Inside the ELA Classroom

December 2018

The Role of Literacy in Deeper Learning

Deeper Learning values content mastery, communication and collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving, the ability to self-direct, giving and receiving feedback in a constructive manner, and a healthy academic mindset.

Real-World Connections

For academic learning to matter in the real world, students need to be able to determine what knowledge and strategies they should apply in familiar and novel situations and to recognize why they have made those choices. They need to be able to reflect on the effectiveness of their chosen approach and revise their understanding of problem and solution where warranted.

Deeper Learning typically engages students with real-world situations in ways that traditional learning might not. This real-world engagement raises the stakes where literacy skills are concerned. Students with stronger literacy skills at all grade levels will be better able to self-direct, relying less on their teachers and more on the resources available to them.

Many of the literacy skills needed for Deeper Learning also align with the common [Georgia Standards of Excellence], including (but by no means limited to):

Lower Elementary

  • Asking and answering questions about a text (e.g., who, what, where, etc.)
  • Retelling a story and explaining what it means
  • Recognizing the differing points of view held by different characters
  • Discussing connections between different parts of a text (e.g., a series of events)
  • Writing opinion pieces, informational or explanatory texts, and narratives
  • Strengthening writing by revising and editing

Upper Elementary

  • Analyzing various accounts of an event or topic and identifying similarities and differences
  • Using information from a variety of print and/or digital sources to find answers quickly and efficiently
  • Integrating information from multiple texts on the same topic
  • Effectively using facts, sensory details, definitions, dialogue, description, transitional words, phrases, clauses, etc., in writing
  • Conducting research using a number of sources, recalling relevant information, and drawing on evidence to build and present knowledge
  • Writing regularly for extended time periods

Middle School

  • Citing evidence that strongly supports the analysis of a text
  • Analyzing the way a modern work of fiction draws on traditional stories, myths, etc., to create a story that readers perceive as new
  • Determining an author’s viewpoint and explaining how the author treats conflicting evidence or opinions
  • Assessing arguments for soundness and sufficient evidence
  • Building an argument, supporting it with solid reasons and pertinent evidence, and writing a well-reasoned conclusion
  • Writing an entire composition in a formal style

High School

  • Considering the effect of an author’s choices (e.g., the setting, the way that characters are introduced and developed, etc.) on a text
  • Evaluating the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings
  • Analyzing a text that requires the reader to understand that what is really meant is different from what is directly stated (e.g., satire, sarcasm, irony, or understatement)
  • Developing claims and counterclaims evenhandedly, providing relevant evidence, and pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of both in a way that anticipates the audience’s knowledge level, concerns, and possible preconceptions
  • Gathering information from a variety of authoritative print and digital sources; assessing the strengths and weaknesses of each source; avoiding over reliance on any single source; and presenting citations following a standard format

Real-World Learning

Today’s students face challenges unknown to previous generations. They must be able to filter an onslaught of information to decide what is relevant and what can be ignored. They have to learn how to communicate using an ever-growing variety of formats and media. Along with traditional essays, reports, and letters, today’s students need to learn how to write effective and appropriate emails, PowerPoint presentations, and video scripts. Self-directed learning might mean that even the youngest students are conducting independent research and learning how to judge the quality and authority of information sources and evidence.

New technologies, along with education trends like Deeper Learning, expand opportunities for students and give them new ways to succeed. But learners are also faced with new ways to fail. The reaches of “literacy” extend farther and deeper than ever before, and the consequences of illiteracy are dire. Every student deserves a toolbox of strong literacy skills to help them rise to meet today’s academic and real-world challenges.

Taken from


What are the Best Strategies for Surface to Deep Learning?

Click on the above graphic or HERE for Peter DeWitt's blog post.
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Nonfiction November

Even though Nonfiction November is now a memory, take a look at the resources linked below! They will be a great edition to your tool box!

CommonLIt - FREE instructional materials to support literacy development for students in grades 3-12. Resources are research based and created by teachers for teachers.

Nonfiction Graphic Organizers

50 Creative Nonfiction Prompts Guaranteed to Inspire

Leslie Walker Writers of Promise Contest (3rd - 12th grade students)

Teachers are invited to submit up to 20 of their students’ most interesting pieces to our contest.

Entries are judged in three categories:

Grades 3-5

Grades 6-8

Grades 9-12

Submission Dates: February 10 - April 14

Kennesaw Mountain Writing Project

Leslie Walker Writers of Promise


Promising Young Writers Program (8th grade students)

2019 Themed Writing Prompt

Welcoming Unexpected Guests

The poet Rumi writes that being human is like being a “guest-house”: joy, depression, or meanness may arrive like “an unexpected visitor,” but we should welcome them all with grateful hospitality, for they are there to guide us to deeper understanding. Writing is a powerful tool for welcoming that which might otherwise seem overwhelming. This year, we invite you to we invite you to write about instances in your life when you made a conscious choice to welcome or show hospitality to an experience, feeling, or person. Follow this link for more details.

DEADLINE for All Submissions: February 15, 2019*

2019 Poet Laureate's Prize (9th - 12th grade students)

The Poet Laureate’s Prize contest is open to all Georgia high school students, grades 9 through 12. A winner and four finalists will be selected by the Poet Laureate and announced in early April 2019. The winning poet and finalists will meet the Governor and the Poet Laureate when they are honored at the Georgia State Capitol in the spring.

The winning and finalist poems will be published by Atlanta Magazine.

2019 Poet Laureate's Prize Entry Form


Achievement Awards in Writing (11th grade students)

2019 AAW Prompt: The Human Chorus (#humanchorus)

Student and teacher invitation from the Achievement Awards in Writing Advisory Committee

Purpose: To encourage high school juniors to write and to publicly recognize the best student writers.

  • Schools in the United States, Canada, Virgin Islands and American Schools Abroad are eligible to nominate juniors. Nominating schools must be US accredited.
  • Participating students submit two types of writing: themed writing and best writing.
  • Electronic submissions only. Deadline February 15, 2019


Five Reasons Why Your Students Should Write Every Day

Why should students write every day?

Are your students writing as much as they should be? Classroom writing, done with willful focus and daily diligence, remains an essential part of educating students of all ages, including adults. Here are five reasons why classroom writing is still a must:

1. Writing improves communication skills.

First and foremost, writing provides a vehicle for expression and communication. No matter the age or grade level of your students, diligent writing practice will boost both their skill and comfort level with revealing and relating their own thoughts and feelings.

2. Writing helps students review and remember recently learned material.

Isn't it always easier to remember a household task or a website to visit later if we write it down somewhere? A brief writing assignment at the end of class, focusing on the day's lesson and discussions, is a great way to reinforce the material, support long-term recall of the key lesson points and help build writing skills all at the same time.

3. Writing helps educators assess student learning.

Probably the most common use of writing in the contemporary classroom is for a given student to demonstrate that he or she knows and understands x or y concept. Whether the assignment is, for example, an intensive compare-and-contrast essay at the secondary level or writing and illustrating a haiku in the primary grades, writing assignments help teachers see what material students have mastered and where there may be gaps.

4. Writing encourages creativity and exploration.

Daily writing encourages a creative flow that can help students use their imaginations, explore possibilities, delve into problem solving, and engage in storytelling. In addition to "serious" writing assignments which are reviewed and graded, it is important to assign "free" or "creative" writing time, so that students can explore vocabulary, concepts, and writing styles that they wouldn't risk in a formal essay or heavily graded assignment.

5. Writing is essential for self-understanding.

Even a cursory search online will reveal a plethora of diary-like blogs, filled with entry after entry of highly personal content. In the same way that these blogs serve their authors, classroom writing can help students understand and make sense of their own experiences, locate contexts, and make (sometimes surprising) discoveries about their own thoughts and feelings.

Classroom teachers will find that reading through their students' writing assignments can give them great insight into each student's personality, style, and comprehension level of the material being presented. When a high value is placed on consistent writing in the classroom, it's a win-win all around.

So, write on!

Taken from

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Mr. Scott, Glanton Elementary, uses CommonLit in his Social Studies classroom.

CommonLit provides rigorous and relevant materials that support literacy instruction for students in grades 3-12. The resources are research-based, aligned to Common Core State Standards, and are created by teachers - for teachers. This platform is FREE for teachers and students.


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Wildcats on the Move

Smokey Road’s 2018-2019 STAR Reading Recognition Program is in full swing! The program is an offshoot of the SRMS Literacy Initiative, which began in 2014. A reward’s ceremony is held after STAR testing as an effort to encourage intrinsic motivation among students by administrators, faculty, and staff.

Students are encouraged by faculty during each test administration to do their very best. Incentives are offered as a means of extrinsic motivation in the form of: prizes for the four highest scores on each grade level, reaching the required state Lexile goal, improving his/her current goal by 200 points or more, and exceeding the Lexile score from the previous GA Milestones test.

Teachers aren’t excluded, as there is a Charity Lunch incentive held in conjunction with the student’s event. A percentage of the money raised goes to charity, in this case being the Smokey Road Book Drive. The purpose of the SRMS Book Drive is to purchase new books so that teachers have a classroom library where students have access to books at all times, without having to go to the media center.

Thus far, the STAR Recognition Program has realized tremendous success, as the students enjoy being recognized and rewarded in front of their peers.

Dr. Angela Herring, Reading Specialist


ELA Professional Learning Sessions


Tuesday, December 4, 2018, 3:00 - 4:00pm, webinar

Misconceptions About Student Literacy: Why Growth Flatlines and What to Do About It

In this professional learning session Dr. Gene Kerns, Chief Academic Officer with Renaissance will address the importance of literacy acquisition, strategies to assist students with building wider vocabulary and stronger background knowledge. Register for the webinar here. The recording will be available on Wednesday, December 5th.

Wednesday, December 5, 8:30 - 3:30 p.m., Auburn, Univ.


Strategies and Structures for Reading and Writing

In this professional learning session teachers will draw from The Writing Strategies Book and The Reading Strategies Book. Jen Serravallo - author and presenter. Interested participants should communicate with school administration to complete registration process. Registration cost will be covered by respective school.


Tuesday, December 4, 2018, 3:00 - 4:00pm, webinar

Misconceptions About Student Literacy: Why Growth Flatlines and What to Do About It

In this professional learning session Dr. Gene Kerns, Chief Academic Officer with Renaissance will address the importance of literacy acquisition, strategies to assist students with building wider vocabulary and stronger background knowledge. Register for the webinar here. The recording will be available on Wednesday, December 5th

Tuesday, December 11, 4:00 p.m., Evans Middle School

Middle Grades ELA Department Meeting

The District and School Connect is a comprehensive educational platform designed to meet instructional and assessment needs of our schools. In this professional learning session participants will continue the discussion on the GCA item bank and Assesslet data. As time allows the participants will discuss the integration of Edgenuity MyPath and Renaissance STAR. Participants are asked to bring a Chromebook.

Thursday, December 13, 1:30 - 3:30 p.m., Werz, SD1

Middle Grades ELA Department Meeting

In this professional learning session select school representatives will continue the data dig into the Assesslet data from the November 2018 administration. Participants are asked to bring a Chromebook.


Tuesday, December 4, 2018, 3:00 - 4:00pm, webinar

Misconceptions About Student Literacy: Why Growth Flatlines and What to Do About It

In this professional learning session Dr. Gene Kerns, Chief Academic Officer with Renaissance will address the importance of literacy acquisition, strategies to assist students with building wider vocabulary and stronger background knowledge. Register for the webinar here. The recording will be available on Wednesday, December 5th

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December Activities

December 1 (1955) (Rosa Parks was arrested)

December 3 (Persons with Disabilities Day)

December 5 (World Soil Day)

December 6 (Write to a Friend Month)

December 7 (Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day)

December 8 (Handwashing Awareness Week)

December 10 (Human Rights Day)

December 11 (International Mountain Day)

December 15 (Bill of Rights Day)

December 17 (Wright Brothers Day)

December 19 (Winter Holidays Worksheets)

December 19 (Winter HOlidays Reading Lists)

Polar Express (PreK-K, 1-2) Crafts, Printouts, Mini Units, etc.

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Polar Express has become a favorite for teachers and students during the holiday season. Take advantage of the "teachable moment" while connecting the book and move to your curriculum. share your ideas in our your grade level Learning Resource Folders!

Writing topic: Why do you think the author had the boy lose the bell?


Chris Van Allsburg Author Spotlight

Countdown to Christmas games and activities.

Encourage your students to read by creating a train track reading log.

A Teacher's Guide to the Polar Express.

Polar Regions MapMaker Kit - National Geographic

The Artic Region - National Geographic

Polar Bear Territory - National Geographic

Polar Express Guiding Questions for a Book Talk

  • The boy's friend told him that Santa doesn't exist, but the boy continues to believe. Think of a time in your own life that you have experienced this situation. How does it feel to keep firm when other people tell you you are wrong?

  • Notice how Van Allsburg adds to his descriptions of the train ride to the North Pole by comparing one thing to another (give some examples). How does this kind of descriptive language add to the story for you?

  • The boy can ask Santa Claus for anything in the world. Why do you think he chooses a simple bell?

  • Why can the boy and his sister hear the bell while their parents cannot?

  • Why can the boy still hear the bell as an adult, while his sister and friends cannot?

  • What do you think Van Allsburg wants the bell to represent?

A Conversation with Chris Van Allsburg

Chris Van Allsburg talks about his childhood, his artwork, and the creation of The Polar Express

Q) What was your childhood like?

A) I grew up just outside Grand Rapids, Michigan. There were open fields, trees, and unpaved roads. The houses weren't big — they were nice, small houses for families of four or maybe five. There were still places nearby where I could catch tadpoles. There were places to go sledding, and fields where you could play baseball — not someplace surrounded by a fence, just open fields. I rode my bike to school.

My father ran a dairy. Not the kind with cows, but one that converted milk into ice cream, butter, and cottage cheese. On Sundays, my father would take me along with him to the dairy to make the cottage cheese. There was a giant stainless-steel vat with milk heating up in it. My job was to push a floating thermometer around the big tank, using a stick, to see if the tank had a uniform temperature. Then my father would put bacteria in to start the process of turning milk to cheese. Then we’d lower the lids on the vat. A couple of days later, you’d come back, and there would be guys standing in the vat with boots on and big shovels, shoveling the cottage cheese.

Q) What were your favorite childhood pastimes?

A) I loved to build models: cars, planes, and boats. In fact, I built these models rather obsessively and even as a child had an unchildlike concern for craftsmanship.

Q) Did you always know that you wanted to be an artist?

A) I drew as a child but didn't take art classes in high school. I entered the University of Michigan with a vague idea of becoming a lawyer, but as a lark I took some art courses in figure drawing. I rediscovered the pleasure that drawing had given me as a child. When I studied three-dimensional art it reminded me of building models. I thought it was great that I was going to get a college degree for doing something I did when I was eight years old. Ultimately, I graduated with a degree in sculpture. By that time I'd forgotten about law school, and went to the Rhode Island School of Design to continue studying sculpture.

Q) How did the story for The Polar Express occur to you?

A) I had this idea, this mental image, of a young boy who, perhaps while visiting relatives or something, hears a strange sound in the middle of the night, and he goes outside. It is a very foggy, misty night. He walks through these woods and sees a train standing still, just sitting in this kind of fog. Where is it going to go? Well, there are a lot of places a train could go and take a child, but where would a child want to go more than anywhere else? As I reflected on this mysterious train, it occurred to me that it must be a cold night, because the engine's steam is heavy. It might even be winter. Maybe some snow is falling. Perhaps it's December, close to Christmas, or even Christmas Eve. Then I asked myself the question again: where would a child want to go more than anywhere else on Christmas Eve?

Q) Did the story take you long to write?

A) The Polar Express was the easiest of my picture book manuscripts to write. I created only one draft and had to make only a few changes to the text. Once I realized the train was going to the North Pole, finding the story seemed less like a creative effort than an act of recollection. I felt, like the story's narrator, that I was remembering something, not making it up.

Q) What is The Polar Express about?

A) The Polar Express is about faith, and the power of imagination to sustain faith. It's also about the desire to reside in a world where magic can happen, the kind of world we all believed in as children, but one that disappears as we grow older.

Q) How did you create the artwork for the book?

A) I was interested in seeing what I could do with oil pastels; I attempted to achieve the qualities of the light at night by mixing color complements (reds with greens, oranges with blues) to bring out the ambiguous hues of colors in low light.

Q) Did you use models to create your images for The Polar Express?

A) Yes. The children were neighbors of David Macaulay. And David himself posed as Santa. But for most of the book — the train interiors, the landscapes, the North Pole — I relied on my imagination.

Q) Was there a particular artistic inspiration for the artwork in The Polar Express?

A) The mood and palette for The Polar Express were inspired by the paintings of the 19th-century German artist, Caspar David Friedrich. He was a landscape artist who created wonderful panoramic views with single small figures in the composition. I wanted to use the tertiary colors, the browns and the violets, to get the somber atmosphere I sensed in Friedrich's work.

Q) Were you surprised by the success of The Polar Express?

A) It was a surprise for everyone, especially when it appeared on the New York Times bestseller list. Kit William's Masquerade had been on the list, but I don't think any other picture book had appeared there. Houghton initially printed 50,000 copies, certainly indicating support for the book. But yes, we all were surprised.

Q) How would you describe the kind of fantasy you create in your work?

A) The idea of the extraordinary happening in the context of the ordinary is what's fascinating to me. Alfred Hitchcock always explored the ordinary person who was visited by unaccountable sorts of events and was pulled out of the kind of reality that he could rely on. I think fantasy is more provocative when it happens in the context of ordinariness, or things that you recognize. That's why outer space fantasies, fantasies of the Middle Ages, pixies, dwarfs, giants — none of that is especially appealing to me as a writer. I prefer surreal elements within a realistic landscape.

Q) Who was the audience you had in mind when creating The Polar Express?

A) I write for what's left of the eight-year-old still rattling around inside my head. I think it's a mistake to try to create something for a particular audience. You end up spending more time wondering what they like and less time wondering about what's really important to you as an artist.

Q) Have you been surprised by activities inspired by the book?

A) Surprised and pleased. I've received many letters (and some photos) that describe reenactments of the book in auditoriums and classrooms around Christmastime. In North Conway, New Hampshire, they reenact the ride itself with an old steam engine that makes a trip to a nearby ski lodge. The passengers (which include quite a few kids in their pajamas and bathrobes) disembark there, where about a hundred citizens of North Conway, dressed as elves and carrying lanterns, greet them. At the lodge there's a presentation of the story, Santa appears, and as they leave, all the children are given a small sleigh bell.

Q) Do you often get interesting letters from your readers?

A) I have a favorite one, about Jumanji. "Dear Mr. Van Allsburg, I love the books you write. I am so glad your books are so weird because I am very weird. I think you are weird but great. I wish a volcano and a flood could be in my room when I am bored."

Q) What will you be doing in the next fifteen years?

A) I don't make plans. All my life, one artistic impulse has simply led me to another. I thought once that I was going to become a lawyer, but I became a sculptor. That led me to drawing, which led me to storytelling and, recently, I've been doing some writing for film. Following my muse has worked out pretty well so far. I can't see any reason to change the formula now.

An interview from 2000. Taken from

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Research based instructional strategies positively impact student learning. Each month new strategies will be featured. Remember to share the strategies with your colleagues in other content areas. We are all in this together!

When using any strategy, teachers should (1) ensure students understand why the strategy is useful, and (2) describe explicitly how the strategy should be used. Demonstrate, model, and follow-up with independent practice opportunities.


Probable Passage

Use this strategy as a pre-reading activity. Probable Passage introduces students to vocabulary they will encounter in the text. As this strategy is introduced, it is important to model each stage. Remember to think aloud.

Use this strategy as a pre-reading activity. It introduces readers to vocabulary they will encounter, and provides a powerful incentive to read. When the strategy is introduced for the first time, it is important that the teacher model each stage, always thinking aloud.


  1. Choose eight to fourteen words or phrases from the text. The words should include terms that reflect the characters, setting, problem, and outcomes, as well as some unknown words that are critical to the theme of the selection.
  2. Divide class into groups of three and present with a Probable Passage sheet that includes boxes that are labeled "Characters," "Setting," "Problem," "Outcomes," and "Unknown Words." In addition to these boxes, there are lines designated for writing a gist or prediction statement. Finally, there is a "Question" section that encourages the group to write down what they hope to find out during the reading.
  3. Working as a group, the students discuss all of the words and phrases and decide into which box to put each one. As many of these as possible should be used, but it is not necessary to place all of them in a box. It is important to remind the class that the "Unknown Words" are ones that the meanings are not known, not just those that the group can't decide into which box they should go.
  4. The gist or prediction statement is written, as well as the questions.
  5. When the worksheets are complete, each group shares the results and reads their gist statement aloud.
  6. Brainstorm as a class what they want to discover when reading the selection.
  7. Read the text.
  8. After reading, compare the Probable Passages and discuss into what categories the author would have placed the words. Also, students can reflect how using this strategy helped in understanding the text

When Kid's Can't Read: What Teachers Can Do

Kylene Beers


Building Student Stamina

Try a mental exercise to build your students' stamina. Students should be taught to notice when their brains are wandering...One stamina building activity:

Set a timer as students read a book and select passages.

Week 1: 10 minutes

Week 2: 15 minutes

Week 3: 30 minutes

Week 4: 25 minutes​

Week 5: 30 minutes

The schedule can be further modified to increase at a slower rate if students need more time "grow the stamina." Make note when students get restless and wiggle. Encourage the students to take note when their brains wander or they loose focus. Make a big deal of the process and practice. Encourage students to set their own goals and track the growth. Bookmarks and reading logs would be a great tool. Allow students to share their progress.


It Says - I Say

When Kids Can't Read: What Teachers Can Do (Kylene Beers) discusses a quick strategy to help students make inferences.

It Says - I Say is a simple visual scaffold that helps students organize their thoughts and encourage them to move from considering the text to connecting the text to personal prior knowledge.

Model the strategy regularly. As with everything we teach, modeling is the key. Remember struggling readers often need multiple opportunities to see it and practice over an extended period of time. Students sharing their metacognitive processes is another form of modeling. As students see how their classmates work the answers, it may help they "see" the process.




Reciprocal Teaching


The Whole and Teeny Tiny Details


Add up facts to determine the main idea

Read, Cover, Remember, Tell

V.I.P. Comprehension Strategy

Scan & Plan

Sticky Notes


Plan & Label Non-fiction Strategy



Contact Dr. Paula Baker, ELA/Literacy Content Specialist with any questions, comments, or concerns.

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

~Nelson Mandela