Storyboarding Exercise

Image result for storyboard

I learned about using the storyboard technique to teach writing from Linda Rief. I tried this technique immediately upon returning from the conference and am always amazed how great it works.

This technique is perfect for reluctant readers and/ or writers.

For Writing:

The first time I used the storyboard I used the prompt Linda Rief shared in her session – What is the silliest thing you have done?

The directions are for all the students to draw pictures in the boxes to tell their story from beginning to end. These are to be quick sketches with minimal or no words! I remind them they are not in art class. They are using the visual to help them tell the stories. After an alloted time (I use a visible timer to keep them and me on track) the students get in groups of 3. The triad then shares the stories one at a time using the storyboard. This solidifies the fact that prewriting is to be used when drafting. During the sharing time, the 2 listening students are allowed to share if there are questions or places where the story doesn’t make sense.  There is usually a lot of laughing during this sharing time. The authors make changes or notes to their drawings. It also allows the authors to do a “verbal draft”.  The next step is for everyone to independently write the story. Since the author has already told the story once, the writing comes much easier and more organized. This process also eliminates the excuse of “I don’t know what to write.”

For Reading:

During the reading of a story take the main events and draw a stick person drawing to capture the action. Use important vocabulary only. This technique is mostly about the drawing.

I have modeled this for students with a read aloud several times. I have done the storyboard during the reading of the book and also after. When I taught third grade I was required to have my students use Star Reader tests. The books we did the storyboard with resulted in 100% of the students getting a 100% on the quiz.



If We Were Having Coffee…

If we were having coffee readers this is what I would tell you –

If we were having coffee…

I would tell you that 2018 has been busy! It feels like it is much later in the year. It is nice to have a lot of things going on.

If we were having coffee…

I would tell you that I love driving but it exhausts me. I like it mostly because I can listen to podcasts, learn, and think.

If we were having coffee…

I would tell you that I love all the connections I am making on Twitter. I am reading some great blogs, connecting with great authors and teachers! I would like to have some more IRL connections to writers. I am working on finding a group. I even would like to just get together with a small group and write together in the same room on our own projects.




If we were having coffee…

I would confess that I am evaluating my professional life and trying to figure out where I best fit. This seems an odd sentiment since I am in my 40’s.

If we were having coffee…

I would tell you I am enjoying my Ali Smith book and wish I had more time for reading.

If we were having coffee…what would you tell me?


Thanks to for her inspiration post!

5 On Friday Fun!

5 on Friday

Here are 5 things that are fun and interesting from around the web this week!

  1. Tricky Test Genius Brain App for Android       Cover art

My daughter had me download this game and we have both been playing it. It is super addictive and fun!

2. Lady Writer 

This site is full of amazing resources for writing. There is so much I will be occupied for a while! I am working with Tarot cards and a story building graphic organizer. IT IS GOLD!

3. I was just introduced to Joe Fassler and his writing. How did I not know about him before? He writes this amazing series for the Atlantic called By Heart. Famous writers share their favorite snippets of text and share details about their process and writing. It is fascinating and well done!

4. Chuck Wendig’s terribleminds website and blog

This short story is amazing and worth the time to read! You will want to reread and gasp out loud. You can read it here.

5. This from poet Kaveh Akbar!


Ugly Short Stories

I have been reading more short stories as mentor/master texts and analyzing them. The Story Grid book and podcast has come onto my radar recently which is causing me to look at the construction of stories and novels and movies with a whole different lens.


Image result for the best american short stories 2017


I read “Ugly” recently by Mary Gordon. This story was surprising to me in several ways. Laura is being sent away by the company to fix an issue at a satellite location. Laura is dealing with her imposter syndrome. Her job is in human resources but she really longs for the time she was a grad student and wanting to pursue her dissertation about rose poems. There are little details that are woven into the story that come up in interesting ways later within the text. There is a theme of unfulfilled dreams and self-worth.  Laura doesn’t seem to fit into any of the aspects of her life. She feels unsuitable for the places she loves

The furniture description is an endearing piece of the story. Laura has a respite from her life but then goes right back to it again. There are things and people that Laura does not think are ugly but then they get described as ugly by the boyfriend and therefore taints her view. Because she isn’t strong enough so allows his opinion to become her own.

I hope to read some more from this author.

Have you read any great short stories lately?


Life List Writing Exercise


Labels can be a tricky endeavor.

Bucket Lists, Life Lists, Things to do Before you Die list – they are all synonyms for the same type of list. I finally landed on the LIFE LIST label because it seemed the most positive especially when using the writing exercise with younger children.

The students make a list of 10 things they would like to do in their lifetime. I tell them the list can contain big life changing items or small things that are important to them. To help them generate ideas I also use verbal prompts. Examples are:

Where is a place you would like to travel? 

What is something you would like to learn?

Who is someone you would like to meet? Famous or not?

What is a job you would like to have?

What type of family, if any, would you like to have?

Once they make a list of things they would like to do, see, learn, and become then a favorite is chosen. I usually tell the students to put a star next to their favorite entry on the list.

Now they have to write an activity or something they can do right now to get a little closer to their goal. What does that look like?

For example, I had a 5th grader that he wanted to be a professional artist. His list of NOW actions and micromovements were:

  1. Draw everyday
  2. Enroll in an art class
  3. Pay more attention in art special at school
  4. Check out drawing and other art books from the library

We also had a conversation about him playing with different mediums to find out which one he really liked. He had a specific interest in drawing but after more conversation starting talking about chalk, charcoal, and paints.

After this class time, he realized there were a lot of opportunities for him to work towards something he thought he had to wait to be an adult to accomplish. He realized he could have some impact on a really big life goal that he thought was much farther down the road.

Another example:

A student that has LEARN A LANGUAGE on his/her list is a possibility. Actions that can be taken now are:

  1. Learn 10 words in that language
  2. Download the Duolingo app onto their phone and use it 10 minutes a day
  3. Use Google translate to hear some phrases

My own LIFE LIST has morphed over the years but here are some of my own adventures and goals:

  • Meet Neil Gaiman
  • Become an active member of a writing group
  • See the sun come up from my cabin in Minnesota
  • Go on a Road Trip with no Predetermined Destination
  • Learn how to speak conversational German
  • Go to the counter at the airport and buy a ticket to the next available flight
  • Attend Oktoberfest in Germany
  • Write a book
  • Try a new food every time I travel
  • Learn how to box
  • Be invited to do a TED talk


If you would like to check out some other lists to use as mentor text examples here are some links:


What would be on your life list? Please share in the comments!

It’s Not Magic…but It Feels Like it Sometimes! #SOL18

db4de-slice-of-life_individualThere is a magic to teaching. There is a magic to teaching writing.


M= Mentor Texts

A= Authority

G= Gravitas and Gusto

I= Intention


A couple years ago in my little apartment,  I had a dream. An impactful dream that doesn’t leave me. I was giving a Ted talk which is one of my life dreams. I say dream because I have no goal and a process to get there. I prefer it as a dream currently. Goals need plans and lists and timelines. It probably will be a blog post (!), an essay, then a book first.

I had some moments of clarity when I woke up and made the notes on my phone but then in the way my life was going at the time I accidentally erased them when I reset my phone to factory settings. I have desperately been trying to recall the details and notes of this experience since then.

I remember being on the stage and talking about M.A.G.I.C.

Magic –

EVERYONE has magic inside of them.I have magic with students and you probably do too if you are an educator. If you are a writer, you have magic with your readers. People are drawn to the light inside of you. It can be annoying at times when people are drawn to you and you are an introvert but it is a GIFT.

Fellow teachers have expressed to me on multiple occasions and school corporations that I can get writing and learning from children that no one seems to be able to. It isn’t a magic spell but there is an enchantment. How do I do it? I don’t wave a wand (although I have my Harry Potter wand!)  I am authentic. I see my students. I listen to them. I see them as the little people they are with their own ideas – even a kindergartener. 

I am a reader and a writer and I exemplify these behaviors and students can see it. I do not ask them to do anything that I have not done myself already, or am willing to do. This is a mantra I use with adults and children. I do not believe in busy work. I believe in being transparent with students and it makes me happy. They know me, I know them. I listen to what they say and respond accordingly. I am not afraid to ask a question and not know the answer that will come from the students. I want to show students to struggle with new learning.

I will not ask you to do anything that I am not willing to do myself, or haven’t already done.

Mrs. Breitweiser’s Mantra

M= Mentor Texts-

To get to this magic you have to have MENTOR texts – texts to show the writing that you want your students to create. No adult writes a resume without Googling samples of resumes beforehand. You don’t write anything without immersing yourself in that genre. We shouldn’t expect any less from children.

A= Authority

You need to be a writer to teach writing. You don’t have to be published but you have to go through the process or as an educator you cannot help a young writer if they get stuck. You have to know what it feels like. I worked with a teacher that told me she started to write using her own writing prompts that she was assigning to her students. There were some that were not crafted as well as they could be and were hard for her – with 40 years of life experience to draw from. She decided through that experience she needed to modify if she had trouble with the assignment prompt. Then she told the students what she had done and why. It made a huge difference.

G= Gravitas and Gusto

You have to be excited about writing. There must be respect and a level of seriousness to the process.  When I teach writing I use writing materials from respected writing teachers in the literary world – not the teaching world. I quoted Natalie Goldberg, Anne Lamott, Julia Cameron, etc. I did use a lot of Nancy Atwell too. I told the students my rationale. The students saw my writers notebook. They saw when I was excited about a piece of writing I was crafting with them. In the middle of the process, if the kids made a chart or wrote the group story and it wasn’t exciting then we talked about what we could do to make it exciting for our reader. We read everything like writers. My students knew the goal was for them to be real authentic readers and writers.

I= Intention

Writing lessons like any other need to be planned purposefully. The mentor text to read needs to be right for the writing craft lesson. The prompt needs to align with the book and the mastery objective you want the students to glean from the lesson. There needs to be intention in the routines for your writers to establish and how their words are shared. Intention needs to be there for conferencing. Teacher and student conferencing and peer conferencing.

I wanted my students to write even when they didn’t have to so I set up centers in my classroom for exploration. Books were placed in the classroom based on interest and choice. Writing and book making materials were everywhere.


Relationships and a trusting culture is essential for students to write. Writing is hard. You know this to be truth whether you write or you resist writing with your students. Sharing your own writing can go a long way. Writing with kids is a great culture builder.

No matter the level I use the gradual release model.  I make sure with my middle school students to always model the I DO portion, especially with writing. Then there is a small section of WE DO so students are able to show me they understand the task. Then it is off for the YOU DO.

I carry a black notebook with me almost everywhere. When I hear a student say something or I read over their shoulder I often will say that is amazing! I am going to write that in my notebook. Or I say, “I wish I would have written that sentence.” It is the same language I use when we are reading and I want to record something in the writer’s notebook.

Use your M.A.G.I.C. this week to teach! The results will be fabulous!



My attitude has changed over my lifetime about naps. As a toddler, I am sure I fought naps like everyone else but needed them nevertheless. As an adult, there are seasons I welcome the mid-morning or afternoon siesta.

I started to adult nap when I started running back in 2010. I went from zero running to a Boston qualifying marathon in 11 months. I needed the extra sleep! I would go to a race on the weekends, and then nap afterward on the weekends.

I used to think naps were a luxury or a symbol of laziness, but I don’t feel the same now. I welcome the nap!

I typed NAP in Google and this popped up:

A short nap is usually recommended (20-30 minutes) for short-term alertness. This type of nap provides significant benefit for improved alertness and performance without leaving you feeling groggy or interfering with nighttime sleep. Your sleep environment can greatly impact your ability to fall asleep.

My sleep cycle has changed in recent years. It is typical for me to sleep for 4 to 5 hours, be awake for 1 to 2 hours and then take a nap in the afternoon. This doesn’t always work with my teaching schedule. I sometimes “catch up” on sleep on the weekend which I realize is a controversial idea anyway. There are some camps that do not believe you can “catch up” on sleep really.

I do find the 4-hour sleep cycle is better for my body and energy level. The nights I do sleep straight thru I often wake up groggy. A standard time for me to be up is 3:30 am. Which was also the time I would wake up when pregnant with my son who is 14 now!!!! I didn’t realize there were documented types of sleep cycles until 2 years ago when mine seemed to change. There is even research about how the 4 to 5-hour cycle can be beneficial to your health.

The word to inspire this post came from Check out the website!



Do you take naps?

Here is a link to more information about sleep cycles:


Ink Blot Writing Exercise



When I do writing retreats, another writing exercise I deploy is an activity called INK BLOTS. I print off color ink blot images from Google (check the copyrights) and laminate.  Number each of the cards with its own number.

Students sit in a formation that allows them to pass the laminated cards and write comfortably.

Start with students holding one card. Students write the number of the inkblot they are holding and then write a sentence or two description of what they see.

This activity is done silently. You do not want to tarnish or influence someone else’s interpretation.

At the end of the rotation, you can show a couple of the ink blots and have students share with partners or small groups their interpretation.

After sharing, students take one of their descriptions and write with those sentences as a beginning and then formulate a story.

This is an opportunity for the leader or teacher to write with the students. They are always interested in what your interpretations are as well!




Three for Thursday!

Three quick things to think about on this Thursday!

  1. Writing Prompt:
    1. Give the students a list of random words. As you give directions tell the students all the words have to be used in the story in a significant way. This is a great exercise to drive home the idea that all the writing can be different in a class with the same prompt (standardized testing writing). Example words are firecracker, coconut, sword, and sweep. A couple weeks ago students wrote with random words and they were hilarious. They were short but complete stories. Small victories can be motivating!
  2. Is there a life experiment or program you have wanted to pilot but just haven’t? Now is the time. Maybe you wanted to start a book club, or a clothing swap, or a cooking club, or a mastermind, or a podcast. Today is your day! Make a plan and try it.
  3. This video makes me laugh every time. Fainting goats never gets old!



What Feeds Your Creativity? #DIYMFA

Writing ideas seem to flow unless I am sitting in front of the blank page, then sometimes I am stuck. Over the years, I have used a variety of tools to fuel my creativity so the words show up on the page and not just in my brain. After I started gathering the tools in a list I realized it is quite lengthy!

Where do I find my inspiration?

  • Talking and listening to students
  • Word lists
    • My own lists from freewrites or morning pages
    • Lists from writing books/websites
    • Wednesday WORD SALAD at
  • My collection of thoughts and ideas that I dictate to a Google Keep Doc on my phone, in my notebooks or index cards I carry in my purse
  • Twitter – either a writing prompt or a phrase from someone’s tweet
  • prompts or contests
  • The Ray Bradbury word exercise (see my blog post
  • Random phrases from books I collect in a list that I use as a sentence stem
  • Quickwrites in response to a poem
  • Tarot cards randomly chosen and write about their meaning
  • Ideas from a writing podcast I heard that morning!


Many of these ideas work for me to start a piece or to continue in a story when I am stuck. During NANOWRIMO I was in a classroom visit and decided to quick write in an 8th-grade classroom with the students. I ended up using that quick write to continue with a story in my collection that worked perfectly. Before that quick write, I was at a standstill to what direction I wanted to move forward.