Building a Community of Writers

The article below appears in the July 2018 edition of A Teacher’s Magazine if you’re interested in ordering it and reading more! Here’s a link to a six-month subscription: A Teacher’s Magazine – August ’18 to February ’19. Here’s a PREVIEW! There are so many great articles for back-to-school that, even if you didn’t order it at the beginning of July, it is worth grabbing now or any time before school starts.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In 1989, I was a new, fresh-faced first year kindergarten teacher who “discovered” the magic of Lucy McCormick Calkins by reading the book, The Art of Teaching Writing. I had never heard of writers’ workshop and I eagerly implemented the strategies I learned from her book into my classroom routine and her sage advice into my own philosophy. Teaching using a workshop model has always been my way.


At the beginning of every school year, whether I am teaching kindergarten or fifth grade or any grade in between, I start with building my community of writers. In order to write real pieces with voice and depth, students have to feel safe and know that reactions and feedback are coming from a place of care. They should never feel attacked or mocked. That’s why it’s crucial for students to have a lot of time to play around with and share seed ideas before they choose a seed that they want to nurture and grow into a fully developed piece. I like to spend a week or two modeling how to brainstorm and how to gather seed ideas, as well as how to ultimately choose the seed to grow into a fully developed piece. 

When launching the workshop, it is important to establish rituals and routines (of course) and to ensure that every child has a notebook. Every year that I have taught third grade or fifth grade, my students have enjoyed bringing in stickers and magazine clippings to personalize their notebooks. I also always have age appropriate magazines and a variety of stickers on hand for those students who forget or who may not have as much support at home to gather the materials they need or want in order to personalize their notebooks. After students finish decorating, I cover the outsides of the notebooks with packing tape or clear contact paper for durability. This year, since I have three classes, students store their notebooks in bins on a community shelf, but I have also had students store their notebooks in their desks when I have had one or two classes. 


In my current district, the pacing guide outlines pretty basic ideas for launching the writing workshop, but there is a lot of room for interpretation. I spend several days with students working on generating ideas across genres (what types of informational, narrative, and opinion pieces can they write about on the same topic) and with audience in mind (do they want to write a letter, a list, or a story). I also have them think about their favorite genre (which, for most is narrative) and then have them brainstorm ideas for it and for other genres. It may seem like overkill, but as the year progresses and they (inevitably) say, “I can’t think of anything to write”, I have them return to the wonderful lists they generated at the beginning of the year.

Brainstorming  Informational Narrative Opinion
Brochure Fictional Story Advertisement
Letter Narrative Nonfiction Letter
Newspaper Article Personal Narrative Newspaper Article

After spending about a week generating ideas, breaking in our new notebooks, and practicing routines, it’s time to commit to a topic! It’s time for students to really “dig in” and decide what pieces they want to write. I like for them to really analyze their options and justify their choices. It’s time to break out the sticky notes! I set them up for success by providing sentence stems such as “This is a good idea because…” for them to write on their stickies and by having them discuss their options with peers. After some chatting and sharing, I have them fill out an exit ticket that I keep on file for when I check in with them during conferences. 

Now’s the time to help them recognize and use resources (three, then me). We explicitly talk about each child’s strengths and also do a gallery walk around the room to look at anchor charts. In addition, I provide small anchor charts for them to glue into their writing notebooks in a “reference” section to use throughout the year. Over time, they all learn that John is a great speller, Mary has a phenomenal vocabulary, etc. but at the beginning of the year when we’re building our community, it helps for them to know that their peers can be resources and that they can be resources, too. Some students may need a lot of scaffolding here – particularly your reluctant writers. In this case, it’s important offer some suggestions such as: 

“I’m an expert at…” 

  • Keeping my notebook organized
  • Coming up with ideas
  • Using precise verbs
  • Trying out different points of view
  • Deleting unnecessary words
  • Adding dialogue 


During the drafting period, many students really struggle with accepting even the most constructive feedback and actually revising as they go. The temptation to say, “I’m done” is so great. It’s pretty hard to resist. As a teacher, I try to model making changes myself and accepting (and actually using) feedback, but that’s not always enough. Modeling is great, but mentor texts can also help immensely during this time. You can encourage your students to rewrite parts of their pieces from different perspectives. Now that the movie version of Wonder is out, most students have at least seen the movie and many have read the book, as well. Spending a class period talking about Via’s, Jack’s, Summer’s, Justin’s, Miranda’s, and (of course) Auggie’s perspectives can help students see how their own characters’ points of view get at (or don’t get at) the heart of their stories. Taking time to read Voices in the Park can also help students see how authors use different points of view to tell the same story.

Affiliate Links:

Another option for teaching revising during writing is to have students look at ways that they can incorporate symbolism into their stories and what better story to use to teach that skill than Beauty and the Beast. It is absolutely chock-full of symbols! In 2017, my students really enjoyed thinking about the symbols in the story. They jotted their thoughts about what the symbols represented on sticky notes (what would we language arts teachers do without sticky notes, amirite?), then placed their notes on chart paper, and finally took a gallery walk around to read and discuss the charts before they settled in to incorporate some symbols into their own writing. Were they all successful? No. Did they all try? Yes! Attempts are always important – especially when building that community. Knowing that taking risks is safe is priceless.

Affiliate Link:

Exploring a variety of leads is also a good way to revise during writing. Looking at some basic leads – action, question, snapshot, sound effect, and talking – and trying them out can help students decide how best to start their pieces. It’s also important to look at how they want to end their pieces and exploring a variety of conclusions – offering a reflection, stating a lesson learned, restating the thesis, etc. – can help students stay focused and avoid ending their pieces with “the end” or “to be continued…”

When students have really reached a point where they’re ready to write (and, perhaps, even if they haven’t quite reached it), I have them break out the laptops. I create an assignment on Google classroom and they begin typing away. They love having the option to share their work with peers electronically and being able to give and receive targeted, helpful feedback.


We’ve all heard of COPS, but I like CUPS better. CUPS stands for Capitalization, Usage, Punctuation, and Spelling and is more aligned to what I, as an adult, do when I am editing my own writing. Here, if your community has trust and feels safe taking risks, your students can help each other simply by offering a pair (or several pairs) of fresh eyes to look at each others’ pieces and make those final tweaks before printing. At this point, students can think about how they want to present their pieces. Do they want to illustrate them? Do they want to do a dramatic reading with different voices for different characters? Do they want to make a Google slides presentation? Do they have different ideas?

When I was a new teacher, I had an Author’s Chair that was a special place for one student to sit and share while everyone else sat and listened, ostensibly preparing to comment. I abandoned the Author’s Chair when I moved to fifth grade in 2011. One problem I always had with the Author’s Chair was that it was too product oriented. I wanted to focus on the process as a whole class. Writing conferences are great (and necessary), but students don’t learn as much about the process their peers are experiencing if this is the only venue for feedback in their classroom. This is (one of the many reasons) why I love Google classroom! As I mentioned, students can share their living documents and get feedback from peers as well as from me on this platform. I also like to circulate and check in with students as they write and ask (quietly), “Would you like to share that with the whole class?” as I check in. If a student responds, “No”, that’s fine. It’s an option.  


In conclusion, setting students up for success in writing at any grade level involves building a caring and supportive community of peers and teacher(s) as well as giving students plenty of time to explore genres, topics, leads, conclusions, and literary elements. Some will soar. Others might come along a little more reluctantly. Consistency is key. May you have a magical and magnificent year with your community of writers in 2018-19 and for many years to come! 

Building a Community of Writers


  • Calkins, Lucy (1986) The Art of Teaching Writing.
  • Calkins, Lucy, Marjorie Martinelli, Mary Chiarella, M. Colleen Cruz, Ted Kesler (2010) Units of Study in Opinion, Information, and Narrative Writing. Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, Columbia University.
  • Oczkus, Lori (2007) Guided Writing:Practical Lessons, Powerful Results.
  • Ray, Katie (2006) Study Driven.

July 4th Giveaway and More!


We wanted to help you celebrate your Fourth of July 🇺🇸 with a BANG 🎆 and let you have a treat for you plus a little something for your class!  💸 We’re giving away TWO SETS of $20 gift cards ($40 TOTAL) so spread the word! 🗣 Follow the steps below to enter this great giveaway!

1️⃣Like this picture and follow me @amazingmaterials4you 💁‍♀️

2️⃣Comment below: what is your favorite way to celebrate the Fourth?! 🇺🇸

3️⃣FOR AN EXTRA ENTRY: Tag up to FIVE friends in the comments! 😍

4️⃣Tap the picture to see where to go next. When you’ve gotten back to me, you’ve completed the loop! 😃


This giveaway will close at 8 PM EST FRIDAY JULY 6TH. Winners will be announced that evening and will be contacted by @pieceofcakeinsecond. You must follow the steps for each picture to be eligible. *This giveaway is not endorsed by Instagram and is independently given by the above accounts.*

Hashtag Sales!

In addition to this giveaway, I’m participating in some hashtag sales. I hope you’ll check them out! Amazing Materials for You

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Affiliate Links!

As always, I love to share some of my favorite resources with my readers. If you decide to purchase any of these books, I will receive a small commission. Thank you so much for your support.

Summer Stylin’ 2018 Giveaway


Who wants to be stylin’ this summer?☀️😎 I have teamed up with some amazing teachers to bring THREE lucky winners some fun prizes!

What’s included:

🎉 One lucky winner will receive an Erin Condren Planner and Flair Pens.

🎉 A second lucky winner will receive a $50 TPT gift card and a $10 Target gift card.

🎉 A third lucky winner will receive a teacher t-shirt, a cute tote, and Monat shampoo and conditioner!

How to Enter:

1️⃣ Follow me @amazingmaterials4you

2️⃣ Like this post Summer Stylin’ 2018.

3️⃣ Comment with emojis showing your summer plans!

4️⃣ Tap the picture and head over to @asprinkleofsecond and continue the loop until you are back to me!

‼️For additional entries‼️

🔶 Tag additional friends in separate comments.

(Each tag= 1 additional entry)

🔶 Share on your instastory and/or page and tag at least one of us!!


Giveaway ends on Sunday and the LUCKY WINNERS will be announced!! 🎉 This giveaway is not affiliated with Instagram, Target, TPT, or any of the other brands included. 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Amazon Affiliate Links:

You might also like:

Independence Day Giveaway!

Rafflecopter giveaway


Happy July 4th! A team of amazing teachers and I have grouped together to gift an awesome teacher with a TPT gift card to show them how appreciative we are!

1 x $150 TPT Giftcard
#1 TAG your teacher friends by adding their names in the comment section: Instagram Post
REMEMBER: each entry counts as ONE entry, the more links you complete, the higher your chances of winning!!
Raffle CLOSES: Saturday 7th July 2018 12am


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Father’s Day 2018

Happy Father’s Day.


Here I am on my first Father’s Day without my dad feeling sad, but also feeling so grateful. I was blessed for 53 years with a dad who loved my mom, my brother, my children, and me unconditionally and limitlessly. I realize that many people never have that. My dad was good man with integrity, loyalty, and humor. He was also brilliant. I always believed that my dad knew the answer to everything! I miss his insightfulness and wisdom. I miss his thoughtful sage advice.

This has been a day of reflection for me. I know that there are so many people out there whose fathers are uninvolved, uncaring, unkind, or even abusive. My dad was not perfect, but he was always there when I needed him and I learned to be accepting and open-minded from him.


I miss you, dad. I think about you every day and still cry every time a Beatles song comes on the radio. Rest in Peace.



Product Pals

In 2018, I became aware of Product Pals and, honestly, it has enriched my life and teaching experience so much. Getting to field test great Teachers Pay Teachers products  on my own students and write reviews is only the half (or really maybe the fourth) of it! I have collaborated with some extraordinarily creative and innovative educators over the course of the last few months and look forward to continuing to do so. In addition, I have gotten some great feedback on one of my own products.

Let me start with February. First of all, I should apologize to Let’s Be Franco and Fifth in the Forest because I don’t think I did their shout-outs justice! I absolutely loved their products, as did my students, but I didn’t take nearly enough pictures. Let’s Be Franco’s product is a collection of Growth Mindset lessons, posters, a slide show, and more that would be great any time of year, but would be phenomenal at the beginning of the school year.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I also filmed my students learning something new which was an amazing, hands-on way for them to apply having a growth mindset to their own lives. Thank you, Let’s Be Franco for this great lesson.

Fifth in the Forest’s product is a Civil Rights Movement Slide Show and Study Guide that was absolutely perfect for Black History Month. My fifth graders really enjoyed taking notes like middle schoolers and high schoolers, as well as learning more about segregation, passive resistance, Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Jackie Robinson, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, freedom rides, the March on Washington, the KKK, Brown v. Board of Education, the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act, and other topics. They were fascinated by the fact that Ruby Bridges is still alive and that Linda Brown was also still alive in February. They couldn’t believe that these events happened so recently. This presentation led to some great discussions and some clearing up of misconceptions. My students didn’t really understand that the Montgomery Bus Boycott was local because the Black citizens of Montgomery were protesting their mistreatment on city buses whereas the Freedom Riders’ protest was national because they were protesting the mistreatment of Black citizens on buses that carried passengers across the nation.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In March and April, I was able to find some testers for my own Poetic Elements Gallery Walk and I absolutely loved the variety of ways the testers implemented my product! The Instagram Shout-Outs were incredible, too. Since a picture is worth 1,000 words, check these out!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

During April, I was able to test two fantastic products: Reading Trifolds and Vocabulary Graphic Organizers. The versatility of the trifold product by Miss P’s Style is outstanding. They can be printed on brightly colored paper or white paper and the teacher can decide what books or passages s/he wants to use with the trifolds.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The range of activities in the Vocabulary Pack by Pencils and Playgrounds is so great that it is a product that could be used throughout the year for so many different units of study! My students chose their own words from their independent reading books, but a teacher could also use common vocabulary from science, social studies, math, or a class read aloud for students to study.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In May, I jumped at the chance to test additional products from Miss P’s Style and Pencils and Playgrounds. I have finished testing Miss P’s Reading Graphic Organizers which are so versatile! My students and I loved the full color, laminated card stock sheets for reuse, but teachers could also print them in black and white on colorful paper (or white paper) for one time use. Using the graphic organizers during small group discussions was terrific. We read articles and focused on cause and effect, determining important information, and drawing conclusions, but (like the trifolds) you could use any fiction or nonfiction text for a lesson with any of these organizers. My students LOVED using the sticky notes and I’ll bet yours will, too.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I am currently wrapping up my product test on Text-Based Evidence Reading Passages – Summer by Pencils and Playgrounds. (May is over on Thursday, right? Thank goodness for a 31 day month!) Look for my post on Instagram this week. I will say that these passages are delightful and are getting my students (and me) excited for summer. I love that both fiction and nonfiction passages are included in the packet.

Finally (you thought I’d keep going on forever, didn’t you?), I want to share feedback on products that I field tested as well as feedback I received from testers of my products. Teachers really are a fantastic group of people. I love Product Pals so much. I hope that if you’re reading this and have never participated that you will during the 2018-19 school year. I’d like to give shout-outs to people who tested my products: The Crazy CATcus LadyThe Gypsy TeacherDraz’s Class, and Memoirs of an Educator. My final shout-out goes to Thompson’s Teachings and from September to Mrs. May for coming up with this wonderful idea!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Affiliate Links:

Studying Novels

Like all of my posts, this one contains affiliate links.

When I first started teaching, I taught littles – three-year-olds, kindergartners, and first graders. Picture books were my jam. I used picture books to teach everything. Some of my favorite authors were (and, honestly still are) Maurice SendakVera B WilliamsEzra Jack KeatsKevin HenkesWilliam SteigLeo LionniBill Martin, Jr.Eric Carle, and Audrey Wood. I had a clawfoot bathtub in my classroom that I bought at an antique market so, every year, my kindergartners would put on a little play of King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub for their parents. We set many of the sing-song texts of the books we read to music to help us learn to read.

I left the classroom in 1997 and became a reading interventionist. After the birth of my first child in 1998, I stayed home for a few years. I slowly returned to teaching when my younger child was a toddler by teaching babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. I also taught college and was an interventionist. When I decided to return to the classroom full time, I took a position teaching third grade. One of my first thoughts at the time was, “How will I transition from working with children who are learning to read, to working with children who are reading to learn?” Nonfiction was a “no brainer”. Obviously, we would read nonfiction during guided reading, practice reading strategies, and discuss what we had read. I had spent years facilitating book clubs at my children’s school and I loved that. I knew that I wanted to incorporate book clubs in my third grade classroom. As a reading interventionist, I had trained parents to read with students individually, so I wanted to teach parents to facilitate book clubs. Having parents lead book clubs for the two years that I taught third grade went really well. The parents and the kids loved it! We divided up into our groups every Wednesday and talked about books in a relatively informal way – much like an adult book club. Students were expected to read a certain number of pages every week and then the group would come together and talk.

In 2011, I moved to fifth grade. I knew I wanted to have my students study novels again. I needed to make some tweaks because I would be teaching the same group of students I had taught in 2009! Since it was my first year in fifth grade, things didn’t go as well as I had hoped. Students joined Goodreads and interacted around the books they were reading – sometimes. Sometimes, they did lame things like create “groups” where the primary goal seemed to be to exclude people and gossip. UGH. So, during the 2012 – 2013, I (gasp) skipped book clubs altogether.

On to the fall of 2013. A new teacher joined our fifth grade team and, in addition, I had a student teacher – lots of hands on deck. We decided to give studying novels another go. My new teammate had some great ideas and we ran with it. We wrote structured novel packets that included discussion and constructed response questions that addressed the Common Core State Standards. The structure really helped students stay on track during their meetings.

Fast forward to the fall of 2017. I put a lot of thought into how I could improve novel discussions. We completed a whole class novel study of Wringer which went extremely well. How could I improve small group literature discussions that weren’t teacher or parent led? Task cards. I began to develop task cards using the questions I had developed for novels in the past.

Wringer, Complete Novel Study

Wringer, Novel Study Packet

Wringer, Discussion Questions in Black & White and Color

Wringer, Discussion Questions in Color

Riding Freedom, Novel Study Packet

Riding Freedom, Discussion Questions in Black & White and Color

Danny, the Champion of the World, Discussion Questions

Hoot, Discussion Questions

The Jacket, Discussion Questions

Just Juice, Discussion Questions

Wonder, Discussion Questions

How do you incorporate novel studies in your class? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

I’m Loving Animoto and RIPL

Are you using Animoto and RIPL? I started using RIPL about a month ago and I am really thrilled with it. It links to my AmazingMaterials4You Page and my AmazingMONAT4You Page, as well as my AM4Y Instagram accounts and my AM4Y Twitter account. I can make eye catching slide shows with cool effects in seconds and post them to all of my accounts with one touch straight from my phone. What?

Here’s an example of a video I created using RIPL:

I stumbled across Animoto yesterday! I think it may change my life. A friend I met on Facebook and Instagram suggested that I add videos to my Teachers Pay Teachers Previews and I thought, well, I’m not sure how to do that with RIPL and started searching. I played around with the free version for about 20 minutes and willingly upgraded to the paid version when I realized what I could do. Adding the videos on Teachers Pay Teachers was so easy, too! You just drag and drop.

Here are the videos I’ve made with Animoto so far:

I am absolutely over-the-moon with excitement about this!

All of you youngsters out there can feel free to have a laugh at my expense, but these options offer something I never could’ve fathomed in my wildest dreams growing up! I didn’t own a computer or a video camera until I was in my 30s and had a flip phone as recently as 2010!

When I was a senior in college in 1985 – 86, I got an electric typewriter that would allow me to see a line of text and make corrections as I went rather than having to keep that handy dandy bottle of liquid paper by my right hand to correct inevitable mistakes after I made them. If someone had told that twenty one year old English major that technology like Animoto and RIPL would exist when I reached my 50s, I might have laughed in his or her face! Thanks to Back to the Future, I think I would’ve been much more willing to believe that I’d be driving around in a flying car!

Affiliate Links:

Did you suddenly remember that you needed white out?

Are you thinking about a Back to the Future binge watching day?


Follow Me on Bloglovin’

I’m learning so much from fellow educators on Instagram and Facebook! I’m so excited.

Why I Love Wringer So Much

When I was in the fifth grade, I went to a new school and became invisible. I truly have no memory of any peers speaking to me that year. I was pretty shy and don’t remember it bothering me. I’m sure it did, but I don’t remember. Fast forward to sixth grade. In sixth grade, people started to notice me, but not for the reasons I had hoped. I was tall and awkward, developing, and my face was starting to break out. I was dubbed the ugliest girl in the school, specifically “Medusa”. Boys would look at me and pretend to “turn to stone” ostensibly because I was so hideous. The sixth grade was the year that I officially started to hate school. I didn’t have any friends or champions and I had no desire to be there. I just wanted to disappear. I was “sick” a lot.

However, in the 7th grade, something miraculous happened. I was placed in homeroom with THE most popular girl in the grade and ALL of her friends were in the other homeroom. I will never forget the look on her face when she walked into class on the first day of school that fateful day (for me) in 1976. She made a sweep of the classroom with her eyes, then rolled her eyes, then sat next to me. That was it. The rest, as they say, is history. Sinking or swimming in that moment would make the difference between having friends and being lonely and friendless. I swam. One thing that I discovered about myself was that I was resilient. One thing my popular friend discovered was that I was hilarious (a coping strategy we “ugly girls” are forced to develop). The popular girl and I are still dear friends to this day.

Dorothy, one of Jerry Spinelli’s secondary characters in Wringer, is a lot like I was back in middle school. Yes, she’s younger, but she is bullied relentlessly by Beans, Mutto, Henry, and even Palmer. I relate. I connect. I respect Dorothy for having the guts to stand up to her bullies. She’s resilient. Palmer is a weasel for not standing up for her, but soon enough, he discovers that she is a good friend and a worthy confidante and he becomes an upstander for Dorothy and for his beloved pet, Nipper. I suspect if Palmer and Dorothy are based on real people that they are still friends to this day – like my popular friend and I.

If you’re a teacher, you are currently teaching a Dorothy (someone who is being tormented mercilessly, yet is forging on), a Beans (a bully), a Mutto and a Henry (bystanders), and a Palmer (someone who just wants to be accepted and is confused and hurting in his own way). I have found that reading Wringer aloud to my whole class (sometimes 2 or 3 classes depending on the year) is a great way to broach and discuss these painful coming-of-age topics. The bonus is that in all of my years as a fifth grade teacher, I have never taught a student who has read it! It makes for a great read aloud experience filled with surprises.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Wringer – Full Color Discussion Cards

Wringer Discussion Cards in Black and White and Color

Wringer Complete Novel Study for Independent, Partner, and Small Group Work

Wringer Complete Novel Study for Whole Class Read Aloud

Affiliate Links:
     Click on the book cover to buy one (or more) copies of Wringer!

Click on the image above to buy these INCREDIBLE Dry-Erase Clipboards

%d bloggers like this: