Literally Speaking

Fall 2017


There are some great educational blogs out there and they often spark new ideas, inspire creativity or encourage innovation. We are highlighting a few blogs that are worth visiting because we think they are highly valuable for ELA teachers.

Dave Stuart Jr. - This is a blog written by a high school English and social studies teacher. This is an excellent resource for teachers who are considering using Kelly Gallagher's Article of the Week in their classroom. He also highlights his tried and true close reading strategies and shares his philosophies regarding changes in education. Currently, he is documenting his journey writing a book "that helps overwhelmed teachers to focus and, thereby, to flourish," using what he calls the Everest Framework.

Pernille Ripp-Literacy expert Pernille Ripp is a passionate advocate for education. She is a middle school teacher and the author of Passionate Readers: The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child and Empowered Schools, Empowered Students. Pernille is the founder of The Global Read Aloud, a global literacy initiative with a simple goal: one book to connect the world. Since its inception in 2010, the GRA has grown to connect more than 2,000,000 students in 60 different countries! Her blog, Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension, covers lots of hot topics from punishing readers to the best picture books to share with students. She shares ideas, tips, tricks, and lessons on how to get students actively involved in reading and writing. And, she even shares her own feelings of ineptitude as a teacher in a time when teachers have become nothing but the scores their students receive.Twitter handle @pernilleripp

Erica Lee Beaton is an English teacher and writer. On her blog, she writes about literacy and instruction in the language arts classroom. Some of her top posts include information on anchor charts, vocabulary instruction using Latin word chunks, argumentative writing, and independent reading in the workshop model. In addition, she also writes about professional growth with blog posts about teacher burnout and giving student feedback.


We received copies of The Big Book of Details this year and that got me thinking about how to create a "toolkit" of resources for me to use during conferences and strategy groups. This can be a daunting task but is definitely one worth tackling. Why? Because it helps you to stay organized and it makes it much easier to have meaningful conferences and strategy groups because your "tools" are ready to go.

So how to go about creating a toolkit?

  • Organize by genre, not by unit. For example, have a narrative section, not one for realistic fiction, one for fantasy, etc. since the skills are all very similar
  • Have mentor texts for various types of writing but realize that you might be able to use certain texts for a multitude of skills and purposes
  • The mentor texts can be written by you, by former students or they can be from pieces that you are familiar with (rather than hunting around for something new)
  • Using texts that students have already been exposed to can help them to glean more from the meeting because there is less time wasted explaining the piece of text
  • Begin by figuring out the skills you know you need to support your students with. These will be the foundation of your toolkit
  • Consider using plastic page protectors in your toolkit so you can write on the pages and wipe off before the next use. This also enables you to tailor the conference to the specific students
  • Other materials you might want to have include: Post-its, markers, folders, small dry erase board, highlighters, scissors and tape
  • Have the checklist for the genre in the toolkit so it is readily available. The checklists can also serve as a guide for you. Look at the skills on the checklist and create tools focusing on these areas
  • Update frequently! What worked? What didn't? What did you need that you didn't have? This will make life much easier for future conferences!

Resources: Two Writing teachers blog series: Teaching Toolkits, Creating Conferring Toolkits, TCRWP and A Teacher's Toolkit for teaching Writing


We've all experienced it. No sooner do we sit down with a small group for our well-planned targeted instruction when it happens: someone outside the small group has a question or starts fooling around or has to use the bathroom or is not doing what he/she was told to do. So very frustrating! Here are a few strategies to try next year that may combat the problems we all face.

  • Explicitly teach expectations for small group and independent workers. For example, for independent workers the expectations might be to use whisper voices only, place your Post-it on the right corner of your desk if you have a question and keep working, read independently when finished with work and do not interrupt teacher while in small group instruction unless it is an emergency.

  • When teaching expectations, provide examples and rehearse each one, reinforce compliance, and review them frequently.

  • Provide instructions for independent seatwork before small group work begins.

  • Begin small group instruction only after independent seatwork is going smoothly.

  • Face yourself toward the independent workers while in small group instruction


Reluctant readers, students who frequently abandon books, and students who aren’t really reading, pose a challenge for workshop teachers. How do we motivate in a non-punitive way, without attaching negativity to independent reading? Here are some tips from a thread on the Notice and Note Facebook Group:

  • Have students set weekly goals for # of pages read, and come a with a system of accountability
  • Conference more frequently with your reluctant readers
  • Require a daily, one-sentence summary
  • For “serial book abandoners” allow one “free” stop out per marking period; after that, devise a form that they need to complete in order to abandon a book. This will facilitate self-reflection on their own reading preferences, which may lead to better choices.
  • We know that we can’t read every book that our students are reading, but make it a priority to read the books that your “fake” readers choose. When your conversation shows that you know the book, they are more likely to “really” read it!