Margin Notes

Creating Space and Time for Book Talk


While visiting literacy classrooms this year we have noticed that students have an intense desire to talk about their reading lives. As literacy teachers we understand the importance of knowing our students as readers and the importance of peer talk around reading, so we love that Megan Young-Jones intentionally builds this time to talk when planning her literacy classes.

MYJ3This week Megan hosted a Book Café for the readers in her classroom. Students brought their books and food (and even blankets!) to the student lounge and formed groups in which they could share their reading. Because this was their first round of talking about their reading in small groups, Megan set them up for success in the following ways:

  • Students were involved in the creation of an anchor chart on what good listening looks like.
  • Teachers from various subject areas were invited to the class to model authentic reader to reader conversations and how you can join a conversation about a book you haven’t read.
  • Pulling lessons on what they might choose to include in their small group conversations from Jennifer Serravallo’s Reading Strategies Book (titles, themes, plot, etc).
  • Providing prompts on cue cards that could be used if needed to facilitate the conversation because this was their first meeting in small groups.

MYJ1As the groups discussed their reading, Megan circulated and gathered assessment on reading and speaking and listening using two checklists she had made using the curriculum outcomes and Provincial Achievement Standards (Formative Assessment Tools are available – login at and then click here .). After reviewing these checklists, she made a list of students she didn’t have the chance to hear talk and plans on conferring with these readers during their next class. Additionally, Megan provided time for students to reflect and provide feedback on this experience in order to inform future reading talk.

The Social Side of Engaged Reading for Adolescents  by Gay Ivey reveals what happens when the space and time is intentionally created for students to talk about the books they are reading. Here are a few of the many points explored in this article:

  • “Because there is collective expertise around books and reading, students come to view each other as resources.”
  • “…(students) often recruited peers to read a book they want to continue thinking about, and students agreed to read the same book so they could talk about it.”
  • “Students even reported making new friends over books. What is more, they begin to see themselves collectively as ‘smarter’.”

Both research and practice are telling us that promoting talk among readers leads to further engagement which then leads to an increase in the volume of reading. It is this volume of reading that improves student achievement. So we urge you all to create the time and space for this to happen.





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. The following read-alikes for Refugee by Alan Gratz are a combination of titles written in verse and letter forms, graphic novels, pictures books, and biographies.


Refugee by Alan Gratz has been one of the most popular books in classrooms over the past few years. It is a historical (and present day) fiction novel that teaches us about what it was/is like to flee a country, seek refuge, and begin again. The novel tells three stories in three different time periods, all told through the eyes of three children. These children, Josef from Nazi Germany (1938), Isabel from Cuba (1994), and Mahmoud from Syria (2015) remind us to always, always have compassion and kindness for those around us, to not be ignorant, and to stand for what is right.

The Night Diary.jpgThe Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani tells Nisha’s story in India in 1947 when her country separated into India and Pakistan, creating division and violence between Hindus and Muslims as they fled their homes to cross the borders to safety. Nisha is half-Muslim and half-Hindu, leaving her feeling even more confused about where she belongs. When Nisha’s family decides to leave their home and become refugees, Nisha writes about her journey in letters to her mom, who died when she was born.


Other Words for Home.jpgOther Words for Home by Jasmine Warga follows Jude and her pregnant mother as they are forced to flee Syria and move to America, leaving her brother and father behind. As Jude adjusts to a new culture while also longing for her home, she realizes, “I am learning how to be sad and happy at the same time.” She is so wise and brave as she begins to find her way to feeling a sense of belonging while also feeling deep fear about her family’s safety back in Syria.


Inside Out and Back Again.jpgInside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai is a historical fiction novel in verse that tells 10-year-old Hà’s story as she, along with her mom and brothers, are forced to leave their home in Saigon in 1975 because of the Vietnam War. After traveling by ship and spending time in a refugee camp, her family moves to Alabama to establish a new home. Hà dreams of what her new home will be like, but when she is met with racism, bullying, and constant worry about her father, adjusting to life in America is more difficult than she had hoped.


Grenade.jpgGrenade by Alan Gratz is a historical fiction novel that takes place on the island of Okinawa during World War II. When the Americans arrive on Okinawa to fight the Japanese, a group of middle school boys, including Hideki Kaneshiro, are recruited and given two grenades: one to kill an American soldier and one to kill themselves. Ray is an American Marine whose first mission is on Okinawa. When Hideki and Ray meet in the middle of a battle, they have some difficult decisions to make.


Sea Prayer.jpgSea Prayer [by Khaled Hosseini] was inspired by the story of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian refugee who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach safety in Europe in 2015. In the year after Alan’s death, 4,176 others died or went missing attempting that same journey.” This picture book is a letter a father writes to his young son about their home before the war and during their journey to escape the terror that came. He writes of his memories, his fears, his hopes, his promises, his love.


White Bird.jpgWhite Bird by R.J. Palacio is a graphic novel about one young Jewish girl being separated from her parents and hidden away by another family during The Holocaust during WWII. This beautiful story reminds readers of the powerful and miraculous nature of kindness and courage.



Anne Frank.jpgAnne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation beautifully illustrates Anne Frank’s voice and spirit from her diary, which details her experiences and feelings while being hidden away in a secret annex in her father’s business building for two years during The Holocaust.




The Unwanted.jpg

The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees, a non-fiction graphic novel written and illustrated by Don Brown, details facts, timelines, and world politics while also telling of the horrors, the losses, the pain and the hope many Syrian refugees have experiences and continue to experience as they have fled a war zone and tried to find new homes.



Escape from Syria.jpgEscape from Syria by Samya Kullab, Jackie Roche, and Mike Freiheit is a graphic novel that humanizes the current events in Syria and the realities Syrian refugees are facing today in camps and during resettlement in their new homes. The story is told by Amina as her family is forced to flee Aleppo, seek refuge in Lebanon, and cross the ocean to find a new home in the West.


Let me tell you my story.jpgLet Me Tell You My Story: Refugee Stories of Hope, Courage, and Humanity is the compilation of photos and stories collected by a group of photographers, filmmakers, painters, and writers over the course of two years as they documented the flood of refugees coming from the Middle East and Africa to find a new home in the West. This collection is beautiful, haunting, and authentic.

#ASDWREADS October Winners!


Congratulations to Jane Burke, Megan Young-Jones, and Melissa Canam for winning #ASDWReads for the month of October! Your prizes will arrive soon! You can enter our November draw by posting your reading on Twitter or Instagram with the #asdwreads!

The Art of Noticing by Rob Walker


Since reading The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy in the Everyday by Rob Walker, I have found myself approaching my environment and regular routines differently. My trip to Costco last weekend became a The Art of Noticingwriting opportunity as I found myself taking Walker’s advice and mentally creating a “Field Guide to Cart Behaviors at Costco.”

Walker explains that “paying attention, making a habit of noticing, helps cultivate an original perspective, a distinct point of view.” But paying attention isn’t easy. To help us develop a habit of noticing, The Art of Noticing offers 131 “opportunities for joyous exploration in all it’s dimensions,” rated by degree of difficulty from “So Easy—Anybody can do this right now,” to “Advanced—Noticing has become an adventure.”

The exercises are grouped into five categories: Looking, Sensing, Going Places, Connecting with Others, and Being Alone. They are designed to “serve that spirit of curiosity and joy, whether it’s in the service of productive aims or leisure.” Many of the exercises have been inspired by the works of writers, artists, filmmakers, researchers, and Walker’s own students. For example, “Start a Collection” is based on a poetry collection by Rob Forbes, the founder or Design Within Reach, and “Take a Scent Walk” is modeled after smellwalks organized by urban planner and writer Victoria Henshaw. Links to many of the works referenced are available on At the end of the book, Walker invites readers to invent their own exercise in noticing and share it with him on his website.

This morning I challenged myself to try out “Find Something You Weren’t Looking For” as I walked a common route in the neighborhood where I have lived for almost twenty years. At a house I have passed almost daily on my walks, I noticed three small brass horse figurines perched in a window. Not only had I never noticed them, I spent the rest of my walk wondering about them. Were they a gift? Something purchased as a keepsake on a trip? Were they placed there so the owner or the public could better admire them, or both? That led me to pay more attention to other items decorating window ledges and soon enough I found two white ceramic cats looking out at me.

The Art of Noticing is a unique and fascinating book. Readers can dip into it for a few pages or read it cover-to-cover.  Many of the noticing exercises would work well with writer’s notebooks to encourage writers to be more curious about possibilities for writing in the world around them. If I can find writing inspiration at Costco, I can assure you that The Art of Noticing will help you engage with your surroundings on a more creative level.

Reading Conferences: Three Things I Know About You


I am working with a teacher in grade 8 on intentionally building a community of readers, writers, and thinkers, and now that we have shared our own reading identity numerous times with the students, we are ready to help them to know more about themselves as readers.

We were inspired once again by Anne Elliott and Mary Lynch’s book, Cultivating Readers, and tried out an idea they have on p.40 called, “Three Things Reading Conference”. We had administered a reading survey the second week of school and from this we gleaned three things we learned about each student, wrote it on a recipe card, and sat down to chat with them.

What we liked about starting with three things about them was that it lent validity to the reading survey (we actually used it for something rather than it just being a time filler or homework assignment), it was a gentle way to start our first conferences vs getting students to read from their book and ask them strategy/skill based questions, and the students felt connected to us through this simple act of caring and showing interest in them as readers.

We found the conversations full of helpful information to move the students to better recognize their own reading identity so they can become more adept at finding books they can enjoy. Plus, there were many assessment opportunities, especially in the area of reading strategies and behaviours.

Below are examples of the recipe cards with the initial information from the reading surveys (the bullets) and the anecdotal notes made after our first conversations:



Congratulations to Amy Bourgaize for winning #ASDWReads for the month of September!  Thank-you, Amy, for always sharing your reading with us on Instragram – your prize will arrive to you soon!

We are excited to see what everyone is reading as this cozy weather settles in. You can enter our October draw by posting your reading on Twitter or Instagram with the #asdwreads!



“If learning, particularly that which takes place in a classroom, floats on a sea of talk, what kind of talk? And, what kind of learning?” ~ Simpson and Mercer

Bigger IdeasIn Building Bigger Ideas Maria Nichols defines talk as purposeful when it honors constructive intent, harnesses the power of varied perspectives, and engages participants over expanded time and space. Purposeful talk thrives in a dialogic space, “the shared dynamic space of meaning that opens up between or among participants in a dialogue. It forms as we immerse fully with thoughts that compel us, wrestle with the tug of varied perspectives, and construct unexpected new ideas with others.”

According to Nichols, two critical conditions for cultivating dialogic spaces are supporting children as they engage with each other and supporting children as they engage with ideas. In this context, “learning communities put talk to work, and the work of talk creates social bonds that continually strengthen the community.”

We can teach purposeful talk by teaching about talk as our students make meaning through talk. Building Bigger Ideas offers a responsive three-step framework:

  • focus children on aspects of purposeful talk behaviors,
  • facilitate as children engage with ideas and each other, and
  • offer feedback that links purposeful talk behaviors to the process of constructing meaning.

Using this framework, we can teach students to hear all voices, grow ideas, and negotiate meaning. The goal is to establish an environment where students use talk with independence to collaborate and build community. Purposeful talk, in the words of IDEO’s David Kelley, helps “you get to a place you just can’t get to in one mind.”

Building Bigger Ideas may be targeted to Kindergarten to Grade 5, but it will support teachers of all grades and levels in establishing purposeful talk in the classroom. This resource is a terrific complement to professional resource libraries that include Teaching Talk by Kara Pranikoff and Choice Words by Peter Johnston.



When we heard about Kim Skilliter’s initiative The Humans of FHS, we asked her to please share with us (and you!) all of the details around this project. We are so happy she agreed! Here’s what she had to say:

I have always LOVED the Humans of New York site. I love how these stories work to soften the edges of a huge city, and to remind us that, at the core of society, no matter what is happening in the world, are people with incredible burdens, triumphs, challenges – and all it takes are a few questions to reveal what is below their facades. It is a reminder of how extraordinary we ordinary people are. As a teacher, I am an eternal optimist, and it does my heart good to know that, as Brandon Stanton describes in a TED Talk,, even the most intimidating people have been willing to share their stories with him. All he has ever had to do is ask.

In my never-ending – and, honestly, often unsuccessful – quest to find something that will appeal to my English 123 classes, I thought I would try to see how a Humans of FHS project would work. We explored the HONY site, learned a little bit about its history, and then I set the students loose in the halls for a few days. Admin loves when I do that! All jokes aside, they, and all the FHS staff, were incredibly supportive of this idea. Many of them are the subjects of the students’ profiles, and this is a testament to their kindness and approachability.

Once the work was complete, I printed the slides, and, with the enthusiastic support of the librarians, students displayed them on both floors of the library, facing out to the hallways. The response from the FHS community and our supporters was very positive. I still have a few tweaks to make; I was too hands-on with the proofreading of the slides, for example. I need to find more time to sit with students and to guide them toward, let’s say, more conventional English spelling and grammar, instead of just cleaning the slides up myself on the weekend. I need to encourage them to reach out to people they do not know. It is a work-in-progress, but it does work, and I got a huge validation of this one day from a normally very unimpressed student who, when asked how I can improve this experience for next year’s students, said “Well, the least you can do is put our names on the slides. I mean, we did the work!” She wanted everyone to see her name. She wanted to take ownership of her work. She was proud. For me, it does not get much better than that.


Kim is a teacher at Fredericton High School. She teaches 112, 122 and 123 English. She is always looking for new ideas, so she loves to read this blog!

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.




Congratulations to Lisa Stewart-Munn, Michelle Wuest, and Debbie Grillo for winning #ASDWReads for the summer! Thank you for sharing your reading, and we hope you enjoy your new books.
If you would like to enter the next draw, just snap a photo of a book you read in September, and post it on Twitter or Instagram under #ASDWReads. We look forward to seeing what books you are spending time with this fall!