Deliberate Writing Practice

pen writing notes studying
Photo by Tookapic on

With the month of May devoted to writing daily short stories, I am also reflecting on my process daily trying to hone the practice. I always write with the purpose of becoming a better writer. I try to learn from the reading that I do and from the writing gurus I listen to. Most of this practice is one-sided as most of my writing resources are not real-life connections. I do have the benefit of Twitter and some writers group meetings this month which I am eternally grateful for.

I usually use feedback or an exercise in mind when I am writing. I have the advantage of podcasts at my fingertips, interaction with writers on Twitter, and special May video prompts and directions for writing.

My free writing exercises are never just pointless rambling anymore. I take the writing time seriously and the practice has become much more to me than just getting words on the page. I want the word count but also desire the content on the page to be worth reading. It is not always usable at that moment but can be saved away for another day, another story.

At this point in the month, I feel like my creative well is drying up slightly. I am still writing but it takes me longer and longer throughout the day. I also am aware that the craziness of the end of the school year looms in the shadows as well. There are some other frustrations in my life in regards to transitions that are wearing on me which is draining. Waiting for answers is never a fun place to be in, but one I find myself in often.

I am looking forward to summer when I can focus on some books that will lead me through some writing exercises so I can become a better writer for me, my audience, and my students.

Happy writing and reading everyone!




10 Questions On Tuesday #SOL18

  1. Have you read Click Clack Rattle Bag by Neil Gaiman? Today I offered this story to an 8th grade reading class and was so excited about it more than half the students picked it for their independent reading.
  2. Have you ever asked someone “Have you ever cried in public?” Throw someone off – do it.
  3. Have you ever asked “What do you usually get from the ice cream truck?” This question got quite a laugh from my friend! Her answer was the strawberry shortcake.
  4. What is my next right thing? This is the question I am pondering myself.
  5. Have you seen the new extreme Post – it notes? They are my new toy. I am sticking them to everything.
  6. Have you written a short story today? This month? I have written a short story every day the month of May for STORYADAY by Julie Duffy.
  7.  Are you ready for summer?
  8. What are you reading? I am still finishing Tangerine. I started Let Your Mind Run A memoir of Thinking my Way to Victory by Deena Kastor.
  9. What have you learned this winter?
  10. What is your favorite part of today? I had a great morning!



7 Writing Ideas #SOL18

Twitter Chat Blog Header 5I am the guest blogger at TeachWrite today! Check it out here!

sols_6Most of these ideas I use with picture books, but short stories and longer text can work!

  1. Quickwrite: For a predetermined set of time (use a timer) use what the book reminds you of in your own life. The rule is to continue writing NO MATTER WHAT!
  2. Stop reading in the middle of the book and have students write their ending. Finish the book the next day and do a compare and contrast!
  3. Use the title to write your own story.
  4. Write a letter to the author.
  5. Tweet to the author.
  6. Create an anchor chart “Phrases We Wish We Had Written”
  7. Use great vocabulary for a reading inspired word wall – Favorite names for these I have seen over the years:
    1. Dynamic Words
    2. Vivid Vocabulary
    3. Purple Words
    4. Fancy Nancy Words

When you are stuck with your own writing these ideas work for the adults too!

Happy writing!!

Favorite Writing Advice

pexels-photo-891674.jpegMy writing group met twice this week over Zoom. I have participated in several group meetings now with this App. As long as everyone’s sound works,  it is quite effective for getting together with people, especially for introverts. I don’t have to leave the house.

The question of writing advice was part of the homework for the second meeting. My piece of go-to writing advice is you cannot edit a blank page. I tell this to my students all the time. Reading is also important especially the genre or type of writing you are trying to create.  This quote is one I have heard from many authors but if you Google it, Jodi Picoult gets the credit.

Another piece of advice is from one of our favorite writers, Ray Bradbury:

“Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me. After the explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces together.”

― Ray BradburyZen in the Art of Writing


This advice was another brought up.

Another favorite quote and piece of advice is:

“Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.”

― Ray Bradbury

I continue to write everyday. Knowing I am writing a short story everyday has me constantly thinking about ideas for stories. It is a great creative place to be in!


I will use these quotes as springboards for writing in my journal to explore it a bit more.

My New #1 Quick Dinner

Have you been to the Food Charlatan website? Oh my goodness! If you love great food and easy to follow recipes with great photos then you need to click here.

I have made several of her recipes,  but last night I tried the Pesto Penne Pasta with Chicken. It was simple to make with great taste! The picture below is the Food Charlatan’s from her blog post with the recipe.


penne pesto

A new technique I learned was to boil the pasta for 5 minutes and then add the frozen green beans to cook with the pasta for the last 4 minutes or so. It turned out perfectly.

The seasoning combo for the chicken I was a little leery of but it is delicious. It is served warm. It is all on the stove top too so it is great for a warmer day. I did use chicken thighs instead of chicken breasts. It is just the preferred cut in my household.

Next time I think I will add mushrooms for sure. I also thought about asparagus and peas.

I have leftovers for lunch and am looking forward to eating it again!

I am wanting to cook some more over the summer break when I have a little more time. I have several recipes from the site in the queue to try next!

Happy cooking!

9 Read Aloud Guidelines for Parents and Teachers


  1. The story needs to be read at different speeds depending on the content. Sometimes a book needs to be read slowly or very fast! Pay attention to the punctuation and word placement on the page especially for picture books.
  2. If you are reading to a class it is usually a good practice to read the book to yourself first. Don’t just grab one off the shelf.
  3. A cold read can be valuable to have some teachable moments when you encounter unknown words, misread sentences and then teach the students how to deal with it.
  4. Children are never too old, or to young, to read aloud to.
  5. You can always come back to a book. There are many reasons to read. The brain loves pattern and many children enjoy hearing the same story over and over and over…even though we don’t always like to read that many times!
  6. Find spaces to read where you are less likely to be distracted.
  7. Having a set read aloud time establishes a pattern.
  8. Books can go with you anywhere – especially if you are reading to your children you can read in the car while waiting, or in line.
  9. Choice is important! Let your child, or the class, choose what to read. Modeling the choice will help when you want them to choose books to read independently.

Bring on the Book Flood! #SOL18


As a reading teacher, I always talk about how classroom teachers need to have quality books in their rooms available to put into little one’s heads and hands.

The book flood is a concept in which so many books are brought into space that there are more than enough for students to find a book that speaks to them. You will hear many professional authors talk about this concept: Richard Allington, Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, Donalyn Miller. Just like a swimmer needs a pool to learn how to swim, readers need books to learn to read.

There are several options to make a book flood happen in your classroom.

1.Personal debt – not the best option but Amazon and the local bookstore will love you.

2. Garage sales

3. Thrift shops

4. Library – for check out and for book sales

5. Grants

I wrote a small grant a couple years ago to purchase a class set of books that were based on children’s author Lester Laminack’s favorite books. He had shared a list of his favorite books (at the moment) at a Professional educational partnership event at Valparaiso University in 2010. The books were purchased to demonstrate the link between reading and writing, mentor texts, and great read-aloud stories to be enjoyed.

The ten books were

The Barn Owls and The Harmonica by Tony Johnston

Image result for the barn owls bookImage result for the harmonica book

The Other Side and Our Gracie Aunt by Jacqueline Woodson

Image result for the other side bookImage result for our gracie aunt book

Koala Lou and Wilfred Gordan MacDonald Partridge by Mem Fox

Image result for koala lou bookImage result for wilfrid gordon mcdonald partridge book

What You Know First and All the Places to Love by Patricia MacLaughlin

Image result for what you know first bookImage result for all the places to lover book

In November and Scarecrow  by Cynthia Rylant

Image result for in november bookImage result for scarecrow book

After the books arrived we held a professional development session for some specific ideas of how to use this book set. All the activities could be used with any of the books in the collection.

  1. Author studies for the 5 authors
  2. General word study activities
  3. General read aloud guidelines
  4. Writing activities
  5. Suggested questions
  6. Some specific activities that went with each book

It was a great experience and I had hoped to continue the process with other authors.

The books were loved and read over and over again!

Joy and Candle Dipping


My school hosts several field day events in May for the school corporation’s elementary schools. The major objective for these days is for our 7th and 8th graders to be the leaders of the stations and for the visiting students to gain some knowledge about colonial life.

Friday was our first “Living history” day of the year, which is primarily for a fourth-grade target audience. This year, I was assigned the candle dipping station.

To prepare the student leaders to be the teachers of the stations they participate three 1 hour sessions of training. The students are surveyed for their preferences of station to lead. The responsibility is to learn facts about the activity, the history, and also learn a script. There is a play on modern and colonial time periods among the student leaders. Traditional dress from the “olden time” actors is also worn to continue with the theme

In my station, 5 students do a little informational talk through the scripted skit and then lead the fourth graders kids through a structured activity where they dip their own candles. The wax is melted over an open fire that the adults manage but the students really run the station. The students supervise the dipping and hold the metal pots with the melted wax with safety gloves. They answer questions and talk with the fourth graders as they make their circle to dip their candle as many times as they can. I am there just there in case there is an issue, with the station or with a visiting elementary student that the school chaperone cannot handle.

The 8th grade students worked together well the first session. By the 8th rotation they had their system down to a science. I was proud they problem solved and took the initiative the make the station their own. They were particularly careful and observant of the fire.

The visiting students were enthusiastic and they all participated with zest. The leaders were excited so therefore the participants were excited. One teacher with their group said to me “Apparently all I need to do is light a fire in the classroom and I can get all my kids engaged!” He was really surprised as to how excited and on-task all of his kids were the entire time.


It worked because

  1. There was a specific reason for participating in the station – to learn about candle dipping, why it was important, and make a real candle
  2. The students knew throughout the whole station what was expected of them and how to show it to the leaders.
  3. There was a system to follow that was simple but effective.

A new addition to the stations this year was to have passports the students got stamped. They all had a full passport at the end!

This type of authentic activity is so powerful for so many reasons. The joy factor is high! There is an opportunity to have a different type of conversation with the students. There is on the spot opportunities for problem solving that is in the 8th graders hands. The moments are created and they stepped up and took responsibility. They had little people that relied on them for safety and information.

There are 3 more days of Living History and I am honored I get to work with the same 5 students. The problem solving will be different each time since we have to deal with weather elements, different groups of students, and chance!

What is one of your favorite authentic assignments? I would love to hear in teh comments.

Write an Autobiography Assignment

pexels-photo-256468.jpegI used to teach a writing lesson centered around writing an autobiography in fifth grade. It ended up being a traumatic experience with a fifth-grade section.

The idea came from an assignment given to me by my therapist in the late 90’s. She knew I could write and what she requested for was me to write my story – an autobiography.

At this point in my teaching career, I was a reading specialist and I was working on producing work products of my teaching. I had discovered great value in writing out assignments for students. This also worked well because I had a written record of exactly what I had assigned to the students. I often just had the students write what struck me from what I was reading or from an assignment I had given myself. I am organic in that way. Sometimes a child centered discussion would dictate a writing focus.

I wanted to incorporate choice but also have a format for a longer piece of writing. I wanted to scaffold for them so they were not intimidated by a longer piece. Writing about themselves gave them a wealth of material to work with. I found out more than I had anticipated.

One thing I learned is there are consequences of being the type of teacher that gains student trust. The students want to be brutally honest and write for you. The stories the students wanted to tell me were heartbreaking.

  • One girl had been on Dateline because there was a court case pending about her father murdering her mother.
  • A boy wrote about a sibling and father dying because the dad ran into the fire to save them.
  • One child that had never had a birthday party in their entire life and not because of religious reasons
  • One child wrote about a baby sibling murdered by the dad in the crib.



What I Would Change Moving Forward

  • Have a modeled autobiography. I do always write with students as I do a think aloud but did not save any of my own models from teaching this lesson.
  • I would collect student samples of work and use them as exemplars.
  • I would have many mentor text examples of autobiographies.
  • I used to have a note about not writing about video games but took that out after hearing Ralph Fletcher speak about writing with boys.

Here is the student print assignment:

Autobiography Planning

Your paper will be five (5) paragraphs long. One beginning, three body, and one conclusion. Please circle your choices.

Beginning: Choose One (1)

1.Family History – the country your family is from, interesting stories, famous people in your lineage

2. Birth – Where parents got your name, what it means, where you were born, when you were born, what time, what hospital, etc

Body: Choose Three (3)

1.Early Life – memories of another grade and/or preschool, baby stories

2. Family – who are you are in your family, people brothers, sisters, mom, stepdad  -where you live: apartment, trailer, house etc

3.Siblings – interesting stories about your brothers or sisters, you compared to them

4. Pet Peeves

5. Special time/traditions – special family times

6. Life’s Message – collect quotes that mean something to you and reflect what they mean to you. Quotes can be famous or something from parents.

7. What No One Knows – Who you are, what dreams you have, what worries or frightens you,  what you care about,  what you feel strongly about, something you like to learn

8. Special interests – hobbies,  what you like to do when you are not at school


  1. Your Future – career family college tech school goals
  2. What is happening in your life right now


Other related activities:

Rambling biography from teacher Linda Reif 

“Where I am from” George Ella Lyon 


**Something fun that happened was the fascination and interest in the meaning of student names. They became obsessed looking up the meanings!

Reading Changed The Trajectory Of My Life



pexels-photo-1034008.jpegI seem to be an anomaly in my own family. Outsiders perceive my associations and mindsets to be quite different from the people who raised me. At the present time, the disadvantage is no one can meet my Oma (German Grandmother) who I spent the bulk of my formative years with.

A couple years ago a friend and colleague and I were reflecting about career paths, life decisions, waiting, and life. We both remarked how different we were from our siblings who we grew up with in the same house and with the same parents. Then the conversation moved to my love of asking a great question. One, in particular, I  love to ask is what their first reading memory is. I also say it can be a positive or a negative one, just the first one they can recall. The reaction and answer is either a dramatic story of happiness or a dreaded and horrific story of a novel or text that teachers made them read that they hated. It is ALWAYS a strong emotion – passion vs hate. It is always fascinating to me.

The connection of my thinking being so different from my family and reading is one I have never made in any of the self-reflection I do. (There is a lot).

The weekend before, I had met this same friend for coffee in Chicago at a quaint little shop down the street from several independent bookstores. We, of course, had discussed the reading question.

A sudden startled look on her face as we sipped our lattes demonstrated a connection. She then looked at me bluntly and said, “You do realize that the answer to your own question and fascination with reading is why you are so different than your circumstances. Your own reading life and patterns changed the trajectory of your life. You didn’t want to settle for just what you already knew.”

Ironic when someone else points out your own motivations.

What we do to kids with reading and writing can have last consequences. Below are some of the answers I have received when I ask the question: What is your earliest reading experience? NOTE: Often the conversation then expanded to a comparison to their reading lives now. These remarks are also contained in the following snippets.

  • K’s first reading experience that she shared was heartbreaking. She had not experienced any GOOD reading experiences her entire life. She blames it on her  ADD and that she cannot concentrate enough. She also notes The Hound of Baskerville by Sir Conan Doyle ruined reading for her completely. She does not recall the exact reasons but she was very adamant about her hatred of this book.
  • D had a different experience. He likes fantasy reading and can lose himself in a book. He will read and forget how he got that far and go back and reread. He also remarked that he gets fixated on a word and will still be thinking about the word as he reads on…then has to go back 3 pages. He can’t read nonfiction because he loses interest.
  • B remembers reading Agatha Christy and remembers it all the details. She also read the American Girl doll books. She remarked as an adult she reads in pieces – comes back to the books. She also keeps the books that she has started even though she is quite the minimalist. This is unusual because possessions get rotated and eliminated frequently in her apartment.
  • F remembers reading Mac Christopher sportsbooks. He remembers reading the Goosebumps books in first grade and feeling tremendous pride. F learned to read before he went to kindergarten.
  • remembers watching TV and her dad reading her a Cookie Monster book and she tried to read it.

What are your earliest reading memories? How have they shaped your reading life today?


Happy Reading!