Margin Notes



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.



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. 



What I Am Reading

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat tells the harrowing tale of what happened to the Wild Boars soccer team in Mae Sai, Thailand in June 2018. It is “a unique account of the amazing Thai cave rescue told in a heart-racing, you-are-there style that blends suspense, science, and cultural insight.” (amazon)

This is how the first chapter opens:

opening paragraphs of a book

What Moves I Notice the Author Making:

  • The use of very short paragraphs
  • The use of onomatopoeia  (tap-tap, twee!, thump…)
  • A short title that captures the mood
  • The use of “the rule of three” – in this case, three sentences that start in a similar fashion.

Possibilities for Writers:

As a shared writing activity (or a quick write), invite students to emulate this author’s craft moves…

On the _______________________________ of ____________________, it sounds like a typical Saturday morning: 

The _________________of _________________________________________.

The _________________of _________________________________________. 

The _________________of _________________________________________. 

Here is a class’s shared writing version:

In the woods in the middle of nowhere, it sounds like a typical Saturday morning: 

The crunch of leaves under your feet. 

The crack of branches as you push your way through the underbrush. 

The sharp ring of the gunshot echoing through the woods. 

Try it out!

Try This Tomorrow: How Sure Are You? (Uncertain to Certain Line)


Research shows that students already know up to 40% of what we teach them.

Let’s sit with that fact for a minute…40%.

To me? That’s a lot of wasted time. A lot of time we don’t have to waste! 

So, it is really important that we take time figuring out a way to determine what our students already know, before we teach it to them anyway. 

In the book “Developing Assessment -Capable Visible Learners: Grades K-12” by Douglas Fisher,  Nancy Frey and John Hattie, they describe many wonderful activities to help us create assessment capable learners. One of my favourites is the “How Sure Are You?” strategy.  



Here is the strategy in a nutshell:

  1. You draw a line on the white board like this:

2. Then, depending on what you are introducing, you give the students a term, question, or statement to define or answer on a post-it note.

3. Then you ask “How Sure Are You?” and have students place their post-its on the line. Here are some grade 6 students answering the question “What is poetry?” and putting their post-it notes on the line.

This is what it looked like when they had placed their answers.

You can see they are all over the place! Some students were certain, some uncertain and some in the middle.

Important information gleaned from this 5 minute activity:

  • Most students said something to the effect of “poetry has to rhyme”.
  • The majority of the students were uncertain or thought their answer was probable.
  • Some of the students who were certain, really weren’t!

I gleaned all that just from reading their post-it notes quickly as students were transitioning to the reading corner.

Later that day, the LA teacher and I debriefed and decided to focus on poetry mentor texts the next day. I brought in a crate full of poetry books and we had the students read widely. They wrote down what they noticed about the poems. Then, we co-constructed a list as a class.

Here are some of their thoughts:

  • Can tell a story
  • Is descriptive
  • Can be emotional
  • Poetry has a form
  • Can be written in shapes
  • Does not need punctuation
  • Rhymes (or doesn’t)



Without doing this quick check-in activity, we wouldn’t have known what the students’ confusions and misunderstandings were about poetry.

Try it tomorrow!