Margin Notes



The Nerdette Podcast, which is an interview show featuring people you either already love, or will be delighted to learn about, has started a new regular feature called “Burden or delight”.

“Burden or delight” is a game where the host Greta Johnson and her guests discuss different stories and decide if they are burdensome or delightful. In the latest episode, the topics included double dipping, eating snow,  and gummy vitamins.

Other topics that Nerdette guests have discussed: the end of certain road signs,  the new Apple charger, and whether having extended birthday celebrations is a burden or delight. They have also talked about the number of spiders we eat in our sleep and the best time of day to eat diner. As you can tell, this is meant to be a very non-serious discussion!  I can see it being a hit with high school students. Although the podcast is a fun listen, and a great show, please preview it first before you play it for your students- it is definitely meant for an adult audience.

This concept is easily adaptable to the classroom and could be a fun way to spark discussion and debate. You could choose any current event, although I would stick to pop-culture types of stories for this activity. All you would need would be the topic, an article or video explaining the topic, and time to discuss whether is a burden or delight. One way you might organize it is to have the students discuss the topic in pairs or small groups first, then have a quick larger discussion at the end.

I think this idea is quick to implement, easy to set up, and could be quite delightful!






Writer Hanif Abdurraqib started SIXTYEIGHT2OHFIVE as a playlist project. When he expanded it to a website, he began inviting writers to contribute essays “in praise of or in reflection of an album (within this window of years) that changed their life.” The Essays on Albums library, searchable by decade, is an absolute mentor text treasure trove.

These first-person essays combine memoir, analysis, and personal reflection. They can be used as mentors for students to reflect on the music (or any other media, person, or experience) that has impacted them. Excerpts of beautiful passages and sentences can be used as micro-mentors or incorporated into craft studies and mini-lessons.

This project is a gift to music lovers and to writing teachers.



What is a reading word sort?

This “Think From the Middle” reading activity is used for making predictions, setting reading intention and checking for understanding. It involves tactile learning and can be done individually or in groups. Here is the description from their website:


Word sorts for narrative text is a before-, during-, and after-reading strategy in which the teacher creates a collection of important words and phrases from a story on index cards.  This collection is prepared in advance of the lesson.  Working individually or in pairs before reading the text, students arrange the cards in an order that supports the telling of a story and then use the cards to tell the story to the class.  During the reading the teacher stops occasionally, allowing the students to rearrange their cards, as needed. Upon the conclusion of the reading, the students rearrange for the last time in order to give a proper retelling.

How would I use it?

Before asking students to complete this sorting, the teacher would model the steps in a mini-lesson while sharing aloud their thinking. The work of readers happens inside the mind and the think-aloud will allow that process to be visible for students.

This idea can be expanded to have students continue to re-arrange the cards to discuss theme, characters, conflict, text structure etc. The teacher guides the lesson with the words/phrases selected for the cards.

Where can I find a step-by-step guide?

This reading activity comes from the website Think From the Middle and all the directions are written out step-by-step here.

If you love this activity and want to stretch this thinking, check out our post on hexagonal thinking.



In the author’s note of How to Write a Poem, Kwame Alexander defines a poem as “a small but mighty thing. It has the power to reach inside us, to teach us to ignite our imaginations.” Yet, he observes that poetry is often regarded as complicated, intimidating, and inaccessible. To counteract poetry becoming the neglected genre, he and Deanna Kikaido wrote this book to ”help each of us find our way back to an appreciation of words…to remembering the wonder of poetry.”

Alexander and Nikaido have written a delightful poem that combines beautifully with Melissa Sweet’s wonderful artwork to invite and inspire us to pay attention to the world around us for ideas to kindle our imagination. This is where “the words have been waiting to slide down your pencil into your small precious hand and become a voice with spark.”

How to Write a Poem is brimming with possibilities for poetry month and beyond. Here are just a few:

  • Explore and discuss the many poetic elements of the poem.
  • Read like writers and use How to Write a Poem as a mentor text for how-to poems on other topics.
  • After reading, invite students to quickwrite about their process for finding writing ideas.
  • Use think-ink-pair-share for students to reflect on and then share the line that most resonates with them as a writer.
  • Launch the writer’s notebook as a tool for noticing and capturing the seeds of writing ideas with a text set that incorporates How to Write a Poem with picture books such as I Wonder by K.A Holt and Kenard Pak, Ideas Are All Around by Philip C. Stead, and Noticing by Kobi Yamada and Elise Hurst. You can also include selections from collections like The Book of Delights by Ross Gay and World of Wonders by Aimee Nezhukumatathil.
  • Build a text set on the power of noticing that combines How to Write a Poem with What to Put in Your Notebook by Grant Snider, Poetry is the Act of Paying Attention by Clint Smith, and The Patience of Ordinary Things by Pat Schneider.
  • Begin a craft or process study with How to Write a Poem and resources that provide behind-the-scenes views of writers and their writing. Interviews with Poets, Craft Advice, and How I Wrote It are terrific places to start.



Margin Notes posted about the Poetry RX column in The Paris Review here. Dr. Maya C. Popa (@MayaCPopa), an acclaimed poet in modern poetry, has used her “X” platform to share the same idea of “Poetry Rx”. Read more about her work on her website.

She shares an ailment on “X”, and her followers will offer their prescribed poems, sometimes with explanations and other times without. The conditions are often timely with world events, seasons or connected to real people. Here are some examples:

These posts become curated poetry and art text sets on a topic/theme.

How to try this tomorrow:

Poetry Prescription Gallery Walk:

  • Curate a gallery of poems that were previously prescribed for various problems.
  • Divide students into small groups and have them rotate through the gallery.
  • Ask each group to analyze and discuss why a particular poem might have been prescribed for a given problem.
  • Encourage them to consider themes, tone, and literary devices – whatever mini-lesson you taught.

Classwide Poetry Prescription Database:

  • Create a shared online document or database where students can contribute poems they find or write for specific problems.
  • Have students categorize the poems based on the problems they address.
  • Students can take out the collection of poems when they need support in that area.

Rotating Poetry Prescription Circles:

  • Establish rotating small groups within the class.
  • Each group is responsible for identifying a problem and prescribing a poem to address it.
  • Rotate the groups periodically to ensure that students have diverse experiences in exploring and discussing different problems and poems.

Collaborative Poetry Prescriptions:

  • Assign each student a specific problem or challenge to explore through poetry.
  • Have them collaborate in pairs or small groups to find or create poems that address their assigned issue.

Poetry Playlists:

  • When teaching about character and theme development, have students create a poetry playlist to represent the emotions, actions or motivations of a character.

These ideas involve students actively engaging with poetry prescriptions, encouraging critical thinking, collaboration, and reflection on the choices made in selecting and discussing poems for specific problems.



Artists on Spotify can see every playlist their music is added to. A Tiktok artist @Johnwritessongs takes these playlist titles to create songs and have fun with the different spaces his music lands on Spotify. He has a whole playlist called songwriting challenges you can find here. You can listen to an example of a song written by playlist titles here.

*Teachers should preview all examples for language and content before showing a class.

Try this tomorrow:

Write your own found poetry: Have strips of paper cut up. Students can use their own Spotify playlist titles or search for the playlist titles of their favorite songs. Write each playlist title on a strip of paper and organize them into a poem. Encourage them to experiment with different themes, tones, and structures as they compose their poems. Collaborate, share and enjoy!

Analyzing structure and form: Have students analyze the structure and form of the found poems created by @johnwritessongs. Discuss how he uses the titles of Spotify playlists to construct lyrics and create meaning. Students can examine the organization of the playlists and how the artist selects and arranges the titles to create coherence and flow in the poem.

Understanding tone and mood: Explore the tone and mood conveyed in the found poems. Discuss how the choice of playlist titles influences the overall tone of the poem and contributes to the mood. Encourage students to identify specific words or phrases that evoke certain emotions and discuss how they contribute to the overall meaning of the poem.

This is a fun and playful way to bring poetry into the classroom but also provides a deeper conversation about how we build communities and connect through artistic expression. Use this lesson idea to embrace contemporary culture and the intersections of music, writing, social media etc.



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, here and here.

Because one of the goals of First Chapter Fridays is introducing a wide variety of texts, you can easily add graphic texts and comics into this routine by projecting the first few pages for the class to view while you read. Of course, it’s important to remember that graphic texts are a form and not a genre, so within this category you’ll find a wide range of both fiction and non-fiction options.

Here are some suggestions for incorporating graphic texts in First Chapter Fridays:

  • Use the text like any other to support word study, vocabulary, comprehension, and criticality/text analysis. Revisit portions of the text in targeted mini-lessons.
  • While reading, stop and model your use of specific strategies to comprehend the combination of words and pictures.
  • Introduce some of the unique and specific features of graphic texts. This is a good source of basic terms and concepts.
  • Invite students to take a closer look at a portion of the text by using a variation of the NY Times Learning Network What’s Going on In This Picture prompts: What is going on in this excerpt? What do you see that makes you say that? What more can you find?
  • Use See, Think, Wonder, Parts, Purposes, Complexities, or other protocols from Project Zero’s Thinking Routine Toolbox to explore portions of the text in more detail.
  • If possible, compare the graphic version with a print version and invite students to articulate their personal preferences, analyze decisions made and the impact these have on the reader, etc.




Kylene Beers, in When Kids Can’t Read What Teachers Can Do, shares this simple but effective idea for teaching homographs, words that are spelled the same but have different meanings. She first asks the reader to consider what the following words have in common:

  • leave
  • good
  • interest
  • date
  • type
  • fast

They are all words that have multiple meanings. As she explains, “Leave can mean to remain (Please leave the book there.) or to be absent from a place (She is on leave from her job.). Good can be a moral value (She is a good person.) or a level of skill They did a good job.) or something you can count on (The car was good for another year.)”.

What makes this important for teachers to consider is that words with multiple meanings are problematic for students who know the most common definition of the word, but not the lesson common definition(s). When reading a text, if a student encounters a word, and only knows the common definition, comprehension breaks down. While skilled readers, and students who have broad vocabulary and reading experiences know when to consider other definitions, “…students with reading difficulties often default to the only definition they know”.

So, with this knowledge, how can we support readers in our classrooms?

Beers explains that although wide reading exposure will help students with the multiple meanings of words, we can introduce discussions on homographs in the classroom by simply selecting a homograph found in a text students are currently exploring, and increase their understanding of multiple meanings through an activity she calls “Words Across Contexts”. Here are some examples:

What would jersey mean to

  • A rancher?
  • Someone from New England?
  • A football player?

What would bank mean to

  • Someone standing near a river?
  • Someone who wants to save money?
  • A pilot?

What would bolt mean to

  • A carpenter?
  • A weather forecaster?
  • A runner?

What would engage mean to

  • A couple?
  • Someone chosen to do a job?
  • A mechanic?

What would novel mean to

  • A writer?
  • A creative problem solver?

Beers then shares a list of words with multiple meanings that you can find here, as well as a template for this activity here.




When I find an author that I love, I will often follow them on social media. This gives me the opportunity to find out about upcoming book releases and gives me a glimpse into their life and thoughts.

I was checking out K A Holt’s Twitter/X the other day, and noticed a link in her bio to her author’s website. K A Holt is the author of middle grade fiction and picture books. (She has written some of my favourite books in verse, like House Arrest and Rhyme Schemer.)

On her website she has a “For Kids” page.

And I was delighted to see:


  1. Kari Anne was born in Atlanta, Georgia on September 10th, 19somethingsomething.
  2. When she was 13, Kari Anne accidentally stomped through a gerbil cage, resulting in five stitches on her calf. You can still see the zigzag scar.
  3. When she was young, her favorite author was Paula Danziger, followed closely by Lois Lowry.
  4. Kari Anne’s favorite food is almost always a taco, but there are times when a cheeseburger wins.
  5. She has synesthesia, which means she sees letters and numbers as colors, and she sometimes mixes up other senses, too. (Examples: the letter C is orange, the number one is icy white)

I instantly thought – what a great way for students to share facts about themselves…or about any topic, really. This would make a great quickwrite, or a way for students to organize their About the Author pages for their writing. Try this tomorrow!




In their newly released professional resource, How to Become a Better Writing Teacher, authors Matt Glover and Carl Anderson generously provide a wealth of insights, sharing 50 actionable strategies to elevate both engagement and achievement among student writers. Drawing from their collective 70 years of teaching experience, this resource is one that teachers across all levels of experience will benefit from. Much like their previous contributions, the core principle driving this guide is the unwavering conviction that, with proper support and instruction, every student can achieve as a writer. As such, the actions shared will equip and empower teachers to grow the writing of all students.

One action, of the 50,  is a valuable tool for teachers meeting with students who are hesitant as to what to discuss during writing conferences. This approach bridges the ongoing conversations in our district regarding the crucial role of vocabulary and background knowledge in comprehension achievement. It emphasizes the need for students to acquire the necessary vocabulary not only for comprehending texts but also for understanding and effectively engaging with writing instruction.

Action: Supporting Students’ Use of Writing Vocabulary

Teachers are encouraged to use the following conversational moves to “…help students develop the writing vocabulary they need to talk in conferences…”:

  • Bring a chart to your conferences that lists what you’ve taught in recent minilessons, and have students look at it to help them think about what to say to you (Laman 2013). [Adding to this point, a co-constructed class anchor chart, or, for a craft unit, a whole class text study chart (found in the amazing online resource contents that comes with this resource) could also be used to scaffold the use of precise language in conferences.]
  • List several things the student might be doing. You could say, “Hmm…are you trying to add dialogue, or character thinking, or character actions to this part of your story?’
  • Take a tour of the student’s writing, and describe what you see them doing: “I see that you’ve got a subheading for this chapter…and you’re describing what penguins look like by writing descriptive facts and what penguins do by writing action facts…Do you want to talk about one of these things today?” Hearing you connect writing language to their writing helps students understand these terms, and soon they’ll be able to use them on their own. (Anderson, Carl, and Glover, Matt. How to Become a Better Writing Teacher. Heinemann, 2023.)

If you’re looking for a scaffold to support precise vocabulary in  writing conferences, try this tomorrow!