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From the Classroom: On Prewriting Using Modes

By Tricia Ebarvia

My AP Lang students are currently working on their “On” essays—writing on anything they choose.

There’s a long tradition of “On” essays in the world… and by an “On” essay, I mean any essay whose title starts with the word “On…” (although, really, isn’t anything an “On” essay if it’s on a topic? The distinction for my purposes in teaching is really just technical). We read essays like “On Keeping a Notebook” by Joan Didion and “On Dumpster Diving” by Lars Eighner, which explore process. We read a contemporary essay like “On Compassion” by Barbara Ascher and a 19th century essay like “On Running After One’s Hat” by G. K. Chesterton, which delve into the philosophical as well as social commentary. We read “On Being a Cripple” by Nancy Mairs and “On Being Black and Middle Class” by Shelby Steele,” which focus on identity. We read essays by Lewis Thomas, whose essays,“On Warts” and “On Probability and Possibility,” are some of the best examples of elegant science writing—and writing in general—I’ve encountered. And still we read other essays whose titles don’t begin with the word “On” but embody the ethos of writing on what it means, ultimately, to be in the world—essays like “The Jacket” by Gary Soto and “Me Talk Pretty” by David Sedaris and “Salvation” by Langston Hughes.

We study and celebrate these writers and their craft. We ask ourselves questions that help us read like writers: What can I take away from this? What can I learn? What can I steal? Because my AP Lang students read Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist for summer reading, we remind ourselves to embrace being artistic thieves. We look at the ways in which these essays explain, define, and describe; how they use anecdotes and allusions; how they feature both insight and curiosity; how they zoom in and zoom out.  Read more

Guest Post: Is reabhloideach mise.

by Meg Clementi

b4ce9c74625bfa28595da719e6f32686.jpg-2.gifIs reabhloideach mise.  I am a revolutionary.

As a math teacher, I am questioned by peers as to why I have my students write.  What is
my purpose in asking students to explain their thinking?  Why have I attended conferences, courses and programs whose attendees are comprised of 99% English teachers and Elementary reading and writing teachers?  I stand at the edges, accepting the shaken heads and wonderings of my peers.

Is reabhloideach mise
.  I am a revolutionary.

I have my students write because their ability to explain their thinking is important to me.   Their ability to justify their processes and answers is critical.  Their depth of knowledge is essential.  My students write because as their teacher, I demand this level of participation, performance and comprehension from them.  I am not satisfied with them simply renting knowledge and discarding what they have learned as they place their hands on the doorknob and walk out of my classroom for the last time.  I want them to own knowledge.

Is reabhloideach mise.  I am a revolutionary. Read more

Tools of The Trade: Student-Friendly News Sources

by Kelly Virgin

I recently gave my high school students a twenty-five question formative current events quiz with names such as Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Keith Lamont Scott, terms such as Republican, Libertarian, and Pipeline, and places such as Syria, North Carolina, and Brazil. I asked students to match the names, terms, and places with the reasons they were recently featured in the news. On average, students scored a seven out of twenty-five, with some students scoring as low as a one or a two out of twenty-five. This quiz led to self-reflection and an insightful discussion about the importance of knowing what is going on in the world around us.

In their most recent book, Reading Nonfiction: Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies, Kylene Beers and Robert Probst insist, “Far more important than the ability to capture the teacher’s information and thoughts is the ability to acquire information on ones’ own, to test ideas against one another, and to decide for one’s self what notions have merit and which should be rejected or abandoned” (32). It was clear from my students’ quiz results that they needed more opportunities to practice the acquisition of information on their own. Read more

A Writerly Life: Wisdom from Donald Graves

Teachers can empower their students with conventions.

-Kelly Virgin (2016 facilitator of Grammar Matters)

Adobe Spark (3)

Season of Inquiry

By Janice Ewing

Make a quick written or mental list: when you think of October, what are five words or phrases that pop into your mind? This is a month and a season of colorful and flavorful transitions. Maybe you had Halloween on your list, or changing leaves, or candy, or pumpkins, or pumpkin spice latte…

Most likely, as teachers, there are other transitions occurring as well. Whatever your grade level, whether you teach 25 students or 150, you have gotten to know them by now, perhaps not as well as you’d like, but more deeply than you did when you first greeted them in late August or early September. With that knowledge comes great fuel for teaching and relationship-building, but great challenges as well.

Think about what you’ve learned from formative assessment – conversations, observations, anecdotal records, reading and writing conferences, and all the other ways you get insight into your students’ processes and products. Regardless of your grade level or subject, you are probably seeing vast differences in interests, learning styles, strengths, and areas of need. This is important to know, right? Yes, but it can also be overwhelming. For many teachers, this is a time in the school year when we look at the information we’ve acquired about our students, and ask ourselves some questions: Read more

Books on the Blog: The Ominous Eye: The Nocturnals Book 2

by Linda Walker

The Nocturnal Brigade returns:

the-nocturnalsDawn is a poised fox ever on the alert for whatever may threaten the valley. She is the leader of the Nocturnal Brigade.

Bismarck is the sugar glider, bold and brash, who likes to sprinkle his vocabulary with foreign phrases. Bismarck just adores Dawn.

Tobin is the scaly pangolin with a huge appetite for tasty treats especially termites. Tobin is a trusted and loyal friend.


BOOM!!!!the earth shakes, a violent jolt. The wind whips up ashy gray smoke. A rotting smell creeps into the fresh air. The valley animals are frightened and with good reason. A beast is on the loose. But who and where is this illusive creature? Enter the Nocturnal Brigade to investigate this catastrophic mystery.

On their search they meet a stranger, Polyphema. She convinces the valley animals that there is an angry monster roaming their land. To be safe from the creature a certain group, the birds, must LEAVE! Dawn is suspicious. Why would Polyphema single out just the birds? How would banishing winged animals keep all the others safe? Why were the valley animals listening and following Polyphema’s demands?

Follow the Nocturnal Brigade on another exciting adventure filled with mystery and humor. Make sure to read the first book, The Mysterious Abductions and follow the Nocturnals at

The short chapters, fast-paced action and interesting animal facts will appeal to middle grade readers and keep them turning pages and wanting more!


Linda Walker was a teacher for 33 years with experience in several grade levels including teaching children with diverse learning abilities. She is a 2005 Fellow of the National Writing Project. For many summers Linda has facilitated writing specialty courses for the PAWLP Young Writers and Readers Program.