Margin Notes

TRY THIS TOMORROW: MOODY MENTORS

Dec
01

I love it when my nightly scrolling is productive. Twitter can be a fantastic resource for inspiration and sharing ideas. Kate McCook (@KMcCookEnglish) so generously shared her idea of moody mentors. Here are the steps she outlines:

  1. I decided to focus on how to add mood to our pieces.
  2. I pulled out two favorite mentor texts, the openings to the memoirs The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls & Educated by Tara Westover, and called them “Moody Mentor Texts”
  3. I handed students a list of mood words & we defined new ones.
  4. We identified moods in each piece.
  5. We identified writing moves each author used to create the moods we noticed.
  6. We reassessed our drafts to see if we had established mood (and what mood)
  7. We chose two “Moody Mini Moves” to emulate in our own drafts.

I loved this idea so I tracked down the two mentors listed. Here are some excerpts:

Text #1

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

Chapter 1: A Woman on the Street

I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster. It was just after dark. A blustery March wind whipped the steam coming out of the manholes, and people hurried along the sidewalks with their collars turned up. I was stuck in traffic two blocks from the party where I was heading.

Mom stood fifteen feet away. She had tied rags around her shoulders to keep out the spring chill and was picking through the trash while her dog, a black-and-white terrier mix, played at her feet. Mom’s gestures were all familiar — the way she tilted her head and thrust out her lower lip when studying items of potential value that she’d hoisted out of the Dumpster, the way her eyes widened with childish glee when she found something she liked. Her long hair was streaked with gray, tangled and matted, and her eyes had sunk deep into their sockets, but still she reminded me of the mom she’d been when I was a kid, swan-diving off cliffs and painting in the desert and reading Shakespeare aloud. Her cheekbones were still high and strong, but the skin was parched and ruddy from all those winters and summers exposed to the elements. To the people walking by, she probably looked like any of the thousands of homeless people in New York City.

It had been months since I laid eyes on Mom, and when she looked up, I was overcome with panic that she’d see me and call out my name, and that someone on the way to the same party would spot us together and Mom would introduce herself and my secret would be out.

I slid down in the seat and asked the driver to turn around and take me home to Park Avenue.

The taxi pulled up in front of my building, the doorman held the door for me, and the elevator man took me up to my floor. My husband was working late, as he did most nights, and the apartment was silent except for the click of my heels on the polished wood floor. I was still rattled from seeing Mom, the unexpectedness of coming across her, the sight of her rooting happily through the Dumpster. I put some Vivaldi on, hoping the music would settle me down.

I looked around the room. There were the turn-of-the-century bronze-and-silver vases and the old books with worn leather spines that I’d collected at flea markets. There were the Georgian maps I’d had framed, the Persian rugs, and the overstuffed leather armchair I liked to sink into at the end of the day. I’d tried to make a home for myself here, tried to turn the apartment into the sort of place where the person I wanted to be would live. But I could never enjoy the room without worrying about Mom and Dad huddled on a sidewalk grate somewhere. I fretted about them, but I was embarrassed by them, too, and ashamed of myself for wearing pearls and living on Park Avenue while my parents were busy keeping warm and finding something to eat.

What could I do? I’d tried to help them countless times, but Dad would insist they didn’t need anything, and Mom would ask for something silly, like a perfume atomizer or a membership in a health club. They said that they were living the way they wanted to.

After ducking down in the taxi so Mom wouldn’t see me, I hated myself — hated my antiques, my clothes, and my apartment. I had to do something, so I called a friend of Mom’s and left a message. It was our system of staying in touch. It always took Mom a few days to get back to me, but when I heard from her, she sounded, as always, cheerful and casual, as though we’d had lunch the day before. I told her I wanted to see her and suggested she drop by the apartment, but she wanted to go to a restaurant. She loved eating out, so we agreed to meet for lunch at her favorite Chinese restaurant.

 

 

Text #2

 

Educated by Tara Westover

After Dad took up preaching against milk, Grandma jammed her fridge full of it. She and Grandpa only drank skim but pretty soon it was all there – two percent, whole, even chocolate. She seemed to believe this was an important line to hold.

Breakfast became a test of loyalty. Every morning, my family sat around a large square table and ate either seven-¬grain cereal, with honey and molasses, or seven-grain pancakes, also with honey and molasses. Because there were nine of us, the pancakes were never cooked all the way through. I didn’t mind the cereal if I could soak it in milk, letting the cream gather up the grist and seep into the pellets, but since the revelation we’d been having it with water. It was like eating a bowl of mud.

It wasn’t long before I began to think of all that milk spoiling in Grandma’s fridge. Then I got into the habit of skipping breakfast each morning and going straight to the barn. I’d slop the pigs and fill the trough for the cows and horses, then I’d hop over the corral fence, loop around the barn and step through Grandma’s side door.

On one such morning, as I sat at the counter watching Grandma pour a bowl of cornflakes, she said, “How would you like to go to school?”

“I wouldn’t like it,” I said.

“How do you know,” she barked. “You ain’t never tried it.”

She poured the milk and handed me the bowl, then she perched at the bar, directly across from me, and watched as I shoveled spoonfuls into my mouth.

“We’re leaving tomorrow for Arizona,” she told me, but I already knew. She and Grandpa always went to Arizona when the weather began to turn. Grandpa said he was too old for Idaho winters; the cold put an ache in his bones. “Get yourself up real early,” Grandma said, “around five, and we’ll take you with us. Put you in school.”

I shifted on my stool. I tried to imagine school but couldn’t. Instead I pictured Sunday school, which I attended each week and which I hated. A boy named Aaron had told all the girls that I couldn’t read because I didn’t go to school, and now none of them would talk to me.

“Dad said I can go?” I said.

“No,” Grandma said. “But we’ll be long gone by the time he realizes you’re missing.” She sat my bowl in the sink and gazed out the window.

Grandma was a force of nature – impatient, aggressive, self-possessed. To look at her was to take a step back. She dyed her hair black and this intensified her already severe features, especially her eyebrows, which she smeared on each morning in thick, inky arches. She drew them too large and this made her face seem stretched. They were also drawn too high and draped the rest of her features into an expression of boredom, almost sarcasm.

“You should be in school,” she said.

“Won’t Dad just make you bring me back?” I said.

 

 

Text #3:

Here is a link to a blog post on mood with more moody mentor texts from poetry and pop cultures videos. The clip from One of Us is Lying could spark a book talk!

If you have another moody mentor, leave it in the comments!

TRY THIS TOMORROW: COLLABORATIVE POEMS

Nov
24

The New York Times Magazine used the poem Small Kindnesses by Danusha Laméris as an invitation for teen readers to submit their personal responses to the question “What small kindnesses do you appreciate?” Danusha Laméris compiled some of the over 1300 responses into Small Kindnesses: A Collaborative Poem by Teenagers From Around the World.

Collaborative poems are a novel and creative way to curate students’ ideas and make their thinking visible. You might try compiling collaborative poems by:

  • inviting students to read Small Kindnesses and respond with their own small kindness or to the first line of the poem, “I’ve been thinking about…”
  • using another short text as an invitation to share thinking after a quickwrite
  • asking students to each share the line they are most proud of from their writing at the end of a craft or form study
  • collecting students’ favorite sentences from their independent reading

 

We’d love to hear your suggestions for collaborative poems in the comments!

TRY THIS TOMORROW: THE ABSOLUTE BEST

Nov
16

Grub Street’s Best of New York series has gotten me thinking about the many ways students could use this “absolute best’ structure in their own writing to describe a topic they are knowledgeable and passionate about.

Some of my favorite examples are:

The Absolute Best Ice Cream Sandwiches in New York City

The Absolute Best Veggie Burgers in New York City

The Absolute Best Pancakes in New York City

These absolute best lists combine description, analysis, and persuasion. I can see students creating their own lists of the absolute best books they read during the year, teams in the WNBA, episodes of Star Trek, cookie recipes…the possibilities are endless!

TRY THIS TOMORROW: PUNCTUATION EXPLORATION

Oct
20

Stephen King’s forward to Castle Rock Kitchen: Wicked Good Recipes from the World of Stephen King by Theresa Carle-Sanders is delightful. This paragraph in particular caught my attention:

When I think of Maine cuisine, I think of red hot dogs in spongy Nissen rolls, slow-baked beans (with a big chunk of pork fat thrown in), steamed fresh peas with bacon, whoopie pies plus macaroni and cheese (often with lobster bits, if there were some left over). I think of creamed salt cod on mashed potatoes—a favorite of my toothless grandfather—and haddock baked in milk, which was the only fish my brother would eat. I hated it; to this day I can see those fishy fillets floating in boiled milk with little tendrils of butter floating around in the pan. Ugh.

King uses an array of punctuation to add variety and complexity to his sentences, making this excerpt a terrific mentor text for a punctuation exploration. Students can notice and name the punctuation moves King makes by following this adaption of Project Zero’s Parts, Purposes, Complexities thinking routine:

  • Record each of the four sentences on a large piece of paper with enough space around each one for groups of students to capture their thinking. (I know sentence #4 only contains one word and one period, but there is a lot to discuss about this intentional stylist choice.)
  • Ask students in small groups to discuss the sentences one at a time and capture their thinking about these invitations:
    • What are the parts of this sentence? What are its individual pieces or components?
    • What is the purpose of each of these parts? What does each part contribute to the sentence?
    • How does the punctuation support the complexity of this sentence? How does the punctuation connect the individual parts to the whole?

Once groups have finished discussing and annotating the sentences, invite them into a whole-class discussion to share their noticings about Stephen King’s punctuation use.

Close by giving students time to try out some of these punctuation moves in their writer’s notebooks by drafting their own “When I think of __________, I think of __________” paragraphs.

TRY THIS TOMORROW: WHAT I’VE BEEN STREAMING

Oct
13

Scrolling Twitter one night, I saw a post shared from a bookstore titled “I want to get back into reading, I’ve been streaming”. The image, found here, matches readers with titles based on shows they have enjoyed. I often use conversation about television as a gateway to recommending books to students and this took it to a new level.  Other sources have similar lists to promote books based on TV entertainment.

 

Penguin has a list of “What to Read Next Based on Your Fav Netflix Shows”.

Epic Reads has a list of “36 Books to Read After Binge-Watching ‘Never Have I Ever’”.

Teaspoon of Adventure has a list of “Book to Read After Your Latest Netflix Binge”.

Try it:

  • Have students come up with a list of popular TV shows and research titles that are similar.
  • Have students pick one TV show and brainstorm similar titles they have read.
  • Have students look at your classroom library and pair titles with TV shows.
  • Have students match their current read with a TV show or movie.

SORA SUMMER SERIES – STUDENT EDITION

Jun
30

the collection of titles on SORA has expanded to include titles for students in high school. To celebrate this, and to add some book buzz, Margin Notes will feature book recommendations written by high school students over the summer months. Stay tuned for some great book recommendations!

Ways teachers might use the students’ recommendations:

  • Direct students to Margin Notes to read student recommendations
  • Book talk the titles by reading the student recommendations
  • Post the recommendations in the classroom for students to read
  • Have students comment on the posts of titles they decide to read
  • Use as mentor texts for students writing their own recommendations

TRY THIS TOMORROW: THE CRAFT OF WRITING

May
19

If you have been searching for ways to share writers’ processes, craft, and experiences, The Craft of Writing newsletter from Literary Hub has you covered. This weekly newsletter contains a writer’s first-person description of a craft technique using examples from their own work and offers links to other writers’ reflections on the same topic. This is particularly helpful for anyone looking for resources to support a craft or process study in writing workshop.

The Craft of Writing is always a quick and engaging read about writers and their writing and the newsletter format makes it easy to save them in one spot to use a resource depending on what your writers need. You can sign up here. 

TRY THIS TOMORROW: REPETITION IN POETRY

May
12

Writing poetry can be daunting, which is why mentor texts are a powerful tool. Poems with a clear structure provide a scaffold for writers who might not know how to get started. Mentor poems in which repetition features prominently make it easy for them to warm up their poetry-writing muscles. Writers can rely on the same or similar repeated words or phrases while adding their own ideas. Don’t forget to share your own version with your students as another model!

Here are a few examples of poems with repetition that might get you and your writers started:

Why I Write Poetry by Leah Kindler

Students can follow Kindler’s lead and create their own “Why I Love” poem and begin every line with “Because…”

Mountain Dew Commercial Disguised as a Love Poem by Matthew Olzmann

Students can borrow Olzmann’s opening line “Here’s what I’ve got, the reasons why…” and follow the same format Olzmann uses to list the reasons.

Possibilities by Wislawa Szymborska

The repetition of “I prefer” at the beginning of each line is a terrific model to share their likes and interests.

Using poetry mentors with repetition is a quick and fun way to inspire students to get started with their own poems.

TRY THIS TOMORROW: ERASURE POETRY

Apr
28

In her Author’s Note, Kate Baer describes the day she realized she could see the growing number of negative messages she encountered online and in her inbox in a new way: “On a whim, I took a screenshot of her message, blotted out some lines with the pen tool, and hit post.” Soon, she began seeing opportunities to create erasure poems everywhere. I Hope This Finds You Well is Baer’s collection of erasure poetry created from both negative and positive exchanges she has had with readers as well as from advertisements, news, and current events.

Almost any text, from a text message to a text book can be reimagined as an erasure poem. Invite students to select a text they can re-envision as poetry and then reflect on how the meaning and message has changed by the words and phrases they have erased.

 

TRY THIS TOMORROW: CONSIDERING DICTION IN POETRY USING CONCENTRIC CIRCLES

Apr
14

The resource Teaching Living Poets by Lindsay Illich and Melissa Alter Smith offers several engaging ideas and activities to incorporate poetry in your class. This activity is one used to introduce poetry and teach theme.

Materials:

Instructions:

  1. Place students in small groups with a poem and ask the simple question “What is the most significant word?” to represent this poem. Ask the groups to discuss their word choice and extend their discussion by explaining why they chose each word.
  2. Give each group a piece of chart paper with a marker. You will give a mini-lesson before they begin.
  3. Demonstrate how to use the concentric circles (found in the image below) to record your thinking on a poem. The focus is to defend the word choice as there are no right/wrong answers. The center circle is what the group has decided is the most important word. The next circle is for images and connections to that word. The third circle is theme. One way to consider theme is to ask, “What message is the author trying to deliver about the word written in the middle circle?”. Lastly, the outer area is for the text evidence that supports the word and theme.
  4. Students will copy the concentric circles on their own page.

For more ideas, follow the hashtag #teachlivingpoets on Twitter.

Illich, Lindsay, and Melissa Alter Smith. Teach Living Poets. National Council of Teachers of English, 2021.