Margin Notes



What I Was Reading:

I was excited to discover that essayist and poet Hanif Abdurraqib has a new column with the Paris Review called Notes on Hoops where he reflects on “the golden age of basketball movies.” Abdurraqib’s writing is always a poetic combination of personal reflection, commentary, insight, and analysis. In On One-On-One he writes about the 2000 movie Love & Basketball. He opens by addressing the reader directly:

Before any of this unfolds, I must first be honest. Before I can talk romantically about the way a basketball hoop, ornamented by a clean net, glows even as a starless nighttime empties its dark pockets over a cracked court. Before I can talk about the way when a well-worn ball begins to lose its grip it spins wildly in your palm, but is still the ball you have known and therefore you must care for, as you would an elder who whispers the secrets of past and future worlds into your ear. Before that, it must be said that you, reading this now, from whatever cavern you are riding out this ongoing symphony of storms, could beat me in a game of one-on-one if the opportunity arose.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

  • Abdurraqib gets my attention right away. When he says, “Before any of this unfolds…” I know there is something he needs to say before he gets into his reflection on Love & Basketball, and now I’m curious.
  • By making it known that anyone reading his column could beat him in a game of one-on-one, he is being clear that, although he loves basketball, one-on-one is not his strength. Later in this paragraph Abdurraqib goes on to admit, “It is not my game and never has been, though it isn’t for lack of trying.” He wants us to know from the very beginning the experience he brings to the discussion.
  • The repetition of “Before” at the beginning of the first four sentences creates a cohesion between them—each one progresses to the next, culminating with what it is that must be said: that one-on-one isn’t his game.
  • On the way to the fourth sentence, he uses “Before I can talk about…” to give some clues about what he is eventually going to discuss. These two sentences are filled with such beautiful imagery, they can only have been written for someone who loves the game and has played it enough to develop an intimate knowledge.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Read this text as a writer to notice and name other interesting craft moves and discuss how they impact you as a reader.
  • Use the same structure as a model for your own writing:

Before any of this __________

Before I can talk about __________

Before I can talk about __________

Before that, it must be said __________

  • Experiment with the technique of addressing the audience directly in your introduction.
  • Try out a similar form of repetition for effect.

Here’s my version:

Before any of this unfolds, I must first be honest. Before I can talk romantically about the way a cat, snuggled into a lap, purrs musically as the peaceful hush of evening takes over a busy household. Before I can talk about the way when the gentle pawing begins, even though it is an hour before your alarm is set to go off, you must still rise and fill the dishes before the meowing begins and wakes everyone. Before that, it must be said that I was once a dog person.



Leah Johnson’s You Should See Me in a Crown is a trendy, quirky, endearing, and new, but also familiar, kind of story. After growing up feeling as though she never really “fit in”, losing her mom to a disease that now plagues her brother, and holding onto past hurts of abandonment, Liz Lighty is finally in her senior year of high school. With her sights set on being accepted to Pennington College to play in their orchestra and to study to become a doctor, Liz is ready to move out of her town and on with her life. This has been her plan for a very long time, and there is no backup plan.

When Liz is does not receive the scholarship she was counting on to pave the way to her future, she feels lost and confused. Refusing to give up on her dream, she decides to step out of her comfort zone and run for prom queen. If she wins, she will be awarded a scholarship that will secure her future plans once again. With a strong support team cheering her on, her determination to pursue her dreams, and a new love interest with the new girl who just moved into town, Liz’s life is about to get a whole lot more interesting, especially since she prefers to live in the shadows, unseen. Not only will running for prom queen force her to be in the school’s spotlight, both in person and online, but she will also need to find the confidence to face her fears, to live boldly, and to be open to love.

You Should See Me in a Crown reminds me of familiar storylines in many teenage television drama series, movies, or YA novels, such as Gossip Girl, The Fosters, Love, Simon, or even Dawson’s Creek (for those of us who are a little older!). Filled with friendship, struggle, and romance, this is sure to be a new popular title in your classrooms.

Katie Prescott is a teacher at FHS who loves reading, creating, and spending time with her family.





What I Was Reading: 

When poet Maggie Smith’s marriage ended after nearly 19 years, she found herself struggling to write poetry. In her words: 

When I write a poem, I don’t begin with an idea and then seek the language for it; I begin with the language and follow it where it leads me. But now I had ideas to work through, stories to tell, and I knew I would need a different kind of writing, a different container for my thoughts. (p. 3) 

She started writing a daily “note to self” and posting it on Twitter. Keep Moving is a combination of these affirmations and short, reflective personal stories. It is filled with hope, inspiration, and encouragement. 

Many of the entries are tweet-sized poems and, as I read, I couldn’t help but admire Smith’s use of punctuation, especially her use of colons. Here are 3 examples: 

  1. Instead of struggling at every roadblock, make a new way entirely. Keep and open mind: even the destination may change. (p. 50) 
  1. Think of the moon, how solitary it looks, and know that’s just a trick of perspective: the moon is not alone and neither are you. Remember how vast and star-filled your universe is, and how it continues to expand. Shine on. (p. 91) 
  1. Let go of the narratives you’ve dragged around for years: you are not who you were as a child, or in year X or on day Y—at least, not only. You do not have to fit yourself into those old, cramped stories. Be yourself, here and now. (p. 148) 

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making: 

  • Instead of using the colon to introduce a list, I like how Smith uses the colon to introduce an additional complete sentence. Unlike the semi-colon used as a connector between two closely related sentences, these colons signal that what follows is directly linked to the first sentence.  
  • In each case, the sentence following the colon builds on what preceded it, by adding further explanation and detail or by completing the thought. 

Possibilities for Writers: 

  • Read these sentences as a writer to notice other interesting craft moves and discuss how they impact you as a reader. 
  • Reflect on the similarities and differences between the three examples. 
  • Use one of the sentences as a model and write an example of your own. 
  • Revise a sentence in your writer’s notebook or work-in-progress by using this move to link two shorter sentences. 
  • Look for similar examples of this and other unique punctuation choices in your reading. 

Here’s my example: 

Instead of setting out to write a masterpiece, start by getting your ideas down on the page. Write with an open heart: the act of writing will lead you to what you want to say. 




Kenneth Koch was a professor of English at Columbia University and a celebrated poet. He is the author of numerous books of poetry and other published writings. His book, Wishes, Lies and Dreams: Teaching Children to Write Poetry, was originally published in 1970. This book, which is co-authored by the students of P.S. 61 in New York City, documents his journey teaching students to write poetry.

I really enjoyed reading this book and, despite the fact that this book is 51 years old, it is charming and sweet. It would be a great mentor text to use with students. There are so many poems in this book!

His ideas for teaching students poetry certainly hold up in the present day. In fact, Anne Elliot and Mary Lynch, authors of Cultivating Readers, use his “I used to…Now I…” formula for an activity on p. 117 of their book.

Wishes, Lies and Dreams is full of great, quick lessons that would be easy to replicate in today’s classroom. I would recommend this book if you are a teacher who is always looking for new ways to incorporate poetry. I can guarantee that you’ll be inspired!

Find out more about the book here.




Afraid Of The Dark by DartMouth, NS author Guyleigh Johnson tells the story of sixteen year old Kahula through short fiction and poetry. In her author’s notes, Johnson shares, “I created Kahula for the students whom I’ve supported in recent years that wanted material they could relate to, something they could understand and feel. I created Kahula for the little black girls who feel rejected and need reassurance that they are worthy and every bit of special.”

At a time when many teachers are considering the importance of representation in the classroom, this is a title I urge you to consider reading and sharing with students.

You can learn more about poet Guyleigh Johnson here:




Did you know that Kwame Alexander, best known for his young adult fiction titles written in verse, such as Solo, Swing, The Crossover and Booked also writes picture books? Some of his works include The Undefeated, Animal Ark and Out of Wonder. I would like to recommend you take a moment of time to consider another of his titles, How to Read a Book illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Image from Alexander, K. (2019). How to Read A Book. HarperCollins Publishers.


In this text, Alexander writes a poem rich in imagery, vocabulary, and onomatopoeia that espouses the pleasures and sheer delights found in reading a book.  My favorite passage is:

Alexander, K. (2019). How to Read A Book. HarperCollins Publishers.


Powerful as Alexander’s words are, so too are Sweet’s illustrations.  A combination of watercolors, mixed media, handmade and vintage papers and found items blend to provide powerful representations that echo the author’s words.

Alexander will draw the reader in from the first page and leave the reader reflecting on their own reading experiences with his parting words…


Learn more about Kwame Alexander and Melissa Sweet.



 Every Sunday, Rattle posts a new poem to their Poets Respond collection. Each poem has been written in response to a public event that has occurred during the week. Most of the posts also include a recording of the poem being read aloud by the poet. The archives include weekly poems dating back to 2014. 

I can think of a number of ways to share these poems with students: 

  • as quickwrites and mentor texts, 
  • in text sets related to current events, 
  • as models for students to use when they write their own Poets Respond poems, 
  • as an opportunity to submit their work for consideration. 

If you incorporate Poets Respond, let us know how it goes with a message in the comments. 



If you have been looking for a mentor text for how to ask for and give feedback or for what discussing poetry can sound like, look no further than Rattle’s live video workshop, Critique of the Week. In each episode, a Rattle editor does a live critique of 1-2 poems drawn from the week’s submissions, thinking aloud and annotating while incorporating viewer feedback from the chat box into their reflection. In some cases, the submitting poet has requested feedback on a specific aspect of their writing. 

The archives of Critique of the Week can be accessed on Rattle’s YouTube Channel. 

Here are some ideas for using Critique of the Week into your writing workshop: 

  • Share clips as models for discussing the content, form, and craft of poetry. 
  • Incorporate excerpts into mini-lessons on such topics as: making our thinking visible to others, expanding on thinking with evidence from a text, annotations, and “what we talk about when we talk about poetry.” 
  • Invite students to reflect on whether they agree or disagree with the critique and why. This would be a terrific way to reinforce the concept that there is no single “correct” interpretation of a text. 
  • Ask students to respond to the questions: How can these ideas enhance my understanding of poetry/writing poetry/writing in general? How do these ideas make me a better reader? How do they make me a better writer? 
  • Name and discuss some of the thinking moves you notice the host using in their critique. 

If you’ve used Critique of the Week in your classroom, we’d love to hear about it in the comments! 



This book combines two of my favourite things: poetry and quotes!

By using a wide range of poetic forms and addressing various topics such as: diversity, tenacity, hope, kindness, gratitude, and love, (and many more) the authors describe the world they want to see, by going through the alphabet.

Mixed in with each poem, there is also a quotation related to the word, an anecdote from one of the authors about a personal experience they have had, and a “Try It!” prompt for readers to take action.

And the artwork, by Mehrdokht Amini, is beautiful.

This book offers so much opportunity for discussion, writing, and personal growth. It could lead to change within in the reader and within the world; it could lead to a better world.



We’re celebrating Poetry Month by sharing poetry ideas for April and all year long. Here are a few favorite sources of inspiration for High School classrooms:

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Let us know what your go-to poetry resources are by dropping them into the comments below.