Dear Future Self,

Depending on where you teach, you may be celebrating the beginning of your summer break. If so, enjoy your well-deserved rest!

For many others, there is still the final push of a week, maybe even two. You can do it!

Invite students to write a letter to themselves to be opened a year from now. This is an opportunity for both reflection and goal-setting. Provide paragraph (or sentence) prompts that students can choose from. Consider the age of your students and set a suggested number: ideally a minimum of three.

  • “I am grateful for…”
  • “My favourite memory from this year is…”
  • “My biggest challenge this year was…”
  • “I am proud of…”
  • “Next year, I want to…”
  • “I predict…”
  • “As I write this, I feel…”

Ask students to seal their letter in an envelope and write “Dear ____________. To be opened June 2025.” Pass the letters along to next year’s teacher or school.

P.S. Challenge yourself to write a letter to your future self too!

Top Ten!

Give students the opportunity to create a top ten list for next year’s students. Let each student choose from the following:

  • The top ten things about Grade _________! (insert grade level)
  • The top ten things about ____________’s class! (insert your name)
  • The top ten things about this school!

Once students have chosen their topic, encourage them to brainstorm as many things as they can. Of those, they can circle or star the best ten. Once they have narrowed their list down to ten, ask students to rank the ideas with number 1 being the absolute best thing about their chosen topic.

When they write the actual list–which will be left for incoming students–they should start at number 10, progressing to number 1.

Encourage creativity by providing options:

  • invite students to work in partners if they choose,
  • perhaps the list is made into a ten-page book with one idea per page,
  • maybe they embed their top ten list into a poem,
  • they might prefer to create slides, one idea per slide, or
  • perhaps they choose to record a video of their top ten list.

The options are endless!

A Letter of Thanks

June is nearing. As the school year begins to wind down, carve out time for some reflective writing opportunities for your students. I will share one idea each week over the next few. Challenge yourself to participate as well.

This week, ask students to choose someone who has had a positive impact on them in some way: a coach, teacher, family member, or friend. Take the time to freewrite–seven or eight minutes–a note of thanks to this individual. Provide these prompts that you and your students can move in and out of during the freewrite: “Thank you for…” “Did you know…?” “I am grateful that you…

After they have read their writing to themselves–on the same day or a subsequent day–give students an opportunity to revise and edit their work. Explain that they will have a choice of Thank You cards, stationary, and envelopes for their revised note of thanks. It is important to emphasize that they do not have to use their entire freewrite for their thank you message: they can choose the sentences they like best, adding to or changing those already written.

Model the revision and editing processes with your own writing. Even if you choose not to show students your writing, think aloud and explain some of the changes you have made. You might explain that you have chosen to exclude your first few sentences of your freewrite on your actual thank you note (an example of revision). You might also explain that you noticed a few spelling mistakes in your original freewrite and have corrected the spelling (an example of editing).

Remind students to present their best effort as effort communicates a message to the recipient too.

And even though students are completing this activity within your class, be sure to respect their privacy: some of the letters may be quite personal.

The Great Lie that Tells the Truth

This May long weekend was rainy and cool. I didn’t mind… Much of the weekend was spent reading. The over-700 page book is due at the library on Wednesday with a waiting list of 137 people. I’m close! (On page 534 as I write this.) It’s one of those books I can’t put down and yet I don’t really want to finish.

The Covenant of Water is a sweeping story of a family across generations: tragic and beautiful, cursed and blessed, a story of struggle and hope. How is it that I read about characters in India in the early 20th century and I think so much of my own family–those around me still and those already passed?

The power of story is profound. One of the characters within this book says, “Fiction is the great lie that tells the truth about how the world lives!” Agreed. A well-writtten story may change us if we’re open. Deep within the pages of a book, we learn about others and ourselves. Deep within those pages–through distance and perspective–we discover truth.

Is there a book that has changed you? What truths have you discovered through someone else’s words? How might your students change through the books you read in class?

Not the Place for Wallpaper

During my Words Matter session on Friday, we discussed the importance of building a word wall with students throughout the year. To avoid the word wall becoming wallpaper–a constant, unchanging, ignored feature in the room–we can add words in related groups of three or four each week. Before the week’s words go up, we ask students what they notice about the similarities or patterns in the words. With these intentional additions to the word wall each week, and the built-in opportunity to teach spelling conventions, students are much more likely to remember which words are on the word wall and use it as a reference. If we orthographically map one of the words being added to the word wall, students are even more likely to lock the word into memory. And, if we map a word that is directly connected to others, the impact is even higher.

A teacher in my session asked, “What about those words students are supposed to know coming into our grade level–can those words be up on the word wall at the beginning of the year?” Great question. My answer in the moment was that it is still preferable to put them up with students and discuss spelling patterns and conventions as we do. For this review, we might potentially post words in groups larger than three or four but it is still more effective with students. In fact, this could be a fantastic way to begin building the word wall during the first few weeks of school. The review of words from the previous year will be necessary for some but effective for all.

Something else to consider which I didn’t mention during the session: Why not give the list of words (from the previous year) to each student? Perhaps split the list into two or three smaller, more manageable lists over a few days or weeks. Ask students to highlight the words on each list that they feel confident spelling. (Remind them that being able to read a word, doesn’t automatically mean being able to spell that word correctly. For adults too.) Engagement with these lists would be an interesting way to have students reflect on their own spelling strengths and challenges. Will they be entirely accurate with their self-assessments? Likely not. But the words they do not feel confident spelling become our first word wall words.

So yes, build word walls with students: our classrooms are not the place for wallpaper!

“If you have the words…”

There was a note on the bathroom mirror in the building where I presented on Friday:

When I saw this little sign–fourteen simple words, yet a profound message–I went to get my phone to take this picture. I wonder, how many people have read this sign? How many left the room feeling better than when they walked in? What inspired its author to write and post these words?

Whatever the answers, yet again, I was reminded of the power of words. Seamus Heaney once said, “If you have the words, there’s always a chance that you’ll find the way.” Whether Nobel Prize winning poetry, a memoir, a novel, a hand-written note of encouragement to a friend, or a message on a bathroom mirror, words matter.

A Need to Clarify…

Why the need to clarify? Recently, I was speaking to a principal who shared that some of her teachers removed books from their primary classroom libraries, believing that their students should only be reading decodables at these grade levels.

Yes, decodable texts are an important part of our grade one and two classrooms giving students the opportunity to practice their phonics knowledge in context. They are wonderful for shared reading during an explicit phonics lesson and then also for independent practice. Decodable texts are also important for older students who are continuing to work on their foundational skills.

As important as they are, decodable books should not be the only texts in our primary classrooms and certainly not the only books students are reading.

Let’s not forget, we want students to have the opportunity to read any book on the shelf: picture books, levelled texts, traditional nonfiction, cookbooks… whatever they choose! Will they be able to read every word on the page? Perhaps not. But if students are interested in these books, it’s worth the time they’re spending.

As Maya Angelou once said, “Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.” 

Possibilities and Potential

This past Thursday, I had the pleasure of presenting to a diverse group of educational leaders. I couldn’t help but think about the talent and influence in the room. As leaders–superintendents, administrators, literacy leads, curriculum consultants–we have an incredible opportunity to ensure students receive quality literacy instruction.

Adam Grant reminds us: “An education system isn’t truly successful until all children–regardless of background and resources–have the opportunity to reach their potential.” The nature of that potential will vary from student to student. We cannot know what will become of the students in our schools: the paths they will choose, their place in the world, or the impact they will have on others.

Last night, for example, we saw the play The Mountaintop at the Citadel Theatre. It was a powerful, fictionalized take on what might have occurred the night before Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. This piece of art was both thought-provoking and compelling. I was riveted as two actors commanded the stage–their potential realized in these roles. My mind wandered to the writer and the other creative minds that brought this play to life through lighting, sound, costumes, and set design–the potential of these artists also realized in the work they do. Inevitably, I thought about Martin Luther King Jr. himself. His leadership in the civil rights movement: his passion and devotion, his unforgettable words, his lasting legacy.

Educators teach students the skills needed to function in society and interact with the world. The eventual application of skills will be nuanced but the foundations remain the same.

The possibilities and potential of the students in our classrooms is truly staggering. How do we ensure that “all children–regardless of background and resources–have the opportunity to reach their potential”? As educational leaders, we can leverage our knowledge of literacy learning, lead in ways that inspire others, build capacity with staff, become a catalyst for change, instill hope, and help uncover the potential of all.

“We have more possibilities available in each moment than we realize.” Thich Nhat Hanh


During a recent writing residency, I had an interesting interaction with a grade one writer. It began when he asked, “How do you spell gonna?”

When I explained that gonna wasn’t actually a word, the look of incredulity on his face divulged the truth: he didn’t believe me. Not one bit.

There is so much to be gained when we take a conversation like this and engage in an exploration of words. And yet, word study should not be an aside in our classrooms–only discussed in timely moments–it should be embedded into our instruction in all areas of study. And since the strands of language are interconnected, word study ultimately supports students with decoding, vocabulary, comprehension, and spelling.

Word study is certainly gonna make a difference in our students’ overall abilities. Words matter!