Margin Notes



Our final post of 2023 is the perfect time to reflect on the literacy learning we’ve shared over the past year,  and celebrate not only the festive spirit but also the dedication, passion, and unwavering commitment each of you has brought to the world of literacy education.

May your days be merry, your hearts be light, and your well-deserved break be filled with the warmth of loved ones and the joy of a good book.

With gratitude and festive cheer,

Jill, Jane, Christie, Lauren, Melissa & Sonja



I cannot imagine how much time and effort goes into a book Like The Wager.  Author, David Grann, spent countless hours researching a tale almost lost to history, and it has certainly paid off.  This book is based on a true story. On January 28th, 1742, a ramshackle vessel washed up on the coast of Brazil, the men inside were barely alive.  They were crew members of the British Man O War: The Wager, and they were chasing Spanish gold when their ship was wrecked on a desolate island off the coast of Patagonia. At first, they were considered heroes, until another vessel washed up in Chile. This vessel had three men who were accusing the first group of some of the most heinous crimes known to man. Both groups would eventually be court-marshalled to discover the truth, with the stakes being life and death.

We all impose some coherence—some meaning—on the chaotic events of our existence. We rummage through the raw images of our memories, selecting, burnishing, erasing. We emerge as the heroes of our stories, allowing us to live with what we have done—or haven’t done.” (prelude, page 5)

There are so many aspects of this book that make it attractive to a wide variety of people. From sailing the seas to shipwreck and murder to courtroom drama, this story encompasses a wide variety of themes that would appeal to such a large audience. In fact, Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio have already acquired the rights to Grann’s book, in order to put this story on the big screen. And this isn’t the first time they’ve done it. Killers of the Flower Moon, the new Scorsese/DiCaprio movie, is written by David Gann.

Ethan Charters is a student from the Bachelor of Education program at the University of New Brunswick




Reading When Kids Can’t Read: What Teachers Can Do by Kylene Beers and Words Their Way, the word sort activities stood out as a method of teaching morphology with a focus on spelling patterns. Word sorts are an engaging and effective activity that unveils the intricate world of morphology and spelling patterns for learners. Through this hands-on approach, students categorize words based on shared features such as roots, prefixes, suffixes, or spelling patterns. This activity fosters a deeper understanding of how words are formed and how they relate to one another, empowering students to decipher unfamiliar words by recognizing recurring morphemes. By actively sorting and discussing words, learners not only enhance their spelling abilities but also gain insight into the structural makeup of language, promoting a more robust vocabulary acquisition and decoding skills. Word sorts encourage exploration, analysis, and discovery, making them a valuable tool in unraveling the complexities of language structure and spelling patterns.

Here is an example using the patterns -ible and -able from When Kids Can’t Read: What Teacher Can Do:

  • Students are in small groups looking at the -ible and -able pattern to learn the rule (rather than memorize it)
  • Word list:
achievable edible possible
avoidable excitable remarkable
believable horrible returnable
breakable legible terrible
comfortable notable debatable
transportable observable visible
  • Students sort the list into two big groups: words ending in -ible and -able. Encourage students to look at the root words to divide the -able list into two. The pattern they are looking for is that some of the root words end in “e” and others do not.


  • Students then look at the lists to see if they can understand the rules at play in the division. The suffix -able is typically used when the root word can be a standalone word (comfortable/comfort) or can be a standalone word if you add the “e” (debatable) and -ible is mostly used when the root word is of Latin origin, and without the -ible, they are not a standalone word.


  • Ask students to write a rule they discovered using the terns “root words” and “suffixes”. Here is what her students wrote:

By delving into morphology and spelling patterns through active sorting, students not only decode unfamiliar words but also grasp the intricate fabric of word formation. As demonstrated with the -ible and -able patterns, this hands-on method encourages exploration, enabling learners to discern nuanced rules around root words and suffixes, fostering a deeper understanding of language structures.

Bear, Donald R., et al. Words Their Way: Word Study for Phonics, Vocabulary, and Spelling Instruction. 7th ed., Pearson, 2021.

Beers, Kylene. When Kids Can’t Read: What Teachers Can Do. 2nd ed., Heinemann, 2023.



“At nineteen years old, Laurel was only a few years younger than her mother had been when she died. She’d inherited her mother Anna’s ash-blond hair, and the weight of the town’s judgement. But even when she was a child, Laurel’s ironweed resolve was strong. She could handle schoolyard whispers and the sometimes sympathetic, sometimes disgusted grocery-store gazes. She even learned to live with the one irritating nickname that spread across Dry Valley like the sickly-sweet scent of graded tobacco off to market in the fall. The devil’s daughter.”

Meet Laurel Early, protagonist of Elizabeth Kilcoyne’s Wake The Bones. Amateur taxidermist, tobacco farmer, village outcast, and a young witch in the making, Laurel returns home to rural Kentucky to find an unwelcome guest. The landscape and the bones buried beneath it have come alive, twisted into a macabre parody intent on devouring her and everything she holds dear. It is up to Laurel, with the support of her friends, to find within themselves the strength to fight off a malign creature of the underworld and, in the process, find their own paths as they come of age.

Seamlessly mixing Gothic horror with fantasy, complete with many of the usual fixings – death and decay, darkness and gloom, magic and a supernatural threat – Wake The Bones nevertheless carves out its own niche by superimposing these Gothic elements on the warm, fertile, sunny hills of rural Kentucky. The result is a case study in effective setting- and world-building. Everything from the turns of phrase (which one cannot help but read with a Southern drawl), to the almanac-like description of farm ritual and routine, and to each polite greeting followed by gossip and rumour, Kilcoyne creates a sliding door into a place that is unmistakably Kentuckian, proudly rural, and distinctly unwelcoming.

This setting gives Kilcoyne the room to explore themes in the downtime between nightmares and witchcraft, including sexuality and gender, finding one’s path and purpose in an uncertain world, grief and loss, classism and the divide between urban and rural life. Most interestingly, the setting brings to mind questions about where the evil in the story really lies: is it in the supernatural entity attempting to swallow up Laurel’s home, or in the common bigotry of the human world?

Overall, Wake the Bones certainly has a clear target audience to whom I would recommend the book. If one has a morbid curiosity with the grim and gothic, and wishes to embark on a weird, dreamlike story full of vivid and often dark detail and emotion, then I recommend this book wholeheartedly. With that said, I caution any potential reader of Kilcoyne to take her trigger warning seriously. While skillfully done, the novel deals with mature subject matter.

William Baird is a BEd student at the University of Fredericton. He teaches Secondary Humanities, with a focus on English Literature, History, and Philosophy. In his spare time, he spends his time with friends and family, hiking, travelling, watching cinema, and reading history, literature, and philosophy. His main areas of interest are classical history, Greek and Enlightenment philosophy. His favorite authors are Hemingway and Huxley, and he particularly enjoys media with notes of thriller and horror.
William also has a soft spot for Chinese literature. He is currently rereading Yu Hua’s To Live.



We love the practice of introducing texts, topics, authors, and genres to students by reading the first chapter aloud. First Chapter Fridays are a wonderful opportunity to end the week with reading joy. It’s also a strategy that, when planned with intention, can support most aspects of the curriculum. This post is part of a series that will introduce ideas for leveling up your First Chapter Fridays without diminishing its central purpose of engaging readers. Read the previous posts here and here.

Word study instruction focuses on close investigation of words. Students explore patterns in words and learn how to apply word analysis strategies to read unfamiliar words. Word study supports both reading and spelling.

Here are some suggestions for supporting word study with First Chapter Fridays:

  • Preteach some vocabulary words that are essential to students’ comprehension of the chapter by identify their word parts or patterns.
  • While reading, stop and model your use of word-solving strategies when you encounter unknown and complex words.
  • Identify a word from the chapter with a specific affix. Discuss its meaning and invite students to brainstorm other words they know with the same affix. Discuss the similarities and differences in meanings.
  • Revisit portions of the text in a targeted word study mini-lesson. Possible areas of focus include word-solving strategies (dividing into syllables, root words and origins, background knowledge, context clues), using syllable patterns to decode longer words, and recognizing morphemes and how they affect word meaning.
  • Invite students to select a word from the text to add to their Language Field Guides.



“Deams: Visions of the Crow”, written by Wanda John-Kehewin and illustrated by nicole marie burton  is a beautifully vivid graphic novel where the main character, Damon, discovers his ancestry through his dreams. The color scheme of burton’s work is full of eye-catching juxtapositions of drab and polychromatic panels, culminating in an intensely riveting visual experience. Disinterested with his school life, and a social outcast, teen Damon escapes the stasis of his life through listening to music and dreaming. Eventually, he begins to dream about time periods from long ago, and from his ancestors and a new friend Journey, Damon learns tradition and language in the face of his intergenerational trauma—including his mother’s struggle with substance abuse.

John-Kehewin and burton depict Damon’s mother’s, Marnie’s, alcoholism with immense realism and compassion, facilitating educated empathy from the readers. Although potentially triggering to some audience members, the care that John-Kehewin and burton put in conveying a difficult subject is a must-read for any readers comfortable in reading some about that topic. In sum, “Dreams: Visions of the Crow” is a striking graphic novel exploring the trauma and beauty of a young teen that will undeniably hook young readers.


Adrien Beaman is a student from the Bachelor of Education program at the University of New Brunswick. He completed an English Honors there and looks forward to a career as a literacy teacher.