Writing Prompts to Kick 2020 Off Right!

Within the next week or two, educators will return to school and greet the smiling faces of the students whom we have not seen since 2019. And with the new year, a new start is often viewed as an opportunity to set new goals or create new habits.

It’s the beginning of a new year and a new decade; 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 time to reconnect with friends and teachers that they haven’t seen for a couple of weeks. Some students are beginning new coursework, attending a new school, or even planning for graduation in a few months.

As a teacher, returning from winter break was always my favorite time to have students write. Students wrote about their dreams, goals, and ambitions, plus, it went perfectly with the start of a new year and helped to build a community of writers!

Here are 3 WritingIdeas to Kick Off the New Year:

  1. Dream Big – Like a New Year’s Resolution, this writing assignment is filled with questions to consider and write about in hopes that what’s important to them at this moment rises to the top. The Dream Big writing prompt allows students to not only voice what is important to them but identify the steps necessary to accomplish their goal(s) and a timeframe in which to aim. 

New Year, Dream Big…

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

2. One Word – Instead of having a lengthy dream or resolution, why not have students identify and write about their One Word for the new year. Every year, educators and students alike choose and share their One Word publicly, but where do you start? And How do you help students identify their One Word? Once done, I always had my students create a visual to post on their blogs sharing their #OneWord or #OneWord2020 Here are a few questions to get them writing:

  • Reflect on who you were this past year? How would you describe yourself? How would others? 
  • Identify the type of person you want to be in the new year? What is your aspirational identity? 
  • Identify the characteristics and qualities of your aspiration or the person you want to be. 
  • Choose your word. Does it call you to action? Ooze passion? Reflect the person or the characteristic you want to be/portray?

3. Habits – Finally, many argue that resolutions are pointless and are quickly forgotten, and it is habits that we need to focus on. Habit tracking helps people identify the small consistent things they do daily that amount to a larger change.

Habit tracking allows one to make changes in their life that will last a lifetime, not just the first month of January 2020. Using a habit tracking app like Google Keep, Bullet Journals, or even Sticky Notes makes your progress visual and encourages continuation. I mean, who doesn’t like checking off a box on a list or calendar. And if you miss a day or two, habit tracking allows you to pick up your goals the very next day. 

As a teacher of writing, I knew the importance of modeling the process for students. When they wrote, I wrote. So be sure to include your own Dreams, One Word, Habits, or Resolutions with your students. And revisit them throughout the rest of the school year, reflecting on progress and where to go to next! 

So consider having your students write to start off the New Year. Help them vocalize their dreams and make them a reality! And enjoy your 2020, I know I plan to make this my best year yet! And my #OneWord for 2020 in case you are curious #Value

4 Games to Boost Media Literacy Skills

Critical thinking, healthy skepticism, fact-checking; in today’s information age, these three are more important than ever. On a daily basis, students are bombarded with information from multiple platforms that they must wade through, analyze and interpret, to make the most informed decisions on the authenticity and relevance. 

Media Literacy, according to NAMLE, is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create, and act using all forms of communication that are interdisciplinary by nature. Media literacy represents a necessary, inevitable, and realistic response to the complex, ever-changing electronic environment and communication cornucopia that surround us. 

I am an advocate for the teaching of these skills in classrooms across the country. In fact, just last week I was speaking at a conference in Connecticut, and after my talk on Developing Healthy Skeptics, a  professor approached me and told me that starting this year, media literacy was going to be a part of all Teacher Education programs at his university. We are making progress!

From websites to extensions to games, there are many ways to talk about and use media literacy in the classroom. From single lessons, to longer units, I typically start off with a game that provides a launch into the inquiry. I have found that games in the classroom provide rich simulations in which students learn content and hone skills. In the case of teaching Media Literacy, this is no different. These games focus on the consumption of digital information and place students in a variety of situations to evaluate epic headlines, analyze misinformation, or even use strategies to gain influence and followers just as an online troll would do.   

4 Games to Get Students Thinking Critically:

Factitious – Factitious, developed by the American University Game Lab and the JoLT Program, is a viral hit! Released in 2017, this Tinder-like game asks users to swipe left or right based on if the article is real or not. In its most recent updates, Factitious now has 6 game levels and 3 different reading levels making it accessible for a huge age range. Plus, it’s super fun! 

Get Bad News – Get Bad News has users take on the persona of a fake-news tycoon trying to make a social impact by spreading disinformation while trying to get more followers. This online game developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge and the Dutch media group Drog, tasks players through six different tactics in an effort to understand this propaganda and fake news while actually creating and sharing it. As you advance through the game, users earn badges and increase their fake-news radar by walking in the offenders’ shoes. 

Cast your Vote – A recent update and release of Cast Your Vote, by iCivics is perfect for the upcoming election. Users discover what it takes to become an informed voter–from knowing where you stand on important issues to uncovering what you need to know about candidates. This new version offers ELL supports and educator guides and questions to deepen the learning! It’s a perfect way to help students identify issues that are important to them and evaluate candidates based on their qualifications, experience, voting record, endorsements, and messaging.

Troll Factory – Troll Factory, my most recent discovery, does come with a warning. Because of the authentic content and sensitive material, it is not appropriate for all students. With that being said, the insights and explanations at the end of the game are fantastic.  When placed in the right learning context, I could see this game as being useful for upper-grades and college-aged students. Troll Factory shows users how disinformation merchants infiltrate social media and spread their anti-democracy propaganda. Created by Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle’s News Lab, this game asks you to imagine you are a professional troll who tries to amass influence on social media through fear, bias, and propaganda.  

There are many more resources, tools, and games popping up as the need for media literacy increases. From chrome extensions to URL validation websites, using multiple resources to support student discernment of digital discourse should be a priority in every classroom. It is only through an ongoing effort by all teachers that we can best equip students for a life filled with digital information and the critical thinking skills necessary for life. 

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!

MAP Reading Fluency: A New Tool to Save Teachers Time & Focus on Instruction

This post is sponsored by We Are Teachers and NWEA.org. All opinions expressed are my own. (Meaning, if I don’t like something about a particular education product I will not write about it on my blog)

Across the country, literacy, especially in grades K-3,  is a priority in just about every district you visit. Educators are banding together to share best practices, evidence-based interventions, and inspiring stories; all in an effort to impact student literacy.

All learning in rooted in language, and as one progresses throughout life, access to continued learning, both personal and professional, is typically accessed through written communication.

For me, literacy is my passion, and I have dedicated my life to reading, researching, and sharing not only how to develop young students into lifelong readers, but to advocate for high-quality instruction in literacy for ALL students. Being literate not only allows access to information, but influences one’s personal, professional, and civic lives. Upon graduation, my wish was for students to be equipped with passion and skills to be critical discerners of information, make informed decisions for the betterment of society, and be able to advocate for self and others. To be able to do these things, a solid literacy foundation must be formed in the early grades.

Educators learn about their young readers in a variety of ways when they enter their classrooms. Understanding what they enjoy reading and learning about, how they choose books, which foundational skills they have acquired as opposed to which ones they still need to practice or learn. Typically, in a K-3 classroom, teachers administers some sort of fluency test with accompanying comprehension questions. These assessments provide an abundance of information on students to inform instruction. The drawback to this type of testing is the large amount of TIME it takes to test individual students with classrooms of 25+ young readers. And we all know the one thing teachers need is…More TIME. That is why I was ecstatic to preview a new assessment tool launched by NWEA called MAP Reading Fluency.

I want to stress, NOTHING takes the place of an Expert Teacher, but when resources like this become available and save teachers time to then reclaim and use for instruction, it is a WIN – WIN for kids.

MAP Reading Fluency is the first and only K-3 oral reading assessment using speech recognition, automatic scoring and computer adaptive technology.  It allows data to be collected around; oral reading fluency, comprehension, and foundational reading skills. With this information, teachers are able to make decisions on which areas they may need to dig in a bit deeper in order to differentiate instruction and meet needs of students.

I am also a firm believer in two things when it comes to assessment and data. First, MAP Reading Fluency provides a snapshot of the student as a reader; multiple snapshots across time allow teachers to notice trends and trends should be noted and investigated to find out the What/Why. Second, assessment data does not paint the whole picture of a child as a reader. This is where the beauty of computer-aided assessment comes into play. Reading Fluency data that is generated is immediate, organized, disaggregated and actionable. This is a huge win for teachers and a time-saver due in part to the streamlined process of technology. The follow-up, the instruction, and the passionate teaching to the student is then provided by the Expert Teacher.

For the past 5 years or so, I have been investigating tools and resources that would support teachers and students in this exact way; it is as if NWEA read my mind and delivered with Reading Fluency. MAP Reading Fluency was named the 2018 CODiE award winner for Best Student Assessment Solution. It is adaptive to accommodate  pre-, early-, and fluent readers, and is recorded so that teachers can listen to their students during a planning time or while working with their PLC. I am excited about the possibilities of this new assessment tool and appreciate how it aims to shorten the time spent assessing so more time can be spent on instructing! Want to learn more? Check out this FAQ sheet or request a Demo of MAP Reading Fluency.

So You Want to Add Literature Discussion Groups to Your Classroom…

So You Want To Add Literature Discussion Groups to Your Classroom...

Developed in the 1980’s, Literature Discussion Groups (LDGs) were inspired by a group of students who wanted to continue talking about their books as a group. As a result, educators across the nation have utilized this type of small group work in their literacy classrooms. But while there are many different frameworks for Guided Reading for educators to implement, Literature Discussion Groups can look different from class to class. With this being acknowledged, there are commonalities that most share. Below is a chart which depicts the common elements of Literature Discussion Groups, as well as a comparison to Guided Reading.

Literature Discussion Groups Guided Reading
Purpose To develop critical thinking, speaking and listening skills while diving deep into the text as a peer group. LDG support collaboration, independence, and reading as a social and lifelong experience.    Small group instruction to help students build their reading power so that they can apply skills independently. Must include direct instruction from an expert teacher.
Who Typically used in grades 7-12. ALL students in the class are part of LDGs. Student Choice is extended to ALL students and teachers support and scaffold access to text so that all may participate. Mostly occurring in elementary classrooms, Guided Reading can also be used to support older students on foundational skills, reading comprehension, or vocabulary needs.
Text Students have a choice in what they read. Students typically make their choice based off of book talks or other intros. of the text. All students have their own copy of the text which they can annotate or add sticky notes to while reading and prepping for the discussion.   The text is determined by the teacher. Relevance and engagement are considered in book selection, as well as appropriate challenge and instruction purpose.
Groups Groups of 5-7 students based on choice. Groups are fluid and temporary, changing with each new book selection. All LDGs occur at the same time. Groups are created based on student needs and are typically made up of 4-6 students. Groups should be fluid and evaluated and changed about every three weeks. Guided Reading groups take place one at a time with the teacher.
Teacher Role The teacher acts as a facilitator, listening in on each group but does not become a member of them. During the small group discussions, the teacher takes notes which are used for reflective feedback, whole class instruction and/or evaluation/participation. The teacher designs direct instruction to focus student comprehension, word study, and fluency during small group instruction. The teacher listens in as each student reads and makes on the spot teaching decision based on reading behaviors exhibited.  
Student Role Students develop questions, participate in substantive conversations, support thinking with textual evidence and critical thinking. Students build collective understanding through dialogic learning. Students learn and apply skills from teacher instruction to guided reading text, and independent text. Students individually read the text to self and out loud when designated by the teacher. Students participate in discussion and extension activities in Guided Reading.

This independence and thoughtful discussion about reading in Literature Discussion Groups is one of the goals for literacy teachers. We want our students to enjoy reading, have a choice in what they read, and be able to thoughtfully discuss what they read with others. While this type of small group work does not happen naturally in most classrooms, there are scaffolds and management procedures that teachers can use to set everyone up for success.

First, it is important for students to understand the purpose of LDGs and have a clear image of what a high-functioning group looks and sounds like. This can be done through a video, discussion, or demonstration. Last week I had the pleasure to tape an example LDG with a group of teachers who plan to share it with their students. This exercise allowed us to talk through the important elements we wanted to highlight in the video, as well as a way for teachers to grow their own understanding of LDG by participating in one.

Second, cocreate norms with the students. Kids are smart, they know what groups need in order to remain focused, fair, and consistent. Voicing and agreeing upon norms will support the success of all LDGs. Some norms I had in my own classroom:

  • Be Prepared
  • Ensure all voices are heard
  • Disagree with the statement, never attack the person
  • Negotiate your own time, there is NO Hand Raising in discussions

Scaffold the learning, as stated earlier, LDGs do not happen naturally in the classroom setting. Be prepared to model, live-group demonstration, and reflect. You may also consider starting slow, have all groups start with the same, short piece. Play a more active role in the beginning and drop off to a facilitator role when they get up and running, or use Role Sheets to support discussions. (Note, LDG Roles were first used to scaffold the learning and were not designed to be used by all students for every LDG). Assign each student an individual role, or have all students be the same role (Connector or Summarizer works well for this). Common Roles in LDGs:

  • Discussion Director
  • Connector
  • Vocabulary Identifier
  • Summarizer
  • Illustrator
  • Researcher
  • Literary Lumininator
  • Map Maker

Along with scaffolding, it is important for each teacher to define the purpose and end goals with the implementation of Literature Discussion Groups. During a thoughtful discussion with a group of high school teachers, the consideration of ALL students participating ensued. Should a student be able to exercise their choice in reading if they cannot access the text alone? My answer was answered with a question – what is your purpose? While students do gain and refine skills during LDG, my main purpose for implementation was independence, collaboration, discussion, and critical thinking. All of my high school students read at various levels based on skill and interest, but I never denied any student the opportunity to participate in a peer discussion. The gains far outweighed the risks for during this collaboration.

Assessing. How should I grade students during LDGs? Most educators use both a self and teacher evaluation for grading Literature Discussion Group participation. Students self-assess through a checklist or written response in which they evaluate their own role and contributions to the discussion, as well as their groupmates. This reflection can be powerful for goal-setting and student ownership of learning. Teachers also add their own notes that were gathered during the facilitation of the small groups to the evaluation process. Still, other educators assign flat points for participation or no grade at all.

Finally, don’t be afraid to add your own flair and teaching style to Literature Discussion Groups. Add a new role, The Nosy Neighbor, Aesthetician, Freudian or Existentialist Lenses. Promote digital collaboration through the use of technology or connect your students with others reading the same text outside of the four walls of your classroom. Add a visual element through annotations, sketchnoting, or drawing to be completed by all students prior to the discussion.

Check out my Wakelet for resources used during this post on LDGs