From the Desk of Kelly Harmon

February 2018

Dear Educator,

This month we are bringing you ideas for student success in writing and reading expository texts including using Yelp as an instructional tool, and empowering students to have deep group conversations about texts! Also, be sure to check out our latest online seminar offerings coming up this spring. Happy Teaching!

Kelly Harmon & Randi Anderson

Crafting Phenomenal Conclusions

Teaching students to write is one of the most complex processes to teach! Writing involves a multitude of high level thinking and the ability to make decisions based on purpose and audience. Students must be able to understand the task, produce a plan for completing the writing task, and make key decisions along the way to produce a meaningful composition. There is a tremendous amount of autonomous thought and experimentation that goes into writing a single piece.

Since there isn't a "formula" for perfect expository writing, it is critical to emphasize that all essays need a beginning, middle, and end. One of the most forgotten decisions is how to end the essay. As the author plans and organizes their thoughts about the topic and message, it is critical to think about how to end the essay.

Here are some tips for empowering students to craft a conclusion that leaves the reader with a sense of completeness.

Conclusion should accomplish three goals:

1. Provide closure for the audience.

2. Leave the reader satisfied with the information.

3. Support the thesis or central/controlling idea by discussing its implications, and re-emphasizing the significance and relevance of your topic, position, or argument.

Conclusion should Not:

1. Repeat the prompt.

2. Add new information or ideas.

3. Be boring.

4. Tell the reader something they already know.

Students need to see lots of examples of conclusions in mentor texts. Select mentor texts that use different conclusion techniques and have students try out each technique. Be sure to have students get feedback from their peers about the effectiveness of the ending. Simply asking them to determine which ending works best and tell why, will help the writer sharpen the decision-making process. Mastering the ending takes lots of practice and feedback. After writing a dozen or more endings, the young writer will never forget to make sure your reader has closure.

Accountable Talk Matters

"Please , don't stop talking!" This is a phrase I thought I would never say in my first few years of teaching, but, as my philosophy of learning has evolved, I've revised my thinking on just how much students need to be talking.

Discussions are crucial ways for our brains to process new learning. According to John Hattie, classroom discussions are in the top ten instructional strategies that result in significant gains in student achievement. Students who discuss what they are thinking, before, during, and after reading comprehend text much better than those simply reading and then answering comprehension questions for a grade or assessment. Students need to hear multiple perspectives as they deepen their thinking about the meaning of a text. When they are able to participate in discussions and hear other points of view about a topic or text, they are introduced to a type of thinking they never would have thought of! This allows the learner to process the information and add to their schema.

Getting Students Talking

Allowing for talking or processing time for students is essential. To do this, place students in partners or teams and teach the art of an effective discussion. Students may need to learn how listen to others and form their own positions on issues. They should be able to repeat what their partner has said and integrate their thinking into the discussion.

Discussion groups can take place before, during, and after reading a text. Have students scan the text before reading and share what they "See, Think, and Wonder" about the text. Good readers always survey, activate prior knowledge, and formulate predictions before they dive into the text.

Have students read the text independently and then come back together at specific points in the text or after completing a short text to discuss their thinking and new learning. Be sure to have students use accountable talk during discussions. Students should use statements like "I agree with .....because...." or "I respectfully disagree with .....because..." This takes practice as students need to learn to listen and speak one another.

We found accountable talk cards on Teachers Pay Teachers for free!

Remember whoever does the talking, does the learning!

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Using Yelp! as an Instructional Tool for ELAR

As an educator, I'm always looking for ways to make my teaching relevant and interesting to my students. I want to always be using apps and topics that catch their attention! Yelp does just that!

Yelp is a multinational corporation that hosts crowd-sourced reviews and information on businesses. Yelp is a great mentor texts resource! Yes, mentor texts! Reviews for restaurants, shopping, and gas stations are great expository and persuasive short texts.


Locate a variety of posts to use as you guide students to identify the author's main message.

Students can identify the purpose of each post and the techniques used to communicate the purpose.

How does the word choice convey the tone or attitude of the writer?

How is the author feeling about the food, service, or restaurant? What does the author say that makes you think this?


Here are a few ways you can use Yelp, a popular site for foodies, to teach writing.

  1. Develop a list of “success criteria” for choosing a new restaurant to try.
  2. Locate restaurants in the area.
  3. Using the data, select a restaurant that meets your criteria.
  4. Use the pictures of the food to write a descriptive paragraph about one of the entrees.
  5. Read the restaurant reviews and evaluate for effective:

  • Organization-Is there a clear, beginning, middle, and end? Does the author use an organizational technique to communicate the message? Is it cause and effect, descriptive, problem/solution, chronological, or classificatory?
  • Development of ideas-How many big ideas does the author include? Did the author provide enough, too little, or too much elaboration? How does this affect your understanding of what the restaurant has to offer?
  • Word choice-What words did the author use to describe the restaurant, food, or service? How did these words affect your understanding of what the restaurant has to offer?
  • Voice-Can you hear the author’s voice? What did the author include in the review that helps the reader know the author?
  • Sentence Fluency-How does the review sound when you read it? Do the sentences have different beginnings? Are there some short and some longer sentences? Is there a variety of punctuation?
  • Conventions-Is the review free of noticeable spelling and punctuation errors? Do the sentences sound right? Did the author use correct subject/verb agreement? Is the review written in paragraph form for ease of reading?

Check out our Using Yelp in the Classroom activity here!

Spring 2018 Seminars