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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Mentor Text of the Week- A Cool Drink of Water

This week's text is...
A Cool Drink of Water by Barbara Kerley
You can click on the title above to purchase the mentor text from
This text is a narrative nonfiction piece of text, most appropriate for students in the upper grades,
although it can be used in the primary grades as well.  

Possible Minilessons for Writing Workshop:

  • List structure
  • Use of font, capitals, italics to emphasize certain words/ideas.  
  • Use of ellipses to get reader ready for a list
  • ​Engaging photographs depicting the use of water all over the world
  • Vivid verbs start off each page
  • Specific adjectives/word choice
  • Repetition
  • Varied sentence lengths
  • Varied sentence beginnings
  • Content specific vocabulary introduced 
  • Conclusion that relates the topic to each reader and wraps up the text
  • Extra information about the topic ("A cool drink around the WORLD")
  • Maps
  • Clever title
  • ​Note from Scholastic at the back of the book about their effort to lessen environmental waste
  • Interesting quotes about water from various figures at various times in civilization
  • Letter at the back about water conservation from the President and C.E.O. of the National Georgraohic Society​

    Click here for a Teacher's Guide for this book

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Mentor Text of the Week- What If You Had Animal Teeth by Sandra Markle

What If You Had Animal Teeth by Sandra Markle
You can click on the title above to purchase the mentor text from
This text is a narrative nonfiction piece of text, most appropriate for grades 2-5.

Possible Minilessons for Writing Workshop:

  • Clever introduction
  • Close up photographs that let the reader really examine the subject
  • Interesting, shocking, and new facts presented to the reader
  • Repetition ("If you had..."
  • Analogies to the reader's own life helping them truly understand the information being presented 
  • Humorous illustrations that make the facts relatable to the reader
  • Illustrations of background reveal clever connections to the topic
  • Extra fact bubble on each page for additional information about the topic
  • Varied sentence lengths
  • Main idea and supporting details
  • List structure
  • Varied sentence beginnings
  • Varied sentence types (questions, statements, exclamations, etc.)
  • Content specific vocabulary introduced 
  • Conclusion that relates the topic to real life and wraps up the text
  • Extra information about the topic ("Where Do Teeth Come From?" and "Teeth Need Care")
  • Photo credits that show the validity of the photographs
  • Clever title

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Mentor Text of the Week- Every Friday by Dan Yaccarino

Please feel free to check back each week as well as follow us on Facebook for updates.  Enjoy!

This text is a personal narrative piece of text, most appropriate for grades K-3.

Possible Minilessons for Writing Workshop:

  • Author's note reveals the inspiration for the idea (a perfect generating idea on "everys" in your life)
  • Two page spreads
  • Background details that allow the reader to get to know the characters and setting more fully
  • Repetitive beginnings "We..."
  • Patterns on clothing for extra detail in illustrations
  • Environmental print makes the scenes come alive (inspiration is from city in New Jersey)
  • ​Compound sentences
  • Commas in a series
  • Thoughtful and limited dialogue
  • Purposeful punctuation: em dashes, exclamation points
  • Small moment (entire event is probably 30 minutes long)
  • Movement through time is shown through events going on around characters
  • Facial expressions to show emotion
  • Variety of sentences
  • Illustrations tell more than what's on the page in text
  • Short amount of texts that makes for a perfect narrative

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Mentor Text of the Week- The Beetle Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta

In an attempt to get more minilessons into the hands of dedicated (but strapped for time) educators, I have dedicated a portion of my website/blog

to the Mentor Text of the Week (MTOW).  Each week, I will choose an accessible mentor texts and give you the following:

  • The tittle, author, and illustrator
  • The text type (as related to the Common Core) and genre
  • The grades to which it would fit met appropriately
  • Various minilessons that could be used at different stages of the writing process
Please feel free to check back each week as well as follow us on Facebook at for updates.  Enjoy!

This week's text is...
The Beetle Alphabet Book 
by Jerry Pallotta, 
Illustrated by David Biedrzycki

This text is an informational/nonfiction piece of text, most appropriate for grades 2-5.

Possible Minilessons for Writing Workshop:

  • Clever dedication ("Thanks to John, Paul, George, Ringo…)
  • Titles of Beatles songs hidden on many beetle illustrations throughout the book                                                                                                                                        (Check out letter I, J, N just to name a few…)
  • ABC structure
  • Diagrams with labels
  • Introduction that speaks to the reader and excites them
  • Domain-specific words woven into the facts
  • ​Eye-popping, bold, close-up illustrations that hook the reader into the text and topic
  • Small topic, perfect for a selecting lesson on choosing topics that are interesting to a reader                                                                                                                   and also researchable
  • Analogies to help reader understand concepts/facts being presented
  • Added in thoughts/opinions of the author 
  • Two page spreads
  • Use of interesting and purposeful punctuation: exclamation points, question marks,                                                                                                             and commas in a series, 
  • ​Perspective in illustrations so the reader can see the world through the beetles' eyes
  • Varied sentence length, beginnings, and types of sentences (exclamatory, interrogative, declarative)
  • Voice/Humor/Talking to the reader that connects the facts on the page to everyday situations
  • Interesting, surprising, silly, and new facts about animals the reader may already know
  • Illustrations  that allow reader to truly comprehend the size of the beetles (actual sizes are shown in the shadow of each letter)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Reflections on the First D.E.I. Writing Conference

What an incredible two days I had hosting the First Annual D.E.I. Writing Conference this past weekend. After months of planning, emails, Facebook postings, presentation revisions, and phone conversations, the conference kicked off in Stony Brook, New York on Friday morning.

There were new teachers and veteran teachers.  Primary level teachers and upper grade elementary teachers.  Middle school teachers and reading specialists.  Administrators and college professors.  Each and every one ready to learn more, talk more, and share more about writing instruction and how to make it more effective and more efficient.

The days were filled with lively discussion, healthy debate, thoughtful questions, and shared laughter about what we, as educators, do in our classrooms each and every day.  Being surrounded by educators who were so dedicated and enthusiastic in making their writing instruction more relevant, authentic, and meaningful for their students made me remember why collegiality is such an important part of our any profession (or any profession for that matter).

A highlight of the conference for me was when I got to sit and listen to two of my colleagues, Tara Falasco and Kathleen Masone, as they spoke about "Test Writing as a Genre".  I sat in awe of their knowledge and passion for writing and learning, in general.  I asked questions, shared anecdotes, reflected on my own teaching practices, and connected with their words about embedding test writing into our every day experiences.

Picture books were a major focus of the day and teachers got to explore and investigate the many possibilities for teaching writing using some of our favorite texts in informational, narrative, and opinion writing.

Here are a few slides from three of the sessions that dealt with the power of mentor texts in Writing Workshop.

Opinion Mentor Texts

Informational Mentor Texts

Narrative Mentor Texts

For longer lists of mentor texts, full slideshows of all six sessions, photos, and other handouts shared at the conference visit this link at

We hope to see even more dedicated teachers at our summer 2014 conference!

D.E.I.'s First Annual Fall Writing Conference- Anchor Charts for Writing Workshop

Here are the photos from the PowerPoint shows that were too large to upload onto my website for all of you who attended as well as all of you who couldn't make it.  Stay tuned for my blog post on the WONDERFUL two day institute on Long Island.

Photos from Session #1: "Reworking the Writing Workshop: Taking What Works and Making it More Efficient, Effective and Exciting"

Photos from Session #2: "Raising the Quality of Narrative Writing in Your Classrooms: New Narrative Mentor Texts for Your Writing Workshop Classroom"

Photos from Session #6: "Using Interactive Read Alouds to Introduce Mentor Texts in Writing Workshop"

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Forgive me, Ralph

I had the opportunity to meet Ralph Fletcher back in April at the Massachusetts Reading Association conference, where he was speaking as the closing keynote speaker.  As a literacy "nerd" and a long-time fan of Ralph's work, a colleague of mine and I sat at the front table hoping to catch a closer glimpse at the writing master.  Wonderfully, I got the chance to strike up a conversation with him about the future of writing workshop and the Common Core State Standards before he began.  My colleague snapped a shot of us (the excitement in taking this photo was similar to what I imagine I would feel if given the chance to take a photo with any of the New Kids on the Block during the late 80s) and I listened to Ralph talk about "boy writers" for 60 minutes.  I soaked up each and every word and proceeded to buy his book of the same name; Boy Writers. 

I am a HUGE fan of Ralph Fletcher and agree with him and what he writes constantly.  I profess his wisdom to colleagues, students, and  parents constantly.   I have heard that Ralph believes that revision is the most important stage of the writing process. And as painful as it is, and as conflicted as I feel in doing this, I must disagree with Ralph (I can't believe I just wrote those words!).

I believe that selecting is the most important stage of the writing process.  Selection is where students choose an incredibly powerful and meaningful memory and create a thoughtful and honest memoir.  It's where students select the naked mole rat to develop a feature article that teaches readers all about this disgusting-looking yet fascinating, little rodent.  It's the time when students pick to argue the case for or against longer school days in a persuasive letter to the board of education.  Selection is where an idea is chosen carefully and thoughtfully that will take flight and evolve into something incredible or...where an idea is chosen quickly and frivolously causing angst for both student and teacher for weeks to come as they both struggle though the rest of the writing process.

Care, thought, and time should be taken when selecting an idea for a piece of writing.  I believe asking students  to think "small", at first, is the way to help them focus their idea and then grow it, as they move through drafting, revision, and editing.  

A fourth grade teacher from a school in which I consult invited me to demonstrate a drafting minilesson in her room a few weeks back.  To gain some insight, I asked her to send me a list of the students'' ideas.  This is the list she sent.

As I sent her an email discussing the importance of selection, I suggested we think smaller and that she ask some of the students (Kayla, Katherine, Rachel, Justin, Finola, Manny, and Tommy) to focus in on some of their larger topics.  I received her response in my inbox and was so pleasantly surprised to receive a new and revised list of the students' selected topics for their personal narrative after some conferring on her part.  They were smaller, more focused, more interesting (let's be honest...), and had a much better shot of being drafted, revised, and edited with less stress, better focus, and more excitement.  

Check them out side by side....

As Kayla, Katherine, Rachel, Justin, Finola, Manny, and Tommy took their larger topics, shrunk them down, and created smaller ones, without even realizing it, their writing experience became a deeper one.  

Selection, and selecting a smaller idea (regardless of the genre) is the key to making students feel successful right from the beginning of the writing process.  I hope Ralph Fetcher can forgive me.