Skip to content

A Writerly Life: Words of Wisdom from Ralph Fletcher

Jen Greene (2017 Grammar Matters co-facilitator)

Creating a Positive Classroom Environment: It Starts with You!

By Lynne R. Dorfman

Often, we are so concerned with positive ways to manage student behavior that we forget about the importance of our positive attitude each and every day. As the school year dips into the middle of autumn, already we start to question if we are meeting all our students’ needs and doing the best job we possibly can do. Good classroom management that creates a positive environment starts with the teacher. What can you do at school and away from school to use and enhance positive energy?

At School:

  • At recess or lunch period, take some time to read a chapter in a novel or read some poetry, take a walk on the school grounds or neighborhood, or write a personal note to a colleague to thank or praise him for something he did for you or the staff.
  • Stay (when you can) after school to comment and grade papers or start a little earlier to do the same before school starts. Find a quiet spot away from the door so your colleagues will be less inclined to drop in to chat with you during this time. The work will be completed much faster in school than at home!
  • If someone on the staff is a constant source of negative energy, steer clear!
  • Teach students how to do things for themselves as soon as possible. They need to feel capable, and their greater independence will free up some precious time for you to manage all that is required of you.
  • Find a friend you can have lunch with regularly and decide to pack a lunch once or twice a week with each other in a location other than the teachers’ lunchroom.
  • Do what you can to build a positive attitude about being at school. Be sure to say “hello” to your colleagues when you pass them in the hallway. Share your ideas freely, and be willing to problem solve as a cooperative team whenever the occasions arise.
  • Set high expectations for your students and be their biggest cheer leader.
  • On the weekends or on Mondays before school begins for the week, reflect on things that went especially well during the previous week. Select one experience and record it in your writer’s notebook. Savor the moment!

Read more

Books on the Blog: New Kid in the Country

by Lynne Dorfman

Love and Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch is a delightful, easy read for high-schoolers, full of twists and turns. A romance novel that will largely appeal to teenage girls, readers will fall in love with Lina, the main character in this story. Lina’s mother has recently passed away, and at her mother’s last request, Lina goes to live in Italy with the father she has never known. Lina is determined not to stay in Tuscany, but the scenery, history, gelato, and a boy make Italy quite irresistible! Then, Lina is given a journal that her mother kept while she lived in Italy. As Lina retraces her mother’s footsteps, she discovers her real biological father! Seasoned with rich descriptions of Renaissance architecture and Italian food, this novel is the perfect book for readers of romance fiction and armchair travel.


Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks & Gina Varadarajan is told in Ravi’s and Joe’s alternating first-person narrations. It celebrates the small victories that make school palatable for many elementary students. The story takes place in a week’s span, and the main characters are all fifth graders. Ravi has just moved here from India. He has always been at the top of his class and was well-liked by his classmates. But things are very different in America. Surprisingly, the class bully is American born Dillon, whose parents or grandparents are of East Indian descent. Ravi incorrectly assumes that Dillon will become his best buddy, but just the opposite occurs. Joe is a large, rather awkward student in Ravi’s class who was doing fine until his best friend moved away. Without a companion except for his dog, Joe has his own set of problems. He tries to avoid Dillon at all costs. Joe even believes that his own father doesn’t like him. When Joe and Ravi become friends, everything changes. This book addresses many issues including bullying, accepting others, understanding cultural differences, and problems that arise for English learners in our classrooms. The story also helps the reader gain insights into different parenting styles as well. The book includes two recipes and glossaries of Hindi and American terms. I give this book a thumbs up! Brilliant! Save Me a Seat is must read!

Lynne Dorfman is a co-director of the PA Writing & Literature Project. She is co-author of A Closer Look: Learning More About Our Students with Formative Assessment, K-6, available this September at Stenhouse Publishers. Lynne serves KSRA as an editor for PAReads and is an adjunct professor at Arcadia University. She attributes all her successes as a presenter and as a writer of professional books to her participation in PAWLP’s invitational summer writing institute and all her coursework at West Chester University through the PA Writing & Literature Project. It changed her teaching life and enriched her personal life with wonderful friends.

A Writerly Life: Words of Wisdom from Harry Noden

As writers, we are the artists who use our pens like paintbrushes to paint images, works of art- not with paint, but with words. –  Michelle Patarino (2017 Grammar Matters Participant) 

Seven Deadly Words

By Ruth Culham


“I don’t know what to write about.”  Sigh.  The air goes out of the writer’s world when this is how he or she feels.  Helping a student through this writing barrier is critical to the writer’s esteem…after all, if you think you have nothing to write about, then you must not realize how much the world is interested in you, your experiences, and your unique way of expressing what you think and feel. The logic of turning to a prompt is one solution to this issue.  If you give students the idea, then they don’t have to think of one.  But, if you give them the idea, they don’t have to think of one. See the problem?  Prompts can be both the cure and the disease itself.  To prompt, or not to prompt; that is the question.  Here’s the thinking behind the answer I’ve come up after struggling with this issue for years and years.

To Prompt:

  • Helps students know where to begin
  • Provides a method to dial-in on specific, topical information
  • Gives all students a chance to reveal what they have learned about something in particular

Not to Prompt:

  • Allows students to choose a topic of interest
  • Encourages motivation to write about things that matter
  • Ensures opportunity for deeper thinking, stretching, and understanding because students are engaged in their topic of choice

Read more

A Writerly Life: Words of Wisdom from Michael Smith and Jeffrey Wilhelm

Preserve the writers of tomorrow by guiding with the tools of today. -Erin Weaver (2017 Grammar Matters Participant)