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Monday, September 26, 2011

How Many Charts are Too Many Charts?

First, let me apologize.  As the school year started up, I have been all over the place with both consulting work and my own children starting school (my son, Sam, just started Kindergarten a few weeks back …needless to say it has been a BIG transition for all of us).  I am going to try my hardest to stay more up to date on my posts from now on. 

I have been traveling to numerous schools this September and helping teachers to set up their classrooms for the most effective, engaging and efficient Writing Workshop they can imagine.     I have been working with administrators to devise checklists of the “musts” when starting off the year with the goal in mind of, “Building a Community of Writers”.  This phrase is really multifaceted as it encompasses many different elements of teaching and learning about writing.    When I think of “Building a Community of Writers” I think of two questions that we might ask of ourselves in helping to start the year off strong:
Number 1: What does it mean to become a writer?  Questions like, “From where do writers get their ideas? “, “What inspires writers?” and “What does writing mean to you?” 
Number 2:  What classroom routines, rules and management ideas do I need in place to help my students and myself make the time in Writing Workshop the most valuable it can be?  Questions like, “What if students need help and I am in a writing conference with another student?”, “What should students do when they think they are done?” and “What happens in a writing conference?”
I have learned that when it comes to hanging charts in my classroom, less is actually more.  It is strange for me to say that when I have about 200 laminated charts in my basement right now from my own classroom’s Reading and Writing Workshop!  I do use many of them when I speak at workshops or conferences, but I don’t want to part with them because they have become a part of my teaching history.  Yet, as I learn more, see more and reflect more I have come to realize that walking into a classroom plastered with posters on the walls (even when they are so neatly written in colorful marker!) can be a distraction to the students, especially our youngest writers.  That when creating posters, we have to think about the two questions above and then ask, “Why?”  How will this chart help my students to become a stronger and more independent writer?  How will this chart help me to be a more effective and efficient teacher?  What is the purpose?  If you can’t answer the question or it’s just to “make the room like nice” it probably doesn’t need to be up there. 
I like charts that communicate to those walking into your classroom that we are “Building a Community of Writers” and writers need tools to be successful.  And these charts, similar to our notebooks, pencils, sticky notes and highlighters, are a tool that helps to move us forward in our writing journey. 
Below are some of the charts I have collected from schools across the country that answer the questions above. Please realize that these charts are from different grades, different schools and different teachers.  Please feel free to comment, share your own “favorite” charts to start the year off right or  share these with colleagues and borrow the ideas.   ENJOY!
Author Posters gives students a sense that writers are real people just like them!  Include a photo, other books published (including the mentor texts you'll use during the unit of study), great quotes about writing and information about their lives.  Or... have older students work in groups to create the posters together as a research exercise and let them present their poster to the class. 

A "Writing Process" or "Status of the Class" chart allows students, visitors, administrators and parents to know where you are in the writing process, where you're headed and that meaningful writing takes great time and care. 


'Rules, Routines and Responsibilities" charts are always good to set the standard of what happens during workshop time and conferences. 

These charts are a HUGE help to manage your students who are not conferring with you.  It keeps them focused on the writing task and helps them to become more independent without drifting into a chat with a friend about soccer, pulling on your shirt for help or forming the dreaded LINE at your desk.

Just some favorites that explain why writing is so important and the impact it makes in the lives of our students, ourselves and our world.

 ** For more charts and ideas please visit me on Facebook by searching D.E.I.  or

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