Stoking the Fires of Young Writers #1

Inspiring students to write when they are not required to do so takes passion and creativity. Here are some ideas that I have used in various age leveled classrooms to get them to write.

I wanted a writing teacher when I was younger because I love the art from a young age. I was always writing stories. I try to be the writing teacher I needed when I was in school. Being a writer myself, I think about what I would do as an adult writer and try to modify that behavior for my students as I teach.

  1. Establish A Writing Community

The right attitude needs to be fostered for students to write. Routines needs to be established along with expectations. The teacher needs to model their own writing to students. The teacher needs to model how to read like a writer. The teacher needs to provide opportunities for publishing and sharing.

2. The Teacher Needs to be A Writer

Teaching writing is a task I have seen many teachers shy away from because they are not confident. You need to think of yourself as a writer – with a “lowercase w” as Ralph Fletcher would say. A writer with a capital W gets a paycheck!

Students must believe you have the knowledge to lead them to become the authors they can become. To do that you need to write. Write in front of them and write beside them. You can truly understand if a child is having trouble with a particular part of a story if you have struggled with the same issues.

I also believe in writing model pieces for your students. I do this before the lesson is taught and then also write again in front of them. This process also helps to find issues with your writing prompts. If you cannot write to the prompt as an adult then most likely the students will have the same issue. It gives you the opportunity to change the prompt before you give it to students!

3. Cultivate the Real Student Writer

I use materials and resources that real writers use – not just teaching resources.  I have used The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, The Pocket Muse by Monica Wood, Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, and Inner Outings by Charlene Geiss and Claudia Jessup.

Teach writing like it is an experience, not just an assignment. Teach the students like they are authors, not just children. It is important to honor their feelings and imagination while they are young since they seem to lose a lot of creativity as they progress through the grade levels. The spark that is their own voice needs to be respected and seen. Writing is not about formulas and plugging words into it. I do not want to read the same story over and over and your students don’t want to write that either.

A little freedom and trust can produce some amazing pieces from the most unexpected students. I worked with a group of fourth graders that most would call troublesome and they matured into such writers with incredible insight that I was moved to tears. Performance can be a true part of the writing process. They realized they had something to say and worked to make it clear to their audience.

I will share some specific writing activities I have successfully used with students in a later post.

4. Use Mentor Texts

To be a great writer, you have to read. Read aloud and point out what the author did craft wise or just lines you wish you have written yourself. If you are writing a specific genre piece then read books in that genre.

I also model how I use my writer notebook and the students see me carry it around all the time. When I am circulating during writing time and I say to a student, “Oh, I love how you said that. I never thought about it that way before, I am going to write a note about that in my writer’s notebook.” Then I do it right in front of them!


Keep writing!


Get Ready! Get Set! READ!

Several years ago I started a parent workshop program at the elementary building where I worked. The goal was to create positive relationships with the parents and to improve student achievement of the incoming kindergartners the next year.

The idea began with a teacher reading about a program deployed at another school. The school where I worked had rising ISTEP+ scores and DIBELS scores and we seemed to be doing a lot of things right for our kids to achieve, but the primary staff wanted to prepare our incoming kindergartners better. After interviewing several parents during kindergarten roundup, a plan was solidified, deployed, and made real!

Parents said they would do more if they knew what to do. The parents honestly didn’t know what to do at home to get their students ready for school. To aid in our knowledge base, I also scheduled a round table discussion with the local preschools to get their insight into this age group.

This is what we did:

A critical attribute is to make parents comfortable so an impact could be made. Many of the parents I work with have not so nice feelings about the school environment so to get them to come they needed to not feel intimidated. We dressed down on purpose and paid attention to the education jargon we tend to throw around. Teachers forget we have our TIER 3 vocabulary that scares people off.

Food also increased attendance!

The timing was important. We scheduled sessions during the morning and the afternoon but the attendance was not what we had hoped. We then switched to evenings after surveying the parents. Many of the parents worked during the day in the community.

The idea was to have the materials at the workshop so the parents could learn how to play and teach their children and then take the materials home with them to continue the learning.

Everything was modeled for the parents and then the parents played with their students. We did have a read aloud with the books and modeled how to ask questions.

TWO program threads:

  1. Topic specific sessions
    1. Literacy/DIBELS
    2. Geometry/Shapes/Counting
    3. Physical Development
  2. Literacy Bag sessions (more on this program in a later post)

Literacy Activities:

1. Nursery Rhymes

These are so important and are almost forgotten!

2. Ways to Read a Book

-Read the words

-Use the pictures to retell the story.

-Use the pictures to tell a made up story.

-Look for letters your child knows. (Especially from their name)

-Looks for words your child knows.

-Use the title and pictures to work on sounds. (We introduced the WILSON sound cards to students)

3. Using Highlighters to focus on letters

Highlight letters (or words) that child knows in newspaper, magazines, junk mail, poems, etc

4. Play-dough for making snakes and letters

5. Squishy Bags (ziploc bags with paint and duct taped for kids to write like a magic slate)



1.Wooden sequence puzzles

2. Books featuring math and shapes

3. SHAPE! Bang game

4. Play-dough for numbers and one to one correspondence

5. Take home file folder counting game

Gross Motor Skills:

  1. Obstacle course
  2. Learning to jump rope
  3. Color and number hopscotch

This program was a lot of fun and helped strengthen the relationships the teachers have with the community.


More soon!

I Am Thinking…

I am thinking about the top 5 things in my life that represent me and how I write about them for me and then how I write about them to help others.

I am thinking about new words: accouterments, attenuate, parlance, modicum, anomalous, and ossify.

I am thinking about how I can use the word BANAL more often.

I am thinking about Hanlon’s Razor.

I am thinking about red dresses in a sea of gray.

I am thinking about home and what that means to me.

I am thinking about what is temporary…and beginning to wonder if everything is.


A couple years ago I read a poem about waiting and I asked a colleague if she felt like she was always waiting for something. She said yes. This notion comes back to me now and again and plagues my ponderings.

Aren’t we always waiting for something?

I am waiting for certain things to be over and certain things to begin. We are waiting for time periods to end in our lives so we can move to the next one.

Some are large and some are small.

I am waiting for the ISTEP+ window to be closed so I can stop testing. I am waiting for the weather to be better so I can run more miles outside. I am waiting for lunch time because I am hungry. I am waiting for a book to come out so I can read it. I am waiting for the end of the day so I can leave…or go to sleep. I am waiting for a certain time.  I am waiting…I am waiting…

But even when we are done waiting for what we are waiting for…there is something else to wait for after that.

I need to remember that we are in the moment and that is what is important. I need to savor the time that I have NOW.

Ten on Tuesday

Ideas to remember:

  1. I want to try to remember to write my own feelings during a meeting while I am taking notes. I read this tip over the last 2 weeks – although I cannot remember where – and I want to try it to see what happens.
  2. Pay attention to the little details especially when it comes to watching people for character development.
  3. Write – everyday – no excuses.
  4. Take time to read.
  5. Zadie Smith: “If you never take a class in your life, you can still become a professional writer – as long as you read. The reading isn’t optional.”
  6. Forgive …but do not forget.
  7. Learn new words this week.
  8. Enjoy the new running shoes and the joy of the run.
  9. Keep my sense of wonder and magic.
  10. Breathe!

What I Have Been Reading Lately

Here are the books I recently read:

All Grown Up by Jami Allenberg – I was excited to read this book about a woman who makes unconventional choices in her life according to the popular culture. I was intrigued by the therapy aspect. I always like books that break down scenes between patient and therapist. It was a bit disappointing and I wouldn’t say that I loved the main character.

Image result for all grown up jami

The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living  by Meik Wiking – Hygge is my latest obsession. I enjoyed this little book, but am finding that there really isn’t anything new for me to read about this concept. It was enjoyable and I was able to check it out on Overdrive.

Image result for the little book of hygge


Perfect Little World by Kevin Wilson – I adored this book! Part social science, part story, it was the perfect blend of story and character. I wanted to know what happened as the  pages turned and didn’t want it to end. I even started to slow down reading it. This was a Book of the Month Pick. This is one of my favorite reads of the last year.


Image result for perfect little world


The Rabbit Back Literature Society  by: Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen – A book that deals with writers groups and mysterious circumstances surrounding it is in my wheelhouse. This was a fun book. There were parts that were a bit sexual for me that didn’t seem to be necessary to the story that I didn’t care for,  but overall was a good read.


Image result for rabbit back literature society


When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice  by Terry Tempest Williams – This book was recommended by Rebecca from Book Riot in her interview on the Just the Right Book Podcast. It is full of dynamic writing. I checked it out from the library and had to purchase my own copy due to the amount of underlining that I need to do in this book. I will come back to this book over and over again.


Image result for when women were birds


What I listened to that you should too!

Bonus! LitUP the podcast – Julia Pierpont’s episode where she talks about her book Among the Ten Thousand Things. I read the book this past year after it was recommended by the What Should I Read Next podcast. It was amazing. I am fascinated by authors who write these debut novels that they write in their MFA programs.


What are you reading??


#happyreading everyone!

Thoughts on High School Reading Lists

My high school reading life was mostly my own, but I was required like countless others to read books assigned to me. In my high school grade cohorts read based on a rotational book list. The group I was in contained The Red Badge of Courage, Tale of Two Cities, Of Mice and Men,  Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, Brave New World, Diary of a Young Girl: Anne Frank, Beowulf, Jonathon Livingston Seagull, A Raisin in the Sun, MacBeth, Romeo and Juliet, and Death of a Salesman.

To establish reading culture and to encourage teachers to share their reading with their students, I used to recommend books and share my personal and professional reading for my weekly professional development sessions as a TAP Master Teacher. As I started to share the images of the books I was currently reading, I realized there were many classic books that I had not read, but have heard the titles over and over. I decided to remedy this reading gap in myself partly because I felt self-imposed pressure to read some deeper classic literature and honestly see what all the fuss is about with some of these books. There has to be something to them or they wouldn’t be classics in the first place.

This idea triggered a memory way back when I started my education career in Kokomo, IN.  I attended a staff development workshop where teachers had to share something about themselves no one else knew. One teacher said that during the summer she would read books all by the same author. I decided then reading classic books I had not read before would be a good fit for me rather than a popular mystery author. The idea had been on the Summer Bucket List for awhile, but I never executed it.

In my sophomore English class I became obsessed with the short story “The Celestial Omnibus” by E.M. Forster. We read the story and it stuck with me. I remember not knowing what an omnibus was. I was thrilled when I was able to find the story as an adult and reread it. Currently I am obsessed with short stories and recently finished Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning. I have been paying very close attention to short story recommendations especially from Rebecca on the All The Books Podcast through Book Riot.

To execute my “Read More Classics” plan, I did some research to find current high school reading lists since it has been awhile since I have been in high school. Part of this research has included asking friends what they were required to read many moons ago.

There are some classics I have read now have been sprinkled throughout the last couple of years: Fahrenheit 451,  To Kill a Mockingbird (this was the book people were shocked I had not read previously), East of Eden,The Bell Jar Sylvia Plath,Alice in Wonderland,The Tell Tale Heart, and 1984.

The plan is to read Count of Monte Cristo, The Great Gatsby, and The Catcher in the Rye this summer.  I will keep you posted!

Happy Reading!!



The Boston Marathon – My Experience

Today was the 121st running of the Boston Marathon. Every year on Patriot’s Day my memory is flooded with my own experience running the race in 2012. It was the best and worst race of my entire life. I was so excited to be running this prestigious marathon. It was a hard time in my life since my Opa had just passed away.

Some thoughts:

  • Heartbreak hill was amazing.
  • It was hot that day.
  • I found I do not like point to point marathons.
  • I had another runner ask me if I had run the St. Charles, IL marathon because she recognized my back wings tattoo.
  • I did not want any water or beverages at the end of the race – I just wanted the medal!
  • The color that year was orange and I have a jacket from the race expo I love and wear often.
  • I talked to the designers at Saucony about Fastwitch shoes!
  • I had a great meal at the Whiskey Priest on the water.
  • There was a point I questioned whether I would ever run a marathon again in the middle of the race.
  • My legs were SHREDDED by mile 24 even though I had trained due to the terrain.
  • I had dinner the night before the race with my teammates.
  • It is an experience I will never forget.

I think I will go run now.