Friday, November 30, 2018

Using Journaling to Figure Out the Pieces of Your Puzzle by Jowan Nabha

I used to think the inspiration to write came from some magical lamp found on a far away mystic island only the privileged were only allowed to rub and be showered with its wonders. As I started writing more, I learned inspiration is easier, in a sense, and doesn’t require any magic. Or at least not the one with genies and wizards. It does, however, require a bit of work on the writer’s part. It also requires a tool similar to a magic wand. A pencil! Or whatever you use to make those ideas come to life in writing.

Write, and the inspiration will seemingly follow.  But don’t just write; journal. Keeping a journal for whatever purpose, whether for your daily thoughts or starting a new project, has been proven time and time again to be the most effective tool for inspiring writers.

As I continue on this path to becoming an Arab American writer whose goal is to share a story that may or may not have already been told, but despite that, is my authentic story, I look to journaling to help me figure out the pieces to this puzzle. Journaling will indeed help me connect the dots to creating the final masterpiece. Use a journal however you like; for sorting through personal emotions, organizing a writing project, or for no particular reason at all. Make it your own. And allow journaling to become an integral part of your writing life!

Thursday, November 29, 2018

What Will Be Your Muse Today? by Rita DiCarne

“Nothing is more precious than being in the present moment.  Fully alive.  Fully aware.”  
~Thich Nhat Hanh

I find my inspiration when I quiet myself and become present in the moment  I actually begin to notice things and not just do a drive-by of my day. Now, you might be shaking your head at this point, and wondering how I manage to find time to quiet myself.  I am like most of you - a teacher by day, a spouse by night, and a writer whenever I can sneak it in.

For me, inspiration comes in ordinary things; nature, music, an interesting quote.  When was the last time you let yourself experience nature?  Have you noticed that the clouds are different in the autumn than they are in summer (at least here in the Mid-Atlantic area)? With what furry friends do you share your world?  In my neck of the woods, the deer are on the move, and a little family of three comes to feed outside of my classroom window almost every afternoon. Those deer got me thinking about their coloring and how they are camouflaged in the woods. That led me to think about how people hide themselves from others.

I have music playing almost 24/7, but it has to be the “right” music.  George Winston is one of my go-to composers.  He has piano music for every season that calms and restores,  relaxes and inspires even the most harried soul. Depending on what I am writing the playlist changes to include the likes of Andrea Bocelli, Billy Joel, and Frank Sinatra. What music moves your soul?

I am a collector of words.  Each of my blog posts begins with a quote. Sometimes the blog post comes first; sometimes it is the quote that inspires the post.  By standing on the shoulders of great writers and thinkers (and some Facebook posts), I can often find a way into my writing or discover an angle I had never before considered.     

What will be your muse today?  Just look around.  It is waiting for you to find it.


Rita DiCarne teaches ELA at Our Lady of Mercy RCS in southeastern Pennsylvania.  She is a teacher-consultant with the PA Writing and Literature Project.  DiCarne has been published in Today’s Catholic Teacher Magazine and A Cup of Comfort for Teachers.   You can follow Rita on Twitter - @RitaDiCarne or check out her blog: Practicing What I Teach at

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

A Casserole of Writing Ideas by Jen Greene

Asking me to pick my favorite book about writing is like asking a parent to pick a favorite child (and we all know you have one).

Instead of picking just ONE book, I decided to throw a few books together to make a writing casserole- take a few ingredients from one book, add in a dash of lesson ideas from another, and BAM! You’ve got a delicious recipe for writing.

59 Reasons to Write by Kate Messner.  This is a number one go-to if you are struggling to be a teacher who writes.  Messner carefully outlines reasons (59 of them) why you should be a writer.  It’s great motivation, especially if you WANT to write, but aren’t sure how to get started. (I’d also highly recommend Messner’s Real Revision)

Renew by Shawna Coppola.  I just read this gem of a book after meeting the fantastic author at a conference.  Coppola challenges us to think about our teaching practices-  when did we revise our teaching practices regarding writing?  Are we becoming complacent with our teaching? This book makes you think about how best to meet the needs of your students, and the importance of continual reflection and revision of our own teaching!

The Unstoppable Writing Teacher by M. Colleen Cruz. Ever wonder how in the world you’re going to get everything that workshop entails done in such a short period of time?  Cruz acknowledges some of the problems that arise with teaching writing- from the concept of the workshop to the range of writers in your room- and provides practical solutions to make you feel...well, unstoppable!

Mentor Texts (Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry) by Lynne Dorfman and Rose Cappelli. These are the perfect books to start your collection, particularly if you are new to the workshop.  Not only do the authors give a goldmine of mentor text possibilities, but they also guide you through “Your Turn” lesson plans to help you feel more confident teaching a skill.

Joy Write by Ralph Fletcher (or any book Fletcher has written).  As the title implies, this books teaches you how to put the joy (back) into writing.  Providing choice and ownership overwriting encourages students to become more present and engaged in writing.  It’s extremely readable and Fletcher’s advice is easy to implement immediately in your writing classroom.

There are so many more titles to choose from, but I don’t want our casserole to get too crowded with ingredients.  This is a great start for teachers at any place in their journey as teacher-writers.

Jen Greene is an elementary school teacher in the West Chester Area School District in West Chester, PA.  She is a fellow with the PA Writing and Literature Project (PAWLP) and a doctoral student at Widener University.  Her tentative journey into blogging can be found by visiting You can find her on Twitter @GreeneMachine82.  

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Write What's in Your Heart by Tynea Lewis

Some of the best writing advice I’ve ever received has been to write what’s on your heart.

The most truth, passion, and joy will come from writing what’s hidden inside. Don’t worry about what others will think. Don’t try to please them. Sometimes when a message lies heavy on our heart, we need to write it down for no one other than ourselves.

There’s something special in it that no one else can touch. The words sitting in your heart are waiting to pour out.

But where do those ideas come from?

They come from moments we expect to inspire us and moments we don’t. They come from the world around us: the things that make us laugh, cry, and shrink back in fear.

The best writing I’ve done has come from a subtle idea. You know, one that most people wouldn’t even think twice about.

The sound of a distant train whistle.

The ornery look of a child.

The crispness of a fall day.

Snowflakes delicately floating through the sky.

A comment overheard.

Heartbreak experienced.

The words that float into your mind when you’re sitting in stillness.

Allow yourself to be open to ideas from the most random places. That’s where the best ideas are hiding. They are the ones that might make no sense, but once explored, you will see a treasure chest waiting to be opened.

You have to be open to the ideas. Don’t close yourself off to anything. The smallest spark sets a forest ablaze. The smallest thought, word, or sight can ignite a fire within you that can consume.

Capture your ideas. They are so fleeting. Here one moment, gone in the next breath. Reach out and grab them. Snap a picture. Jot down a word. Anything to harness the moment. Expand on it as much as possible, but also give yourself time to allow it to grow. Just like yeast needs time to make bread rise, our ideas need time to grow.

Explore that idea.

Flip it upside down and turn it inside out.

And you will find a beautiful piece waiting to emerge.


Tynea Lewis is a former Title I teacher from Pennsylvania. She was named a 30 Under 30 honoree by the International Literacy Association in 2016 for her work with LitPick Student Book Reviews, an online reading, and writing program. When she’s not busy overseeing the program, working for Family Friend Poems and Write About, she loves to spend time with her husband and young daughters, write for a variety of audiences, and escape to the quietness of the mountains. You can connect with her on Twitter and Instagram at @TyneaLewis.

Monday, November 26, 2018

A Few of My Favorite Writing Things by Alexis Ennis

When I first started teaching, I was most nervous about teaching writing. Six years later, writing has become one of my favorite experiences I share with my students and some of my best memories of our class comes from a writing activity.

Here are a few of my favorite (writing) things.

Favorite Book About Writing
Colby Sharp’s Creativity Project. There is so much a teacher can do with this book. You could read it for entertainment. You could write to the prompts. My hope is to make a book with my students using his idea!

Writing Events
I like to keep things exciting and new for my students. Some students come into my class without a positive writing experience or not being given the chance to explore writing freely. Here are some events and activities that I do each year.

  • International Writing Cup and other challenges through Night Zookeeper 
  • Marathon writing -traveling through the school and writing
  • Picture prompts
  • Poetry challenge (poem-a-day)
  • Power writing
  • Round Robin writing 

Showcase and Share 
After writing, it is important that the students feel that their work is valued. Hang it up around the room or in the hall. Tweet it. Share it. Take pictures of the process. Also, let them share. We are social beings, embrace the need to socialize and encourage them to read their stories and share their writing process with others.

Alexis Ennis is a 6th grade ELA teacher. You can follow her on Twitter @Mrs_Ennis_OMS, on Instagram @Mrs_bookdragon, and on her blog

Friday, November 23, 2018

A Potluck of Writing Ideas by Trish Roberts

Good Readers Make Good Writers

I love to read and good books inspire me to write.  I’m currently reading “The Little Paris Book Shop” by Nina George and besides the beautiful love story, I’m enjoying the description language and dialogue.   When reading, I  jot down words or lines, in my notebook, that I find inspiring and use them to further develop my own writing.   I’ve always use mentor texts with my students as models for good writing, so the books I read become my own personal mentor texts. 

Create ‘Morning Pages’

I think it’s important to write every day. A few years ago, while at a retreat, I attended Julia Cameron’s writing workshop and learned a new method of writing called “morning pages.”    In Julia’s book,  “The Artist’s Way,”  she describes the technique of daily, morning writing exercises as a way of developing one’s creativity.  I think this practice also helps writers develop discipline it has helped me when I struggle with writer’s block. 

Quickwrites Inspire Students

Robyn Madden and I co-teach a 6th grade ELA class and our students look forward to this writing exercise every day.   We have seen first hand what happens when students write every day.  They build stamina and become independent, creative, and enthusiastic writers.  This writing strategy also motivates students and fosters their creativity.

Slow Looking:  Developing New Writing Ideas

Whether you’re a seasoned writer or a newbie, if you’re like me, you always need to find new things to write about.  At a Harvard Project Zero conference, I learned about the slow looking thinking routine.   This routine helps students gain new insights that they might otherwise overlook.  Slow looking has changed my perspective on many things and now I develop new writing ideas while carefully observing my surroundings.

Happy writing!

Trish Roberts has been a special education teacher in the Garden City School District for over twenty years. As a published author and co-teacher, she is passionate about creating, in all of her students, an excitement for living and learning.  She strives to foster their curiosity and enthusiasm, both inside and outside the classroom, through her love of reading and writing.  As a staff developer, Trish’s goal is to inspire and motivate other teachers by modeling activities and lessons that cultivate independent thinking and increase student engagement. Trish enjoys traveling with her friends and family, gardening, bike riding and walking, reading & writing on the beach. You can find her on Twitter @Trishr85 


Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Making Writing Fun Again by Deb Day

I  learned something in the last few years of teaching Creative Writing. High school students didn’t think writing was fun. According to their writing autobiographies, writing in school was dull and lifeless and done only according to teacher directions. No voice. No choice. No fun.

Sometimes, I forgot that too.

One of the last years I taught, during conference week I tried some new writing activities. It was a great time to remind us all that writing is fun, creative and doable. I used these ideas with eighth graders through seniors and they could easily be adapted for other grade levels  I have to say, the eighth graders are waaayyyy more excited about writing stories than the high schoolers are.

One day we all wrote from picture prompts. Search “picture prompts” on Pinterest or Google. I always found some interesting ones to use. I tried to use pictures that looked like they had a story to tell and then I tried to match the pictures to students. Kids got done with this assignment and always said, "That was fun." 

The premise is simple. Students work in groups of three. They were given a picture with these directions:
WRITER #1: Tell the story about what was happening when this picture was taken
WRITER #2: Add to the first writer's story.
WRITER #3: Share your thoughts or the life lesson.
WRITER #1: Read the story. Edit and revise it for clarity. Give it a title.
The idea and the questions aren't mine (as soon as I find the originator again, I'll be sure to credit!)

I give each writer three minutes and then they pass. When we've gone through the directions, it's time to share. And guess what? My high schoolers stand up in front of the class and read their writing! That's HUGE in my room.  So did my eighth graders, but it's not quite as big a deal with them :)

Another day, we wrote pass around stories in groups of five to seven. I gave them a story starter prompt (again, found some online), a sheet of paper and a clipboard.  Each student wrote one sentence and then kept passing the clipboard around for fifteen or twenty minutes. The eighth graders were so excited about these that one group acted theirs out!

Finally, we wrote partner stories with Story Cubes. There are many ways to use Story Cubes, but I just rolled the dice and asked kids to write a story, trying to use all the images on the dice. This is tougher than it seems, but it was fun to try and incorporate all the images in the story. They can turn out a little silly, but the important thing was, we have fun putting our ideas on paper.

This all seems so simple as I write it that I'm not sure I should even share these ideas. But it's such a celebration of writing fun in a high school writing class that I just had to. If you had been there to see the smiles and hear the laughter, you'd be celebrating too!

Monday, November 19, 2018

How the Wyoming Writing Project Saved Me by Wendy Chaulk

Growing up, I loved writing, until a teacher ripped up a paper in front of me and told me I would never be a good writer. I stopped writing anything that wasn’t required until I joined Wyoming Writing Project.

I was not prepared for all of the amazing parts of WWP. I was petrified at our first meeting. My inner voice kept telling me, “You’re not a writer! What makes you think you can even pretend to be one?” Yet, I went. I wrote and eventually shared my writings with our group.

These amazing people accepted me as I am. They encouraged me to do more than ever before in writing. They pulled me through the rushing rapids of self-doubt and helped me to the other side where I felt free and accomplished. I was able to play with my writing and never feel like a failure. I wrote poetry, narratives, and historical fiction with some romance thrown in for fun. I wrote about my students and my old dog who left scars on my heart. I never felt judged or less than a human when I shared these. Why? Because these other writers were there with me, in the trenches, shaking the dust. We laughed and cried together. We shared stories that were personal, heart-wrenching, and left us wanting more.

We grew as a community of writers and became family.

In the end, I learned that I am a writer! I make time most days to write. I love writing! I am updating my blog more. I am teaching classes in my district to help other teachers improve their writing and teaching of writing. I want my students to be able to say they are writers and mean it. Isn’t that a great goal for us all?

This is Wendy Chaulk’s eighteenth year as a teacher. She has taught fourth grade in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; second grade in Jacksonville, NC; K-5 special education in Rio Rancho, NM; 4-6 special education in Gillette, WY; and currently teaches in a fifth and sixth-grade looping classroom in Gillette, Wyoming . You can connect with Wendy on Twitter (@wluvs2teach) and on her blog ( Wendy loves being a teacher writer and is proud to be a Teacher Consultant for the National Writing Project. 

Friday, November 16, 2018

The Power of Encouraging Words by Tynea Lewis

I did a lot of writing in college and shared some pieces with a close friend. She also had a heart for writing so we would encourage each other in various ways.

As a surprise from her, I received a photo album filled with scrapbook-like quotes. She carefully put together each page to serve as an encouragement to me. She wanted me to believe in myself and my writing.

As I’m writing this post, I’m rejuvenated by all the words before me, and her short letter at the beginning speaks volumes to my heart (over a decade later).

We need to surround ourselves with encouraging words that keep us motivated and focused.

Those tough writing days will come.

The doubts will creep in.

And the schedule will fill up way too quickly.

But when we remind ourselves of the power of writing, we just might find that necessary motivation to keep going.

Here are some of the inspiring quotes that fill this precious book. Maybe these words will speak directly to your heart as well.

Do you have a collection of quotes that encourage you? 

Do you have a file of your own writing pieces that remind you why you write? At the back of the book, Kay put together for me was a reflective piece I wrote about why I write. I had forgotten about those words until I started looking through it today.

Sometimes we need our own words to remind us of the reason we put pen to paper.

Tynea Lewis is a former Title I teacher from Pennsylvania. She was named a 30 Under 30 honoree by the International Literacy Association in 2016 for her work with LitPick Student Book Reviews, an online reading, and writing program. When she’s not busy overseeing the program, working for Family Friend Poems and Write About, she loves to spend time with her husband and young daughters, write for a variety of audiences, and escape to the quietness of the mountains. You can connect with her on Twitter and Instagram at @TyneaLewis.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

How Do You Define 'Writing'? by Amy Spiker

I love encouraging students to think about their definition of “writing”.  I currently work with pre-service teachers and we discuss this in class often.  But, even when I was working with young elementary students I would talk with them about what it meant to be a writer and what writing looked like.  In schools we tend to value a written composition, using pencil and paper, with a clear and predictable structure.  My students, not surprisingly, also defined writing in this way.  I sought out ways to broaden their definition of writing.

The best success I had in this endeavor was to replace the standard state report with multi-genre projects.  Instead of providing a graphic organizer to create an informational report, I provided my students with a menu from which they had to choose at least five ways to display their learning.  This menu included choices like creating a comic strip, creating an acrostic poem, writing a rap, writing new lyrics to a well-known song, and scripting a podcast or news report.

Using multi-genre projects had so many benefits.  My students who usually left the room for special education support during writing could stay and be supported in a variety of text generating activities. My students demonstrated a much deeper understanding of their state’s unique facts.  Perhaps most importantly, my students’ definition of writing was broadened and they saw themselves as writers, some for the very first time.

I still utilize multi-genre projects with my pre-service teachers at the end of each semester.  They are engaged and motivated to display their learning and they see a model for teaching and assessing that they can utilize in their future classroom.  They learn that writing can take many forms and is ultimately about communicating meaning.  I hope that they will one day challenge their students to broaden the definition of  “writing” and create a community of writers.   

Amy Spiker is a Senior Lecturer in Elementary Education and a former elementary teacher.  She can be found on Twitter @abethspiker.  Her blog is located at

Monday, November 12, 2018

Getting Ready to Write? Just Breathe.

“Rule #1,” I tell my AP English Language students every year, is “to just breathe.”

It’s said in jest, mostly.  My Advanced Placement students are some of the most anxiety-ridden, uptight individuals I have from year to year.  They need a reminder to not let those anxieties get the better of them, to stop them from doing their best.

When students are confronted with writing prompts and timed writings and the pressures of the AP exam they tend to freeze.  I always told them “Just breathe,” but what I never did was actually give them the opportunity to breathe.  Who had ever heard of making time to breathe in the classroom? 

Caleen Jennings had.  Caleen was one of the many influential instructors I had at the 2018 Teaching Shakespeare Institute (TSI) this summer and she introduced me to the idea of breathing before starting any kind of writing.  Which, don’t get me wrong, even as I type it sounds ridiculous.  Who needs to be told to breathe?  But it’s true.  We get so tense, so stressed with the very idea of writing that our ideas become blocked up before we even begin. 

I had picked up on that, as evidenced by my #1 rule, but I hadn’t really practiced teaching students how to breathe.  I’ll admit, I’m still guilty about actually teaching this idea since it is now November and I haven’t brought it up.  I’ve let the other aspects of teaching AP get ahead of me and some of the ideas I swooned over at TSI have fallen by the wayside. 

But maybe breathing should be just as essential to writing as brainstorming, creating an outline, or supporting your claim with evidence. I still have time to incorporate this aspect into my teaching.  It’s not too late! I need to teach my students that before you jump into the prompt, before you put pen to paper, before you put fingers to a keyboard take a moment and breathe.

Just breathe.

Erica Johnson has been teaching for seven years in central Arkansas and currently works with juniors and seniors at Vilonia High School.  She spent the past summer transforming her teaching philosophy at the Teaching Shakespeare Institute in Washington, D.C.  When she isn’t spending time with her dog, she is visiting with her family and their latest addition: her niece Ivey.  She just started blogging recently with Teacher Captain’s (B)log and tries to post semi-regularly, but you can catch her more reliably on twitter @teachercap_e.

Friday, November 9, 2018

A Taste of Memoir by Fran Haley

I’ve done a lot of writing: Literary criticism, poetry, fiction, fantasy.

But it was teaching writing that led me to memoir.

Years ago, a colleague invited me to write with her fifth-grade class. She said she wanted to “spice up the unit” to get the students excited. Would I come to model how to write a memoir?

“I’d love to!” I replied.

        Then… where to start?

After a little research and much pondering, I decided that a fifth-grade memoir is really a moment maximized to its fullest, woven with universal themes. A small moment on steroids, I told myself.

This is going to work best if I use experiences from when I was their age…

Nearly-forgotten memories suddenly clamored in my head:
-Being invited to a costume party at the last minute (my mother coated my face and arms with white shoe polish, wrapped a sheet around me, painted my eyes black: I went as Death. The white shoe polish cracked all over, the perfect zombie-like effect)
-My grandmother sending me a horrible daisy outfit for my birthday (shudder!)
-A boy in my fifth-grade class doing the noblest thing I’ve ever seen, one Valentine’s Day
-A sick kitten that I couldn’t save
I realized there were strong emotions attached to each memory: Excitement, embarrassment. Anger. Awe. Grief.

Life is, after all, full of feelings. The universal thread of the human condition. I let the class pick the emotion they wanted to experience when I wrote; they asked questions they wanted me to answer in the writing … and so our amazing memoir adventure began.

And, once stirred, the memories keep rising to meet me, as if childhood wasn’t so long ago. We’re still here! they call. Tell about us. Let us live again.

And so I do.

With profound gratitude.

Fran Haley is a K-12 English Language Arts educator currently serving as a K-5 literacy coach. Writing is her favorite thing to do and to teach; she loves helping others of all ages grow to love writing. She facilitates writing workshop training for teachers in her district and authors the blog Lit Bits and Pieces: Snippets of Learning and Life. Connect with Fran on Twitter: @fahaley.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

My Favorite Recipes for Writing by Tiffany Rehbein

The inside cover of “Favorite Recipes” sponsored by St. Paul’s Lutheran Church showcases my mom’s familiar handwriting. To: Tiffany, Love: Mom ~ 1995. The recipe book, dedicated “to all cooks”  is organized topically.  Growing up in eastern Montana, the concept of a potluck is familiar, and all of the dishes can be prepared and served to large groups. Everyone contributes.

This post could be titled “Favorite Writing Ideas” as my goal is to share some ideas and resources for writing inspiration. Using picture prompts is one of my favorite activities. Use the image here, taken at Curt Gowdy State Park in southeastern Wyoming.  What is the story behind this image? Use your imagination. Write.

Similar to the organization of the recipe book, there is also an organization to writing. Think for a moment about your approach to writing. Do you follow the same pattern every day?

Considering this question pushed my own thinking. In my heart, I thrive doing work with WyoWrites, a group that proclaims on Twitter: Writers Teaching ~ Teachers Writing. The work feeds me. I have both the time and the space to write every day. What might this suggest about inspiration: find your writing tribe.

One of my favorite resources WyoWrites uses for professional development is Georgia Heard’s Writing Toward Home: Tales and Lessons to Find Your Way (1995). Heard offers short narratives and a writing prompt that touches on a variety of topics, including childhood, rejection, and writer’s block. What might this suggest about inspiration: find rich pieces of mentor text that jumpstart writing.

“Favorite Recipes” is not without its advice: share widely, cook every day, generously contribute. These same pieces of advice could be applied to writing. What might this suggest about inspiration: find all the ways to speak up, speak out, and make wherever you are a better place with your words.

Tiffany Rebhein is a former high school English teacher and current English Language Arts District Coordinator. She and her family live in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Follow Tiffany @Rehb31 on Twitter and her blog at  

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

A Recipe for Writing by Tammy Breitweiser

A Recipe for Writing:

Ingredients you will need:


Combine main ingredients with other words. Mix, combine, moosh and make sure ingredients are main parts of your final dish. Fold in voice and creativity within a beginning, middle, and end. Add some conflict. Let marinate for a day and then bake. Before serving add sparkle and serve hot!

As writers, we start with basic ingredients: words, ideas,  and our own voice. One of my favorite writing prompts is to simply start with a list of words. It is the perfect mix of parameters and freedom and results in endless possibilities.

The special instruction is to make sure that the words in the list are major components of the story.

The sharing of this type of prompt in a classroom or any group of writers is powerful because everyone starts with the same four words and every story will be different because of individual tastes, voice,  and experiences. It is a great exercise to do if your state requires prompt writing and you need to practice.

The surprises that come out of this simple prompt will make it a favorite for you to add to your recipe book of writing!

 Tammy L. Breitweiser is a curriculum coach in Northwest Indiana where she is currently dedicated to impacting student achievement in grades 7 and 8. With more than 22 years of experience, she is a reading advocate who believes in the reading and writing connection. She is working on a collection of short stories.  You can connect with Tammy on Twitter (@tlbreit) or through her blog Tammy’s Reading/Writing Life:

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Survival Tips for Writers

As I write this, I'm taking a break from my writing for NaNoWriMo. I'm five days in and it's hard. Writing is hard. I'm plagued with self-doubt and insecurity. I'm sure that I can't do it and it's no good anyway. If it's so hard and painful, why do I do it? It's worth it. I believe that everyone (including me) has a story that the world needs to hear. I'm the author of my story, so I need to craft those words, sentences, and chapters and share it with the world. How do I sustain myself as a writer? Here are my survival tips for writers...

1. My notebook writing. 
This brings me peace and laughter and clarity in an uncertain world. Spending a few minutes (or more) in the pages of my notebook every single day soothes my soul and brings me back to life when I'm struggling.

2. Fellow writers. 
Currently, I'm in an accountability group for NaNoWriMo. Those four other people hold me up when I can't stand. They nudge me and make me laugh and encourage me when I want to quit. How do they do it? They accomplish this by showing up themselves and by being authentically imperfect writers. 

3.  Audience.
Hearing what others think of my writing or how others are affected by my story...this moves me to continue. Having readers gives me another reason to write. It's not my primary reason, but it does help.

4. Grace. 
Showing myself grace when my writing isn't perfect. Showing myself grace when the words don't say what I want them to say. Showing myself grace when I feel insecure and unworthy. Grace saves my writing life over and over again.  

5. Faith. 
Believing that my story is worth writing. The only way I know that is by sitting down and writing it. During each and every writing session-even when I feel like I am the worst writer in the world- there's a glimmer...a phrase, a sentence, an idea that makes me feel proud of myself. Hold onto those glimmers. They keep you going when things feel overwhelming. 

Writers, you aren't alone. Writing is hard, but writing is worth it. Have faith. Show up. Give grace. And write...

As my friend Andy says, Onward Writers...

Michelle Haseltine spends her days with middle schoolers in Loudoun County, VA. Together they write, read, think, and create every single day. Michelle is a co-facilitator of our #TeachWrite twitter chat and a Teacher Consultant with the Northern Virginia Writing Project. She blogs regularly at One Grateful Teacher . Michelle tweets regularly at @Mhaseltine and Instagrams at @Mhaselti 

Monday, November 5, 2018

Just One Sentence by Jennifer Laffin

A lot of teachers are reluctant to say, "I am a writer."

I think this is because their definition of "writer" includes producing large quantities of words that often get published into books or professional journals.

But that is not true.

A writer is someone who writes. Period.

You don't have to write pages and pages every day to call yourself a writer. You just have to write.

And sometimes writing doesn't even involve actual writing -- thinking about story formation, noticing the world around you, and formulating ideas all counts. Those are the ingredients of writing and without them, writing wouldn't exist.

I have a daily writing habit that I began four years ago.  Every day, I spend a few moments thinking about the day's events and capture a sentence in my Sentence a Day Journal.

I write these lines in my Sentence a Day Journal because if I don't, I am likely to forget them. If I forget them, they cannot find their way into my longer writing pieces.

A Sentence a Day Journal is a great writing activity for students too. Students can look back into their journals for writing inspiration or character development ideas. An added bonus -- if you run student-led conferences or use reflection portfolios, recording a sentence a day can help students remember all they did during the school year.

Writing doesn't have to be long and drawn-out to count as writing. When you develop a regular writing habit and put words to the page, you ARE a writer.

Jennifer Laffin is a teacher of teachers, the owner of Teach Write LLC, and a co-moderator of the #TeachWrite Twitter Chat. She is committed to helping teachers and their students grow as writers because she has seen how writing can transform you both personally and professionally. You can find her learning with others on Twitter  @TeachWriteEDU, on Facebook, or at

Friday, November 2, 2018

Even on the Bad Days, Writing Heals by Andy Schoenborn

At the beginning of the school year my fourth hour ELA 10 class consisted of eighteen general
education students from all walks of life. I was lucky. Still, I began in the usual way by building relationships with kids.

In my classroom I view everything as a learning opportunity and tend to operate a bit different than others in my building.

I allow phones in my classroom and find ways for them to use them with purpose. Where students are distracted I see teachable moments. Most in my district lean on a strict no-cell phone policy. I allow students to sit where they want and have my desks arranged in groups of four to encourage discussion. Many teachers have strict seating charts with desks in traditional rows. Where most teachers have strict no food allowed policies in class, I allow students to eat in class if they are hungry - learning doesn’t happen well on an empty stomach.

Many teachers in my building have a laundry list of rules. I have two: be nice and work hard.

Over the years these philosophical differences have served me well. Regardless of the type of student who enters my room we find a way to work together through mutual respect and admiration.

Due to a complication with scheduling, it was decided to merge another small ELA 10 class with mind. I don’t mind helping out, so I agreed, and we made the change the next hour increasing class size to twenty-eight. No problem. I taught classes larger than that before, so I welcomed them.

When the new students entered the room and saw who was already there, the class erupted into cheers of “Oh, yeah!”; “Bro! You’re in this class! No way!”; and “This is gonna be the best!”

Another group of students reacted quite the opposite. One young lady announced to her friends and the rest of the class that “there was no way she would be anywhere near those kids” and she pointed to a different group already in my classroom.

I knew I might be in trouble, but I have fifteen years of teaching under my belt and consider classroom management a strength. I figured things would work out, but things don’t always go according to plan. 

Over the course of the first eight weeks it seemed I was constantly putting out fires. There was a constant pull from one group to another trying to everyone situated. It was like a nightmare game of whack-a-mole and I dug deep into my bag of tricks.

I had personal conversations with students. I stopped class numerous times to talk, in a low and measured tone, about how disappointed I was in them. I added rules like no food and no cell phones. I told the worst offenders they were welcome in class, but their behavior wasn’t and removed students from class. I had heart-to-heart conversations with individuals and tried to create bonds with the most challenging students.

I tried everything short of detentions, because detentions only create animosity - something not conducive to a healthy learning environment.

Things would go well for a day or two, then class rowdiness would rear its ugly head again.

At one point, a colleague saw students coming out of my class and said, “Wow. Administration put all of those students in the same classroom? That has got to be rough.” I merely shook my head and agreed, but said, “I believe they have it in them to do better. I’m just not sure how to get there yet.”

A few days later was the worst day of the trimester. Nobody was listening. Nobody was learning. Students were getting up and moving around. My directions for the day fell on deaf ears. Some students got my attention among the chaos and asked questions privately about what they were supposed to do for the day, and I told them.

As ashamed as I am to admit it, the class was out of control. It was the first time since student teaching I felt I totally lost the battle of classroom management. I wanted to yell. I wanted to scream. I wanted to write detentions until my hands cramped.

But, I did none of that.

Instead, I stood in the middle of the classroom refusing to respond to anything going on around the room and I waited. Soon, someone said, “Shut up! Schoenborn’s just standing there. I think he’s waiting for something,” and the class slowly quieted.

I let them wait in the silence for a few minutes.

When the time seemed right I said, “Folks, we’ve been at this for eight weeks and something has got to change.”

One kid blurted out, “Are you going to give us assigned seats?”

I continued, “I try to honor you and your choices while in class and in that effort, you may have noticed, I do things quite differently from your other classes. Yet, as much as it bothers me, you are teaching me that I need to change my approach. So, for now, please find your seats, put your phones away - I do not want to see them out at all - they are no longer allowed to be in the classroom.”

I pointed out phones that needed to be put away answer questions as they arose: No, they cannot be out to charge; I don’t care if your mom just texted you; No, you cannot listen to music even if you have bluetooth earbuds. Eventually the phones were all put away.

There were only a few minutes remaining in class and a student asked, “Can we have them tomorrow?”

My answer was quick and somber, “No.”

They continued, “What’s going to happen tomorrow?”

“You know,” I said, “I’m not quite sure. I’m going to have to sleep on that.”

The bell rang and students left the classroom.

In the meantime, I had another class of students to teach. Fortunately, we had creative writing time in class and I used it to help me unravel my thoughts.

I chose to write personal letters to my challenging tenth graders in template form. It is as follows:

“Dear ________,

Thank you for _________. There are moments when I see you shine in class and I enjoy those moments. I remember ____________. I recall ________________. I remember ______________. Memory is such a fine gift and the moments we recall usually center on our emotional experiences. I love those good memories of you.

But, I am tired. I am so tired. No matter what I do it doesn’t seem to make a difference.

Yesterday each of you acknowledged that I have been fair and reasonable with you. You have also acknowledged it hasn’t been returned. Can you imagine how disappointing that feels?

You know I am not one who cares much for rules in the classroom. In fact, I only have two: be nice and work hard. Why those rules? Simple. That is all you need in life to be successful no matter what you choose to do. Opportunities you would never expect open to you merely by staying positive and being kind.

Kindness matters.  YOU matter.  I appreciate you.

When you work hard you are telling yourself that you care about yourself. Hard work tells others that you are dependable. People rely on you. Be the one they can count on.

If I have offended you in some way, please accept my heartfelt apologies. If you feel you have offended me - I forgive you.

I am sorry that I need to create a seating chart. I am sorry that I have to ask you to put your phones away. I am sorry I am not a better teacher for you.

I hope you understand,

Before the next time we met I used that letter template twenty-eight times focusing on the positives I witnessed from each student. Believe me when I say, it was easier to find positives to say for some than others. But, I was determined to focus on the positive.

After third hour the following day, I locked and shut my door - something I never do - and placed envelopes containing their letters on top of each desk. While doing that I heard a tug on the classroom door and a call of, “Hey! Looks like we’re getting new seats!,” followed by peals of laughter.

I went to the door, opened it up, and used my body to block entry into the classroom and said, “Folks, listen please, I have thought long and hard about the difficult day we had yesterday. When you walk into class you will see envelopes with your names on them. Inside the envelope you will find a personalized letter for each and every one of you. Where you find your letter you will also find your assigned seat. Remember you are no longer allowed to have phones in the classroom. All I ask is that you find your seat and take the first five minutes of class to read your letter.”

Students were curious and entered quietly into the classroom to find their letter and new seats. To my surprise they remained quiet as each of them opened their letter and read in silence.

When the five minutes was up I continued, “Now that you know how I feel about each of you, I think it is only fair that you are allowed to respond. Please take out your writer’s notebooks or create a Google doc. You are not required to share your response to me. You are not required to share it with anyone. You may delete it or throw it away when you are finished, but you are required to write an eight minute response to my letter. Are there any questions?” There were none, but students were eager to write.

They wrote and wrote and wrote. Though I did my best to honor their privacy by not looking at their responses, I noticed some students writing more during those eight minutes than they did the last eight weeks. I could sense the tension releasing.

When time was up one student asked if they could give me their response privately. I said it was their choice, but not a requirement. A few students did. I placed them upside down on my desk. A few students shared their docs with me.

With our reading and written responses complete they were ready to begin class for the day. I begin every day with a poem and chose a particularly meaningful poem for this moment: Shane Koyczan’s “Instructions for a Bad Day”

Nothing more needed to be said.

The rest of the class period was, dare I say, fun. We learned a lot that day as we remembered how to smile again.

When the bell rang and students shuffled out of the door I thanked them for learning with me, as I usually do. In return, students took it upon themselves to shake my hand, share a smile, wish me a good day, and one student said, “thank you for teaching us today, Andy.”

It was remarkable.

A few weeks have passed since that moment and there have been some bumps in the road. But, instead of fires to be put out, they are normal glitches that right themselves quickly.

In that moment, students were reminded of the power of the written word. It comes to no surprise to me that even on the bad days, writing heals.

Andy Schoenborn is a high school English teacher in Michigan at Mt. Pleasant Public Schools. He focuses his work on progressive literacy methods including student-centered critical thinking, digital collaboration, and professional development. As a past-president of the Michigan Council of Teachers of English and National Writing Project teacher consultant for Central Michigan University’s Chippewa River Writing Project he frequently conducts workshops related to literacy and technology. Read his thoughts on literacy in the and follow him on Twitter @aschoenborn.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Just Add a Resource or Two by Leigh Anne Eck

I have the privilege of kicking off this month's potluck of writing ideas. Our contributors will be sharing writing resources, writing ideas, writing prompts, writing lessons, and writing inspirations.

The table is set, and I can't wait to see what everyone brings!  Thank you for joining us!

Yes, I write.

Yes, I call myself a writer.

Yes, I believe that teachers who write make better writing teachers.

But just because we believe and proclaim these words, does not make the teaching of writing any easier.  Writing is hard.  Teaching writing is even harder.

To rise to the challenge, I stand on the shoulders of many. The #TeachWrite group has become a resource of ideas and inspiration for my own writing, as well as my teaching of writing. The conversations we have on Facebook, in our monthly Twitter chats, and in our Voxer group inspire me and push my thinking.

As blessed as I am to be a part of this writing community, I also have several books that are my go-to when I need help with mini-lessons, unit planning, conferring with writers, and so much more.

Today I share with you a potluck of resources on teaching writing.

Write Beside Them by Penny Kittle

If you are trying to figure out how to build a community of writers, then you may want to read this book. Although it is filled with Penny's brilliance, it also has a DVD that invites us into Penny's classroom. Watching her confer with students helped me to improve my own conferring skills. Write Beside Them is geared toward high school students, but I was able to apply many of Penny's ideas in my middle school classroom.

Teaching Adolescent Wrtiers by Kelly Gallagher

Kelly's book is full of practical ideas and advice on teaching writers.  But reading this book changed the way I assessed student writing, from feedback to a way of having students correct their own grammar mistakes. I will admit that I struggle with assessing my students' writing, and Kelly's book has given me some great ideas to make those challenges easier.

Mechanically Inclined by Jeff Anderson

When I teach any kind of grammar min-lesson, this book is the first resource I turn to. Jeff makes teaching grammar fun with lesson ideas that teach grammar in context, rather than in isolation. If you could see some of the anchor charts in my classroom, you would recognize many of Jeff's ideas from this book.

The Big Book of Details by Rozlyn Linder

How many times have we said to a student, "You need to add more details." Just what exactly does that mean to a young writer? This book will explain and give you specific ways to teach "add more details." It is one of those books you can't read from cover to cover, but you pick and choose what your students need at that time and then find those strategies in this wonderful resource. It is a book of 46 moves for adding details to narrative, argumentative, and informational writing. It has even helped me with my own writing!

The Quickwrite Handbook by Linda Rief

Many teacher-experts in the field remind us of the importance of writing volume. Students need to write and write a lot. I have tried to add more writing by using quickwrites. Linda's recent book is full of quickwrite ideas and mentor texts from authors, from Linda, and from her students. If you want to add volume to your students' writing, then you may want to check this book out.

I have so many more resources I could add to this list, as I am sure you could also. Let us know if you have a favorite resource (or two or three) by adding them in comments. I can't wait to see what you bring to the potluck.

Leigh Anne has entered her 12th year of teaching.  She has taught 4th and 5th grade and currently teaches 6th grade ELA at a middle school in Indiana.  She is working on her Master's degree in Curriculum and Instruction at Western Governors University with a goal of becoming a literacy coach. Leigh Anne has a passion for connecting kids with books and helping teachers develop a writing life. You can connect with her on Twitter @Teachr4 or on her blog, A Day in the Life

Write for Us!

The #TeachWrite Twitter Chat Blog is dedicated to providing a space for our community to connect and share their voices about writing and teaching writing. We are looking for guest bloggers who would like to blog on topics related to being a teacher-writer. Educators and writers of all levels are invited to join us in this space. More information can be found here.