Making Thinking Visible

Making Thinking Visible
Making Thinking Visible

Arts Integration

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Arts Integration
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Roses Are Red: Using Poetry in Reader's Workshop

...How do you like to go up in a swing, | Up in the air so blue? | Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing | Ever a child can do? | Up in the air and over the wall, |till I can see so wide, | Rivers and trees and cattle and all | Over the countryside--- | Till I look down on the garden green, | Down on the roof so brown--- | Up in the air I go flying again, | Up in the air and down?
                                                                               -Robert Louis Stevenson

I still remember this poem from a childhood book of poetry.  I can visualize the illustrations (which I adored), and the sing-song way my mom and grandma would read it to me.  I bet you have a favorite childhood poem, too.  Childhood is filled with poetry, from nursery rhymes to jump-rope chants, from Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein to rap lyrics. As teachers, we sometimes use poetry to work on reading fluency with children.  We teach finger plays to preschoolers.  These early exposures develop memory skills, rhythm and steady beat music abilities, and reading fluency.  But often time, elementary teachers miss out on reading comprehension opportunities because of how they don't use poetry.

In working with colleagues over the last 26 years, both as a classroom teacher and literacy coach, I've noticed that teachers are very comfortable teaching figurative language devices such as alliteration, metaphor, simile, personification, onomatopoeia, etc.  They're adept at teaching students to use poetic forms like cinquain, haiku, diamonte, list poems in writer's workshop.  However, we know from educational research that reading and writing are more interdependent than we thought. According to K12Reader (, "The relationship between reading and writing is a bit like that of the chicken and egg. Which came first is not as important as the fact that without one the other cannot exist. A child's literacy development is dependent on the interconnection between reading and writing." In order for children to write poetry in which they grow their writer's craft, they need to be critical readers of poetry.

Here's a homework assignment for you. Ask your colleagues how or if they teach their students to read poetry.  You may be surprised by what you find out.

Poetry is complex text.  The whole nature of the genre is to express deep emotions and life experiences in a metaphorical way. Understanding poetry demands inferential thinking, synthesis, analysis, critiquing and making connections- all of which are higher level reading comprehension skills. There are a variety of ways to include poetry in your reader's workshop. Check out some of the suggestions below!
  1.  Create text sets of poems: I've copied individual poems, glued them on large note cards and laminated the cards.  I hole-punch the cards, collecting them on rings.  I make six identical rings and use them as reading pieces with my guided reading groups, just as I would guided reading novels.
  2. Using the same approach, copy individual poems, glue them onto 3x5 note cards, and laminate them. Then place them in brightly-colored library card pockets. Tuck the pockets inside partner novels, picture books, or nonfiction texts.  The mystery of how the poem is connected to the other piece of literature is motivational for students. I've done this with guided reading groups, too. It's fun to hear how students connect the two texts.  And, it's an important academic skill.
  3. Use poems to discuss theme. Create text sets of poems with similar themes. Because most poetry is about strong feelings and life truths, discussing theme is a natural activity with poetry. We often do this using the "CSI" thinking routine from Making Thinking Visible (Ritchart, Morrison & Church). This routine requires students to think about mood.  What color would you assign to the poem? What symbol would you create for this poem? Why? What image comes to mind as you read this poem? Sketch it! Using poetry in this way demands visualization, and symbolic thinking and interpretation. 

  4. Use poems to discuss point-of-view and perspective.  I use a thinking routine called "Step Inside" from Making Thinking Visible (Ritchart, Morrison & Church). After read a piece of poetic text, I ask students what they think the poet's perceptions are about life...what are her beliefs about life?  What does the poem tell us about what is important to the poet?  "Step Inside" is perfect for this type of discussion.
I could go on and on with ideas for poetry in reader's workshop because it's one of my absolute favorite genres to use. However, just like any other literature, the depth of text a teacher uses with her students determines the level of thinking in which her students will engage. I currently teach fifth grade, but have taught every grade K-8. Meaty poems can be used with all's the amount and type of meat in the poem that varies according to the grade level.

For example, "Proud Words" by Carl Sandburg works well with fourth and fifth graders when the social dynamics of puberty are ramping up. It's a great example of personification to share with students.  While "Bad Day" by Myra Cohn Livingston is a great fit for second or third graders.  Don't shy away from using work from poets usually associated with adults.  Believe it or not, there are some poems by poet greats like Pablo Neruda, Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni,  Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost, Maya Angelou, and e.e. cummings that elementary and middle school students can understand and enjoy.

Check out some of the titles I've successfully used in my reader's workshop below!

  1. "And My Heart Soars" - Chief Dan George
  2. "Celebration" - Alonzo Lopez
  3. "Days" -Karle Wilson Baker
  4. "Acquainted With the Night," "Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening" -Robert Frost
  5. "It Is Grey Out" - Karla Kuskin
  6. "I'm Nobody! Who Are You?" & "Hope is the Thing With Feathers" -Emily Dickinson
  7. "Daybreak in Alabama," "Dream Deferred," "Dreams," "Dream Boogie," "Mother to Son" & "Dream Variations" - Langston Hughes
  8. "In Just" - e.e. cummings
  9. "Skiing"- Bobbi Katz
  10. "Listening to Grownups Quarreling" -Ruth Whitman
  11. "Karate Kid" -Jane Yolen
  12. "Spider Webs" -Ray Fabrizio
  13. "Way Down in the Music" -Eloise Greenfield
  14. "Words Free As Confetti" -Pat Mora
  15. "Starry Night I," "Starry Night II," and "Solitude" -Eve Merriam
  16. "Words" -Pablo Neruda
  17. "This is Just to Say" -William Carlos Williams
  18. "The Bells" -Edgar Alan Poe
You might also check out these novels written in poetry: Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, Love That Dog Hate That Cat, both by Sharon Creech, and Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson.

It truly is amazing to see what happens when poetry is fully incorporated into a reader's workshop.  If a teacher can resist the urge to interpret the meaning and leave room for her students' voices, she won't be disappointed!

You might like to check out some of these resources, mentioned above, to help you launch poetry in your reader's workshop! There's a freebie here for you, too! 


This month, I've teamed up with some great teacher bloggers for our Teacher Talk blog hop. There are some phenomenal ideas here for you. Be sure to visit their blogs below. Simply click on the links!


Using Visible Thinking to Read with Wonder

Criss-cross applesauce. That's how I was sitting on the floor of the kindergarten classroom. I had scrunched my 40-something year old self into a pretzel so I could watch kindergartners with chocolate milk mustaches and grass-stained knees eyeball goldfish in science class aquariums. The excitement was palpable.

"Whooaaaaa! Look at that one!"
"He's fast!"
"Can I name mine Stella?"
"I'm gonna name mine Batman!"

Then the scientists got down to business. They whipped out pencils and orange, yellow, black and white crayons. They drew what they saw. They drew arrows to label fins, eyes, gills and tails. Riveted, their kindergarten eyes were glued to every movement in their aquariums. 

The room was filled with wonder, and for a brief moment, I thought about moving from fifth grade to kindergarten. 

I quickly got over my lapse of reason. Teaching upper elementary is my happy place, but the seductive glory of kindergarten wonder and astonishment turned my head. I ambled back to my own classroom thinking about the importance of wonder in learning and teaching. 

As a dinosaur in the teaching world (I prefer to think of myself as an armored triceratops), I've noticed a trend in my readers. My students gravitate toward what I call "hot fudge sundae books." They read the trifecta: Wimpy kids,  underpants, the Disney-endorsed fiction. Don't get me wrong. I love the fact that they are reading, but my heart longs for them to independently experience books on a deeper level...books that stay with them like a fabulous meal at a five-star restaurant...books that make them wonder about the world.

That's how I talk to them about reading. They need a balanced diet. I go into the whole nutritional reading metaphor and talk about how dessert books only fill your mind up to a certain point, and then you're hungry again. That approach works, but only on a short-term basis. So I decided I had to do some marketing. 

First Chapter Fridays & Visible Thinking

Taking a page from Ron Ritchart's Making Thinking Visible, I massaged the Zoom In thinking routine, and added a dash of the See-Think-Wonder routine. 

Every Friday, I bring three chapter books from my classroom library to our meeting area. I facilitate a see-think-wonder about the covers of each book. 
What do you see? What do you notice on the cover?
What do you think about what you notice?
What are you wondering about?
Then I read the first chapter of the first book. I stop about 3 to 4 times as I read through the chapter so students can zoom in. The zoom-in thinking routine is usually used with visuals. It allows students to view an image in small chunks.  I modified this routine and used it with text. Students were allowed to see/hear small sections of the first chapter, until the whole chapter was revealed. At each stopping point, I ask students to stop and jot their noticings, thoughts, and questions. At the end of the first chapter, they stand up and walk and talk with a thinking partner about the chapter they just heard. 

Then I do it again with the second and third books I choose. By the end of the session, they are jockeying in line to get those books, so much so, that we have created wait lists for our First Chapter Friday books.

It's funny how simple some solutions can be, isn't it? As a result of our see-think-wonder, zoom-in routines and First Chapter Fridays, my students are branching out as a readers and thinkers. They're discovering new worlds, and I couldn't be happier. 
There are worlds within worlds...Everything in our world is connected by the delicate strands of the web of life..."

Want to explore some visible thinking routines in your classroom? Do your students read a balanced diet? Check out these resources! They could make a difference for your kiddos, as they did mine!

I'm so lucky and privileged to be part of a phenomenal group of upper elementary bloggers. You won't want to miss out on their posts about wonder and curiosity this month! Visit them below!

Good Food, Good Booze, Good Books: A Teacher's Winter Break Trifecta

In today's rush, we all think too too much...want too much...and forget about the joy of just being.
                                                                                      -Eckhart Tolle

Sometimes, I think of myself as an encumbered pack animal, let's say a donkey.  Every day, more and more is piled on my back. Report cards. Christmas shopping. Lesson planning. Returning phone calls. Meetings at lunch...meetings before school...meetings after school, and God forbid if I have to fit a doctor's appointment in. The more that gets piled on, the more of an ass I become. 

That's why winter break is so important. It gives me an opportunity to catch my breath, to practice mindfulness, and to transform back into a human being.  

This week, my We Teach So Hard podcast friends and I are inviting you to a winter break potluck. We've curated some of our favorite recipes for cocktails, entrees, desserts, and good books. Because if you're anything like us, one of your favorite ways to slow down is to sip a cocktail, eat a good meal, and sink into a good book. 

One of my favorite entrees is a vegan carrot ginger soup. If you like the spicy soul-warming sweetness of curry, cinnamon and ginger, you need to try this soup! It's perfect for a cold winter's day in pajamas with a blanket and book. Plus, it's easy-peasy.

Here's what you'll need:

  • 2 lbs. of carrots, chopped
  • 1 small/medium onion, chopped
  • 1 to 1 1/2 inch of ginger root, peeled and chopped

Saute these ingredients in about 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil, until onions and ginger are tender.

  •  Add salt and pepper to taste
  • Add 1 teaspoon (or more, to taste) of cinnamon, curry             powder, cayenne pepper, and ground cloves.
  • Add 4 cups of vegetable broth. Simmer until carrots are tender.
  • Remove from heat. Cool for about 5-10 minutes. 
  • Stir in a can of unsweetened coconut milk. I use "light."
  • Finally, puree in your blender OR use an immersion hand   blender. I like to leave a few chunks in mine. 
  •  Reheat without boiling. I serve mine with seasoned croutons on top, or over basmati rice. YUM!

One Christmas, a student's family gave me a big bottle of Bailey's Liquor for Christmas. That break, I ran out of coffee creamer in the middle of a ferocious winter storm. Without really thinking things through, I poured Bailey's in my coffee for three mornings in a row before it occurred to me that I was boozing it up at 9 in the morning.

I do love a great cocktail. And when I don't have to work the next day, I imbibe more freely. White wine sangria is one of my favorites to make because it's not fussy, doesn't require huge amounts of prep, and once it's made, you can drink it for days.

Here's what I do:

  1. Chop a granny smith apple (or another kind of tart apple).
  2. Chop a ripe pear (sweet).
  3. Add a heaping cup of fresh cranberries. I add them whole.
  4. One large sprig of fresh rosemary.
  5. Pour in one bottle of Pinot Grigio.
  6. Add 1/2 a cup of white grape juice.
  7. Stir in 1 can of club soda.
  8. Stir in 1/4 cup of sugar
  9. Add a pinch of cinnamon.
Mix, refrigerate and serve. Mmmmmmmm.

Sometimes you read a book so special that you want to carry it around with you for months after you've finished just to stay near it.
                                                                                 - Markus Zusak

Long before I thought of becoming a teacher, I loved books. I couldn't get enough of them. To this day, I decorate my home with books. There are books that I will never get rid of because they feel like members of my family. They changed and shaped me in some way.  I hoard them in order to make them mine.  The Samurai's Garden by Gail Tsukiyama is one of my treasures. I have read it numerous times, and I am transported in each rereading. 
Tsukiyama's prose is poetic and enchanting. Her characters are heartbreaking and human. They frustrate me, make me want to rage and cry for them...they make me love them. The Samurai's Garden explores beliefs about love, beauty and sacrifice. I don't want to go on and on about the plot, because you can read about that on Amazon or the back of the book. But trust me. You must read this book. And after you do, go read her other fiction. They are wonderful. You can find the book HERE (I make nothing from your purchase. I am not an Amazon affiliate).

I've made a little winter break gift just for you! Click on the graphic to access it. I hope you enjoy.  

If you haven't listened to our podcast, Episode 20 A Winter Break Potluck, click the picture below! We share even more recipes and books. If you like what you hear, consider commenting or subscribing to our podcast on iTunes. 

Kathie, Deann, Retta and I wish you a peaceful and relaxing winter break. Stay mindful, healthful, and happy!

Check out their recipes, cocktail and book recommendations below. They've got some great suggestions for you (as well as some freebies).

Poetry & Descriptive Reading and Writing: .A Teacher's Story of How "Fluff" Led to Rigor

Eons and eons ago in my teaching career, a colleague once said to me, "I don't know how you find time to get to that fluff." Even now, the words still slap, and my face burns with the memory. I had been teaching poetry in reader's workshop and my students had used choreography to express their thinking and understanding of the poems they were reading. 

They performed their poems for each other and their parents, but more importantly, their choreography became a means of discussing the complex texts they were reading. At the time, I was using this as an action research project for a teacher leadership academy in which I was participating. I was diligently tracking my students' implicit understanding of poetic text. In the end, I found that my atypical teaching approach hugely impacted my ELL and special education students. Their scores jumped. 

And yet...

Poetry was fluff. 

It still stings.

The writer uses descriptive language to show how scared and nervous Jill is. Give some examples from the book.
                           -Level R, "The Election," Fountas & Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System

I was giving my last Fountas & Pinnell reading assessment in the first round of assessing for the school year. Like Pavlov's dog that salivated every time the bell was rung, I reflexively braced myself for my student's answer. Some form of this question appears at almost every level of the fiction assessments, and my students were falling down...HARD. 

They don't know what descriptive language is...

This realization hurt my heart. Maybe it's because of our obsessive focus on non-fiction text? Maybe it's because we only teach poetry in April? Maybe it's because we don't talk to each other the way we used to before digital age? I'm not sure, but it's a trend that is alarming. I've noticed it over the last five years. Our students don't have the language to describe things, and they don't have the ability to recognize descriptive language. 

Has anyone seen my box of fluff? 

The concept of Found Poetry has always fascinated me. I love the idea of taking prose, noticing the beauty of the language, and recycling it into poetry. I think of it as word ecology...where every day could be Earth Day in reader's and writer's workshops!  Using prose to write poetry addressed both of my students' needs:
  1. Noticing and thinking about descriptive language in text.
  2. Using descriptive text to improve elaboration and writer's craft in writer's workshop.
We started by using a fun website that I had discovered that took familiar patriotic songs and taught students how to create new poems from the lyrics they "found" in the original song. You can find it HERE. I did this because I wanted my students to get the gist of what we would be doing before we used our own texts. 

Then, I dusted off our picture book texts.  I took a hard look at the picture books we were reading together. I had recently read Appelemando's Dreams by Patricia Polacco and Imagine by Bart Vivian.  Both texts are about daydreaming and the power of imagination. I pulled an excerpt from Polacco's text: 

And I pulled the text from Bart Vivian's book:

I tried to use description-rich passages. We reread the passages together, and then we read them again. Students highlighted sentences and phrases that stood out to them. 

I asked them to explain what had made them choose the words they did, and our conversation exploded. They reported that the words they zoomed in on actually helped them visualize what they were reading. This is exactly what I wanted. From there, I was able to again teach descriptive language. We discussed our favorite phrases.

Then, they took the phrases and sentences apart until they had a list of words.  I taught them to add words that we commonly use (conjunctions, articles, prepositions, pronouns) to their lists. 

Then we began our Found Poetry. We arranged our words just as we did on the website. The results were beautiful, but more importantly my kiddos had a better understanding of what descriptive language is, why it's important to zoom in on as a reader, and why writer's use it. 

One of best thing about this approach was watching my students use descriptive language in their own writing. ,They were successful because they were supported and could use the "inspired language" from an author's text. This approach is especially fantastic for my ELL students. In doing so, they were able to make it their own. Exciting stuff! 

If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.
                                                                          -Emily Dickinson

If you're interested in trying a "Found Poetry" approach with your students, or maybe just diving into more reading or writing of poetry, visit the links below by just clicking on the pictures (one is free)!

This week, I've linked up with some inspiring educators for our monthly Teacher Talk. Visit their posts below!

Writer's Workshop: Free-Write Fridays

I've wanted to be a writer since seventh grade.  Before seventh grade, writing felt long and laborious. I remember being made to keep a daily journal in sixth grade. That assignment was laughable. My peers and I were at that ugly and brutal age where girls moon over the boys and write about crushes and each other. Boys wrote about who was cute...and who wasn't. 

Then there was the time my frenemy stole my journal and passed it around for all to read. I can still see the look on her face, triumphant and sneering. Don't worry. I had my revenge. I had to write 200 sentences, "I will keep my hands to myself," but she never did it again. 

Beyond basic conventions lessons, I don't remember ever being taught how to write. But then in seventh grade, I had a teacher who gave us choice.  Suddenly, I could write poetry or a research report on Pompeii. I could write short stories and plays. There still wasn't a lot of direct writing instruction, but I was given choice for the first time ever, and it rocked my world. 

Choice...a little word with such big possibilities. 

I think that the writing is important. We want to encourage a lot of low stakes writing, and by low stakes, I mean writing where they're not being graded, corrected, assessed. Nobody's casting a critical eye on them, but they're using writing as a way to think loud and push their thinking on writing.
                                                                     -Ralph Fletcher

As a classroom teacher, there are two practices I've added to my writer's workshop that are game changers. Both hinge on students having choice and low stakes writing opportunities. 

Free-Choice Fridays

In my school district, we use writing units developed by our ISD. Our units are designed for a workshop approach and influenced by Lucy Calkins' work. Students have choice of topic throughout our units of study (memoir, nonfiction writing, persuasive essay, literary essay, and a research writing unit). However, I wanted to give my students a chance to have choice over genre, so I implemented free-write Fridays. One of the reasons I did this was that I wanted to my students to apply the learning we did in our writing units to their independent writing. 

I wanted my students to think and make decisions like writers. It wasn't that they weren't doing this in our unit lessons, but they needed to see that those skills transfer, regardless of the genre. When I tell my students that they can write whatever they want, their faces light up. "Whatever we want?" they ask, in disbelief. Since I began free-write Fridays, I've read student-authored comic strips, sportscasts, poems, plays, reader's theaters, fantasy fiction and informational books about mummies and mythological beasts, songs, and on and on and on. When given choice, my kids rise to the occasion. And guess what? They take their writer's notebooks home to work on their free-writes throughout the week, again by choice. 
Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a title list, a character sketch, a journal entry. Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up."
                                                                               -Jane Yolen

We begin our free-write session with small group sharing. I arrange my students into groups of 4 or 5 students. During this time, students read their work to each other. I've taught them to ask for specific feedback. For example, before I read my writing, I might ask my group to pay attention to my descriptions. Are they strong enough? Then, I read my writing or a passage from it, and they give me feedback. I make notes while they give me feedback. After the share session, which is about 15-20 minutes long, then we write independently. I confer with my writers at that time and have craft conversations with them. 

Which leads me to the second practice I implement during free-write Fridays: I write with my students. I bring my writer's notebook to school. I ask them for their feedback when I share, and I ask for their criticism. I make myself a participant and use that role to model my thinking about my writing. 

Recently, I shared some chapters of a juvenile fantasy fiction novel that I'm writing. I told them I was struggling with the villain character. I didn't want the villain to be human because it was set in an alternative world, but the I didn't want to vilify the animal characters. My kids helped me solve my writing conundrum, but more importantly, the conversations they had about fantasy books they had read and the decisions various authors had made in their writing were thoughtful and inspiring. They were helping out a fellow  

Teaching writing is probably one of the hardest subjects to teach because it demands complexity from the teacher and the students. It takes planning, talking, debating, knowing when to support and when to back off, but it is also one of the most rewarding skills to teach.

Free-write Fridays has been one of the most effective ways I've found to motivate my writers. 

If you're looking for workshop materials to support your teaching, click the pictures below!