WWW Wednesday

db4de-slice-of-life_individualI am borrowing this post idea from Peaks and Pages.

If you’re new, WWW Wednesday is a meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words. To participate, just answer the following three questions:

1. What did you read last?

I just finished An American Marriage by Tayari Jones on Sunday. It was the first fiction audiobook that I listened to the entire book. It is an amazing book and so well written. I do wish I had the print copy  – there would have been so many lines that I underlined. I attempted to dictate some lines into a Google Keep document but there were too many! I will use Goodreads quotes to make some reading journal entries.


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I also finished Force of Nature by Jane Harper. I did not see the ending coming – to a certain extent. I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone so I won’t say any more. I did like it overall. I felt it was a lighter read but enjoyable and worth the time.

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I also read Kelly Link’s short story The Hortlak. Awesome story but a lot of questions at the end.

2. What are you currently reading?

I am currently reading The Great Alone by Kristen Hannah. I am loving the book so far. The idea of being in Alaska off the grid is extremely appealing to me!

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3. What will you read next?

Since I loved The Immortalists I am looking forward to reading The Anatomy of Dreams by Chloe Benjamin which is her first novel. I also have Kelly Link’s Get in Trouble a collection of short stories. I love her. I have been sorting through podcasts trying to find interviews with her. She is amazing.


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What are you WWW this Wednesday? Share or link in the comments!



I Love Close Reading

db4de-slice-of-life_individualToday it is all about the love.

I am at the Fall In Love with Close Reading Workshop in Cleveland, Ohio today with Kate Roberts and Chris Lehman. I bought the book when it was first published and even had a little book club online with a few teacher friends.

I am honored to be at a conference learning about close reading. I am here on the recommendation of a literacy consultant I am working with. What is apparent from the first few minutes of the conference is that it is all about the love. The love of reading, the love of learning, the love of life, and how reading is all about life.

Talk about people who are on board with my thinking.

Some takeaways from today:

** Your beliefs and the WHY of your teaching drives what you do – otherwise it is just a bunch of activities

** “Close readings isn’t just a school thing, it’s a life thing.”

*”Every test is a test of reading.” It doesn’t matter what content area it is. This also goes along with the idea that no one worries about the kids who read and how they will do on standardized tests. The kids who read…pass.

** As teachers we want kids to practice things over and over especially when answering questions: “What we need to be giving kids is: How do I do that better?” 

** “Teach the reader…not the book.”

** Give the students a structure:

  1. First rough draft read with a lens
  2. List the details
  3. Find the patterns
  4. Revise your ideas and create understanding

** I am learning how to make some notebook pages to have strategies ready for problems I can anticipate for student learning. Having the tools ready makes it easier to differentiate.

Other fun things:

I met the Heinemann rep from Ohio and made a great connection. I met another fabulous coach of teachers and was able to spend some great time with my friend who also coaches me.

I did yoga with the above people at lunch which was super fun as well.

I am so happy that I took the time to come today. I still have a long drive home but now I have lots to think about!




5 on Friday! Favorite Mentor Texts for Ideas #SOL18 #TWTBLOG

5 on Friday


These 5 favorite books have been read to countless children over the years by me. They are books I return to over and over. I use these mentor texts for the exemplar of the writing and to use as a springboard for ideas. I have included suggested prompts but there are a variety of craft lessons that can be gleaned from each book.

All the Places to Love

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I love the language in this book. This book was introduced to me when I initially was trained in 6+1 writing with Ruth Culham. It never gets old to read aloud. All her books are amazing.

Writing prompt: What is the place you love?


The Black Book of Colors

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This book was introduced to me by Lester Laminack in a workshop session. It is a book the children want to touch. It is unique and has braille as well as print. There are unusual connections to color and how we think of hues.

Writing Prompt: Write your own poem! Use imagery to convey what you see in your brain.

Saturdays and Teacakes

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Picture books are meant to be savored. This book is memoir written by Lester Laminack and tells the story of the relationship he had with his grandmother. There are tons of craft lessons in this book. Lester made many intentional moves to lead the reader where he wants them to go. Spacing, repeated phrasing, the illustrations, etc. This book is one you can come back to again and again.

Writing prompt: Tell a story of an important person in your life. What is something special you do together?

I Want My Hat Back

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This book produces more conversation about the ending than any other book I read aloud. It is not for every class. I typically read it in upper elementary and higher. This book is fun to read and perform. The looks on kids faces at the end is something I never tire of.

Writing prompts: What REALLY happened to the rabbit? What kind of character traits does the bear have vs the rabbit?

This is the Rope


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Jacqueline Woodson is a national treasure in my eyes. Her books always take difficult topics and tells the story in the most beautiful ways.

Writing prompt: What is an object that is special to you? What is its story?


What’s Your Job, Really? #SOL18 #TWTblog

db4de-slice-of-life_individualI read a quote this morning from Carrie Bloomston’s book The Little Spark:

Seek out people who say yes. Seek out people who give you permission, whether teachers or friends.

This quote is perfect to accompany my thoughts on home from work yesterday. Part of my job as a teacher coach is to sometimes just validate teachers – to give them permission even at a time when my permission is not necessary but desired.

As a coach I listen, I teach, I model, and I talk. A lot of my job is conversation. Deep conversations about practice, student evidence, learning, research, achievement, and books. Oh so many books!

This topic came up at a coaches’ meeting a couple of months ago. The relationship piece is imperative to coaching working. It doesn’t always feel like work – but it absolutely is part of the work. Many times I pose a question and let the teacher talk. Often they will talk themselves into their own solution. When this happens the question at the end is, “Can I do that?”

When I utter, “Yes, of course, you can!” It is always met with a smile and a thank you. Then they are on their way out the door, chocolate in hand,  dream in their heart,  and action on their brains.

My job is to make teachers better. Sometimes it is by empowering them, but not to do it for them. This idea sometimes trips me up. I want to lighten the load of the teachers but I cannot take away the teachable moment. So that is why we TALK about it.



A Run for the Books #SOL18 #TWTBLOG

db4de-slice-of-life_individualI wasn’t going to run today. Some internal nudge made me check the weather application at 4:45 a.m. I had already been up for over an hour and had my necessary coffee elixer. There was very little wind and the temperature was pleasant so I really had no excuse.

My footfalls were lit by the full moon and the stars. I wore a new workout shirt gifted to me by a friend at work. It smelled of morning and fabric softener. The run felt good. The air felt fresh and I was able to listen to a writing podcast I love that comes out every Friday.

Today’s planned miles is 6 so I still may run after school to get the last 2 in for the daily count. I have mileage targets for this weekend. Time only allowed for 4 miles this morning before the commute.


I recently read Cheryl Strayed’s new book Brave Enough.  One quote that resonated with me was on my mind as I ran:

Alone has always felt like an actual place to me, as if it weren’t a state of being, but rather a room where I could retreat to be who I really was.

I often think of running this way. As a place. Alone is much different than lonely. Something I know about myself is that I need to be alone to recharge. To replenish the well especially after the peopling and the draining day I had yesterday. The run is the action I turn to stop the thinking that swirls in my head.

There are physical places that replenish me too. Libraries and bookstores for one! Sometimes the car. Alone is part of who I am as a person.

I think that’s why I felt the need to run this morning. It’s part of a replenishing ritual that I do almost automatically. I’ve learned to listen to those internal nudges.

Where or what do you do to replenish? I always love to hear!

The Immortalists Book Review – WOW!

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If you do not have this book on your TBR you need to add it right now.

This book commanded my attention for just 24 hours, I flew through it like an obsessed cat with catnip.  I even read this book on the weekend that I had all my kids at the house which is unusual. I toggled back and forth from my phone and my Kindle depending on where I was. I could not stop reading this book. It kept sucking me back into its words and world.

This is the book that I will be recommending to everyone from this day forward and is my new favorite for 2018. The anticipation for this book was high for me which added to the happiness. (See my post on happiness here.) I had put this book on hold through Overdrive and kept checking the app to see how long I would have to wait. When the email notification came through I literally yelled in my bedroom from excitement! I was afraid I would be disappointed since the book has been so hyped but luckily this was not my experience. Many of the books lately I have been reading have not been as satisfying as I would have hoped when I cracked open the cover.

On Saturday morning I had gotten through the first 2 sections and then made myself go for a run. The entire time I was running I was thinking about the characters. I cannot remember the last book that impacted me this strongly.

So what makes this book so great? There is a magical quality about it. It is similar to the feeling I had when I read Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles. I am constantly thinking about the characters and what happened to them. The main idea of knowing how much time a person has left and how they choose to live their life is a topic that warrants a lot of conversation. The writing is masterful. Not only is the story and characters intriguing but it is so well written that I feel I was transported into the narrative like I was into Narnia so many years ago.

The story centers around 4 siblings. Each section of the book focuses on one of the siblings. Each of the children are told the day they will die. The rest of the book is about the individual siblings and how they live their lives and what happens when the date they were told falls upon them.

Chloe Benjamin masterfully weaves the stories together to give you information about the entire family without it feelings disjointed or choppy. The story flows and is written in a way that just makes you want to keep reading.

This book makes you think. The narrative has so many different characters and perspectives that you become a better person reading it just from the empathy you gain.

If you would like to connect with me about this book please let me know in the comments. I need to talk about this book!

What are you excited to read next in your reading life? I would love to know!

#happy reading!




Little Fires Everywhere Book Review


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I recently finished Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere. This book came to be in my possession via Book of the Month Club for September 2017. If you would like to learn more about BOTM click here.

The anticipation for this book was high. I had listened to several of my regular book podcasts who all gushed about it which resulted in me being anxious and excited for it to come in the mail so I could read it. Then it came. I opened it, and it sat. I read it this month because a friend liked it AND it is a book club book. (We are meeting soon.)

I love Celeste Ng’s writing. I enjoyed Everything I Never Told You which I also read for a book club several years ago. There is a certain mystery to the storylines that Ng composes that I enjoy. The two books have this characteristic in common.

Family drama is prevalent in this book. If you enjoy reading stories about messed up people, this book is for you. I don’t gravitate toward drama too much – in real life or my book selections. The family storyline reminds me of Commonwealth by Ann Patchett.  The character/family threads are somewhat interwoven in Fires but I found them irritating, not intriguing.

I most enjoyed Mia in the book. She is an artist, she has a daughter, an interesting family history,  and forms a close relationship with a college professor and a poet. She was well written and I cared about her.

Overall, I had a hard time getting through this book. I would pick it up, read a few pages and then put it down. I do not prefer to read this way.

A couple favorite quotes:

(The “she” in this quote is Mrs. Richardson.)

She had been brought up to follow rules, to believe the proper functioning of the world depended upon her compliance, and follow them – and believe- she did. She had a plan, from girlhood on, and had followed it scrupulously: high school, college, boyfriend, marriage, job, mortgage, children. A sedan with airbags and automatic seat belts. ..

Now here was this Mia, a completely different woman leading a completely different life, who seemed to make her own rules with no apologies.

The first part resonates with me because I too had a life plan. My life now looks very different than I thought it would in my teenage years. There is an internal struggle flavor to this section of the book that I gravitate toward in my reading and my own writing so I find that extraordinarily appealing. There is a contrast here between these two characters and an envy on the part of Mrs. Richardson. The life that Mia leads is the most interesting part of the book for me.

The description of the book is magical in places. There is a slightly open ending and it is not neat and tidy at the end which I prefer. As to not spoil anything, I will just say I want to know where 3 characters end up and what happens to them after the last page was read. I have my own storyline I have given them – that will have to do!

I would love to hear from you in the comments if you read the book and liked it not.


Happy Reading!

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!

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!




Horoscope Writing Exercise #SOL18

This writing exercise is a bit dangerous.

Several years I was the organizer of the Young Authors’ Event at my school. One of the prizes for the winners for each grade level was a writer retreat on campus. One of the exercises I started doing was the horoscope writing exercise. It is meant to be fun but you need to gauge the sensitivity of your community as to whether you want to use it or not.

Use each student’s birthday and categorize the students into their astrological signs. Print the horoscope for the day before the writing exercise for each student, or link to a GOOGLE Doc if you are using Google Classroom.

Students read the horoscope and then write and reflect if they think the horoscope was accurate or not. The connections students make to some of the phrasings of the horoscope can be amusing for them and the group. In a retreat setting, there is always lots of sharing.  Some students think the predictions are ridiculous and others will read into them to make them true!


Yesterday’s Horoscope for me was: (Courtesy of the New York Daily News)


Acknowledge what you’re experiencing if you feel lonely or isolated, even if you have no reason to. You’ve embarked on a new phase of your relationship life in recent weeks, and a new approach is necessary. This calls for more commitment, not less; though you must invest that in the right people.


My rough draft: This horoscope was partially accurate for me because I was not lonely at all yesterday. I had lots of teacher friends in my office throughout the school day and I had great family time with my husband.  I am looking to make some changes in my life and have been thinking about it over the past couple of weeks. I am committed to everything that I am passionate about but I do need to make a list of 10 people I want to foster better relationships with.

These little pieces of writing can go into a writer notebook and can be seeds for other stories as well as a great conversation starter for your writers!