Margin Notes



When Taylor Swift announced her forthcoming album, The Tortured Poets Department, swifties around the world celebrated. At the same time, ELA teachers sent up a cheer because their mini-lesson for the next day had been written.

We all know that learning about grammar happens best in the context of authentic writing, and I loved every minute of following the social media debates over apostrophe usage. (Taylor, if you’re reading this, please incorporate a semicolon in your next album title.)

Literary Hub quickly posted the explainer, Is the phrase The Tortured Poets Department grammatically correct? This is a fantastic explanatory mentor text that can be used specifically as a model for students to write their own grammar explainer or more generally as an example of explaining something using an “if this, then this” structure.

Here are a few other options you might add to build an inquiry unit about explainers:

Quanta Magazine has an archive of Explainers that combine videos and articles to explain detailed scientific and mathematical concepts and phenomena. These can be shared as complete texts or you can pull out specific passages to demonstrate craft moves like word choice, use of context clues, and examples to support readers’ understanding of technical language.

Life Kit from NPR is a podcast that offers” how-to” advice from experts. Most episodes are shorter than 30 minutes and cover a wide range of topics, including 5 Simple Ways to Minimize Stress, How to Have a Healthy Relationship with Caffeine, and Popular Myths About Sleep Debunked. Life Kit episodes blend relatable examples and anecdotes with research presented in an accessible way and most of them conclude with a helpful recap.

Randall Munroe has created a playlist of short videos based on his books, What If? I and What If? II. The videos are under 5 minutes and combine words and images to answer such questions as “What if Earth suddenly stopped spinning?” and “What if NASCAR had no rules?”.



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