Margin Notes




Kenneth Koch was a professor of English at Columbia University and a celebrated poet. He is the author of numerous books of poetry and other published writings. His book, Wishes, Lies and Dreams: Teaching Children to Write Poetry, was originally published in 1970. This book, which is co-authored by the students of P.S. 61 in New York City, documents his journey teaching students to write poetry.

I really enjoyed reading this book and, despite the fact that this book is 51 years old, it is charming and sweet. It would be a great mentor text to use with students. There are so many poems in this book!

His ideas for teaching students poetry certainly hold up in the present day. In fact, Anne Elliot and Mary Lynch, authors of Cultivating Readers, use his “I used to…Now I…” formula for an activity on p. 117 of their book.

Wishes, Lies and Dreams is full of great, quick lessons that would be easy to replicate in today’s classroom. I would recommend this book if you are a teacher who is always looking for new ways to incorporate poetry. I can guarantee that you’ll be inspired!

Find out more about the book here.




We’re celebrating Poetry Month by sharing poetry ideas for April and all year long. Here are a few favorite sources of inspiration for High School classrooms:

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Let us know what your go-to poetry resources are by dropping them into the comments below.



This month, we’ll be sharing ideas for celebrating poetry during April, and all year long! Follow along as we share resources, classroom ideas, and reviews. What better way to launch this celebration than by sharing some of our favorite poems about poetry and writing? 

Introduction to Poetry by Billy Collins 

Prompts (for High School Teachers Who Write Poetry) by Dante di Stefano 

Some Like Poetry by Wislawa Szymborska 

Digging by Seamus Heaney 

The 1st Poem in the Imaginary Book by Sarah Kay 

For the Young Who Want To by Marge Piercy 

How To Eat a Poem by Eve Merriam 

Unfolding Bud by Naoshi Koriyama 

Johnnie’s Poem by Alden Nowlan 

Poetry by Pablo Neruda 

If you have other titles to share, please drop them in the comments. Happy Poetry Month! 



What child doesn’t lose it when they hear the word “butt”? Jonathan Stutzman is sure to capture any student’s attention with his triumphant celebration of the tushee. 

Although the subject matter of this book is comical, children will learn more about their “hind-end” than they realize!  Who knew these powerful muscles had such purpose or that, as Jonathan would suggest, “The gluteus really is the maximus!

This over the top hilarious book is sure to bring a smile to anyone that reads it and evoke much followup conversation.



I Read Canadian Day is “a national day of celebration of Canadian books for young people. This is a day dedicated to ‘reading Canadian’ and will empower families, schools, libraries and organizations to host local activities and events within the week.” source


The ASD-W Literacy Team would like to encourage all ELA Teachers K-12 to promote I Read Canadian in their schools. What a great way to celebrate the richness and diversity that Canadian Literature has to offer.

Teachers can sign up their school and find a Tool Kit for Educators here.  As you will find, the tool kit is chock-full of activities, book lists and advice on how to book author’s visits. Additionally, there is a Tool Kit for Librarians. Please share this information with school librarians!

Happy reading (Canadian)!




When we use graphic novels to teach and connect with our students, we’re using several art forms – colour choice and representation, the written word, drawing, symbolism, and collaboration. Graphic novels facilitate conversations about character growth and development that some students may not understand through just the written word. Here, we can interact with our characters and literally see them transform on the page itself. Almost American Girl is the perfect graphic novel to show how all of these elements can be beautifully stitched together to show a story about immigration, love, and growing up.

Almost American Girl is Robin Ha’s illustrated memoir that depicts her immigration story from Korea to Alabama as a teenager in the 90’s. Robin is taken away from everything that was important to her – the culture, the food, her friends, and her comic books. With a headstrong mother who is doing what she believes is best for her daughter, we watch Robin struggle with learning English, making friends, and growing up.

Ha’s illustrations and use of language is creative, sentimental, and heartbreaking. We watch her character unfold as she gains English skills and new friends. We see how immigrating to a new country and not knowing the language can cause harm and how a school experience can be ruined by an undertow of racist comments and belittling classmates.

Ha finds ways to connect with others in her community, but soon after she is told that her new stepfather is mistreating her mother, so they move yet again. Part of the appeal of Almost American Girl is the relationship of Ha and her mother. Their relationship is strained like many parents and teens, so while this graphic novel may be a mirror for immigrant students, it may also touch a soft spot with students who are finding that their relationship with their parents can often be rocky.

This book would serve so many young audiences, but I recommend it to every teacher who has/will teach a student that has moved to their school from a different country. Learning about the experience of immigrants is an important aspect of learning about language and culture, and this book does this beautifully. You will root for the characters and wish them well, feeling like Robin Ha is your best friend by the end of the book.



Laura Noble teaches English and Writing at Leo Hayes High School in Fredericton. She is an avid reader of true crime, realistic fiction, and feminist literature.



As a followup to Tuesday’s post on 10 beliefs about readers and reading, we wanted to share the beliefs about writers and writing that guide our work. Here are our beliefs:

1. Students’ writing development is directly related to their volume of writing.

“Building writing stamina, the volume we write, and our commitment to developing our craft is essential. Students need to understand that writing begets writing: the more you write, the better writer you will be” (Elliott and Lynch, Cultivating Writers).

“They need time to generate ideas, focus their attention on a topic, be engrossed in drafting a piece, play with words and craft, and get caught up in text creation” (Elliott and Lynch, Cultivating Writers).

2. Engaged writers make decisions about topic, audience, purpose, form, and mode.

“Too often, in trying to help students, teachers do too much of the thinking. Students come to rely on formula and standardization—and when formula and standardization take hold, the energy and intellectual rigor that comes from creation gets lost. Students become disengaged” (Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle, “The Curse of Helicopter Teaching”).

“Writers have varied experiences. They employ different strategies when composing in different situations, for different purposes and audiences, and when using different technologies and tools. Writers also make ethical choices, and writers always have more to learn” (NCTE, Understanding and Teaching Writing: Guiding Principles).

3. Honouring and developing students’ writing identities is essential.

“Because writing is linked to identity, writers represent different ideologies, values, and identities. Thus, writers’ cultures and languages influence their writing. Recognizing that students are language users with multiple literacies will help the writing instructor engage students in writing. Writers also bring their past writing and reading practices with them whenever they write or read. In short, everything they have experienced, who they are, where they have been, and what they have done impact their writing practices, literacies, and language attitudes” (NCTE, Understanding and Teaching Writing: Guiding Principles).

4. Our role is to teach the writer and not the writing.

“Too often we teach Writing Skills and the Writing Process rather than helping students find something worth communicating. How can you write to make a difference if you have nothing to say? How can you be ‘fearless’ if you lack the courage of any conviction? Why learn to write well if you have no desire to achieve any effect? Writing is ‘thinking on the paper,’ as the National Commission on Writing put it” (Grant Wiggins, “Real-World Writing: Making Purpose and Audience Matter”).

5. Writing is a tool for thinking.

“When writers actually write, they think of things they did not have in mind before they begin writing. The act of writing generates ideas; writing can be an act of discovery. This is different from the way we often think of writers—as the solitary author who works diligently to get ideas fixed in his or her head before writing them down. The notion that writing is a medium for thought is important in several ways and suggests a number of important uses for writing: to solve problems, to identify issues, to construct questions, to reconsider something one had already figures out, to try out a half-baked idea” (NCTE, Professional Knowledge for the Teaching of Writing).

6. Writers require a caring community.

“As writing teachers, we consider it our duty, responsibility, and obligation to create safe writing spaces: places where our students can tap into their lives and know that their ideas and experiences have value; an atmosphere in which they are willing to put themselves on paper and, above all, know that their story will be received with the love, care, and respect it deserves. This requires a caring community” (Elliott and Lynch, Cultivating Writers).

7. The process of writing must be valued as much as the product.

“First, to say that writing is a process is decidedly not to say that it should—or can—be turned into a formulaic set of steps or reduced to a set of traits. Experienced writers shift between different operations according to their audience, the purpose of the writing task, the genre, and circumstances, such as deadlines and consideration of length, style, and format. Second, writers do not accumulate process skills and strategies once and for all. They develop and refine writing skills throughout their writing lives, as they take up new tasks in new genres for new audiences. They grow continually, across personal and professional contexts, using numerous writing spaces and technologies” (NCTE, Professional Knowledge for the Teaching of Writing).

8. Writing requires talking and reading.

“…writing exists in an environment of talk…Writers often talk in order to rehears the language and content that will go into what they write, and conversation often provides an impetus or occasion for writing. Writers sometimes confer with teachers and other writers about what to do next, how to improve their drafts, or how to clarify their ideas and purposes.”

“Writing and reading are related. People who engage in considerable reading often find writing an easier task, though the primary way a writer improves is through writing. Still, it’s self-evident that to write a particular kind of text, it helps if the writer has read that kind of text, if only because the writer has a mental model of the genre.” (NCTE, Professional Knowledge for the Teaching of Writing).

9. Teachers are writing role models.

“You are the writing teacher in your classroom. You are directly responsible for creating the writing culture and climate. We believe your students deserve a writing teacher who is knowledgeable about the craft, process, and challenges of writing. Your students are entitled to a writing teacher who provides insightful feedback, tips, and suggestions. They are also worthy of a writing teacher who incites enthusiasm and passion for writing. We cannot say it any other way. You have to be a writer, even if it’s in your own way!” (Elliott and Lynch, Cultivating Writers).

10. Authentic writing instruction and assessment reflect real-world writing.

“For assessment to be authentic, it must include tasks that are a good reflection of the real-world activities of interest. This term arose from the realization that widely employed assessment tools generally have been poor reflections of what literate people actually do when they read, write, and speak. The logic of authentic assessment suggests, for example, that merely identifying grammatical elements or proofreading for potential flaws does not yield an acceptable measure of writing ability. Writing assessment tasks should reflect the audiences and purposes expected in life outside of school, with the real challenges those conditions impose” (ILA & NCTE, Standards for the Assessment of Reading and Writing).

“Think of the many genres you know that, really, have no life outside the walls of schools: ‘five-paragraph essays,’ ‘book reports,’ ‘short answers,’ even ‘summaries’ as freestanding texts. Many of these began in ways that are related to writing outside of school. But they grow apart from their origins, becoming “school genres,” of a breed that lives nowhere outside captivity. Students can tell, and in turn they often divest themselves from writing” (Anne Elrod Whitney, “Keeping It Real: Valuing Authenticity in the Writing Classroom”).




Although we may not always realize it, as teachers our beliefs about readers and reading greatly impact how and what we teach, and what we ask readers to spend their time “doing”. As Jill and I began work on a 4-part series of reading workshop webinars, we came to realize that the foundation of reading workshop is these beliefs we hold about readers and reading. Here are the beliefs that guided our work:

1. Students’ reading development is directly related to their volume of reading.

“The volume students read is critical to the advancement of their reading skill and overall academic success (NCTE Statement on Independent Reading)

2. Honouring and developing students’ unique reading identities is essential.

 “Because it leads to a volume of reading, we care more about our students’ active engagement than we care about any particular literacy work. To nurture reading identities, we believe that the diversity of students and their experiences must be represented in the reading in our classrooms” (Gallagher and Kittle, 180 Days).

3. All students can be engaged readers.

“Engaged readers are motivated to read, strategic in their approaches to comprehending what they read, knowledgeable in their construction of meaning from text, and socially interactive while reading” (Guthrie, Wigfield et al, “Engagement with Young Adult Literature: Outcomes and Processes”).

4. All students must have access to a wide variety of texts that they can and want to read. 

“Classroom libraries must contain digital and multi-modal texts and be diverse in text category (non-fiction and fiction), genre (e.g., fantasy, historical fiction, realistic fiction, myths, autobiographies, memoir, narrative non-fiction, expository non-fiction), and text level” (ILA, The Power and Promise of Read-Alouds and Independent Reading).

5. Choice of what to read is essential for developing motivation and agency. 

“When students can choose their reading material, they are more likely to read…to increase reading volume, teachers have to expand the amount of choice students have in what they read” (Fisher and Frey, “Raising Reading Volume Through Access, Choice, Discussion, Book Talks”).

6. Daily self-selected independent reading time is non-negotiable.

 “Teachers need to make reading a priority in their classes so students will receive the message that it’s important. Elementary grade children and beginning readers get this message constantly – and read more and more often as a result. Teenagers need to receive the message too” (Atwell & Merkel, The Reading Zone).

7. Our role is to teach the reader – not the text. 

“In our reading experiences, we can help students discover who they are and who they want to be. We can open our classroom doors wide to make sure that all children who enter, that all children who show up, know that with us they will learn, with us they will read, with us they will matter. Because they do. And we can ask those kids how we can be the types of teachers they need. We can ask those kids how they would like to learn and then we can listen to their truths and become the teachers they need” (Pernille Ripp, Passionate Readers).

8Reading is a social act. 

“Talk deepens thinking and learning. Yes, there are moments when we seek deep reflective silence in our classrooms, but these moments, but these moments are balanced by the frequent buzz that occurs when students share interesting thinking with one another” (Gallagher & Kittle, 180 Days).

9. Teachers are reading role-models.

“Teachers who are engaged readers do a better job of engaging students as readers. According to Morrison, Jacobs, and Swinyard (1999), ‘perhaps the most influential teacher behavior to influence students’ literacy development is personal reading, both in and out of school’ (p. 81). Teachers should commit to leading literate lives and becoming connected to reading communities—whether in person or through social media—that support them as readers and literacy professionals. Teachers should understand the value of different modes and platforms for reading (Garcia & O’Donnell-Allen, 2015) and build their capacity to read with a critical, discerning eye (Newkirk, 2011)” (NCTE, Preparing Teachers with Knowledge of Children’s and Young Adult Literature).

10. Authentic reading instruction and assessment reflect real-world reading.

“We believe there is greatness to be found when we gather around literature and poetry, but students do not discover this greatness through lectures, quizzes, worksheets, or poster projects. Students discover beauty when given the opportunity to wrestle with the greatness of literature on their own terms” (Gallagher & Kittle, 180 Days).

“For assessment to be authentic, it must include tasks that are a good reflection of the real-world activities of interest. This term arose from the realization that widely employed assessment tools generally have been poor reflections of what literate people actually do when they read, write, and speak… reading very short passages and answering a limited number of multiple-choice questions is not a good measure of what literate people normally do when they read. Authentic assessments of reading employ tasks that reflect real-world reading practices and challenges” (ILA & NCTE, Standards for the Assessment of Reading and Writing).





Writing takes practice. As teachers we place great emphasis on building students’ reading stamina and yet when it comes to writing we assume students will write independently for extended periods of time without becoming distracted or giving up. If students must practice stamina for reading, why not do it for writing as well?

Early in the year many teachers find their entire class lacks writing stamina and for those who struggle to get words on the page, building writing stamina is paramount in helping students communicate their ideas.

Try these 3 simple strategies to help your students get their thoughts down on paper.

Quick Writes

Students write daily for several minutes without stopping. If a student gets stuck or runs out of ideas, they are encouraged to write the last word written over and over until ready to move on. When the timer goes off, students are asked to finish their last sentence. If students are successful in writing for the entire time, increase the amount of time up to about 10 minutes. Students need not worry about spelling as they are simply to write as much as they can in the time allotted. Some teachers have students count the number of words written and notice the increase over time.

Below are a few simple prompts to get you started:

  • Writing a list; Best/worst things that have happened to me. After students have finished writing, have them star 3 of the things on the list that they may want to write more about later.
  • All about me. Write about yourself. How old are you? Tell me about your family. Do you have any pets? What is your favorite thing to do?
  • What DIDN’T you do this summer? Make a list of all the things you DID NOT do this summer
  • Imagine you could turn invisible. What would you do? Where would you go? What would you do?

A quick google search will glean many more for you to use.

Story Cards for Fiction Writing

Engagement often increases when writers make up their own imaginative stories. Make cards for each of the following story elements: setting, characters, and conflict. Write down multiple places, different roles or people, and various problems.

Choose one of each of the three cards and have students write a story based on the setting, character or characters, and conflicts chosen. You will find some ready made on TPT!

Free Writing

Allowing students time to write in whatever genre or form they want is a sure way to increase writing stamina. Some teachers designate a journal or notebook specifically for this purpose. A set time each day is dedicated to free writing. It is not intended that the writing generated be graded but students may want to tag a page for you to read or to be shared with classmates.



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.