Margin Notes



What I was reading: Seal Song by Andrea Spalding–available on Sora

What moves I noticed the author making:

  • Using staggered italicized writing, with “-ing” verbs being heavily used with the italicized to suggest present movement and action
  • Having the italicized sections be a poetic break in between the narrative text
  • Adding a sense of urgency through the use of fragmented sentences
  • Having somewhat of a pattern of rhyming schemes (i.e. splashing, dashing, thrashing–plunging, lunging–flashing, slashing)
  • Organizing the stanzas to amplify and connect with the actions taking place in the narrative

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Using present “-ing” verbs to express action and movement to a scene
  • Adding rhyming words into a poetic stanza in a repeated yet not overly obvious fashion
  • Connecting poetic stanzas with ongoing action in a narrative
  • Using italicized words as a method to break the fourth wall or add another layer of description to a text
  • Imagining how you could use fragmented sentences in narrative writing and trying to add to a piece you have written



What I was reading:

In preparation for a genre study on transactional writing that incorporates research, I had been looking for essays and articles that connect with the interests of secondary school students. After much searching, I had a collection of texts that demonstrated good writing, but were too dense and academic to serve as mentor texts for students. There will be opportunities to use these, but they were not what I had in mind. Finally, I turned to Twitter and realized that this task would have been much easier if I had done so in the first place (I realize that this is common knowledge for most teachers by now). For instance, I found an article by Ben Lindbergh in The Ringer called “The Importance of Scrutinizing Sci-Fi and Fantasy Stories” (28 June, 2022). In it, Lindbergh makes the case for engaging thoughtfully and critically with popular sci-fi and fantasy texts. Lindbergh sets up his argument by welcoming the passionate responses that people have to these genres, both positive and negative, while objecting to one particular stance:

“There’s only one strain of responses to stories like these that truly bums me out: the suggestion that they aren’t worthy of impassioned analysis or critical inquiry, be it primarily positive or negative. That stories about space wizards or dragons or superheroes are inherently silly or unserious, and that those who have issues with their plotting or pacing or depictions of characters should just stop overthinking things. That they aren’t supposed to make sense, and that the only way to enjoy them is to turn one’s brain off before boarding the ride. That they’re purely escapist, popcorn pablum. That they’re just for kids, and that it’s a waste of time to engage with them on an intellectual level as well as a visceral level.”

What moves I noticed the author making:

In this passage, Lindbergh presents the objections of a hypothetical critic of sci-fi and fantasy. He sets up his point in a casual tone – “bums me out” – before presenting a sequence of assumptions that a sceptic might bring to sci-fi and fantasy stories. Each new sentence builds on the last, always beginning with “that,” to emphasize the point he is making. This repetition is an effective way of conveying strong emotions.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Using Lindbergh’s paragraph as a mentor text, writers might think about an assertion they are making in their writing and consider the counter-points that a hypothetical critic could make.
  • Writers might use Lindbergh’s paragraph as a template and structure a paragraph around the repetition of sentences beginning with “That” to emphasize an idea they feel strongly about.
  • Writers could be encouraged to think about a topic that they feel is not taken seriously and explain why they think it should be.
  • Writers might try moving between a casual and a formal tone, or between a playful and a serious tone, in a single paragraph.




What I Was Reading:

The Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley tells the story of eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine Firekeeper, who struggles to feel accepted within both the White and Indigenous communities in which she belongs. Daunis attempts to stay connected with her Ojibwe side, that of her late hockey-hero father but gets dragged into a local murder investigation that hits close to home. This novel is not only fast paced and well-crafted, but it centres Indigenous teachings at its core, as Daunis fights to save those she loves and protect her community.


I love my Elders.

I thought I had no resources on the ferry, except for the one lone Elder. But one led to another, and another. A resource I never anticipated during my time of dire need.

I’m reminded that our Elders are our greatest resource, embodying our culture and community. Their stories connect us to the language, medicines, land, clans, songs, and traditions. They are a bridge between the Before and the Now, guiding those of us who will carry on in the Future.

We honour our heritage and our people, those who are alive and those who’ve passed on. That’s important because it keeps the ones we lose with us. (453)

What Moves I Notice the Author Making:

  • The Indigenous “We” connects not only a community but a people. Daunis is one part of the whole, forever connected to her Ojibwe culture.
  • The use of language such as “stories connect us,” “bridge between,” and “honor our heritage” focuses on the community, not on the individual.
  • Boulley capitalizes Before, Now, and Future, showcasing Time as animate, as a living entity.
  • The focus is on Elders being the holders of Indigenous culture and the importance of Elders.
  • Boulley begins with a simple statement, then expands on the idea until the reason for that statement is evident, showing the cyclical nature of all things.

Possibility for Writers:

  • Notice and name another interesting craft move in this passage.
  • Write a paragraph in which you use the Before, Now and Future, similarly to Boulley, making Time animate.
  • Write a simple statement and expand it until the reason behind that statement is evident while using the cycle technique.
  • Revise a draft in your writer’s notebook by incorporating some of the craft moves you notice in this excerpt.
  • Previously in the novel, Boulley mentions the Seven grandfather teachings that the Anishinaabe live by – wisdom, love, respect, bravery, honesty, humility, and truth. Have students find examples of these teachings in the excerpt and have them write about their own words by which to live.




Whether you call it “word collecting”, “looking for interesting language”, or “word harvesting”, it all boils down to the same thing: you and your students are looking for words, writing those words down somewhere, and then discussing those words.  Collecting words can be done in a myriad of ways, and for a variety of reasons in the classroom.


One reason might be for looking at, and discussing, author’s craft.  This could be modeled through a “Think Aloud”, where you read aloud a text and pause and write down a few words/phrases that you want to think about later. Then, after reading, you discuss what you’re thinking (and students can join in). You can then have students collect words/phrases from their own books.

Here are some things you and your students might notice about words in the books you read:

Words/phrases that are:

  • descriptive
  • setting the mood/tone
  • figurative language
  • rare words (uncommonly used)
  • colloquialisms
  • synonyms/homonyms, etc.
  • alliteration

After students have collected words, you can discuss their meanings and why the author might have chosen that word/phrase:

  • How does it affect the meaning?
  • What other words could the author have used?
  • How would that have changed the story?
  • How can we use that word/phrase in our own writing?

Research has demonstrated that helping students become “word aware” is an important part of vocabulary acquisition. Taking the time to discuss words and frame it as “author’s craft” is another way to expose students to words and their meanings, while also supporting word choice in writing.





What I was reading:

Accountable by Daska Slater brings readers into the unsettling aftermath of a high school student’s private Instagram account where racism and sexism are disguised as humor. Slater explores the complexities of accountability in the digital age, probing the impact of harm behind screens and challenging readers to think about what it truly means to be held accountable in an online era. Read the Margin Note’s recommendation here.

This book is full of craft studies as it uses a variety of forms to tell the history, context and personal stories behind the account. The text for this craft study can be found here.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

  1. Repetition: The repetition of “You can…” establishes a pattern, emphasizing the various ways harm can be inflicted. This creates a rhythmic flow, intensifying the impact of each method described.
  2. Conventions around the repetition: The repeated pattern starts with a single word to describe how you can do it followed by a comma and a more detailed description. Ex: “You can do it indirectly, through rumors or exclusion or assumptions.”
  3. Analogies and Metaphors: By likening racism to a weapon—a blade honed by repeated use—the author employs vivid imagery, creating a tangible and visceral understanding of the pervasive and enduring nature of racism’s impact.
  4. Historical Context: Referencing “centuries of wounds” contextualizes the weight of racial discrimination, underscoring that every act or expression carries the weight of a history stained with injustices.
  5. Rhetorical Question: The closing question—”So what do you do with all that history?”—engages readers, prompting reflection and inviting contemplation on how individuals grapple with the legacy of racism and its pervasive effects.


Possibilities for Writers:

Writers can:

  • Write where their thinking takes them after reading the text.
  • Borrow the craft moves. Use the beginning line “THERE ARE LOTS OF WAYS TO ___________ ANOTHER HUMAN BEING” and follow the repetition of “you can *single word*, *more description of single word*
  • Write about how they would answer the question the text ends with.

“So what do you do with all that history? The person who made the joke or used the slur didn’t commit all of racism’s many crimes, but they still used the same weapon, its blade honed by repeated use.”

  • Write their own opinion piece on the topics in the text.



What I Was Reading:

The fleeting experiences we gather when we are young and restless seem so far away when we grow older. Moments in that time can feel more important because in hindsight, they are. Sometimes the moments play endlessly in our head, as we chase the ‘what ifs’ that passed us by. Scattered Showers by Rainbow Rowell is a series of nine short, love stories each keeping an optimistic tone, reassuring us that we are all capable to love and be loved back. Fraught with cynicism, sarcasm and sexual tension, ‘Midnights’ is a story that navigates the ambiguity of young love over a series of New Year’s Eve parties. Following two strangers who become fast-friends, the story reveals how precious a moment can be; as time drips away, friends come and go, chances are missed, people change and sometimes you find that the thing you’ve been looking for turns out to have been there all along. Taken from the point of view of Mags, a shy, quick-witted girl, the story also forces us to remember our past and the people we left behind, while cherishing those that stayed by our side through thick and thin. ‘Midnights’ is a wonderful story for those who want something more meaningful than just a conventional love story.

Midnights is available to read here when you click on read sample below the cover image.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

Diary Entry: The author uses an almost diarist’s format with a timestamp to showcase events taking place over a series of times. It creates this Groundhog Day affect where every New Year’s Eve party at Alicia’s, poor Mags and Noel get closer as friends and yet farther apart, with Noel always getting smooched by a different girl, and Mags always playing second fiddle. The repetition of the New Year’s Eve theme is a seamless stopping point to capture how much can happen in people’s lives in the run of a year and brings us closer to Mags as a person who is watching life pass by.

Frame story: The author begins the story with a snippet of the ending, several hours before midnight. Contextually, it presents a flashback that makes the reader worry for the character Mags, who is anxious about people we have yet to learn about. It makes the reader feel for Mags, as if she was hiding from a would-be antagonist (but as we learn she had planned to lure Noel outside). The following timestamps unfold the events that led up to this in a linear chronology, giving us clues as to why Mags was the way she was that night. In this way, the author does not tell us everything we need to know about Mags but gradually introduces us to her.

Foreshadowing: Rowell presents numerous recurring events that reveal what may arise further on in the story, such as Noel’s nonchalance to his nut allergies in the first meeting (and his lifesaving EpiPen); Mags’ Chex and her wiping her hand to ensure Noel would not have an allergic reaction (which becomes near-fatal later on); and Noel’s preference for dancing “in public” (which he does each time but with a different girl until the ending).

Inner and Outer Dialogues: The author uses a third person limited point of view, which allows us a glimpse into the thoughts of Mags and her interactions with others (primarily with Noel). Rowell affords us the chance of seeing the world through Mags’ observant eyes, and this allows us to really feel for her when Noel time and time again chooses another girl over her.

Humor: The author often uses sarcasm to illustrate Mags’ and Noel’s budding friendship and belie the growing sexual tension between them. Rowell also employs italics for emphasis when others are chanting the countdown to New Year’s but also to place emphasis on specific sarcastic remarks (“How are you still alive?”), which the two often quip at each other.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Narrative building using cold opens.
  • Crafting a story using nonlinear chronology (frame story, in media res, reverse narrative), to build a character without a lot of exposition.
  • Noticing and highlighting other craft moves present.
  • Playing with the idea of using timestamps to indicate change in time and setting in a story (quickwrite).
  • Writing an epilogue about what happens next or a continuation of the story.
  • After reading this text students could respond by writing about what they think of this organizational structure, something they connect to in this text, something they are still wondering, or about why they are/are not drawn to stories like this one.




What I Was Reading:

I purchased Rupi Kaur’s most recent collection of poems home body and have been making my way through the book. The collection is divided into four sections – mind, heart, rest, and awake. Each section contains raw conversations that Kaur has had with herself, and although some of these poems may bring you face-to-face with parts of yourself or of your life you may wish to ignore, a few pages later you are sure to be hugged in all the right places and reminded of your unique place on Earth. And so, I came across this poem on page 96 and I kept going back to it. I thought – this is really something students could do, and do well!

 What moves I noticed the writer making:

-Kaur writes short and direct lines that bleed into one another.

-Kaur uses italics to represent dialogue and authentic speech.

-Kaur uses quotation marks around phrases such as “real job” and “stay-at-home mom” to emphasize the problematic connotations that surround these words.

-Rather than titling her poems, Kaur often ends them with a dash followed by a single word or phrase. The dash and use of the single word “ – value” at the end of the poem, sums up the central theme. It could also signify “value” itself as the figurative author of the poem.

-What captured my attention the most was Kaur’s elaboration on the meaning of “full-time caregiver”. Her mother’s job as a full-time caregiver is followed by a list that elaborates on all the other unsung roles her mother took on. I call this move a list of truths – it’s vulnerable in its ability to elaborate on the truth, in this case, the underappreciated or uncelebrated duties that a person takes on when assuming a role.


Opportunities for writers:

-Write about a time when you lied to hide the truth. What did you really want to say? Use quotation marks around a phrase to emphasize your apprehension toward its connotations.

-Create a list of truths within a poem – or another piece of writing – unpacking the truth surrounding a single thought or idea.

-Conversely, pick a poem you’ve read and highlight a word or idea in which the writer ‘dances around’. Make your own list of truths to emphasize what you think the writer is wanting to communicate.

-Use Kaur’s signature move: end a poem or piece of creative writing with a dash followed by a single word or phrase to encompass the theme of the piece or the figurative writer.



What I was Reading: 

“Happy Hour” tells the story of two broke but glamorous and charming party girls, Isa and Gala, who arrive to New York City for a summer of adventure and fun. Told in a diary format through the protagonist, Isa, Happy Hour opens in May as the girls embark on their adventure in NYC:

   Excerpt of  Happy Hour, by Marlowe Granados   

My mother always told me that to be a girl one must be especially clever.

Before landing at JFK, I had three Bloody Marys and an extra piece of cake that fell apart in my mouth. A person should never take on a city with an empty stomach, and I am always hungry.

Leaving London didn’t bother me much because one should always be making moves. When asked, “What made you come to London?” I would say, “I didn’t want to go home.” That, to me, is always enough.

People think coming to New York is an answer, that’s where they go wrong. It was Friday night and the sun had already set. At each subway stop, large groups of friends came on the train. Down the car, someone played a disco medley off a phone. I felt my own night stretch out before me.”

Moves I notice the author making:

  • Sensory language: Granados’s description of Isa filling her empty stomach with Bloody Marys and an extra piece of cake, as well as the sound of the disco medley playing down the subway car, add to the sensory experience of the opening scene and immerse the reader in the the novel’s surroundings.
  • Liminal Space: The first-person narration allows the reader insight into Isa’s inner thoughts and feelings. Isa’s rich inner dialogue makes an in-between space, like leaving an airport or taking the subway, feel like an important event.
  • Ambiguous Ending: “I felt my own night stretch out before me,” leaves the reader with an open-ended conclusion, suggesting that Isa’s journey is young and full of possibilities.
  • Irony: Isa’s declaration that “people think coming to New York is an answer, that’s where they go wrong” is a form of irony, as it contradicts the typical assumption that arriving in a big city like New York can solve all one’s problems.

Possibilities for writers:

  • Come up with a hook: Granados takes the cliched line “My mother always told me…” and plays around with it. Ask writers to come up with their own hook that could involve breathing life into tired life advice.
  • I” statements: Isa begins a paragraph with something someone else has told her, and then flips it into what she feels or believes with strong “I” statements. For instance: “A person should never take on a city with an empty stomach, and I am always hungry.” Have writers come up with their own “I” statements that contradict or react to advice that they have heard before.
  • Setting: Granados uses setting to add atmosphere and context to her story. The descriptions of the subway stops and the night scene in New York add to the story’s overall mood and help to create a strong sense of place. Have your writers come up with a location for their story that they know well and can describe in vivid detail.



What I was Reading:  

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado is an experimental memoir following the theme of domestic abuse within queer relationships. This book is a uniquely written masterpiece, and Machado is a trailblazer not only in the genre of queer non-fiction, but for creative writing as a whole. From front to back this book is bursting with craft moves, making it hard to choose where to even begin. For this reason, I have simply chosen the first page.

Dream House as Not a Metaphor

I daresay you have heard of the Dream House? It is, as you know, a real place. It stands upright. It is next to a forest and at the rim of a sward. It has a foundation, though rumours of the dead buried within it are, almost certainly, fiction. There used to be a swing dangling from a tree branch but now it’s just a rope, with a single knot swaying in the wind. You may have heard stories about the landlord, but I assure you they are untrue. After all, the landlord is not a man but an entire university. A tiny city of landlords! Can you imagine?

Most of your assumptions are correct: it has doors and walls and windows and a roof. If you are assuming there are two bedrooms, you are both right and wrong. Who is to say that there are only two bedrooms? Every room can be a bedroom: you only need a bed, or not even that. You only need to sleep there. The inhabitant gives the room its purpose. Your actions are mightier than any architect’s intentions.

I bring this up because it is important to remember that the Dream House is real. It is as real as the book you are holding in your hands, though significantly less terrifying. If I cared to, I could give you its address, and you could drive there in your own car and sit in front of that Dream House and try to imagine the things that have happened inside. I wouldn’t recommend it. But you could. No one would stop you.

What Moves I Notice the Author Making:

  • In the second paragraph she writes: “Most of your assumptions are correct: it has doors and walls and windows and a roof.” She makes us feel like she is reading our mind, strengthening our connection to the dream house. I related this to the way a bogus psychic may trick their clients into thinking they can see the spirits of their loved ones by using vague terminology and making simple assumptions.
  • Machado connects the physical world of the reader to the words on the page. She writes, “I bring this up because it is important to remember that the Dream House is real. It is as real as the book you are holding in your hands.” Machado takes the tangible book (or e-reader) we are holding and ties it to the otherwise intangible story she is telling. The author is trying to show us just how real the dream house, and in turn, this story, is.
  • The third craft move is not necessarily one specific thing she has done, but something she has done multiple times, and ties into the previous two moves of ensuring we understand the Dream House as a real Machado writes the Dream House as a proper noun by capitalizing both the D and H, as opposed to referring it as “my old house”, or something along those lines. By doing this, we perceive the Dream House to be just as real as Disney World or Canada’s Wonderland. Additionally, Machado tells us that we could hypothetically drive to the dream house: “If I cared to, I could give you its address, and you could drive there in your own car and sit in front of that Dream House and try to imagine the things that have happened inside. I wouldn’t recommend it. But you could. No one would stop you.”

Possibilities for Writers: 

  • Read other excerpts from In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado and see what other craft moves you can notice, name and try out.
  • Try to assume what the reader is thinking about what you are writing and reference their thoughts.
  • Try to write about a location using the moves you notice Machado using with the Dream House.





What I Was Reading: Identical by Ellen Hopkins

“Kaleighand Raeanne are identical down to the dimple. As daughters of a district-court judge father and a politician mother, they are an all-American family — on the surface. But beneath the façade, each sister has her own dark secret.” What Moves I Notice the Author Making:

  • The use of free verse to segment thoughts on the page, drawing a fine line between the twin protagonists.
  • A mirror is used as an opposite, physically identical, but polar opposites in terms of characterization.
  • This is an interesting introduction to a character, as Raeanne is introducing not just herself, but her identical twin sister at the same time. The character tells us who she is and isn’t, all while she is referring to her sister.
  • The left side of the page reflects the emotional side of the characters, while the right side refers to their concrete appearances.
  • The verse allows a high degree of freedom and this is captured through the narration which lets us inside of Raeanne’s innermost thoughts and feelings.
  • The page can be read as two different poems:

◦ First, reading every word of the page. This leads to the most natural revelation of character.

◦ Second, reading only the words on the left side. This reading describes a more direct approach to how    Raeanne views her relationship with her sister and her pondering on if they share an identity.

Opportunities for Writers:

  • Utilize free verse to incorporate more than one voice or line of thought on the same page. This can allow a more natural flow without confusing the reading.
  • Experiment with using line breaks to create a poem inside of a poem.
  • Trying doublespeak, obscuring the meaning or adding an element of reversal onto their words.
  • Segment the emotional and physical aspects of the poem to different places on the page.
  • Having one character speak for another, revealing more about themselves through this description (in a manner reminiscent of dramatic monologue)
  • Stream of consciousness narration


About the author: Andrew McLean is a grade 6 teacher at  Millidgeville North School and a recent graduate of the BEd program at the University of New Brunswick, Fredericton campus. Andrew loves fantasy, history and poetry, particularly those that are accompanied by artwork. He strongly advocates for introducing readers to a wide variety of texts that can make reading less intimidating. He also hopes that more classrooms will continue to promote comics, graphic novels, and manga as valid additions to their libraries.