Margin Notes



In Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher’s new resource, 4 Essential Studies: Beliefs and Practices to Reclaim Student Agency, they discuss using two-page spreads as a way to generate student thinking and prepare for discussions about their reading. They begin by giving students no more direction than to ask that students use the two pages to bring evidence of what they were thinking as they were reading. They then used student models to show different ways readers might show their thinking. 

Here are some examples: 

Students used lists and categories.

Students used sticky-notes in their books and transferred them to the two-pager. 

Students organized their thinking with different colors of sticky-notes. 

Students wrote notes and highlighted the main points. 

Students took the guiding questions and created their own charts of character, quotes and craft. Making thinking visible is an essential part of any classroom. I love that these authors discuss how this same thinking model can be used in other content areas, such as this one on anatomy.  

Some students may require support with such an open-ended activity and this resource provides other options that are more guided, while maintaining the goal of student-generated talk. Here are some guiding questions that might help students get started on their two-page spread: 

  • Find a gossipy moment in the book. 
  • Identify the turns in the book. 
  • Discuss a critical decision made in the chapter or book. 
  • Capture a shift in your thinking. 
  • Discuss a minor character of major importance. 
  • Pick a passage and read it the way the author intended it to be read. 
  • Identify and discuss the most important word in the passage, chapter, or book. 
  • Annotate poetry 

You can find more student spreads under “Book Love workshop handouts” on  

Kittle, Penny, and Kelly Gallagher. 4 Essential Studies: Beliefs and Practices to Reclaim Student Agency. Heinemann, 2021.



In her new book Leading Literate Lives: Habits and Mindsets for Reimagining Classroom Practice, Stephanie Affinito shares a variety of ways for teachers to cultivate their personal literacy lives and in doing so be the model our students need to cultivate their own literacy identities.  Affinito provides multiple ways to build both our reading and writing habits and communities, but more than this, and what I love most, is she connects what we can do for ourselves with how we can make it real for our students.

One of my favorite ideas is entitled, Live Curiously Through Books, found on page 53.  When reading a book have you ever found yourself curious about the setting? Or if historical fiction, the events leading up to the specific time in the text.  What about the characters?  Do you want to know more about their backstory? Stephanie shares the following examples of how to live curiously through books:

  • Find the setting of the book you are reading on Google Maps. Explore the area to get a firsthand idea of what the setting might actually look like—and add the location to your bucket list of places to visit.
  • Search for images to help you visualize objects and items from the book. My favorite find? Seeing the same brilliant blue from the lapis lazuli stone that Beverly Tipinksky saw on the cover of a book in Beverly, Right Now by Kate DiCamillo.
  • Look up vocabulary in a digital dictionary to broaden your language and vocabulary. Did you know that sunder means “to break apart or separate”? I do now.
  • Explore new concepts and ideas. Watch videos, read online articles, and learn from supplemental resources. YouTube, Great Big Story, and The Kid Should See this are great places to start.

As Affinito shares, “Living your way through books curiously invites you to experience them firsthand, actively learning about the world without ever leaving your home. So, grab a device and give it a try the next time you read a book-and see where it takes you. Then, share the experience with your students.”

(Affinito, Stephanie. Leading Literate Lives. P. 53 Heinemann, 2021)

So how can we make this real for our students? Stephanie suggests creating bookmarks using a QR code generator to provide deeper connections for students.

A twist on this could be having the students create bookmarks for their favorite books and then share with peers after you provide a model for your students.  What a great strategy to promote curiosity and book buzz in your classroom!

To learn more about Stephanie Affinito’s book, Leading Literate Lives check out this postcast at



The students who enter our classrooms each day have histories we desperately want to know.  These past experiences tell the stories of how they arrived at our door, who influenced them along the way and how we can support them as a learner. It can be informational overload when we try to navigate all these new-to-us learners. In her resource Leading Literate Lives, Stephanie Affinito talks about creating reading and or writing timelines to provide insight into who we are today as readers and writers.

Stephanie recommends doing this practice yourself to learn about your own writing identity. The same practice can be used for students.

  1. Start by drawing a timeline on your page. The image below shows the timeline drawn as a roadmap.
  2. Create some prompts that address some specific times in your students’ lives and ask them to record positive memories above the timeline and negative memories below the timeline.
  3. Stephanie provides great prompts for you, the teacher, to reflect on your own life. Several of these could apply to students as well. For example, on page 6 she says:
    1. Think back to the earliest memory you have of reading and/or writing. What was it? How old were you? How did it make you feel toward reading/writing?
    2. Reflect on your experiences with reading/writing at home. What were they like? Who supported you? How did you feel?
    3. Think of your experiences in elementary school. What sticks out in your memory, good or bad? Which teachers do you remember making their mark on your reading/writing identity?
    4. Think of your experiences in middle school. What sticks out in your memory, good or bad? Which teachers do you remember making their mark on your reading/writing identity?
    5. What recent experiences have you had with reading/writing? How does your reading/writing life feel?

Add your memories to your timeline.

Affinito, Stephanie. Leading Literate Lives: Habits and Mindsets for Reimagining Classroom Practice. Heinemann, 2021.



Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski decided to end each chapter in their book, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle with a tl;dr list instead of a summary. They explain:

Tl;dr is the internet abbreviation for “too long; didn’t read.” If you write a five-hundred-word post on Facebook or a multiparagraph comment on Instagram, someone might reply, ‘tl;dr.’ Our tl;dr lists contain the ideas you can share with your best friend when she calls you in tears, the facts you can use to dispel myths when they come up in conversation, and the thoughts we hope come to you when your racing mind keeps you awake at night. (p. xvi)

Here are the tl;dr lists for Chapter 2 “#Persist,” Chapter 4 “The Game is Rigged,” and Chapter 8 “Joyfully Ever After.”

Since all of our provincial Reading and Viewing Achievement Standards from grades 6-12 contain some variation of “distinguish between main ideas and supporting details; concisely summarize key information,” the tl;dr list is a unique way for students to practice these skills. After reading, viewing, or listening to a text, invite students to create a tl;dr list that captures what it is about.

TRY THIS TOMORROW: PHILOQUESTS Adventures in our minds


Philoquests: Adventures in our minds is the creation of the Institute of Philosophy, Citizenship and Youth (L’Université de Montréal). This amazingly unique website has over 100 reflections for teenagers about creativity, solitude, help, worry, hope, change, and resilience. Created at the beginning of the pandemic, it was developed for teens to use at home while in lockdown. I can, however, envision lots of ways for them to be used in the classroom. 

Here is an introduction to the website:

Here is one example of a reflection for the topic of change: Philosophical Picnic (you could replace “family” with “classmates”.)

A change for the better?

ObjectiveTo feed your philosophical reflections on change with your family’s help during lunch!

Duration: 30 to 75 minutes


  • Sheets of paper and pen
  • Coloured pencils and markers
  • Your family


It’s time to eat! Gather your family around the table for an appetizing dialogue about change. Explore the following questions, finding inspiration in the thinking prompts as necessary. Together, think of reasons to explain your positions and try to build an answer by combining your ideas! But don’t worry if the urge to keep talking doesn’t subside… philosophical picnics are an insatiable quest!

  •  Question 1: Does everything change?
    • Thinking prompts: The French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr famously wrote, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” But how can that be? Aren’t change and sameness in conflict? With your family, try to figure out whether you think that everything changes or not. Since change is such a big concept, it may be helpful to work in categories: living things, objects, ideas, etc. What brings about change in each of these categories? Alternatively, what causes them to stay the same? Wonder together if you think change is important. Are there several types of change or different reasons to change? When we talk about changing our socks, is it the same as talking about changing our minds? Have a look at the definition you came up with in your first Idea Stretching mission, and see how it compares to what you are discussing with your family. Does the concept’s meaning change (oh my!) depending on the context? Why or why not?
  • Question 2: Is change hard?
    • Thinking prompts: As humans, we seem to be faced with changes constantly—even when it’s not what we want! Whether it’s as simple as changing out of pyjamas on a cold day or as major as changing schools, the experience of changing can be tough. But why? To inspire your thinking, you can read the comic below. Together, brainstorm why you think people might resist or fear change. Are they uncomfortable or insecure perhaps? How might they react negatively to change? Then, consider the opposite viewpoint: Can change be easy, even peaceful? Share some examples from your own lives when change felt hard and when it felt easy, and try to determine some criteria to understand the different experiences. What changes are necessary to a good life… and might there be changes that no one should ever have to experience? How might humans deal with change better?
  • Question 3: Can anyone change the world?
    • Thinking prompts: Have you ever heard the word “changemaker?” It’s a term used to describe people who want to make the world better so they actively create change for the greater good. But can anybody really have that power? Can one person make a difference? As a family, exchange ideas about what it might mean to be a changemaker… and if you have what it takes. Should everyone do their part to improve the world? Hmm… maybe it depends on how each person defines improvement! Perhaps if everyone tried to change things, it would cause more mess than progress. Could there be a dark side to wanting to change the world? Together, think of some of the good and bad consequences. Finally, try to finish the sentence: If change didn’t exist, then _________.

I’m sure you can envision ways of using these questions to spark discussion. They would also make great quickwrite prompts!

You can check out Philoquests: Adventures in your mind here.



Try this tomorrow: Reading with Personal Goals 

Do you ever wonder how your own reading and writing life can transfer into your classroom? In Leading Literate Lives, Stephanie Affinito details reading and writing practices that will enhance your own literate life, and then explains how these practices can be transferred to the classroom.  

She emphasizes that the literate lives within a classroom should replicate the literate lives outside of the classroom. An important quote from her introduction is that “if consistently tasked with reading and writing that feels like work – for example, by reading books of someone else’s choosing and responding in artificial ways and by writing with little personal investment, with strict requirements and formats and for no audience other than the teacher – students may equate reading and writing with something to be completed rather than lived.” 

With that authenticity in mind, one way to inspire reading is through personal goals. These should be goals that you want to accomplish and are meaningful to you, the reader. Like the example in the image of the chart, you will want to pick a personal reading goal and brainstorm actionable ways to achieve the goal. 

When considering bringing this to the classroom, Stephanie asks some important reflection questions about reading goals: did you create them for your students? Or with your students? Of course, your reading assessment is going to be aligned with your curriculum and standards, but the goals can be personal expressions of what your students want/need to work on.  

Using the chart above as a model, create some mini-lessons on how to make personalized goals with actionable actions and give your students ownership over their reading life. 

Affinito, Stephanie. Leading Literate Lives: Habits and Mindsets for Reimagining Classroom Practice. Heinemann, 2021. 



In Why Do I Have to Read This?: Literacy Strategies to Engage Our Most Reluctant Students by Cris Tovani she shares her use of Background Knowledge Placemats.

What it is: A collection of images, statistics, infographics, quotes, and excerpts of longer pieces of text placed together on a large sheet of paper (legal or ledger) that can be used to both build and assess students’ background knowledge on any topic of study.

Here is one we made for the beginning of a unit on homelessness.

Students can be provided with individual copies of the placemat, or placed in small groups, and are invited to read whatever it is that grabs their attention on the placemat. One of the beautiful things about this activity is that it is accessible to a wide range of readers because students students can choose to read a single item on the placemat or they may choose to read everything on the placemat.

Students are then asked to respond to their reading on two sticky notes. On one sticky note the students are asked to write one thing they think they “get” from the information on the placemat and on the other they write one thing they are wondering.




Here is an example from Cris Tovani’s students studying Syria:

After students read the placemat and complete their sticky notes, here is what happens:

  • Students can leave their stickies around the placemats and groups can rotate around to see their classmates thinking and wondering before the teacher collects them.
  • Once they are collected, the teacher can use the sticky notes to help determine texts that answer the questions that students have on the topic.
  • Teachers can then create a handout of the students thinking and wonderings for the next day for students to read through (the goal being to include a response from every student).
  • Students can then respond to one or two ideas that stand out to them on the handout.
  • In the goal of building community, students can then be asked to find the students who wrote the annotation(s) they chose to respond to and tell them why it stood out to them (maybe it echoed their own thinking, made them think differently, etc).

Here is an excerpt of the handout Cris Tovani made after collecting her students’ placemats on Syria:

Tovani, Cris. Do I Really Have to Teach Reading? Stenhouse, 2004.

The placemats and sticky notes can be displayed to remind both teacher and students of the questions that need answered as they move forward with the topic they are studying.

To read more on the use of Background Knowledge Placemats we recommend reading Why Do I Have to Read This?: Literacy Strategies to Engage Our Most Reluctant Students by Cris Tovani.



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.