Tag Archives: language arts

What’s New in Making the Journey, Fourth Edition?


By Leila Christenbury

In our society we thrive on the reimagined, the reconceived, the improved, the better than ever. The ancient proverb may insist that there is nothing new under the sun, but that has never seemed to convince most of us Americans. If it’s new, most of us are in—or are at least pretty interested.

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Your Heinemann Link Round-Up for March 27–April 2


These links are interviews with educators, posts from our authors' and friends' blogs, and any interesting, newsworthy item from the past seven days. Check back each week for a new round of finds!

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What Does Effective Charting Look Like? Learn About Smarter Charts With The Chartchums!


“Your charts don’t need to be perfect, just thoughtful. You don’t even have to be able to draw. Just put the child before the chart.”

 Marjorie Martinelli and Kristi Mraz

Charts. They are EVERYWHERE! Love ‘em or hate ‘em, charts are an expected norm in most classrooms today. But… what does a great chart look like? What kinds of charts should you use? How many is too many? Where do you display them? How long do you keep them? How do you know if they are working? So many questions.

Well then. Where do you start?

With your students, of course! It is important to use what you know about your students to make powerful, accessible charts that are differentiated based on individual and group needs. With that said, the best place to start is with what your students need, combined with the curriculum, to develop big ideas and explicit teaching points. And no matter what, children need to be active participants in the making of a chart. Enter the Chartchums.

Charts are something most teachers make. Most teachers have made hundreds of charts. Yet the Chartchums (aka Marjorie Martinelli and Kristi Mraz) found that when they did a reading or writing workshop, THEIR CHARTS were the real stars. Over and over they heard teachers say, “You should write a book on charts,” while they snapped photos of the sample charts.

So they did.

Their first book, Smarter Charts, provides the basics of effective charting, including the language of charts (both words and visuals), when to make them, where to put them, how to get kids to use them, and ways to assess their effectiveness. Using tips, checklists, and best practices, Marjorie and Kristi share how to bring charts to life using music, chants, rhymes, and more to truly make charts memorable and fun for all of your students.

They talked to more teachers. What does effective charting look like in math? Social studies? Science? Can you apply what you know about literacy charts to all subject areas? They wrote their second book, Smarter Charts for Math, Science & Social Studies. Continuing the dialogue on chart making that they started in Smarter Charts, Kristi and Marjorie show teachers how to turn complex ideas into kid-friendly visuals, help children internalize content processes, and even increase instructional time. You don’t have to be a subject-matter expert to make learning visible for the students in front of you.

Marjorie and Kristi have developed names and descriptions for different kinds of charts to make it easier to talk about the various pathways of learning and thinking they present to students. In both Smarter Charts books, they describe how each type of chart is made and used, complete with examples, visuals, and reproducibles. Different types of charts serve different purposes in classrooms. You don’t need to have one of each type in your classroom. You might find that you make one type of chart much more frequently than another… and some you don’t make at all. 

A chart is never just a chart. Charts are like billboards for your teaching. No matter what the area of the curriculum, clear visuals, simple language, and constant reflection on charts are the key to helping children be more independent, efficient, and flexible in their learning. Packed with full-color sample charts from real classrooms, the Smarter Charts books will help you with tips on design and language, instructional use, and self-assessment. Even better, you will discover strategies that deepen engagement, strengthen retention, and heighten independence—all by involving students in chart making.

A chart is never just a chart.

What’s stopping you from creating jump-off-the-wall charts that stick with kids? You can’t draw? You don’t have to be an artist to make great charts. Really. But it never hurts to see if you can improve on some of the basics, like people and icons. Remember, you don’t need to be perfect, just thoughtful. What matters most is that children are engaged in the process of making the chart.

Not sure what to put on your charts or how to get your students to use charts more independently? Want to learn more? Need some inspiration? Make sure to join us on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest as we break down the different types of charts with handy and helpful visuals from Marjorie (@Marjorie_Writes) and Kristi (@MrazKristine) that will help you turn your classroom charts into teaching powerhouses. You can also visit this post to see a visual recap of the different types of charts.

A Field Guide to Content Charts.

Content 1 Routine FB

Content 2 Genre Concept FB

Content 3 Process FB

Content 4 Repertoire FB

Content 5 Exemplar FB

A Field Guide to Literacy Charts.

Literacy 1 Routine FB Literacy 2 Strategy FB Literacy 3 Process FB Literacy 4 Exemplar FB Literacy 5 Genre FB

Jennifer Serravallo’s 5 Lenses to Assess and Teach Readers: Print Work

Print Work: Understanding Readers at the Word Level

Two weeks ago we started an online conversation around Jennifer Serravallo’s (@JSerravallo) 5 lenses for assessing and teaching readers using the hashtag #literacylenses. We discussed engagement during our first week, including methods of assessing engagement in students and classrooms. Last week we covered the different  aspects of fluency: automaticity, intonation/expression/prosody, phrasing/parsing, emphasis, and pace. Our goal is to cover one lens each week, followed by a recap. We will be providing you with some of the assessment tools we highlight as well as strategies to help you teach.

This week we are going to focus on the third piece of the puzzle: print work/decoding. We will be taking a look at running records and the three cueing systems readers tend to use: meaning (or semantic information), structure (or syntactical information, and/or visual (graphophonic information). We will continue to post tips, tools, and strategies from four of Jen's books: Conferring with Readers,Teaching Reading in Small GroupsThe Literacy Teacher’s Playbook K–2 and The Literacy Teacher’s Playbook Grades 3–6.

If you're going to be at the NCTE Annual Convention this week, you can catch Jen on Sunday, November 23 at 1:30 pm at the Reading and Writing: Tools For Learning, Thinking, and Problem Solving session.

We have created blank versions of some of the tools Jen discusses in her books for you to download and use in your classrooms. Scroll down to the bottom of this post for both Microsoft Word and PDF versions of the tools from week 1 (engagement) and week 2 (fluency).

If you’re on Twitter, we are using the hashtag #literacylenses to capture the conversation from beginning to end. We'll see you there!

Blank Reading Log D-I WORD Blank Reading Log D-I PDF
Blank Reading Log J-M WORD Blank Reading Log J-M PDF
Blank Reading Log L+ WORD Blank Reading Log L+ PDF
Blank Rereading Log D-I WORD Blank Re-reading Log D-I PDF
Blank Reading Interest Survey K-2 WORD Blank Reading Interest Survey K-2 PDF
Blank Reading Interest Survey 3-6 WORD Blank Reading Interest Survey 3-6 PDF

Blank Engagement Inventory WORD

Blank High-Frequency Word List WORD

Blank Engagement Inventory PDF

Blank High-Frequency Word List PD

Jennifer Serravallo is a national literacy consultant and the bestselling author or coauthor of the Heinemann titles Teaching Reading in Small GroupsConferring with ReadersThe Literacy Teacher’s Playbook K–2 and The Literacy Teacher’s Playbook Grades 3–6. She started out teaching grades 3–5 in Title I schools and then spent eight years as a national staff developer at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project.

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Oral Mentor Texts co-author Connie Dierking on celebrating stories

Connie Dierking is the co-author, with Sherra Jones, of Oral Mentor Texts. Their book presents new ways to use the power of oral language to reinforce comprehension and help writers internalize narrative structures. In a special blog for Heinemann, Connie explains that the beginning of the school year is the time for celebrating story. (click here to read an earlier blog from Connie Dierking on What is an Oral Mentor Text)

I just received the annual conference issue of NCTE’s The Council Chronicle and was thrilled when I saw the conference theme: “Story as the Landscape of Knowing.” Program chairman Kathy Short writes, “Story is the landscape within which we live as teachers and researchers—our knowledge is ordered by story.” It is exciting to see the importance of story held in such high esteem.

There is no better time to celebrate story than the beginning of the school year. We come to know our students through the stories they tell. I look at Becky with her little bob haircut and know this new style is the result of bubble gum stuck in her ponytail. I smile inside when I remember Geri’s story about her first jump into the deep end of the swimming pool. I am amazed to hear that Robbie broke his arm the first week of summer but recovered in time for the play-offs. I know which children have dogs or cats or fish. I know who has a mean big brother or sister or no brother or sister. I know who lives by the ocean and who lives in a really small apartment. I also know that Ramon doesn’t share a story and that Sam tells pieces of stories that don’t make much sense. Story is front and center in my classroom; through it I build a community. We tell individual stories, and we come to know one another as learners and as people. We share our common stories: the nervous stomach on the first day of school or the funny statue in the library that seems to watch us with her eyes. We join together as a community in the way that only a shared experience engenders.

The first days of school, when students are practicing fire drills, learning the rules of the cafeteria, enjoying the shade of the big tree outside, or learning how to share and listen with a friend, are the seeds for stories to come. These simple events can and should be the stuff of shared class stories. While building community through story, we are also building a foundation for literacy. According to Jerone Bruner, “Proficiency in oral language provides children with a vital tool for thought. Without fluent and structured oral language, children will find it very difficult to think.” It all begins in September.

Elaine Reese, in her The Atlantic article “What Kids Learn From Hearing Family Stories,” writes, “Family stories can be told nearly anywhere. They cost us only our time, our memories, our creativity. They can inspire us, protect us, and bind us to others. So be generous with your stories, and be generous in your stories. Remember that your children may have them for a lifetime.” School can be a wonderful place to support and develop the oral language skills necessary for telling a story, whether children come into the classroom having had rich family storytelling and literacy experiences or not. In the early days in a primary classroom, we are beginning to know all our students. While the literacy road ahead may seem dauntingly long (for some students more than others), there is good news: we can create wonderful story experiences in this very classroom.

Click here to read a sample chapter of Oral Mentor Texts


Bruner, Jerome S. 1985. Child’s Talk: Learning to Use Language. New York: W.W. Norton.

Dierking, Connie, and Sherra Jones. 2014. Oral Mentor Texts: A Powerful Tool for Teaching Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

National Council of Teachers of English. 2014. The Council Chronicle, August. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

Reese, Elaine. 2013. “What Kids Learn From Hearing Family Stories.” The Atlantic, December 9.

Tom Newkirk on Confusion at the Core

In Thomas Newkirk’s newest book, Minds Made for Stories, he challenges readers to think about narrative writing as something more: as the primary way we understand our world and ourselves. In this blog, Tom talks about his book and explains how narrative is crucial to good writing.

Confusion at the Core 

by Thomas Newkirk
English Department
University of New Hampshire
Durham, New Hampshire

Suppose I asked you this question: “Would you prefer fruit or dessert?”

I suspect you would blink at the logic of the question. It’s a false choice. You could have both, since they are not mutually exclusive. It is an example of what logicians call a category error.

We find a similar category error at the heart of the literacy standards of the Common Core. Texts are divided into a triumvirate—narrative, informational, and argumentative. There is a note in one appendix to the effect that “elements” of narrative are present in other forms. But that admission doesn’t remedy the problem.

This category problem also mixes aims and modes. The great rhetorician James Kinneavy would term informational an aim, as a designation of the intent of the writing. Narrative is not an aim but a mode of understanding—probably our primary means of understanding. Argumentative is the logical component of another aim—to persuade; and in my view a major flaw of the standards is the failure to embrace the more robust and comprehensive aim of persuasion.

Take a recent example—is Katherine Boo’s award-winning nonfiction book Behind the Beautiful Forevers narrative or informational? The answer is both. It’s a false choice. This three-part division creates confusion where it should create clarity.

But the greatest problem, in my view, is that it diminishes the role of narrative. It treats narrative as kind of writing, a genre, often an easier one that gives way to the more rigorous work of analysis in high school, college, and, of course, the workplace.

But we can never leave narrative behind, any more than we can shed human nature. Our very sense of identity—personal, religious, ethnic, national—is built on the stories we tell. And we lose a sense of self when, through dementia or illness, we can no longer recall these stories.

So here is my modest proposition—that narrative is the deep structure of all good sustained writing. All good writing. We struggle with writers who dispense with narrative form and simply present information (a major problem with some textbooks), because we are given no frame for comprehension. Mark Turner, a cognitive psychologist and literary critic, puts the claim this way: “Narrative imagining—story—is the fundamental instrument of thought. Rational capacities depend on it. It is our chief means of looking into the future, of predicting, of planning, of explaining.”

Narrative (or story) is central to us because of our innate need for causal explanations. We are wired to understand experience in terms of cause and effect, and stories are the best tool we have to explain causation. That is why all religions have creation myths, why all families, countries, tribes, tell stories about how they came to be. There is even evidence that individuals who know their family history (e.g., the story of the day they were born, the story of how their parents met) have a healthier sense of self.

I understand the obvious objection—what about academic writing? Surely it doesn’t fit this pattern. But as an academic writer myself, anchored in tenure, I would claim that good academic writing feels plotted—there is a tension that is resolved. There is some problem with current understanding that needs to be rectified, some itch that needs to be scratched, some reason to read on.  Just creating a thesis and defending it won’t do the job.

The nonfiction writers that we read voluntarily—Malcolm Gladwell, Michael Pollan, Susan Orleans, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Stephen Johnson—all are experts at narrative writing, and they should be the models for student writing.

When we rely on stories we are often accused of being “anecdotal,” not intellectually serious. We are told that on the job and in college we do the hard stuff, the rigorous stuff; we analyze and make logical arguments. We don’t tell stories.

But we do. We can’t get away from it. Even the arguments we make are often about a version of story or in the service of story or in the form of a story (e.g., the Gettysburg Address).  Scientific texts regularly describe processes (evolution, the autoimmune system, the dance of the bees, global warming, the Big Bang theory, cancer) that take narrative form.

We experience our very existence as a progression though time. We rely on stories not merely for entertainment but for explanation, meaning, self-understanding. We have “literary minds” that respond to plot, character, and arresting details in all kinds of writing.

It’s useful to remember that the word core comes from the Latin word for heart, cor. It transforms to coeur in French, corazon in Spanish.  I would argue that narrative is at the heart of human identity and understanding.

Click here to read a sample chapter and learn more about Minds Made for Stories: How We Really Read and Write Informational and Persuasive Texts