Archive for November, 2009

Quick Tip Tuesday: Making wall charts work

The walls in Jeff Anderson’s classroom are covered in wall charts – organic, growing, changing charts that address what kids need to know to survive in the world of writing. In this week’s Quick Tip from Jeff’s book Mechanically Inclined: Building Grammar, Usage, and Style Into Writer’s Workshop, Jeff gives some practical pointers for making these wall charts work in all classrooms.

What makes a wall chart work? Content? Size? Placement? All these things and more. Over the years, I have experimented with many variables and have found what works best. To ensure an optimal experience with wall charts, I have honed a few guidelines:

Write big. Write in letters large enough to be read easily from anywhere in the classroom.
Include examples. Examples from literature and student writing put rules in a meaningful context and serve as models.
Use color. Highlight crucial information or draw attention to a particular place with bright colors or highlighters.
Use light backgrounds. As a general rule, use butcher paper or posters with light backgrounds. This creates enough contrast so that the words can be read.
Place carefully. It all depends on your room, but place similar rules together. I always have a comma corner and a consistent place for my editor’s checklist. If I am going to need to write on this poster, I consider: Can I reach it? Can they see it? Can I write on it?
Have students use sentence strips. Even though their motor skills have grown, I have found that kids do better when I hand them a sentence strip to use for adding materials to wall charts with more text. Students can stabilize the strip and write on a flat surface, using the unlined side. If they need more space, they can tape two sentence strips together.

Middle school students have trouble writing on the wall, and the sentence strip has the added benefit of containing students’ writing in a specified space. Using a sentence strip also allows more than one kid to write a contribution for a chart at the same time. Plus, it is easier to correct a sentence strip than a mistake on a huge chart.

If you can’t write in a way that others can read, find a student or colleague who can. You can always type up the rules and put them through a poster maker at Kinko’s or some other printing service. It’s a tax write-off! The following lists contain a few general teacher guidelines and student rules for using wall charts.

Working the Walls

1. At first you will need to remind students of the wall-chart rules.
2. You must move your body to the spot where the wall chart hangs.
3. Students should watch you write on the wall chart.
4. If you marked a chart in a previous class, it is important that you point to it and explain how you added to it today.
5. It’s best to have a specific reason to introduce or to add to a wall chart.
6. Students should add to wall charts to keep them growing.
7. Revisit the rules often. When you see an example in readings or in student writing, highlight it. Encourage students to do the same.
8. Over the year, use those odd moments at the end of class or while waiting for the assembly to start to review posted items in the classroom.

Student Rules for Wall Charts and Posters

• Use wall charts and posters while you write.
• Know that if it’s on the wall, it’s important.
• Know it’s not cheating to look at the wall charts; that’s why they’re there.
• Attempt to make the walls a part of your mind.

Wall charts and posters should go up not all at once, but one at a time over the first months of school and anytime you find a new need. These posters and wall charts should be revisited often while reading, while correcting sentences, while drafting, while editing. I continually highlight them by pointing at them, tapping on them, having students chorally read them, asking what effect the writer’s choices have. My job is to make using these mechanics like breathing for students: Exposure is the key.

My classroom walls are a gigantic scaffold, a place to hang and categorize new knowledge, to see connections, to form patterns. From Sentence Patterns to Capitalization Rules to a high-frequency word wall, my wall charts and posters help ensure that students have the scaffolding they need to become adept users of the English language. This multidimensional, visual strategy, anchored in brain-based learning, has revolutionized my grammar and mechanics teaching. Grounding students in visual print, marinating them in the context of examples, and highlighting what is important in the multitude of grammar and mechanics rules—these strategies have revolutionized my students’ learning as well.

2 comments November 24th, 2009

NCTE wrap-up

Here are some snapshots of our authors at NCTE this past weekend. If you have a photo with a Stenhouse author from the conference, send them to and we’ll post it on our blog!

The Stenhouse booth

The Stenhouse booth

Debbie Diller talking to a teacher

Debbie Diller talking to a teacher

Debbie Diller talking to Jeff Anderson (center) and Robin Turner

Debbie Diller talking to Jeff Anderson (center) and Robin Turner

Kelly Gallagher is signing is latest book, Readicide

Kelly Gallagher is signing is latest book, Readicide

The Sisters, Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, were on hand to sign their latest title, The Cafe Book

The Sisters, Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, were on hand to sign their latest title, The Cafe Book

From the left: Franki Sibberson, Karen Szymusiak, Debbie Miller, and Ann Marie Corgill

From the left: Franki Sibberson, Karen Szymusiak, Debbie Miller, and Ann Marie Corgill talk to teachers who stopped by the booth

Add comment November 23rd, 2009

Live from NCTE

Cris Tovani, right, and Mark Overmeyer are talking to Stenhouse sales rep Patti Sollenberger and Stenhouse employees Chandra Lowe and Rebecca Eaton today at the Stenhouse booth at NCTE.
Cris Tovani, right, and Mark Overmeyer are talking to Stenhouse sales rep Patti Sollenberger and Stenhouse employees Chandra Lowe and Rebecca Eaton today at the Stenhouse booth at NCTE.
Cris Tovani, left, with Lynne Dorfman and Rose Cappelli at the Stenhouse booth at NCTE.

Cris Tovani, left, with Lynne Dorfman and Rose Cappelli at the Stenhouse booth at NCTE.

Do you have a picture of a Stenhouse author or the Stenhouse booth? Send it to and we’ll post it on our blog! Stop by booth #608 and use the coupon from the NCTE program booklet to win dozens of Stenhouse books!

Add comment November 20th, 2009

See you in Philly!

Browse our latest books, meet our authors, and get your books signed during the annual NCTE conference in Philadelphia this week. Visit us at booth #608 Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, to see the latest in professional development and to win all of our spring and fall titles! Just find our ad in the NCTE program book, fill out the coupon and bring it to our booth. We are going to draw a winner for each day of the conference. That’s over a dozen books each day!

If you have your picture taken with any of our authors at the Stenhouse booth, send your pictures to by Tuesday, Nov. 24, and we’ll post it on our blog.

Author signing schedule

Friday, Nov. 20

12:30 p.m.

Patrick Allen, author of Conferring: The Keystone of Reader’s Workshop
Jennifer Allen, author of A Sense of Belonging
Aimee Buckner, author of Notebook Connections

3:00 p.m.

Cris Tovani, author of Do I Really Have to Teach Reading?
Mark Overmeyer, author of What Student Writing Teaches Us

4:30 p.m.

Debbie Miller, author of Teaching with Intention
Franki Sibberson, author of Beyond Leveled Books, Second Edition
Ann Marie Corgill, author of Of Primary Importance
Karen Szymusiak, author of Small Group Intervention (DVD)

Saturday, Nov. 21

10:00 a.m.

Mary Cowhey, author of Black Ants and Buddhists

11:15 a.m.

Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, “The Sisters,” authors of The CAFE Book


Debbie Diller, author of Think Small! (DVD)

2:30 p.m.

Stephanie Harvey, author of Strategies That Work, Second Edition
Georgia Heard and Jennifer McDonough, authors of A Place for Wonder

3:00 p.m.

Kathy Collins, author of Reading for Real

4:30 p.m.

Kelly Gallagher, author of Readicide
Jeff Anderson, author of Everyday Editing
Robin Turner, author of Greater Expectations

Sunday, Nov. 22

10:00 a.m.

Lynne Dorfman and Rose Cappelli, authors of Nonfiction Mentor Texts

To see even more of our authors in action, check out their presentations during the conference.

Add comment November 18th, 2009

Quick Tip Tuesday: Framing the Text

“As the teacher, what you do (or don’t do) before your students read a major literary work will determine their level of motivation and interest,” writes Kelly Gallagher in his book Deeper Reading: Comprehending Challenging Texts, 4-12. In this week’s Quick Tip, Kelly shares some of the framing strategies he uses before teaching George Orwell’s 1984. Poems and Internet searches, along with other strategies help students get the most out of a challenging text, even before they begin to read.

Before beginning major works, I often assign Web searches. Prior to a class’s reading George Orwell’s 1984, for example, I give my students this assignment: Next week we will begin reading George Orwell’s classic, 1984. One of the central characters in the novel is named Big Brother. When I search Google for the phrase “Big Brother,” over one million examples are found. Obviously, the phrase “Big Brother” has become a permanent part of our culture, and it might help us when we begin reading the novel if we understand what this phrase means and how it’s used. By next Friday, please complete the following “Search for Big Brother” assignment: Search the Internet for references to “Big Brother.” You might use or to assist your search. Find references to Big Brother in at least three different genres. You may choose from the following, or find other categories:

• Books (other than 1984)
• Newspapers
• Magazines
• Music
• Poetry
• Business
• Art or theater
• Television or film
• An organization or business
• Speeches
• Essays
• Humor (jokes, cartoons)
• Letters to the editor
• Editorials
• Political cartoons

Try to find examples from different genres that seem to be addressing the idea of “Big Brother” in the same manner, theme, or idea. Try to find examples that your classmates will not find. Print these examples and include a paragraph of your own, explaining what you think the phrase “Big Brother” means. Explain how you think this meaning cuts across the different genres you have selected. Bring the examples and your explanation to class Friday. Be prepared to discuss and share in groups.

On the due date, students get together in groups and share their Big Brother examples and their ideas on what the phrase might mean. After each small group has had time to share, a person from each group is randomly chosen to share a “big idea” with the entire class, and I write their ideas on the overhead for the whole class to see. I also take the students’ Big Brother examples and turn them into a collage on the bulletin board.

This activity is an effective warm-up to the reading of 1984 because the discussion that ensues from the Web search is student-generated and always rich. It allows many of the book’s themes—oppression, totalitarianism, invasion of privacy—to surface and be discussed prior to the students’ reading the novel. This strategy could be adapted to fit any book that might be unfamiliar to readers. For example, students beginning Wiesel’s Night might search “genocide”; students preparing for Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter might search “witch trials.”

Anticipation Guides

Anticipation guides, developed by J. E. Readence, T. W. Bean, and R. S. Baldwin (1985), can be used to frame the major ideas and themes that students will find in the book they are about to begin. These guides help them understand that as long as books have been written, literature has expressed universal truths about the human condition. In reading Romeo and Juliet, for example, students will discover that many of the issues in this four-hundred-year-old play are still relevant to them today. Before having them open to Act I of Romeo and Juliet, I often ask students to consider the issues they are about to encounter in their reading.

I express these issues in provocative statements and ask students to what degree they agree or disagree with them. Figure 3.1 presents an anticipation guide for Romeo and Juliet, the left-hand side of which students complete before reading the play.

After recording their opinions on the various statements, students use the items on the anticipation guide as starting points for discussion (and often writing and debate). These discussions get them thinking about the big ideas they will soon discover in the play. Upon completing the reading, the students revisit the anticipation guide and complete the right hand side. Sometimes reading the work solidifies beliefs they already had, but often they find that significant shifts in their thinking have occurred as a result of their reading the work. Students complete the unit by choosing one statement from the anticipation guide that speaks especially to them—a “hot spot,” one might say—and use this statement as the basis of an essay.

Theme Spotlights

While anticipation guides prompt students to think about many of the ideas they will encounter in a text, the theme spotlight assignment focuses students’ attention to one major theme to be studied. Figure 3.2 is an example of a theme spotlight for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, though this strategy can be easily adapted to any major work. By inspiring rich discussion and passionate writing, theme spotlights help prepare students to consider the big ideas in the work they will read. They may also suggest further activities. For example, students who complete the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde theme spotlight might then chart the degrees of evil found in the book.

Focus Poems

One way to prepare students for a major literary work is to let them read thematically related poetry beforehand. From these poems, students are asked to make inferences about the major work they are about to read.

For example, in preparing to teach All Quiet on the Western Front, it may become readily apparent that students know very little about World War I. This lack of knowledge can make it difficult for them to get into the novel. To help bridge this knowledge gap before they begin to read, students are given packets of poetry written during or about the war. They are asked to read all the poems more than once and to begin generating a list of things they can infer about World War I simply from reading the poetry. In Figure 3.3, for example, students were able to gain insight about World War I from reading Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est.” In addition to “Dulce et Decorum Est,” other Owen poems that are excellent to help students understand World War I include:

“Greater Love”
“Apologia Pro Poemate Meo”
The World War I poems of Siegfried Sassoon and Isaac Rosenberg are also excellent. Among my favorites of Siegfried Sassoon’s poems are:

“The Rear Guard”
“The General”
“Glory of Women”
“Everyone Sang”
“One Passing the New Menin Gate”
Isaac Rosenberg’s poems include:
“Returning,We Hear the Larks”
“Break of Day in the Trenches”
“December 30th”
“Louse Hunting”
“Dead Man’s Dump”

These poems and others can be found by simply searching “World War I poetry” on Google or any other search engine.

Add comment November 17th, 2009

Poetry Friday: Inspired by Song of Myself

Kimberly Hill Campbell’s recent book Less Is More: Teaching Literature with Short Texts Grades 6-12, shows how short texts engage a wide range of middle and high school students. She shares her discovery of the power of short texts to support her students’ skills as readers, writers, and students of literature.

In the section on poetry, Kimberly shares her classroom strategies for helping students discover that poetry is something to be read and enjoyed in and out of school.

This week’s poem comes from one of her students, Trish, who used Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself as inspiration for her own poetry:

Song of Myself
(Inspired by Walt Whitman)

I run and become one with my soul
I run and kisk at my ease
Observing your every move.

My moves, every structure
Of my skills, form’d from
this turf, this atmosphere…

I, now, 16 years of age begin,
Hoping to play until I can
No more.

Add comment November 13th, 2009

Preview online: Small Group Intervention DVD

For struggling readers, success depends on self-regulation and the ability to transfer knowledge to new situations. In their new DVD/CD professional development program, Small Group Intervention, Linda Dorn and Carla Soffos model the components of an effective word study intervention that gives students opportunities to transfer word-solving strategies to reading and writing texts.

The DVD contains eleven short video episodes and the accompanying CD integrates these same episodes into a PowerPoint presentation that will be welcomed by staff developers. Background, instructional principles, and discussion prompts guide teachers through three intervention components: a word study lesson, reading a new book, and writing about the book. The program models explicit instruction that helps students acquire new knowledge, and shows how to use five levels of prompting for problem-solving strategies as students read connected texts.

Dorn and Soffos emphasize the importance of instructional language and scaffolding according to each student’s needs. Teachers can study the video episodes and implement the intervention as part of their school’s Response to Intervention (RTI) process. In addition to the PowerPoint, the CD also contains a viewing guide and handouts.

Small Group Intervention is available now. View a sample video clip, download the free viewing guide, and get more details on the Stenhouse website!

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Add comment November 12th, 2009

Quick Tip Tuesday: Drawing strategies in primary writing classrooms

“Many primary teachers understand the important link between drawing and writing,” writes Liz Hale in her book, Crafting Writers, K-6. Drawing is a preparation for writing and instruction of drawing should be taken just as seriously in the primary grades as instruction around writing skills.

In this week’s Quick Tip, Liz takes a look at the skills that make up “good” drawing and eventually, good writing.

Drawing Strategies

It is sometimes useful to teach general drawing strategies before getting into a lot of specific ways to draw. Many of the craft techniques in Table 6.1 reflect more detailed drawing, and some drawings are not as conducive as others to adding smaller details. I’ve seen many primary drawings that have four main ingredients: a house, one big flower, grass, and a sun. Sometimes the sun is in the corner and sometimes it’s in the middle of the picture. There are variations of this (sometimes there’s a bird too), but the important point is that these drawings indicate that students think they always have to show “the whole scene” in a drawing. But when the whole scene is shown, then there is less room for details. This is somewhat similar to upper elementary students telling the “whole story.” They are so busy explaining everything that happened that there is very little time to mention any details.

One day this past year, I was planning to model a lesson on drawing small objects in a first-grade classroom, something the teacher and I had discussed in a previous inquiry meeting. But when I went around the classroom that morning to see the most current entries, I saw all these house-sun-flower pictures. I visualized the lesson in my head and suddenly it didn’t seem to fit with what these first graders were doing. How could I ask them to add in details when there wasn’t really any room on the page to squeeze in anything? I decided to transfer the zoom-in technique that students were doing with writing in the elementary grades to drawing. During the lesson, I modeled my own “zoomin” drawings. First I showed them a drawing of my sister and me at the beach. There was an ocean, a few small stick figures, a huge sky, and a sun in the corner.

I then showed them my zoom-in picture, which depicted the same beach but without a lot of white space. I had zoomed in on just the red buckets and our hands making a sand castle. I pointed out that because I didn’t try to draw the whole scene, I could draw the sand castle and the shells, even the buckets with their white, plastic braided handle, with much more detail.

Zooming in, whether in drawing or writing, works best after an original version has been created that attempts to tell the whole story or show the whole scene. After students get the whole story or the whole picture on paper, it’s easier to then choose and zoom in on one part. This is true even when adults write. One of the first personal narrative entries I wrote in graduate school was about the day my twin sister burned her knee at the beach when we were eight years old. I first wrote an entry that started with arriving at the beach for dinner and ended with rushing to the car to get ice and bandages after she burned her knee. It wasn’t until I went back and wrote about isolated events—feeding bread to seagulls, the moment my sister actually burned her knee—that I was able to write with much more detail and dig underneath to the significance of this memory. Even now when I write about a memory, it is almost as if I have to get the whole story down before I can figure out which parts might have more significance. Any time I write, of course, I might naturally zoom in on certain parts, which is what we want students eventually to do. Zooming in, whether it’s with writing or drawing, ideally is not left only for official revision times. In the beginning, however, it’s important to validate that there has to be some scaffolding before this happens naturally.

Another craft strategy to consider in the primary grades, particularly second grade, is to have students draw pictures in the margin of their notebook entries, rather than complete scenes. This idea came from conversations with several second-grade teachers at the Tobin School in Boston who felt that many of their students were ready to spend writing workshop just writing rather than writing and drawing. They wanted students to build up the writing stamina they would need in third grade, but they also knew how important drawing was for writing. They also weren’t sure it would be wise to make a cold-turkey switch in the middle of the year from drawing to no drawing.

So, rather than decide between “all or nothing,” we showed students how to draw smaller pictures in the margin. Students could still draw pictures and details to support their writing, but there wouldn’t be a lot of time taken up with drawing the whole scene. Figure 6.5 is an example of this technique.

Rosa Verdu, a teacher of a combined class of first- and second-grade English language learners, found the margin drawing technique particularly helpful because of the large range of abilities in her classroom. Her first graders continued drawing larger pictures while she taught the new drawing strategy in several group conferences to her second graders. The students loved it! So did we. Students were writing more, but we had not asked them to let go of drawing either. Drawing in the margin also allowed students to highlight objects and people at different parts of their memoir stories. They did not have to choose just one moment from their stories to capture in their drawings. Because there was no scale in terms of size, it was easy for them to draw objects with more detail. These small drawings in the margins also gave a colorful, inviting tone to the writing and the notebook in general. I’ve since thought about teaching this to some of the older grades as well. If I were a fourth or fifth grader, I would feel even more attached to my writer’s notebook if there were a few colorful pictures in the margins reflecting the content of my stories and memories.

1 comment November 10th, 2009

Stenhouse at NMSA

It was a lively scene at the Stenhouse booth during the NMSA conference in Indianapolis last week. If you had a chance to attend, you hopefully caught a glimpse of Rick Wormeli at our booth, along with his new book, Metaphors & Analogies. Herb Broda was also there, signing his book Schoolyard-Enhanced Learning, along with his son, who contributed a chapter to Herb’s upcoming book. (Watch the Stenhouse website for more information on this!) Two of “The Teamers” were also there – Monique Wild and Amanda Mayeaux, along with Kathryn Edmonds, are the authors of TeamWork.

We will have a booth at NCTE next week in Philadelphia – watch the blog for speaker and signing schedule!

Herb Broda, author of Schoolyard-Enhanced Learning, with his son, Matt.

Herb Broda, author of Schoolyard-Enhanced Learning, with his son, Matt.

Rick Wormeli signing his new book, Metaphors & Analogies

Rick Wormeli signing his new book, Metaphors & Analogies

Monique Wild and Amanda Mayeaux, authors of TeamWork

Monique Wild and Amanda Mayeaux, authors of TeamWork

Add comment November 9th, 2009

Poetry Friday: Student poem inspired by e.e.cummings

“Using poetry is a quick and manageable way to invite children to look at a writer’s craft,” writes Aimee Buckner in her book, Notebook Know-How: Strategies for the Writer’s Notebook. In an activity called “Poetry Pass,” students look at several poems and pick one to copy in their notebooks and use for reflection. They then try to emulate the style in their own poetry or prose. This week’s poem comes from one of Aimee’s student, Marissa, who was inspired by “&sun&” by e.e.cummings.



Add comment November 6th, 2009

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