Crafted a Session

Wondrous Words by Katie Wood Ray changed the way I read. Now, I linger in the language of the writer. Sometimes, I ponder the presence of particular words. Occasionally, I try techniques that tantalize readers. Craft stops the reader in their tracks as they mentally note, “Now that was cool!” Wondrous Words made me notice craft which pushed me to use craft intentionally.

Last fall I submitted a proposal to present a session on recognizing craft. Plus I wanted to share a strategy for organizing craft that I learned from Mary Helen Gensch at the All-Write conference. My proposal was accepted. That explains why I had a Speaker ribbon on my name tag (some readers have such sharp eyes).

Saturday morning (final day of the conference) was my scheduled time. The week before I was notified that fifty-four were registered for my session. Yikes, that’s a lot of minds to engage for seventy-five minutes!

Snow began dancing it’s way into the morning. As the flakes twirled and whirled, attendees began the hustle to their cars. The morning keynote population had dwindled from previous days. I wondered if any would attend my session, which followed the keynote.

As I busied myself with setting up my materials, people drifted in, choosing spots at tables closer to the door for a quick escape. The tables began to fill. By the time I started, there were about forty-ish listeners.

Soon, it was time to retrieve the books I spread out on the tables. Several thanked me for my information. So all in all, it was a success.

The snow continued to fall. The masses continued to exit. There were only three of us attending the final session. How disappointing for those presenters! You just can’t count on February weather to cooperate.

Wisdom from Christopher Lehman

Day two of the conference provided me with two opportunities to learn from Chris Lehman. His topic for the keynote was Making Curiosity the Core. He stated “Kids are our curriculum.” Think about that, it is so true. How often do we live this with our work?

Children are born scientist. They are constantly checking out their hypotheses. Just watch a baby discover hands. Hands wave, can be placed in the mouth, fingers wiggle, hold on to objects, and what else can be done with these hands?

His message reminded us that curiosity is core to our teaching lives. The “what” might be important, but be sure to include the “why.” To be curious there has to be time and space. Do we give kids the time and space to develop their curiosity?

Later in the afternoon, I attended his session on close reading for grades K-2. This is something that he and Kate Roberts are working on right now. The impetus for this work came when his first grade daughter was subjected to thirty consecutive days of close reading of Stellaluna. I love Stellaluna, but how in the world could anyone think this was a good idea?

Loved this: The book shouldn’t be more important than the learner.

You can’t close read in the early primary grades the same way you do in the upper grades. Start with an object or a picture, zoom in to study it closely. Say something about it, think about what was said, add another part to the thought. Repeat. Key question: What’s worth thinking about?

He will be at the All Write conference in Warsaw, Indiana this June. I know I will learn more about close reading for the younger students. This just whet my appetite for the next time I get to learn from Christopher Lehman.chris l.

Loud and Clear

The afternoon of my day with Rose Cappelli and Lynne Dorfman was devoted to poetry. They highlighted three types of poems:

  • Walk around in the author’s syntax. Here you are immersed in the writer’s world. Here is an example they shared.
February by Charlotte Otten
February turns everything to gray:
gray lakes, gray fog, gray sun.
Gray squirrels loose their bearings
hunting for acorns buried 
beneath thick gray snow.
  • List poems, these are so fun to create. Think of a topic and create a list. One of my favorites is below.

Bad Beds    by Doug Florian

Bench in a park

Mouth of a shark

Garbage pails

Bed of nails

Elephant’s trunk

In range of a skunk

Underneath birds

Near stampeding herds

Of course there is a poem called Good Beds too, but I will let you discover that one.

  • Narrative poem was the third type Rose and Lynne presented. These poems tell a story. Usually they are a slice of life caught in the poetic web.

The challenge was to create a poem that fits one of the types we’d been studying.

I’ve had a story rolling around in my head for several years, just waiting for the right format to tell it. I found it with the narrative poem.

Loud and Clear

“The only place

to stop

is McDonald’s,”

my husband announced.

With a I’d-rather-eat-nothing attitude

I stroll into

the crowded eatery.

Joining an endless line

we snaked our way 

to the register.

Glancing around reveals 

a boisterous bunch in a booth.

Kids shove, smack, shout.

Dad’s last nerve frazzled,

he lashes out,

“Sit down!


We are in a restaurant

for goodness sake!”

Bodies stilled,

startled eyes with

what-are-you-talking-about looks

turn to dad.

A hush falls over the dining room,

a small voice pipes up,

loud and clear,

“No we’re not,

we are at McDonald’s”



Write to Learn

The final three days of February sent me to a lake resort in the middle of my state for the Write to Learn conference. At one time the title of this conference made me tremble in my boots. Write? I’m okay with the learning part, but writing, that’s hard. I’m not a writer. I’m a listener, a reader, a synthesizer of information, but I’m not a writer.

That was my thinking before. Before I started reading Two Writing Teachers.  Before I was encouraged by Ruth Ayres posts begging the readers to jump into the blog world. Before I dipped my toe into writing weekly, then daily for a month.

That was five years ago, now I realize I am a writer. So writing to learn doesn’t make me tremble anymore. I see it as a challenge to create now. I eagerly anticipated the opportunity to spend and entire day with Rose Cappelli and Lynne Dorfman. I knew they would teach me new ways of looking at mentor texts and using those texts to raise the level of my writing. I was not disappointed.

The day flew by. We studied mentor texts. Then we had the gift of time to try it out. Here is one example I jotted in my notebook.

Pans clattering in the kitchen, as the smells filled the air, while family arrives, greetings and hugs, before finding their place at the table. Prayers of thanks offered. Silence.

Rose and Lynne became friends during those days of the conference, not just authors of books I own.

Friends, Rose Capelli and Lynne Dorfman.

Friends, Rose Cappelli and Lynne Dorfman.

Who Are You?

Sitting at my desk, I have a view of our street. I casually keep tabs on the neighbors as they come and go. Occasionally a stranger comes up our cul de sac street. I wonder, who are you and why are you here?

So, one day I am in my usual position when a car scoots up the road, but there is a problem right in front of our house. The road is coated with a layer of sleet and snow, plus there is a slight incline as one gets to the end of the cul de sac. That incline was too much for this car.

The back tires spun rapidly but went no where. The driver backed up a few feet. Tried the approach again. Same result. Now the driver, (a young girl wearing tennis shoes with no socks), gets out and examines the snow situation in front of her tires. No, the snow is not deep enough to stop her, so she gets back in the car to repeat her previous actions. Would you be surprised to learn that the car still did not move?

Now she has a brilliant idea of taking the floor mats out and placing them in front of the front tires. The back tires continue to spin, she moves forward an inch. Time to reassess. She hops out once again and this time puts the floor mats in front of the back tires. Once she is back in the car, she steps on the gas. There is a slight moment of hesitation, then the tires grab onto the mats and she moves forward.

She pulls into my driveway, backs out to head back down the street. She stops to collect her floor mats (which are covered in snow by now), and scoots down the street to disappear from my view.

So I am left wondering . . .

  • Why did you come up our street?
  • Where were you going?
  • Why didn’t you just back down the street?
  • Who are you?

I suppose these are questions that will never have answers.

Nonfiction 10 for 10

10 for 10 nf

I just love the days when book love is shared! Nonfiction has changed so much from when was in school (many, many, many years ago). I am so thankful for the authors who bring the world right to our classroom, living room, or any where you are reading. Here are a few titles that you might just want to pack in your bag:

pepperWhere Does Pepper Come From? And Other Fun Facts by Brigitte Raab: “Why do snails carry houses on their backs? Because they love to go camping! No! The shell of a snail protects it from predators and from the hot sun.” How fun would it be to make up a silly answer, but then follow up with the facts you’ve researched.

teethTeeth by Sneed B. Collard: Teeth are not just for eating. You will learn that some animals attract a mate by displaying their teeth. Another interesting fact is that some animals have teeth on their tongue or in their throat.

markle teethWhat If You Had Animal Teeth? by Sandra Markle: What if is always a powerful question to pose. What a great follow up to the previous book!

throw toothThrow Your Tooth on the Roof, Tooth Traditions from Around the World by Selby B. Beeler: Not everyone believes in a Tooth Fairy. There are many places where a mouse takes it and leaves money. So many interesting traditions with teeth are explored in this book.

poles apartPoles Apart, Life at the Ends of the Earth by Dr. Mark Norman: I love the layout of this book. It opens top to bottom. Facts of the North Pole are on the top with the South Pole matching information on the bottom page. What a great way to compare and contrast!

animals waitingWhat the Animals Were Waiting For by Jonathan London: This book tells the story, in verse, the cycle of life on the African savanna. Photos are intermingled with paintings.

troutTrout Are Made of Trees by April Pulley Sayre: This book is a fun way to look at the food chain.

noseWho Needs That Nose? by Karen Clemens Warrick: This entire book is one question after another, but you learn a lot of information about noses. Here is a sample: “Who needs a nose to attract a mate, an enormous nose that droops down to his chin? Do you suppose it hides a grin? Who needs that nose?” (see bottom of post to check your answer)

allen sayDrawing From Memory by Allen Say: This book is part graphic novel, part narrative history, and part memoir as Allen Say tells his story. As a child, he loved to draw, but this was not acceptable to his father. He lived on his own from the time he was twelve. What an interesting story he shares!

spidersNic Bishop: Any book by Nic Bishop is a must have. The photos are stunning, but then the information is fascinating. Check out his website for books,

*Who needs a nose like that? A monkey. Were you right?

I hope I’ve piqued your interest in one or two titles. Nonfiction has come a long way! For more titles check out this link.

Thank you Cathy Mere, Reflect and Refine: Building A Learning Community and Mandy Robek, Enjoy and Embrace Learning for letting us share books.