Grand Falls, New Brunswick. Her favourite activity is reading books. Her second favourite activity is talking about them.



What I Was Reading:

I was excited to discover that essayist and poet Hanif Abdurraqib has a new column with the Paris Review called Notes on Hoops where he reflects on “the golden age of basketball movies.” Abdurraqib’s writing is always a poetic combination of personal reflection, commentary, insight, and analysis. In On One-On-One he writes about the 2000 movie Love & Basketball. He opens by addressing the reader directly:

Before any of this unfolds, I must first be honest. Before I can talk romantically about the way a basketball hoop, ornamented by a clean net, glows even as a starless nighttime empties its dark pockets over a cracked court. Before I can talk about the way when a well-worn ball begins to lose its grip it spins wildly in your palm, but is still the ball you have known and therefore you must care for, as you would an elder who whispers the secrets of past and future worlds into your ear. Before that, it must be said that you, reading this now, from whatever cavern you are riding out this ongoing symphony of storms, could beat me in a game of one-on-one if the opportunity arose.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

  • Abdurraqib gets my attention right away. When he says, “Before any of this unfolds…” I know there is something he needs to say before he gets into his reflection on Love & Basketball, and now I’m curious.
  • By making it known that anyone reading his column could beat him in a game of one-on-one, he is being clear that, although he loves basketball, one-on-one is not his strength. Later in this paragraph Abdurraqib goes on to admit, “It is not my game and never has been, though it isn’t for lack of trying.” He wants us to know from the very beginning the experience he brings to the discussion.
  • The repetition of “Before” at the beginning of the first four sentences creates a cohesion between them—each one progresses to the next, culminating with what it is that must be said: that one-on-one isn’t his game.
  • On the way to the fourth sentence, he uses “Before I can talk about…” to give some clues about what he is eventually going to discuss. These two sentences are filled with such beautiful imagery, they can only have been written for someone who loves the game and has played it enough to develop an intimate knowledge.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Read this text as a writer to notice and name other interesting craft moves and discuss how they impact you as a reader.
  • Use the same structure as a model for your own writing:

Before any of this __________

Before I can talk about __________

Before I can talk about __________

Before that, it must be said __________

  • Experiment with the technique of addressing the audience directly in your introduction.
  • Try out a similar form of repetition for effect.

Here’s my version:

Before any of this unfolds, I must first be honest. Before I can talk romantically about the way a cat, snuggled into a lap, purrs musically as the peaceful hush of evening takes over a busy household. Before I can talk about the way when the gentle pawing begins, even though it is an hour before your alarm is set to go off, you must still rise and fill the dishes before the meowing begins and wakes everyone. Before that, it must be said that I was once a dog person.



Leah Johnson’s You Should See Me in a Crown is a trendy, quirky, endearing, and new, but also familiar, kind of story. After growing up feeling as though she never really “fit in”, losing her mom to a disease that now plagues her brother, and holding onto past hurts of abandonment, Liz Lighty is finally in her senior year of high school. With her sights set on being accepted to Pennington College to play in their orchestra and to study to become a doctor, Liz is ready to move out of her town and on with her life. This has been her plan for a very long time, and there is no backup plan.

When Liz is does not receive the scholarship she was counting on to pave the way to her future, she feels lost and confused. Refusing to give up on her dream, she decides to step out of her comfort zone and run for prom queen. If she wins, she will be awarded a scholarship that will secure her future plans once again. With a strong support team cheering her on, her determination to pursue her dreams, and a new love interest with the new girl who just moved into town, Liz’s life is about to get a whole lot more interesting, especially since she prefers to live in the shadows, unseen. Not only will running for prom queen force her to be in the school’s spotlight, both in person and online, but she will also need to find the confidence to face her fears, to live boldly, and to be open to love.

You Should See Me in a Crown reminds me of familiar storylines in many teenage television drama series, movies, or YA novels, such as Gossip Girl, The Fosters, Love, Simon, or even Dawson’s Creek (for those of us who are a little older!). Filled with friendship, struggle, and romance, this is sure to be a new popular title in your classrooms.

Katie Prescott is a teacher at FHS who loves reading, creating, and spending time with her family.