Margin Notes



As I mentioned in my review of writer/designer by Cheryl E. Ball, Jennifer Sheppard, and Kristin L. Arola, I love the way this resource highlights the use of models and our existing knowledge of text as a key aspect of writing/designing.

I believe in the power of incorporating models and mentor texts into the writing process and I turn to mentor texts as a regular part of my own writing practice. writer/designer opened my eyes to the potential for inquiring more deeply into mentor texts through the process of rhetorical analysis.

The authors introduce the concept of rhetoric like this:

When we are talking about “effective” or “successful” texts, we’re talking about rhetoric. Texts need to be created for a purpose, to persuade an audience toward change in some way; rhetoric is the study of making texts that effectively persuade an audience toward change. Echoing that old philosophical question—if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?—if a text doesn’t induce change, then it isn’t rhetorically successful (35).

Our response to a text is the result of how well the author has addressed the rhetorical situation, specifically their intended audience, their purpose for communicating, and the context in which their text will be read.

The authors go on to say that “if you can analyze how a text works, you can often apply that understanding to the design of your own text” (37). They offer the following text components for consideration when launching a rhetorical analysis:

  • the audience an author wants to reach (the who)
  • the purpose an author has for communicating to that audience (the what and why)
  • the context in which the author wants to communicate that purpose or call for action (the when and where)
  • the writing and design choices an author makes in a text that draw on audience, purpose, and context (the how) (37)

Taking an inquiry stance toward mentor texts means approaching the text with curiosity about what it says, how it says it, and what it can teach us about writing. Guiding our inquiry through the lens of who, what, why, when, where, and how—What are the audience, purpose, and context of this text? How do they inform the writing and design choices?—helps us move beyond the text elements that are easily identified on the surface and reflect more deeply on how these craft choices came to be.

Try it out! Here are a few multimodal texts. What can you learn about them, and about writing, through a rhetorical analysis?

Poems From An Email Exchange by Hanif Abdurraquib

If Kawhi Turns His Back To The Basket, Watch Out by Michael Pina (

An Illustrated Field Guide to Millennial Pink (RubyLux)

Illustrated Six-Word Memoirs by Students from Grade School to Grad School (

The 25 Best Films of the 21st Century So Far (NY Times)





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 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)



 Every Sunday, Rattle posts a new poem to their Poets Respond collection. Each poem has been written in response to a public event that has occurred during the week. Most of the posts also include a recording of the poem being read aloud by the poet. The archives include weekly poems dating back to 2014. 

I can think of a number of ways to share these poems with students: 

  • as quickwrites and mentor texts, 
  • in text sets related to current events, 
  • as models for students to use when they write their own Poets Respond poems, 
  • as an opportunity to submit their work for consideration. 

If you incorporate Poets Respond, let us know how it goes with a message in the comments. 



If you have been looking for a mentor text for how to ask for and give feedback or for what discussing poetry can sound like, look no further than Rattle’s live video workshop, Critique of the Week. In each episode, a Rattle editor does a live critique of 1-2 poems drawn from the week’s submissions, thinking aloud and annotating while incorporating viewer feedback from the chat box into their reflection. In some cases, the submitting poet has requested feedback on a specific aspect of their writing. 

The archives of Critique of the Week can be accessed on Rattle’s YouTube Channel. 

Here are some ideas for using Critique of the Week into your writing workshop: 

  • Share clips as models for discussing the content, form, and craft of poetry. 
  • Incorporate excerpts into mini-lessons on such topics as: making our thinking visible to others, expanding on thinking with evidence from a text, annotations, and “what we talk about when we talk about poetry.” 
  • Invite students to reflect on whether they agree or disagree with the critique and why. This would be a terrific way to reinforce the concept that there is no single “correct” interpretation of a text. 
  • Ask students to respond to the questions: How can these ideas enhance my understanding of poetry/writing poetry/writing in general? How do these ideas make me a better reader? How do they make me a better writer? 
  • Name and discuss some of the thinking moves you notice the host using in their critique. 

If you’ve used Critique of the Week in your classroom, we’d love to hear about it in the comments! 



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! 



In the newly-developed literacy curriculum developed for our province, text is defined as “not just the written word—other examples include an oral story, a musical score, a piece of art, a mathematical equation, a dance, a chemical formula, a game, a network of linked web pages, an advertisement, a video, an outfit.”

We celebrate this expanded definition of “text” because it encourages us to reconsider not just what forms and genres students are exposed to, but also to reflect on what it means to read and to compose.

Film Club is a fantastic resource for teachers curated by The New York Times Learning Network. These short documentaries, many of which have running times shorter than 10 minutes, can be incorporated into high school ELA classrooms just like any other short text. For example, they can be used as:

  • quickwrites
  • mini-lessons
  • small-group and whole-class discussions
  • critical thinking prompts
  • mentor texts
  • building background knowledge
  • part of a theme-based text set
  • self-selected independent reading

Reflect on what percentage of texts your students consume. How do you incorporate texts such as these short documentaries? We’d love to hear your strategies in the comments!



If you are familiar with Jennifer Serravallo’s The Literacy Teacher’s Playbook K-2/ 3-6you will no doubt have tried some of the many assessment tools she suggests, helping you understand deeply what students know and can do. 

One such assessment tool is called Jot Notes and is used to determine what students understand in their comprehension of text. Jennifer states “what meaning students are making in a text is one of the trickiest parts of assessing reading.” She suggests having students write about, speak about, or answer questions about their reading to make comprehension visible and to allow students’ individual needs by offering a variety of ways in which they respond 

Jot Notes are a quick and easy way for students to respond. We may ask a student to stop and jot as they read independently or pause during a read aloud at predetermined places and ask students to jot a quick note, reaction, question, reflection, or idea on a sticky note or in their reader’s notebook. For example, if you are assessing the students’ abilities to visualize you may ask them to describe what they are picturing or to assess inference and how characters change over time, you may ask students to describe what kind of a person the character is at the beginning and at the end of the book.  

A tip that teachers have shared with us to help save time is to ask students to label stickies with their name and the date before the read aloud or independent reading, this allows teachers to collect and file them in a students’ reading profile quickly and easily.  

Try this tomorrow! 

Image is page — Literacy Teacher’s Playbook K-2 p22 Heineman