Slice of Life: Insomnia

My 7-year-old currently claims that he has a hard time falling asleep. He’s not lying exactly. The other night, I sat next to his bed in the too-small-for-a-grown-up beanbag chair, waiting for him to nod off. He tossed, turned, tossed some more. Finally, I squeezed in next to him. He cuddled into the crook of my arm; within minutes, he was asleep—and so was I.

Last night, the same thing happened, except that I woke up at 1:36 a.m. and then couldn’t go back to sleep. Groggy, I trudged down the hallway in search of the comfort of my own bed, my familiar pillow. Yet as my husband snored peacefully, I tossed, turned, tossed some more. I remained awake for the rest of the night.  Read More

NCTE17: Bust a (Writing) Move with Swipe Folders

Although we’ve been sharing and writing on the same online space on Moving Writers, there’s nothing like being able to present in real life! together like we did at #NCTE17. Rebekah O’Dell compiled and posted a recap of our session highlights HERE on

Click HERE for my specific slide deck on using Steal Like an Artist Swipe Folders with students to curate mentor texts.

NCTE17: Ignite! What does “compassion” really mean?

Ever since I attended my first Ignite session at NCTE in 2014, I’ve been fascinated by them. These intense, 5-minute presentations by some of the best thinkers in the literacy world were fast-paced and packed with so many practical, inspiring ideas. I was honored to have an opportunity at #NCTE17 to participate in my first Ignite session alongside some truly incredible individuals (special shout out to Amy Rasmussen and Susan Barber who kept me sane during the preparation process!).

Click HERE to see my slides from this presentation, in which I share an inquiry into the definition of “compassion,” including mentor texts, and culminates with students writing their own definition essay.

NOTE: Permission to use with written request and proper attribution; please email. Thank you!

NCTE17: From Book Love to Book Action

One of my favorite things about #NCTE17 was having the opportunity to present alongside my good friends and Heinemann Fellows colleagues, Kate Flowers and Anna Osborn. Session description:

This workshop is for teachers who have decided to implement independent reading and want to extend their practice. Here, teachers share strategies, materials, and resources for creating whole-class and independent reading experiences designed for transfer; building text complexity for young men of color; and using authentic accountability to create a transformative reading experience for diverse students.

Click HERE to view the slides from our presentation.

NOTE: Permission to use with written request (send us an email!) and proper citation – thank you!

Oh the Places You’ll Go: Mentor Text for Writing About a Meaningful Place

Each year, my students compose a series of brief writing pieces—each one describing a person, place, or thing. Currently, students are working on their “person” essay—a personal essay inspired by the beautiful mentor text, “The Stranger in the Photo is Me” by Don Murray. The essay is a meditation on memory and identity, and as students write their own essay, like Murray, they look at photographs from their own lives to help the unearth and reconnect with the people they once were. Students also read Joan Didion’s “On Keeping a Notebook” as an additional mentor text for looking at the way memory and identity can be explored in writing.

So while students draft this essay, I’ve been looking for additional mentor texts for their next piece, the “place” essay. While both Murray’s and Didion’s essays include places—both physical and emotional—I wanted a few more mentor texts that really focused on defining a place through rich and vivid description. By writing about a meaningful place in their lives, students might also sharpen their observational and descriptive writing skills. My hope is that by focusing on how to write about a person, place, and eventually, a thing, students can then draw on these writing experiences and synthesize these skills when writing longer pieces later this year.

The only problem was that I was I wasn’t sure which mentor texts to use for place. Although I had a few I’d used in the past, my collection felt a little stale. So I put a call out on Twitter with this simple request:

As you can see, I posted this Tweet at 3:15 on a Saturday afternoon. I wasn’t sure what kind of response I’d get—it was the weekend, after all—but I should have known better. Within 24 hours, I had dozens of responses, many from the Moving Writers team, but many others from wonderful teachers from across the country. Suggestions included passages from non-fiction, fiction, poetry, and children’s books. The generosity of teachers to share their expertise, their time, their love for their work and their students—it will never cease to amaze me.

While you can explore the thread on Twitter, I decided to compile the list here in this post for easier reference. Below are the mentor texts and the teachers who shared them. (I’m also currently in the process of copying them into the Moving Writers Mentor Text Dropbox—some of the texts are linked to where I’ve saved them so far. When images were shared of mentor texts on Twitter, I linked to those Tweets, and if the text was easily available online, I also linked to those texts.)


Ask Moving Writers: Mentor Sentences

Hi, Beth!

Thanks for asking. As you know, mentor texts can be incredibly powerful tools to help students see the beauty in our language—and studying mentor texts at the sentence level can help students see what happens when we craft together the best words in the best order.

I almost always use mentor texts to teach craft at the sentence level. We start each day with a notebook prompt, and I often use brief excerpts from essays or novels that illustrate thoughtful sentence crafting. 

When I use mentor texts to teach at the sentence level, I focus three different elements: diction, syntax, and punctuation.


Ask Moving Writers: In Pursuit of Meaningful Feedback

Hi, Elizabeth!

First, thank you for asking this important question! We know how important it is to find ways to give meaningful and timely feedback to students. But we also know how limited our time is—there are only so many minutes in a day, in a class, during prep periods, after school, before school. Finding time for effective feedback is the holy grail of English teachers everywhere. 🙂

Second, just a warning that this response is much longer than I initially intended—but when it comes to feedback there is just so much to say! I’ll be going into my 17th year of teaching this fall, and in those years, I still haven’t found the answer when it comes to giving effective feedback. But every year, I think I get a little closer. So much of teaching is just a series of relentless tweaking, here and there, to make our practice just a little bit better from one moment to the next, all in the service of our students.

This (long) post is a result of all that relentless tweaking.


Slice of Life: The next time…

At an ILA panel on Saturday, graphic novelist Gene Yang shared how much superheroes and comics meant to him and for his reading life when he was growing up. The panel, titled “Disrupting a Destructive Cycle,” focused on how we can work to disrupt the systemic inequalities in our schools. I didn’t get a chance to go to ILA this year, so I’m thankful that this important conversation was livestreamed (you can view the archived video here).

During the panel, the moderator, journalist Nikole Hanna-Jones, asked each of the panelists to talk a little bit about the value of seeing themselves (or not) in the books they read. Yang’s response (emphasis added):

“When I was kid it was hard to find stories with characters who looked like me or lived like me in the books that I was reading, in the shows that I was watching, in the movies I was watching. And I think you just gravitate . . . grab what you can.

I am a lifelong superhero fan. I think one of the reasons I love superheroes so much is because every superhero has that dual identity. They are negotiating between two different ways of being. And as an Asian American, that was my reality. I had two different names: I had a Chinese name I used at home and an American name I used at school.  I spoke two different languages, lived under two different cultural expectations. So when I watched Clark Kent change into Superman in my comic, somehow that felt familiar. I tried to find what I could.”

There is so much in Yang’s response that resonates with my own experience—and I’m going to guess likely resonates with the experiences of many POC. I could write a whole post and then some on this (and I will). But that’s not what this post is about—not entirely. Read More

Slice of Life: Embarrassment

It was the first day of class, and we talked about embarrassment.

Not in the “share your most embarrassing moment” get-to-know/team-building exercise way. One of the most embarrassing moments of my teaching was when I went to school with two different shoes on. And as you can see in the picture at the right, they were really different. But after laughing about it with  my students—and getting teased a bit from my colleagues—everything turned out okay. The world didn’t end and now it’s the story I tell when someone asks us to “share our most embarrassing moment.”

But that’s not the embarrassment we talked about yesterday. The embarrassment we talked about is more powerful and pernicious, permeating our practice, often without us even realizing it.  Read More

How do we challenge our students—and ourselves—as readers?

Like most English teachers, one of the things I love most about the summer is time to read for pleasure. While my favorite reading spot in the winter is that comfy corner on my sofa, in the summer, nothing beats sitting poolside, the sun warming my face as I escape into another world.

I know many of my students feel the same way, which is why giving students opportunities to read for pleasure during the school year and during the summer is so valuable. Choice matters. There are too many books in the world for students to be limited by the choices their teachers make for them.

Now, to be clear, I’m not suggesting that teachers are trying to limit students’ experiences. After all, the foundation of our work is to broaden our students’ horizons. And when we assign this book or that, it’s usually because we believe that the texts we choose will do exactly that—broaden their experiencesespecially if it’s a text students might not otherwise choose for themselves.

But what if, instead of choosing a specific title for students to read, what if we encouraged them to broaden their horizons by making choices for themselves.