Margin Notes



“Teachers who are engaged readers do a better job of engaging students as readers. According to Morrison, Jacobs, and Swinyard (1999), ‘perhaps the most influential teacher behavior to influence students’ literacy development is personal reading, both in and out of school’ (p. 81).” Preparing Teachers with Knowledge of Children’s and Young Adult Literature, NCTE, 2018).

When we read and bring our reading lives into the classroom, our students benefit. Our experiences as readers help us develop literacy curricula that is responsive and authentic, and they help us develop a shared language for reader-to-reader conversations. Our personal and professional literacy lives provide us with the insider knowledge we need to support our students on their own journeys of developing and growing as readers, writers, communicators, listeners, thinkers, and citizens.

One of the simplest ways to make our reading lives visible to students is with the mentor text and book talk combo.

In What you Know by Heart, Katie Wood Ray describes what it means to read like a teacher of writing:

“Every time we see writing, we are seeing what we teach. We are seeing examples of what’s possible in writing, and so we have to read the texts we encounter across our lives differently than other people. We read these texts like teachers of writing. We are on the lookout for interesting ways to approach the writing, interesting ways to craft sentences and paragraphs and whole texts, interesting ways to bring characters to life or make time move or get a point across. When we read, we are always on the lookout—whether we intend to be or not—for interesting things we might teacher our students how to do.”

Reading in this way is a habit of mind for us as literacy teachers; we read everything with our eyes open for mentor text possibilities.

When we share these mentor texts with students in mini-lessons, writing conferences, inquiry units into genre or form, or quickwrites, we can incorporate a quick book talk or description of our how we came across the text and give students a glimpse into our life as a reader.

A few years ago, I started collecting these mentor possibilities in my writer’s notebook. This reading ritual has helped me developed the skill of reading like a teacher of writing and it provides an artifact of my reading life that I can show students when I share my notebook:

Combining book talks with mentor texts is a quick and easy strategy for sharing your reading life with students that you can try tomorrow.



The first weeks of writing workshop are filled with establishing daily routines, getting to know our students as writers, setting up writer’s notebooks and supporting students in generating topics that they might want to write about. In Anne Elliott and Mary Lynch’s newest professional resource, Cultivating Writers, they share a neat activity to show student writers “…that their neighborhood, community, city, country, and world are all sources of writing potential.” The activity is called Destination Known/Unknown.

Using the template shown below, follow/model the following:

  1. Show students that the center represents the location closest to where they live (i.e neighborhood) and subsequent circles moving outward represent increasing distances from their home: community, city, country, world.
  2. In the innermost circle, model for students how to generate places in their neighborhood they enjoy going to and are linked to a memory; e.g, local park, hockey arena, skate park, local diner, variety store, etc.
  3. Have students generate ideas for other destinations. Whether students have first-hand knowledge and experience traveling to a particular destination or need time to investigate and research a dream location, writing about a place opens up a world of endless landscapes and adventures.
  4. Once students have generated ideas for each circle, have them share some of the locales and tell the class about an adventure they had there, or an adventure they dream of having.

This activity will surely generate some great writing topics, but activities like these do so much more. They connect student’s writing to their world outside of school, they let us better know our students, and they build an authentic writing community with the sharing of ideas.

This is just one activity from this amazing resource, and we recommend Cultivating Writers to every teacher of writing who believes as these authors do that: “We have the responsibility, the obligation, and the duty to create an environment in which kids flourish into writers who have the skill and the will.”

Here is the template:



Crafting Reader Profiles K-5


“When someone tells us they are not a reader, it is not enough to simply hand them what we deem to be a great book.  The first step is to ask why and then get to know that child. “  Pernille Ripp

As we begin another school year our first few weeks of school are inundated with activities. In primary school, interest inventories circle around asking children what their favorite colors are, favorite animals, and what they like to do for fun.  But what if you had an inventory that would gather so much information about a child that you could have weeks’ worth of planning beyond knowing their favorite color?

The “I Am A Reader Who” list poem, from Anne Elliott and Mary Lynch’s Cultivating Readers book (Grades 3-8), encourages teachers to dig deeper into getting to know their students in order to support them in recognizing how they have developed as readers over time and exploring their reading habits and preferences.

Before students create their own,” I Am a Reader” list poem, the authors suggest posting promts around the room on chart paper to encourage classroom discussion and support students in thinking about themselves as readers.

Questions as suggested by the authors include:

  • Where do you like to read?
  • When do you like to read?
  • How do you choose books?
  • Who do you like to read (authors)?
  • What do you like to read (topics/genres)?

It is important to model your own thinking aloud before having students independently travel between the charts individually or in small groups to add their own ideas. I also love the authors’ suggestestion of having follow-up conversations that highlights any trends, connections, and a-ha moments before having students create their own I am a Reader Poem.

Check out, an “I Am a Reader” poem already completed by a student this year:

Try this Tomorrow: BHH Reading (Book, Head, Heart)


My favourite way to get students talking, thinking, and writing about a text is to use the BHH Framework from the book Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst.

BHH Anchor Chart

This anchor chart can be introduced and displayed in the classroom and can be referred to all year long.

I generally introduce the questions with a Picture Book. But, any text that stirs emotions will work.

Some of my go-to, thought provoking reads are:

As I read, I pause and “think aloud” as I model answering the questions that the book inspires me to answer.(Not all questions need to be used every time with every text).

Then, using different texts, we think and respond to the questions as a class, sharing our thoughts and feelings. It doesn’t take long before students are using the questions to independently think and write about texts!

I really love how open ended the questions are, and how they can lead to all sorts of conversations and writing ideas.

Here are Kylene and Bob talking about the BHH Framework:

The BHH Framework really does encourage students to think deeply about texts. And, as an added bonus, this framework can be used across subject areas and with all ages.

I have seen this used successfully in classrooms K-12.  

Try it tomorrow!



“The most powerful words in English are, ‘Tell me a story’”
– Pat Conroy

Start With JoyWe are very excited to join educators tonight on Twitter for the ShelfieTalk with Katie Egan Cunningham centered around her book Start With Joy (2019)!

In her chapter on “Story”, Katie talks about the power of image reading:

One of the simplest ways to spark a storyteller voice in students is to have a daily image to talk about. It can be an image from a recent read-aloud, an image of children the same age as your students engaged in something joyful, or a compelling photograph of somewhere you’ve been or of a landmark site. When the image is character driven, it can spark discussion about what the character might be thinking, feeling, or saying. Students get to image the life of the character beyond the photo as they develop their storyteller voice. When the image is setting driven, it can spark discussion about what students see, what makes them think, and what makes them wonder. Any image can be used to imagine other sensory details like smells and sounds that we can’t see but we can invent. When images are used as a foundation in understanding stories, students are given a primer in the craft techniques that will soon make their verbal and written stories that much stronger (p. 108-109).

Three of her suggestions for using images to encourage students to ask, “What’s the story here?” are:

• Invite students to create their own captions for what they see
• Join online conversations to see what students around the world come up with
• A weekly caption contest

In her book Teaching Talk, Kara Pranikoff suggests using these three questions to springboard idea growing around images:teaching talk.jpg

• What are you thinking?
• What ideas do you have about this picture?
• What specific details give you these ideas?

Visible Thinking suggests the following sentence starters to spark talk around works of art, images, and other interesting things:

• I see…
• I think…
• I wonder…

The New York Times suggests asking these questions of images:

• What’s going on in this picture?
• What do you see that makes you say that?
• What more can you find?

If you are interested in using images with your students as a way to spark your storytellers, to use talk to grow thinking, or to inspire wonder, here is a compilation of resources to find images that might work for you:

“The best photos of 2019” by National Geographic 

“2019: Top 100 Photos” by Time Magazine

The New Yorker: Daily Cartoon

“Paintings That Will Make You Question Everything Wrong In This World”

“Images to Inspire” by Once Upon a Picture

“Elderly People Look At Their Younger Reflections In This Beautiful Photo Series” by Tom Hussey

“A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words” from Odd Stuff Magazine

“What’s Wrong With Today’s Society Captured In 58 Though-Provoking Illustrations” By Al Margen

“What’s Going On in This Picture” by The New York Times



Since joining Twitter in April, 2015 I by the inspiring, interesting, useful, creative, and practical ideas and resources available to me every single time I drop in, no matter what time of day or night.  Sometimes when I recommend Twitter as a source of personal professional learning and collegial connections, educators express concern that they don’t have time.

I thought it would be interesting to set a timer for 10 minutes, log onto Twitter, and show you what I find.  I’ve included Twitter accounts so that you can expand your professional learning network if you are not already following these accounts.

The 10 Best Nonfiction Books of the 2010s via @Time: This list is surely to create debate as well as offer a few new TBR titles.

A List of 14 Children’s Books About Families of All Kinds via @pragmaticmom:Friendly reminder…picture books are fantastic for readers of all ages!

The NCTE Statement on Independent Reading via @NCTE: “Protecting this instructional time is imperative to supporting students in building strong reading habits that will carry outside of the classroom and create lifelong readers.”

Little Beasts: When did it become cute to dress kids up like a different kind of animal? via @Slate: This would be an interesting mentor text for writing to explore a recent trend.

An Interview with Steve Gardiner called How Sustained Silent Reading Keeps Students Curious and Engaged via @KeystoneReading: Gardiner reminds us of the benefits of daily independent reading and explains why 10-15 minutes of each day has a greater impact than one hour per week.

Comic Sans Turns 25: Graphic Designer Vincent Connare Explains Why he Created the Most Hated Font in the World via @goose_lane:An entertaining and informative history of Comic Sans and why we (love to) hate it.

Using Twitter as a professional learning tool doesn’t require a large investment of time. Just a few minutes each day is all you need to find ideas and resources and to connect with other educators. The challenge is not finding interesting things in ten minutes on Twitter, it’s limiting yourself to only ten minutes!



As we continue to build community in our classrooms by modeling our own reading identity, another easy way to make our reading lives visible is with this great bulletin board/classroom door/out in the hallway idea. Check out these displays by Mrs. Muise at Ridgeview Middle School and Ms. Bourgaize at Fredericton High School:

You can photocopy the cover of your book, write it on a piece of paper, display the books, or use a whiteboard: the point is that the students see you as a reader. It’s a conversational starting point; it’s authentic, and it’s a great way to share your reading life with your students. Making your reading life visible will inevitably lead to discussions about books you loved, abandoned, struggled to finish, new authors you discovered, genres you tried for the first time – all the reader-to-reader conversations we want to be having with our students.



file2-2For the first six weeks of school, teachers are often focused on building a community of readers and writers in their classrooms – this is a great investment that pays off dividends for the rest of the year.

A word of caution, hold off on getting your students to do their own shelfies until everyone has read a few books. This prevents some students from being embarrassed by their lack of reading over the summer. Remember, we want to grow their reading identity, not stunt it!

Take a look at the shelfies below from two middle school teachers at Ridgeview Middle School and one of our literacy coaches:



Every year I look forward to the announcement of the CBC Short Story Prize. When the longlist was announced (shout out to New Brunswick for making the list), I reviewed the interviews with some of the nominees. I love how each entry is described in five-ish words and my “reading like a teacher of writing brain” started thinking about ways students could use this strategy:

  • Describe the books you are currently reading in five-ish words
  • Summarize this text in five-ish words
  • Work with a group to consolidate your five-ish word summaries into ten-ish word summary
  • Explain the piece of writing you are currently working on in five-ish words

The “ish” gives students a bit of flexibility but challenging students to grasp the meaning of a full-length text in about five words requires them to be precise and deliberate in their choices. Try inviting your students to use five-ish word summaries or descriptions.

Try This Tomorrow: A Brief History of…


Here in New Brunswick, we have achievement standards for writing that outline the qualities of a variety of writing forms. We’ve been working hard to find examples of places where these forms live in the world outside of school. Where do readers encounter these kinds of writing? What do they look like out in the wild beyond the school walls?

One of the writing forms found in the Grades 6-12 standards for writing in the explanatory essay. This type of writing tells how something came to be or how something works. “A Brief History of…”  writing, is a version of the explanatory report that gives students an opportunity to explore a topic of interest and incorporate research.

This Brief History of the Waffle Iron from Smithsonian Magazine is a fantastic example for students to check out as a mentor text for “A Brief History of…” writing.

Just because the explanatory report is listed as a form of writing doesn’t mean we have to limit our students’ writing to printed text. Students can create their “A Brief History of…” as a podcast such as the A Brief History of Timekeeping episode from The Secret History of the Future or a video like The Secret History of Dogs (TED-Ed).

“A Brief History of…” writing incorporates explanation, analysis, cause-and-effect, and storytelling. If you’re looking for a unique take on the explanatory report, invite your students to create one.