From Why to How

Last week I asked you to resist the temptation of editing your students’ writing. In the interest of creating independent writers, we want to empower our students to edit their own work.

Today I promised to talk about HOW!

If you’ve attended any of my PD sessions, you’ve likely heard me speak about the gradual release of responsibility: put simply, I do, we do, you do. I strive to use the gradual release in each lesson I teach. There’s a reason… it works!

Today, let’s talk end punctuation. Regardless of the grade you teach, I assume that you have writers who do not use punctuation effectively, and some, not at all. Let’s explore a mini-lesson…

I do! – Explicit Instruction

I begin by reading two must-have picture books: Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Yo! Yes? by Chris Raschka. These books spark a discussion about sentence types. By speaking about statements (.), questions (?), and exclamations (!), our students will learn to write sentences with purpose. By focusing on the type of sentence, students are forced to decide which end punctation mark to use. Not if to use it, but which to use.

We do! – Practice and Exploration

After my explicit teaching about these sentence types, students practice using punctuation. Young students hold up the appropriate punctuation cards as I say sentences to them. I make the meaning obvious by my tone of voice. Older students punctuate a piece of text, again with a focus on meaning.

Students then dive into a book and search for the three sentence types (and the accompanying punctuation). Hands up when they have examples to share!

You do! – Independent Follow-Up

Once the students have had an opportunity to practice and explore, they turn to their own writing to edit: something they have previously written. To minimize distractions, they take their writing (and a pencil) and read aloud to the wall, adding or changing punctuation where needed.

Finally, students write something new considering how to use sentence types and end punctuation for effect.

So! Rather than editing your students’ work and adding punctuation for them, a mini-lesson such as this will empower your student writers to make deliberate decisions about their own use of punctuation.

Ready to try it? Access the detailed lessons here: Division 1 and Division 2. The speaker’s notes outline precisely how to carry out this lesson. All you need are the mentor texts!

Resist the Temptation

I know, I know… it’s hard not to correct their work. Whether riddled with mistakes or just a few, our instinct as teachers is to edit our students’ writing for them.

Don’t do it…

…for two reasons.

First, think about the message it communicates (albeit unintentional) to our students. Consider a young writer’s perspective: “My teacher doesn’t think I’m a good writer.” or “Look at all of my mistakes.” For some it translates into: “I can’t write.” Even if you’ve made glowing comments alongside the corrections, our young writers fixate on their mistakes. And the next time they write, guess what’s on their mind? That negative self-talk.

Second, correcting their mistakes for them does not teach them to correct the mistakes themselves. If our goal is competent, independent writers, we as teachers then, must empower our students to edit their own work. Does it take more time than correcting errors for them? You bet! Does it have more impact? Absolutely. Lasting impact.

So how do we do this? Let’s save that for next week’s blog…

Art Rules

A few weeks ago on Twitter, a friend shared this quote by Mo Willems: “Science is going to get us out of this. But art is going to get us through this.”

I was immediately reminded of the book Frederick by Leo Lionni. This deceptively simple picture book prompts a conversation about the role of art in society. Even with very young students, the discussion is fascinating.

Our current predicament–living through this pandemic–is certainly an obvious opportunity to discuss the importance of science in our world. It can also be an opportunity to discuss the role of art.

When I consider my own mental health over the last year, it truly has been various forms of art that have made the monotony and the mundane more bearable: music, film, theatre, literature, comedy, the beauty of visual art. I am grateful for the artists who bring joy, intrigue, and hope to my days.

This week, share the above quote or the book Frederick with your students. I’d love to be a fly on the wall during the conversation that ensues…

Words Matter

This week Joe Biden was inaugurated as US president. My prevailing thought throughout the inauguration was ‘words matter.’ Over the past four years, we have witnessed a president spew words of hatred, racism, and repeated falsehoods. We watched in horror as those words led to increased division, discontent, and turmoil.

Last Wednesday, the words spoken by the new president (and the words of many others that day) had a different tone, a refreshing tone.

Compassion. Respect. Integrity. Hope. Possibility.

For me, the highlight of the inauguration was youth poet laureate, Amanda Gorman, and her recitation of her poem: The Hill We Climb. She concluded with this:

When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid,
the new dawn blooms as we free it. 
For there is always light,  
if only we're brave enough to see it 
If only we're brave enough to be it.

I’m not naive. I know that words themselves will not resolve the turmoil and unrest that exist in our world. But words do matter. Words set a tone and create a ripple effect. The words in our classrooms. Our homes. Our countries. Words spoken by our leaders. Our family members. Our students.

Yes, words can divide and dishearten, but they can also inspire and uplift. Undeniably, words matter.

Ready to Soar

I remember my first group of students… my first classroom… my first school. I remember the excitement that came along with the position, but of course the uncertainty, too.

As with many first year teachers, my beginning years were all about survival. I was learning as I went: the curriculum, how to establish expectations and routine, interactions with students, assessment practices, reporting to parents, not to mention the typical workings of a school setting.

Many experienced teachers have shared that in the current circumstances, they feel like a beginning teacher once again.

Learning as we go.


I have been trying to put myself in the shoes of beginning teachers this year. They have a class of their own, yes. But some of them have been teaching online without ever teaching in person. And even those teachers who are in person with students are dealing with realities that I certainly did not face in my first years.

Are they in survival mode? Most certainly.

But imagine… When the pandemic eases and schools return to some normalcy, these teachers will soar. We all will!

5 Finger Book Talks

For many of us, the holidays signify new books and time to read. This week, why not initiate some informal book talks with your students?

Introduce a 5 Finger Book Talk to guide them:

  1. Title
  2. Author (and Illustrator if applicable)
  3. Genre
  4. Brief Summary (Without giving anything away!)
  5. Recommendation (Who might like this book? For example, “If you liked ____, you’ll like this.”)

Keep the talks both brief (a minute or two at most) and informal (no need to assess). Get your students talking and generate some book buzz!

My Chosen Word

As some of you know, I often choose a word at the beginning of the year. Why? To reflect my current attitude and perspective… to help me live and work with more intention… to act as my compass for the year.

As usual, choosing my word requires considerable thought. I’ve had a few words in the running this year: gratitude, balance, persistence, and soar to name a few.

Strangely, it was a fortune from a fortune cookie that helped me determine this year’s word: “Your most important work is yet to come.” This fortune reminds me of living and working with a growth mindset; understanding that I am always learning, always striving to improve. Which leads me to my word for 2021:


I am a work in progress. I am pushing my own boundaries and challenging myself in untold ways. I am becoming. What is yet to come? According to my fortune: my most important work.

What word resonates with you? What word will define your hopes and goals for 2021? While you’re at it, why not ask your students to choose a word too? Check out this week’s book review for a possibly approach with students!

The Greater Good (and You)

With new restrictions in place, Christmas will be a little quieter this year. We will celebrate with those in our homes. Extended families gatherings are prohibited.

The restrictions are for the greater good: necessary sacrifices to protect ourselves and each other.

The last four months in schools have been considerably more challenging and more exhausting than a typical school year. Take the opportunity of the lock-down and restrictions to carve out time for you. Whatever that means for you… however it looks… commit to something each day.

The hustle and bustle of the season will be significantly reduced. Replace it with some well-served self-care.

Powerful Prompts

In my journal this week, I used these prompts. In 2019… In 2020… In 2021… I wrote a paragraph or two for each. Here’s a snippet:

In 2019, we were blissfully unaware of COVID-19, social distancing, and quarantining. We walked into stores, workplaces, and our family members’ homes without a mask or even the thought of one. We often greeted each other with hugs; we parted with hugs, too. We traveled and attended theatre. We gathered at Christmas as we had every year prior: opened Christmas crackers, enjoyed a feast, shared gifts, laughs, and most of all the company of those we love. In 2019, we looked forward to the year ahead.

In 2020, life changed. Normal changed. We were asked to stay home to protect ourselves and others. We watched more television than ever before. We canceled holidays. We worked from home. We learned countless computer skills and platforms to help us survive and connect, teach and learn. We experienced Zoom fatigue. We witnessed the heroics of health care workers, day after day in increasingly challenging circumstances. We watched cases rise, the death toll rise, and knew that each number was attached to a person. In 2020, hope wavered sometimes.

In 2021, I am optimistic that we will receive a vaccine. We will celebrate science and scientists. At some point, we will gather in groups once again. We will sing, pray, talk, learn, and laugh together–in person. Who knows, we might even celebrate Christmas in July. We may begin to travel and return to the theatre. Perhaps we will even read to our students gathered in a reading corner! In 2021, we will look back at 2020 and appreciate all we had once taken for granted.

This year has been unlike any other. Even for our students. Why not try these prompts with them?

A Time for Transformation

December is always a motivating time to write in my classroom! It is the perfect time to read, discuss, and write narratives: transformation stories abound! How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Crippled Lamb, and The Christmas Carol are all especially timely. (Students naturally make connections to Christmas movies as well: Elf is a prime example.)

The structure of a plot pattern–character transformations in this circumstance–help our students better comprehend and predict the stories they read; they also help our students add more depth and meaning to their own written narratives.

Why not capitalize on this festive time of year for some timely reading and writing?