5 Must-Have Entries for Your Pandemic Journal

Rarely, do you see me without a notebook. I have kept a journal for the past 20 years and have filled hundreds of notebooks with handwriting expressing my successes, failures, hopes, dreams, and even mundane daily tasks. There is no replacement for the feeling I get when my favorite pen glides across a new page in my journal! 

Keeping a journal provides a safe spot for expressing ideas, wrestling with questions, and writing yourself into history. It is both therapeutic and creative. Journaling is inexpensive and accessible; the writing that occurs is self-regulated and shares patterns, behaviors, and experiences that have defined us. 

Journaling also provides a unique primary source during historical moments in time for future generations to read and understand. Journals become a  collection of thoughts and experiences from the people who lived through it. Currently, we are all living in another one of these historical moments and a Pandemic Journal is a perfect place to record how we are living through these uncommon times, as well as a creative and meaningful way to encourage our students to write. 

Here are 5 Must-Have Entries for Your Pandemic Journals:

  1. Pandemic Picture – Inspired by the work of photographer, Gregg Segal, Pandemic Pictures depict a person surrounded by the items that are most important to them during this pandemic (and can be photographed). For instance, I told my daughter to collect 15 things that she couldn’t live without, were important to her, that she loved, or that brought her joy while sheltering in place. Her collection was filled with creativity, art supplies, music, technology, as well as TP, hand sanitizer, and a mask. This one photo represents her 12-year-old life during COVID-19 and will ignite memories to be shared with others in the future.

2. T-chart – Create a t-chart somewhere in the journal that will allow you to add to it throughout the pandemic. On one side list “Things I Love Right Now” and the other “Things I Miss Right Now”. Bike rides with my children, exploring nature, and the growing bond between siblings are a few things listed on my “Love” side. Flying and travel, extended family and friends, enjoying appetizers and drinks at a restaurant are just a few of the things I miss greatly. Having this space in my journal will allow me a dynamic spot to add to as time goes on.

3. Letter to Future Self – Letter writing has seen an increase during the pandemic. In your journal, write a letter to your future self explaining your current reality. How would you explain what you are experiencing? What would be important to remember? What hopes do you have for the future? Writing to your future will provide a time to not only grapple with current conditions but provide hope to what things will be like in the future. 

4. Listicle – A listicle is a piece of writing that is wholly or partly created by a list. This is another entry that can be ongoing, a place to record, in list form, things you want to remember. For instance, the price of gas (wow, is it low), what is missing from the grocery store, what people are hoarding, when businesses and recreation are closed and opened, how social distancing looks in the stores with the plastic guards and dots on the ground. There are many small things that have shifted in our daily lives, it will be important to note these differences. 

5. Interview – By our very nature, humans are social. And during these times, sheltering-in-place and social and physical distancing have become the norm, and in some places the mandate. Connecting with others is important for our physical and emotional health, and although we may not be able to meet for dinner or attend a celebration in person, talking with those we care about can be another entry to document in our pandemic journal. Interview a relative or friend and write down the conversation. What does their daily life look like now? What do they miss doing? What have they learned about their neighborhood, family, city, etc.? What sort of social norms are developing? What is closed? What is open? These interviews become part of a living history and help to stay connected to others. 

Journaling is not new, what is new is the current reality people across the globe are living through. Everyone’s life has been impacted by COVID-19 and it is important for us, and our students to capture our experiences and feelings to write ourselves into history. I encourage you to begin your own Pandemic Journal if you have not already done so, it is not too late. I would also encourage you to have your students and children write their thoughts in a journal during this time. It is not only therapeutic but a creative outlet that will benefit future generations to come. 

Have any other Must-Have Pandemic Journal ideas to share? Drop me a comment below!

12 Quotes About Writing from the Experts Teachers Love

I love teaching writing. Well, let me rephrase that, I love teaching writing, now… It wasn’t until I was in my graduate studies that I actually learned how to teach writing. Sure, I wrote in college, learned grammar and convention rules, explored genres, and had writing classes during my undergraduate work, but a class on how to actually teach writing… I don’t recall that being part of any course I took for my education degree.

Following my graduate studies my philosophy on the teaching of writing changed. I found my students more interested in writing and sharing their thoughts. I, too, began to write more and eventually started a blog to share with other educators. And along with an increase in enjoyment and confidence, the skills and craft of writing strengthened.

Now, I work with other educators on how they can best refine their instructional practices. And when I am lucky, I get to also share my best practices in the teaching of writing. One thing is certain when I share my love of writing with other educators; I have been influenced by many experts in the field of writing. The following is a small sampling of what I feel are important quotes, suggestions, and affirmations on the teaching of writing.


A person can read without writing, but he cannot write without reading. If we neglect writing, it is also at the expense of reading.


Linda Rief


The world of writing is a mural, not a snapshot. Students’ notions of genre should be expansive, not narrow.

Tom Romano


Writing is not thinking written down after all of the thinking is completed. Writing is thinking.


Donald M. Murray


We are living in a new era of literacy, one in which participation is key – participation in:
A digital culture
A democracy
A global conversation
What this participation mostly entails is writing.


Randy Bomer & Michelle Fowler


Writing taught once or twice a week is just frequent enough to remind students that they can’t write and teachers that they can’t teach.


Donald H. Graves


You don’t learn to write by going through a series of preset writing exercises. You learn to write by grappling with a real subject that truly matters to you.

Ralph Fletcher


Teach the writer, not the writing.

Lucy Calkins


Studies over time indicate that teaching formal grammar to students has a negligible or even harmful effect on improving student writing.

Regie Routman


Very young children can write before they can read, can write more than they can read, and can write more easily than they can read—because they can write anything they can say.


Calkins; Graves; Harste, Woodward, & Burke; Sowers


Writing, in this instance, is a particularly powerful tool for helping adolescents listen, reflect, converse with themselves, and tackle both cultural messages and peer pressures.

Peter Elbow


After all, teachers should not be able to grade all of the writing students do. If they can, they aren’t inviting students to write enough.

Douglas Fisher & Nancy Frey


But of all of the strategies I have learned over the years, there is one that stands far above the rest when it comes to improving my student’s writing: The teacher should model writing – and think out loud while writing – in front of the class.

Kelly Gallagher

Teaching students to write is something very few teachers learned how to do during their undergrad. But when we do teach writing, the voice that is developed in our students carries with them into their adult lives. It’s hard, difficult at times, but definitely worth it! And just when we least expect it, a former student drops you a line like this one on Facebook!

25 Online Poetry Resources

I love teaching poetry. There is something beautiful about the structure and the word choice that portray the exact image and message the poet intended. From Sonnets to Blackout Poetry, having students read, write, and recite poetry allows them to see how to bend language in a playful way to communicate sarcasm or notice the enjambment of words to communicate “this should be read rapidly”.

Poetry is closely tied to music, and it is through music that I often hooked students into considering the magic of poetry. In fact, one of the activities I had them do was locate poetry devices in song lyrics (You can see an example here ). This activity launched them into reading & analyzing, writing, and reciting poetry.

Poetry does not have to be intimidating to students or adults. Connections can be made to music, real life, and social justice. Helping students unlock the mystery of poetry can be as simple as summarizing lines or stanzas, identifying speaker, setting, and situation, and reaffirming that while we may not know the exact intentions of the poet, there are ideas and understandings that are more correct than other ideas.

As April quickly approaches, and many will be celebrating National Poetry Month, I have created a list of some of my favorite poetry websites, resources, and apps to support teachers as they navigate the poetic sea – Enjoy!

Traditional Poetry Websites

  • The Poetry Foundation – is an independent literary organization committed to a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture. It exists to discover and celebrate the best poetry and to place it before the largest possible audience. It works to raise poetry to a more visible and influential position in our culture. Multiple pages are connected to this website and it is a great place to start.
  • Poetry 180 – Poetry 180 resides on the Library of Congress website. It is designed to make it easy for students to hear or read a poem on each of the 180 days of the school year. Hosted by former Poet Laureate, Billy Collins, a perfect way to incorporate poetry daily into your classroom.
  • Poets.org – Poets.org is produced by the Academy of American Poets. The site was launched in 1996, becoming the original online resource for poems, poets’ biographies, essays about poetry, and resources for K-12 teachers.
  • Library of Congress Poet Laureate – The Library of Congress Poet Laureate website also resides on the Library of Congress website. Students are able to learn about the position of US Poet Laureate, about the current Poet Laureate, and their projects.
  • NCTE Poetry – NCTE Poetry Resources – The National Council of Teachers of English has multiple resources for teachers who want to use poetry in their classroom. Included are interviews with Poets, books to consider adding to your collections, as well as lessons to use with students.

Nontraditional Poetry Websites

  • Split This Rock – Explores and celebrates the many ways that poetry can act as an agent for change: reaching across differences, considering personal and social responsibility, asserting the centrality of the right to free speech, bearing witness to the diversity and complexity of human experience through language, imagining a better world.
  • Power Poetry – Power Poetry promotes a safe space where poets can share their work, as well as encouraging more growth in the organization. Power Poetry is the world’s first and largest mobile poetry community for youth. It is a one-of-a-kind place where you can be heard. “Power Poetry isn’t just about poetry: it’s about finding your voice and using it to change the world!”
  • Song Meanings – In the larger tradition of poetry, there is a strong relationship to music, instrumentation, and oral culture. Textuality, bookishness, I would argue, is the reason why contemporary poets have not been able to ignite a larger following and perception of poetry. Delve into the lyrics, text, and meanings of your favorite songs and learn how poets can SING better.
  • Teen Ink – National teen magazine and website devoted to helping teens share their own voices while developing reading, writing, creative and critical-thinking skills.
  • Poetry Out Loud – Poetry Out Loud encourages students to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation. This program helps students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about literary history and contemporary life.
  • Poetry4Kids – The funny poetry playground of children’s author Kenn Nesbitt. You will find lots of funny poems and poetry books for children, classic children’s poetry, games, poetry lessons, and activities, plus a rhyming dictionary, videos, school visit information and lots more.
  • Poetry in America – Poetry in America, created and directed by Harvard professor Elisa New, is a new public television series and multi-platform digital initiative that brings poetry into classrooms and living rooms around the world.
  • Google Arts and Culture – Explore collections and exhibits all about Poets and Poetry on the Google Arts and Culture website. Google Arts and Culture allows students to explore collections from around the world – a perfect primary source.
  • Glossary of Poetry Terms – A website that is part of the Poetry Foundation and is a comprehensive glossary of poetic terms, theories, and schools of poetry. A perfect Reference tool for all your budding Poets.

National Poetry Month Resources

  • National Poetry Month – National Poetry Month each April is the largest literary celebration in the world, with tens of millions of readers, students, K-12 teachers, librarians, booksellers, literary events curators, publishers, bloggers, and, of course, poets marking poetry’s important place in our culture and our lives.
  • Dear Poet Project – a multimedia education project inviting young people in grades five through twelve to write letters in response to poems written and read by some of the award-winning poets
  • Poem in Your Pocket – April 18th is Poem in Your Pocket Day, part of National Poetry Month. Share your poem with everyone you meet. During the day, carry it with you, and share it with others at schools, bookstores, libraries, parks, workplaces, street corners, and on social media using the hashtag #pocketpoem

Unique Poetry Resources and Apps

  • Bot or Not – When AI (Artificial Intelligence) meets poetry you have Bot or Not. A fun game that tests your identification skills to decide if the poem in question was written by a human or by a computer.
  • Poetry Machine – Students can create an original poem on this website using one of the 48 templates listed. Everything from acrostic and haikus to animal poems; there is something for all young poets.
  • Instant Poetry 2 – Poetry 2 is an iOS app the reminds me of magnetic poetry. Create your own poem with images and drag and drop words. Upload your own image to use, or refresh to get a list of new words. Write and share poetry with anyone! 
  • Rhyme Zone – A website that allows students to search for rhymes, synonyms, and definitions. Perfect for poetry and writing lyrics.
  • Poemix – Remix text into simple poetry. Source of text can be anything from your favorite book to tweets. Fun and simple to use.
  • Mesostic Poem Generator – Type in your name and a short bio and this program will create a mesostic poem for you. It is similar to an acrostic, but with the vertical phrase intersecting the middle of the line, as opposed to beginning each new line.
  • Poem Generator – Poem Generator allows students to choose the structure, enter words based on prompts and parts of speech and the website does the rest. With 14 structures to choose from, students can have fun exploring and writing.
  • Blackout Bard – Blackout Bard is a free mobile app that parallels blackout poetry in a digital form. Students can choose a block of text, blackout words, and style the remaining ones to create and share a poem.
  • Facing History and Ourselves – Facing History and Ourselves Poetry Section can help students explore and connect with issues of identity, group membership, and belonging, as well as provide models and inspiration for how they might tell their own stories.

Have I forgot to list any of your favorite resources, websites, apps for Poetry? Be sure to comment below and remember to share your National Poetry Activities that your students are doing this year.

Writer’s Workshop in the High School Classroom

My Post (9)

Typically, the discussion around Workshop takes place against the backdrop of the elementary classroom. When I tell other educators I also used workshop in my high school classes I am inundated with endless questions… How did you do that? What curriculum did you use? How much time did you have?

First, before jumping into the weekly schedule and content I used, I always explain a few things up front.

Logistics and Important Information About My Classroom:

  • Class periods were 42 minutes and I met with the students every day for one semester.
  • I worked hard at the beginning to build a community of writers, one where students would be willing to take risks in their style and content and share with a wider audience than the traditional lone teacher.
  • All students submitted a writing portfolio at the end of the course, sharing their chosen pieces, paragraphs, lines, etc. which demonstrated mastery in standards.
  • All students were required to complete, at least, three typed-pages every week of original work or one that was heavily revised and edited.
  • Students were part of a blogging community and required to post something every other week and comment on 2 other blog posts every week. This public sharing of work provided a different audience than the traditional lone teacher and helped grow writers faster than anything else I had done throughout my writing. (This community was high school students from across the US and in 4 different classrooms.)
  • Students chose content and type of writing each week. Portfolio asked for examples in multiple types, subgenres, and media; but students had complete control over the when, what, and how during the semester.
  • Along with typical types and subgenres of writing, students also created and wrote in contemporary modes including images, videos, music, infographics, etc.
  • Every two to three weeks students turned in a “publishable piece” to be assessed.
  • Finally, I wrote with my students. I modeled my thinking, shared my pieces, and asked for feedback!  

 

I used the traditional Workshop model where I tried to keep my direct instruction at a minimum so that students could write, apply the learning, and collaborate with each other and me when needed. The following is a typical weekly schedule. During student Independent Writing time they had three options: write, collaborate with peers, collaborate with me. As long as their actions were done with intent, the climate and culture in my classroom allowed them to decide what they needed most at that moment to move them forward as a writer, and then do it!

A Simplified weekly schedule of Writer’s Workshop for a 12th-grade writing class:

MondayInspiration. Brainstorm. Share Every Monday I would take time to launch students into writing. I called this “Monday Inspiration”. There were many methods I used to get kids excited about writing. Students were inspired by a mentor text, video, image, or other types of communication. I would pose a question or prompt to contemplate and write about. Students would take part in an inspiring writing activity that typically had them developing lists, sketching, moving, and so forth. All inspiration and accompanying thinking were recorded in their digital Writer’s Notebook section we labeled, Writing Territories, a term from Nancy Atwell. After the 10 to 15 minute inspiration, students would continue to brainstorm and write about the topic or in the genre at hand. This beginning may be something that they continue to develop throughout the week, or remain in their Writing Territories to call upon if they “don’t know what to write about.” At the very end of the class period, I would make sure to leave time to share. I learned early on, students loved sharing their thoughts, writing, and ideas on Monday after the inspiring start. The sharing was sometimes done as a whole class or in a small group.

TuesdayIndependent Writing. Peer Collaboration. Small Group. 1 on 1  On Tuesday, students were writing or creating independently on a piece of their choice. While they could continue the piece they started on Monday, students in my classroom always had a choice in Type and content of their writing. During this time, I worked with small groups, to teach a skill, reinforce something previously learned, or meet individual needs, collectively. I also had time to meet with a few students 1 on 1. This allowed me to know them as writers, address specific needs that either they or I identified, and to just do a check-in on their process. Along with working independently, or meeting with me, students also had the option to work with a partner or small group. During a writer’s workshop, students are at multiple points in the writing process. Some continued pieces week to week, others may just be in the beginning stages; students would revise, edit, and provide feedback to each other and their “virtual classmates” in the blogging community based on their needs as a writer.

Wednesday Language Study. Independent Writing. Portfolio. Blog. On Wednesdays, the class period began with a lesson over grammar, usage, or mechanics. Teaching grammar in isolation does not lead to use in writing. With this in mind, I used student writing, identify common errors made by the class and this is where I would focus my teaching. After the lesson, students continue to write or work with peers. Wednesday was also time for students to work on their writing portfolio, a collection of their best examples and reflections throughout the year and aligned to the standards or teaching goals. Students could also add a new post to their blogs or leave a comment on another student blog from our community.  

Thursday –  Independent Writing. Revising. Editing. Small Groups. 1 on 1. Thursday was spent much like Tuesday. Students chose how they spent their time based on their writing needs. Some worked independently, others worked with a partner or small group. During the revising and editing stages, students used a variety of strategies to accomplish their goals. These strategies were taught via whole class and small groups. They also prepared for Friday, making sure they had something of substance to share the following day. I spent my time working one on one with students, teaching specific techniques that would move them forward as writers.  

FridaySharing with Feedback. Fridays were typically spent sharing writing. To help build a community of growth, we started off sharing in small groups of 3 using the PQP strategy (Praise, Question, Polish by Bill Lyons). This allows the writer to receive the specific feedback needed. Another method used was Go, Fish, a whole class strategy that allowed every writer to give and receive feedback. An Author’s Spotlight was used to highlight individuals and often included multiple pieces by 2 or 3 writers. Important things about students sharing their writing: Everyone shared what they wanted to with the rest of the class, feedback was specific (more strategies were taught for this) and used to move everyone forward, finally, sharing their writing honored the process and provided a different audience than the traditional lone teacher.

It is possible to use a workshop framework in a high school classroom. In fact, I cannot imagine teaching writing a different way. Students had a choice in content and writing type. They also shared their work with classmates and to a larger, public audience. Students were writing for real, not just writing for school, and created in multiple mediums to communicate their voice through video, text, visuals, and more. And although this post shared a basic structure, I hope that it provided you with enough information to see the possibilities when considering how to structure a writer’s workshop in your own classroom.

A Writing Activity: New Year, Dream Big!

New Year, Dream Big ...Very soon, many of us will return back to school and greet the smiling faces of our students whom we have not seen since 2018. Granted, the time spent apart is much shorter than a summer break, but brings with it an important sign of starting fresh.

It’s the beginning of a new year; 365 opportunities to dream big and accomplish something new (or something that has been an unreachable goal until this year). For many students, it will be a time to reconnect with friends and teachers that they haven’t seen for a couple weeks. Some students are beginning new coursework, attending a new school, or even planning for graduation in a few months.

As a teacher, it was always my favorite time to have students write. Write about their dreams, goals, and ambitions, plus, it went perfectly with the start of a new year. Creative titles have always alluded me, so I simply called this New Year, Dream Big.

Students (and me, I always modeled and shared my writing with students) used the following questions to help spur their writing:

New Year, Dream Big…

  1. What are my dreams? In school? Life? Friendship? Activities? Etc. (Identify one to write about)
  2. Why is this dream important to me? Why did I choose this one?
  3. Is this a new dream? Old dream? Habitual dream?
  4. What do I already know or understand about this dream?
  5. What steps do I need to take to make this happen? Have I already completed or started any of these steps?
  6. What help do I need to achieve this dream? Who or what can help me?
  7. What is my timeframe for accomplishing this dream? How will I know I succeeded? When will it be time to give up?
  8. Closing thoughts and reflections?

 

At times, these pieces appeared on student blogs or influenced other writing done throughout the semester. Students were proud of their Dreams and shared them with everyone who would listen. And I was proud of them.

So consider having your students write to start off the New Year. Help them vocalize their dreams and make them a reality!

 

Hat-Tip to Regie Routman and Kelly Gallagher for providing inspiration for this work.