Margin Notes

Try This Tomorrow: Incidental Comics


Grant Snider’s website Incidental Comics is one of my favorite sources of inspiration, quick-write ideas, and book-love celebrations.

The combination of words and images in comics such as Fall Evening and Sunrises make wonderful models for writers to observe their worlds closely and create similar texts. There are also many wordless comics, including Making a Point and A Sketch for Autumn.

On this site, you’ll also find fantastic comics about reading and writing. Some of my favorites are My Library, Books Are, Please Do Not Leave Children Unattended in the Library, and What to Put in Your Notebook.

I also highly recommend Grant Snider’s book, The Shape of Ideas. It is a colorful and insightful celebration of the process of creation.

Try This Tomorrow: Book Spine Poetry


If you’re looking for a fun way to get students making poetry, and at the same time get new titles into their hands, try using book spine poetry. This is an easy activity that makes us all poets. Just scan your bookshelf for interesting titles. Each title will make up a line of your poem. Arrange the titles so that they run together as a poem. Stack them in a pile and take a picture!

Here is a link to some 2018 book spine poetry winning poems (with the youngest category being 5-8 year olds!).

And here are some of ours:

Here is a link to our post from last year that includes a link to real world mentor texts of book spine poetry from 2015 when the Toronto Library and the Kansas City library used spine book poetry to trash talk when their baseball teams were both vying for a spot in the World Series

Posting these on class twitter and Instagram accounts is a great way to share the book spine poetry created in your classroom.

Try This Tomorrow: How-To Writing


In Why They Can’t Write, John Warner describes the five-paragraph essay as “an artificial construct, a way to contain and control variables and keep students from wandering too far off track. All they need are the ideas to fill in the blanks. It is very rare to see a five-paragraph essay in the wild; one finds them only in the captivity of the classroom.” He goes on to say that “by steering students toward the five-paragraph essay we are denying them the chance to practice real writing by confronting the choices writers must navigate.”

One of the best ways to move away from the fill-in-the-blanks writing that inevitably results from assigning five-paragraph essays and toward making students decision-makers about the best ways to organize their ideas to impact their audience is to provide them with models of what the kind of writing they are doing looks like in the world outside of school. Katie Wood Ray suggest in What You Know by Heart that teachers of writing read with two questions in mind: How is this written? How can my students write like this? The world is a mentor text and when we read it with these two questions in mind, we can see that the world is full of possibilities for writing curriculum. When we encourage students to read with these questions in mind, we are empowering them to find their own writing models so that they don’t feel the need to rely on prescriptive writing structures and formats. The New York Times Guides column is an example of something I found while reading with my writing-teacher lens activated. These examples show students that how-to writing doesn’t have to read like a list of steps introduced with first, then, next…instead, they combine images with text features such as subheadings, bulleted lists, and hyperlinks. For example:

-How to Be More Empathetic is organized into five categories set off with a bolded title. Within each, readers find sub-headings and bulleted lists of suggestions for taking action.

-How to Give a Great Gift demonstrates how to incorporate a question-answer structure.

-How to Read a Food Label uses bulleted lists to organize lots of detailed information so it is more manageable for the reader.

Students can read a selection of Guides on a variety of topics and generate a list of organizing strategies and craft moves they notice the writers using before they begin crafting their own versions. Their Guides can be based on an area of expertise they can teach to others about or a topic of curiosity they want to research first.

Try This Tomorrow: Inviting Students to Share Thinking About Books


One of the challenges we face in the literacy classroom is that the thinking about and understanding of text happens in our students’ heads, so we need to develop ways for students to make their thinking visible to us and their classmates (and often themselves because sharing our thinking about a text often leads to new and deeper thinking). Here are a few samples that students can use to share reactions to their independent reading that doesn’t require more time and effort than the reading itself:

-use By Heart and New Sentences as models for discussing a sentence or passage that resonated with you.

-write a “bite-sized” review similar to the ones these authors have written about their favorite short stories .

-instead of writing about The 25 Songs That Matter Right Now, list the books that mattered during the semester or year. Alternatively, identify the books that have mattered to you as a reader and explain how they have impacted your reading identity.

-look at these student responses to the question “What one song best encapsulates this era?” and select the song (or poem or image) that best encapsulates your book.

-prescribe a poem for a character in your book based on the models from Poetry Rx.

-describe your book based on its “significant digits” .



As teachers of reading, we know the importance and the power of book talks to increase the volume of our students’ reading. One type of book talk you may want to try is the Read-Alike Book Talk, where you take a book that has been flying off the shelf of your classroom library and share titles that have similar themes or characters or are of a similar genre.

Here are some read-alikes for One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus: one-of-us-is-lying

Like One of Us is Lying, these books make the reader ask, “What really happened?”

The CheerleadersThe Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas: Five years ago, five cheerleaders in a small town died in three separate incidents. One of those cheerleaders was Monica’s sister, and now she knows that what happened isn’t the tragic coincidence most people want to believe.


SadieSadie by Courtney Summers : Fleeing from home after her sister’s brutal murder, Sadie is a missing teenage girl on the run, possibly looking for the person she believes to have murdered her sister. When her story is picked up by a well-known radio personality, she becomes the subject of a popular podcast. But, can he find Sadie before it’s too late?


people kill peoplePeople Kill People by Ellen Hopkins: One gun. Six teenagers. Someone will shoot. And someone will die. Written in a combination of prose and verse, this book will keep you guessing until the very end.


two can keep a secretTwo Can Keep a Secret by Karen McManus: Ellery and her twin brother Ezra find themselves living in a small town made famous by the deaths of teenage girls, one of whom was their aunt. These crimes have never been solved. But now, Ellery is determined to uncover all of the answers—putting her own life in danger in the process…because someone wants to keep the town’s secrets hidden.

Try This Tomorrow: Poetry Rx


On the Paris Review website, you’ll find a regular column called Poetry Rx. Here is the description from the site:

“In our column Poetry Rx, readers write in with a specific emotion, and our resident poets—Sarah Kay, Kaveh Akbar, and Claire Schwartz—take turns prescribing the perfect poems to match. This week, Claire Schwartz is on the line.”

The letters are emotional and honest and the recommendations are fascinating. The recommending poet also includes a description of why they made the selection and bits of analysis of the poem are woven into the response.

Not only is this interesting reading and a terrific source of poem suggestions, it would also be an engaging activity for students to undertake. They can recommend a poem to a literary character, historical figure, person in the news, or even an inanimate object and provide the reasons for their choice modelled after the originals.

Try This Tomorrow- Taylor Mali’s Metaphor Dice


It’s all fun and games until someone writes a poem. Taylor Mali, who many teachers know from What Teachers Make, launched a KickStarter campaign to develop Metaphor Dice.

Each set of Metaphor Dice contains 12 dice: 4 red concept dice, 4 white adjective dice, and 4 blue object dice. Players are instructed to “Roll the dice until you formulate a metaphor that speaks to you, one that you think you could explore for a few minutes of writing.” There are options for playing alone and playing in a group.

We begin every literacy team meeting with a quick write and recently we decided to try out the dice. We each took a set, rolled once, and wrote for a few minutes off of the combination we got on the first try. Initially, I had no idea where time+backhanded bullseye would take me, but I ended up getting started on a piece of writing that I will return to because I ended up having lots to say. By stringing those three, seemingly unrelated words together, I found the seed of a writing piece that I probably would not have otherwise discovered.

Taylor Mali’s Metaphor Dice are a unique way to mine for writing idea and inspiration and to experiment with combinations of words.

Try This Tomorrow: Editing The Gray Lady


If you are not following Editing the Gray Lady (@nyt_diff) on Twitter, you are missing out on a never-ending source of mini-lesson ideas. This account tracks changes made to New York Times headlines during the editing/revision process.

There are so many options for using this resource in your classroom, from highlighting specific changes in mini-lessons about conventions, sentence structure, and word choice to inviting students to reflect on why specific changes were made and their impact on the overall effect.

Microstyle: The Art of Writing Little


Christopher Johnson begins Microstyle: The Art of Writing Little by explaining that we are living in the age of The Incredible Shrinking Message.

“Some of the most important verbal messages we encounter are also the shortest. Headlines, titles, brand names, domain names, sound bites, slogans, taglines, catchphrases, email subject lines, text messages, elevator pitches, bullet points, tweets, and Facebook status updates are a few examples.”

Johnson goes on to define microstyle:

“Messages of just a word, a phrase, or a short sentence or two—micromessages—lean heavily on every word and live or die by the tiniest stylistic choices. Micromessages depend not on the elements of style, but on the atoms of style. They require microstyle.”

Microstyle highlights many examples of short micromessages we encounter in day-to-day life and analyses what makes them effective or, in some cases, ineffective (and humorous). Through these examples and nonexamples, Johnson identifies the key ingredients of powerful and memorable micromessages.

His focus on taglines, those short memorable catchphrases or slogans often used to market movies, tv shows, and brands, made me think about possible classroom applications. Taglines are meant to capture and communicate the most important details or features of a product with precision and clarity, so why not invite students to create their own taglines to:

* summarize their learning,

* describe the book they are reading,

* identify the purpose of a piece of writing they are working on,

* introduce themselves to others,

* articulate the gist of a text,

* put words to an image,

* describe their performance on a task, or

* give feedback to a peer.

Creating taglines and other micromessages can be a quick, easy, and creative way to encourage students to consolidate and share their learning.

The 19 Best Sentences of 2017


Slate posted The 19 Best Sentences of 2017,  which in itself is extremely helpful to anyone looking for interesting sentences to share in sentence studies and mini-lessons. I think this list can be used in a variety of ways:

* Share some or all of the sentences on the list with students and discuss what criteria may have been used to determine that these sentences are, in fact, the best.

* Invite students to name the sentence on the list they would consider “the best of the best” and cite the reasons for their choice.

* Invite students to nominate sentences from their own reading that will be considered for The Best Sentences of the Year or The Best Sentences of the Semester. Determine selection criteria and select which nominated sentences will make the final list.