Category Archives: Shana Karnes

Lost and Found: A Writer’s Voice

Image result for nulla dies sine lineaWriting, like anything else, is a skill: a muscle we must exercise regularly or watch soften and fade. Pliny the Elder’s advice, nulla dies sine linea–not a day without a line–hangs on the walls of many a writer’s office for good reason: daily writing is a must.

But where many writers dismay is in what they write each day. They punish themselves when their writing feels flat, lackluster, uninspired. Writer’s block creeps in. They begin to fear the empty page, to shy away from it. They stop writing, drop the pen, lose their voice.

I’m talking about a specific writer, here: me.


I recently began running again after nearly three years off. I used to love running: the empty mindlessness of it, the feeling of accomplishment the finish line brought. I ran until the third trimester of my first pregnancy, when I looked more like a bouncing beach ball than a runner.

img_6707Now, two babies, three years, many pounds, and one shoe size later, I’ve finally begun to run again. It was hard at first–I could barely run a mile without stopping. I didn’t feel the famed “runners’ high” I used to: I just felt sad. Sad that I couldn’t do what I used to be able to; sad that I’d let my running identity dissolve; sad that my days of half marathons were seemingly over.

But I bought a jogging stroller and kept at it, and forced myself to run to justify the expense. I went to the gym daily and ran circles around the track or outside on hills. I ran up and down stairs at my house; I ran after my youngest, who recently began crawling; I parked far away from stores and ran to them. Memorably, I once forgot my Starbucks on the baby shelf at Target, and ran to retrieve it.

It wasn’t always enjoyable, especially at first, but I built the skill back up, little by little. I kept at it, running on trails or in neighborhoods so I couldn’t just give up and stop. I, someone who is terrible at self-discipline, made myself a runner again.


Recently, I read Daniel Coyle’s book The Talent Code, where I learned the difference between hard and soft skills. Hard skills, like running, are quantifiable: can you run three miles? Yes, I can. Can you write in English? Yes, I can.

But soft skills are more nebulous, less quantifiable. They’re less about whether you can do something and more about how well you do it. Can I run three miles in 20 minutes? HA. Can I write a book? HA, HA.

img_4974.pngBut the key to developing soft skills, as Coyle writes, is in the practice. High reps, new variations, and clear feedback. I ran daily, even when it was terrible. But it only took a few weeks to regain my ability to run multiple miles at a time.

As I ran, I often thought about other things that once felt easy but were now hard, like my seemingly voiceless writing identity. My writing just didn’t sing anymore; it felt blah. It wasn’t fun to do. I felt I’d lost my voice.

But after reading Coyle’s book, it was clear from the gaps in my notebook that what my voice was lacking was a result of lack of practice. If I wanted to find my voice again, I would need to approach writing anew.

I wrote daily, which, like running, was painful at first. But the more I wrote, the faster my words flowed, the faster my thoughts and ideas developed. The more ideas I had, the more I craved good writing in the books I read, podcasts I listened to, music I ran to. I wanted to be surrounded by strong, elegant thinking, to help push myself to communicate strong, elegant thinking in my writing. I renewed my passion for reading good literature, regained pleasure in opening my notebook, and found my writer’s voice, and writing identity, again.


For our students, this daily, varied writing is essential. They need practice to build their voices, to sharpen their thoughts, to hone their craft. For many, their writing voices are a muscle not yet developed: they will build them in their notebooks in our classrooms.

Our students need to be saturated with good writing, strong ideas, thoughtful words. If most of their day is filled with Snapchat and Facebook and all the hideous writing social networks often entail, our students must see beauty in the books and poems and articles we share with them.

Coyle writes in The Talent Code that mentoring ourselves to experts is a key to developing our own proficiency at skills. We cannot just show our students good writing; we must bring writers to life for them; show them how a writer lives and works to illustrate the possibilities of a writing identity. We must allow them to think, “if they can do it, why can’t I?”

We must offer our students this opportunity: to be writers, with the habit of daily writing, the inspiration of strong writers, the ideas that come from reading great texts. Our routines might look like:

  • Quickwrites to begin the day as writers
  • Mentor texts to study within a larger context–as part of a genre, author, or thematic unit
  • Instant, frequent revision that goes beyond copyediting and into the addition of ideas and clarity
  • Transparency of writing process in the form of sharing one another’s drafts
  • Varied, voluminous reading independently and collaboratively
  • Quiet moments to reflect, self-assess, and set goals about our writing and writers’ identities

A writer’s voice can be so easily lost, but so readily found again with practice, purpose, and passion. We can all be writers.

Helping our students find their voices is an amazing, rewarding part of our work as teachers of readers and writers.  Keep constant the routines of daily reading and writing, and keep sacred the mantra of nulla dies sine linea–never a day without a line.

Shana Karnes lives in West Virginia with her two daughters and husband. She reads and writes daily at a large desk that overlooks a small view of the mountains. Connect with Shana on Twitter at @litreader.

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It’s About More Than Just the Skills

91w70Ax2LhL.jpgThe reading arc of a school year is a lovely thing to witness, but an even more enjoyable journey to participate in. We begin the year falling in love with reading: a first quarter of high-interest, riveting works that match each reader where he or she is. The first days of school are filled with YA, novels in verse, pithy nonfiction, and short-but-powerful texts.

Second quarter, we begin the stretch toward more challenging texts, whether because of their difficult vocabularies, unfamiliar genres, or tough emotional or intellectual subject matters. My booktalks nudge students toward books that will push them to become stronger, more widely-read thinkers. Our reading ladders begin to incorporate themes of choice as well as challenge.

So, as September wound down, I picked up Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. This outside-my-comfort-zone book sent me to Wikipedia many times during each reading as I attempted to make sense of some term I’d newly discovered (dark matter, the Fermi paradox, the multiverse). I found myself down the rabbit hole of Wiki-links many a time, landing on pages like this a little too frequently for my furrowed eyebrows’ liking:

There is no question that anyone who encountered this book might have done the same, and as such, I have ample Internet history evidence to support my claim that reading this book made me a stronger reader. I doubtless practiced reading skills like summarizing, re-reading, decoding complex vocabulary, integrating new ideas into existing schema, looking for outside information to aid my understanding, paraphrasing, learning about new text features and signposts, noting quotes, and more.

But reading isn’t done solely for the purpose of practicing skills. In fact, the purpose of reading is as far from skills-focused as we are from the edge of the universe (pretty freakin’ far, in case you haven’t recently read about astrophysics). Consider, for instance, this passage from the final pages of Astrophysics for People in a Hurry:

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Beautifully written, no doubt, and I’d use it with my students as a mentor text in a heartbeat. Look at that parallel structure, that use of one-sentence paragraphs, that thoughtful choice of diverse verbs! Lo, the effect of repetition, the deft uses of the dash, the pristine placement of commas! All of these are worth studying alongside our students, but they are mere stepping stones on the path to the true purposes of reading and writing:

Joy, engagement, transcendence, learning, growth.

The expansion of our minds, of our perspectives, marching onward as relentlessly as the universe itself (yep, it’s forever expanding, knowledge I have thanks to Neil deGrasse Tyson). This passage–this argument, for looking at life from the cosmic perspective–is valuable for so much more than the way it is written. The meaning is in what is written, and how the reader makes meaning of it.

Looking at our teaching, our students, our lessons from the cosmic perspective, we must consider our small effect on these students’ lives in the grand scheme of things. Why would we insist students read a certain book, or a certain number of books, or write a certain number of pages, when we consider our real goal for students: to help them access the vast wealth of reading and writing they can do in the world to achieve their true callings.

books-to-read-before-you-hit-30980-1459253850_980x457As we plan instruction for the second quarter, we must center our students’ reading and writing experiences on the highest purposes of those endeavors, and not remain too focused on the skills, structures, and rubrics we often get caught up in. We must not fall into the trap of sharing a passage such as this one with students solely to practice craft study, asking our students to replicate Tyson’s structure without appreciating what he’s trying to say to us by crafting it.

Let’s confer with our readers about not just how a text is doing what it’s doing, but also what their feelings are about that text, what they’re learning from a text on a holistic level, how they’ll insert this reading into their larger life philosophy.

Let’s coach our writers not just to become proficient in certain genres, but also toward authentic, purposeful, meaning-filled writing that they proudly craft and publish.

Let’s remember to harness the cosmic perspective in our work with students, as we consider not just what we know of them as readers and writers, but what we know of them as young adults who will go forth and change the world in some small way with their lives.

Let’s embrace the cosmic perspective when we consider reading and writing: those hallmarks of our intellect that make us uniquely human.

Shana Karnes is a lifelong reader and writer who daily tries to embrace the cosmic perspective in her work as a teacher, wife, and mother. She lives in West Virginia with her husband, two daughters, two cats, and five bookshelves. Connect with Shana on Twitter at @litreader. 

Please share your higher purposes for teaching, for reading, for writing! Let us know in the comments, on Twitter, or on Facebook.

Quickwrite Mentor Texts for Writer’s Notebooks

img_6062I love going back to school for so many reasons, but one of the frontrunners is definitely that “second chance new year” feeling it provides. Teachers and students have the unique opportunity to have not just one fresh start at the beginning of a calendar year, but a second shot at goal-setting, changes, and achievements that the fall offers.

We all have our back-to-school rituals, and they are sacred: fresh notebooks, pens in all the colors of the rainbow (because we haven’t lost any yet), a well-organized classroom library that will be pilfered and picked through soon enough. One of the most important parts of establishing a workshop community is the routine that comes with setting up a writer’s notebook each fall: personalizing notebooks to make them our own, modeling a notebook’s possibilities, the establishment of quickwrite practices.

But now that the year has begun, and your notebooks are ready to go…what should you begin to fill them with? The writing in the beginning of my notebook always guides and inspires me as I continue to fill it, so I never want it to be uninspired, dull, or colorless. I crave fresh, exciting, dynamic things to fill up the first several pages of my notebook every time I start a new one, which is usually in the fall.

Here are my five favorite mentor texts that give me ideas and inspiration galore for those important start-of-the-year quickwrites–the first in a routine of creativity, agency, freedom, vulnerability, and engagement as a writer.

The Artist’s Way Workbook by Julia Cameron

This workbook is full of writing prompts for real writers: short exercises that encourage reflection, fluency, and the habit of writing vulnerably often.

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I love this workbook and its series of prompts, and use them often when I start my day with the #5amwritersclub each morning. They would be wonderful prompts for students to ease into vulnerable, personal writing in September.

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I’d Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel

I first discovered Anne Bogel thanks to her “What Should I Read Next?” podcast, but she is also a writer and blogger, and just released a beautiful book yesterday. It’s a book about our reading lives, and provides a wonderful mentor text for writing about our reading without writing about a specific text.

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In addition to the lovely writing, I am obsessed with the illustrations: they would be wonderful to recreate in students’ notebooks with scraps of old magazines or dusty dictionaries.

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I visualize this mentor text as a wonderful one for helping students find a voice for writing about their reading lives during quarterly reflections, reading ladders, and self-assessments.

The Book of Qualities by J. Ruth Gendler

Writing about our own emotions is hard for all of us, but it’s especially hard for teens. I’ve found that writing about emotions in general, rather than our own, is a wonderful gateway for personal writing.

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In addition to being an amazing lesson in personification, this book provides gorgeous mentors for doodling, metaphors, and multigenre possibilities.

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Write the Poem

Poetry can be intimidating, but a little guidance goes a long way, and this book provides just that.

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The combination of a prompt and keywords to incorporate takes some of the guesswork out of choosing a structure, a rhyme scheme, a title, and the myriad other decisions that go into crafting poetry.

Am I There Yet? by Mari Andrew

Sometimes words are hard. They just are. Those days call for doodles, and this book is full of plenty of them–in addition to pages of plain old writing. I love this text because it tells stories beyond what we see on Mari’s Instagram and Twitter feeds, giving students a mentor text not just for writing but for the thinking and living behind it.

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Mari Andrew has long been a favorite of mine, but this book shows me how to play with writing and thinking in genres I wouldn’t have considered, and is super teen-friendly.

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I hope you’ll utilize one or more of these beautiful texts–many excerpts of which you can view on the Amazon preview pages linked above–with your students this fall. Their possibilities as entry points for writing topics and genres are powerful, and will lead to composition possibilities for the duration of your school year.

Happy writing! We’d love to know how you and your students utilize these ideas, or what others help you kick off your writer’s notebooks. Please share other quickwrite possibilities and ideas in the comments, on Twitter, or on Facebook!

Shana Karnes is a mom to two daughters, a daily reader and writer, and a forever educator. Her work with teachers in West Virginia is through the National Writing Project, West Virginia University, and the West Virginia Council of Teachers of English. Connect with Shana on Twitter at @litreader. 

We Can All Be Writers

Penny Kittle absolutely ruined reading for me five years ago.

You heard me. Destroyed it.

In the summer of 2013, at the University of New Hampshire Literacy Institutes, Penny taught me how to read like a writer. Our class studied short poems and discussed the deliberation of the author’s diction with a sense of wonder rather than through the lens of “what does this symbol mean?”. We read whole books in book clubs and gave a presentation about our texts on simply its craft. We wrote process papers at the end of the class that told the story of how we’d written our final essays.

Something about this made me absolutely unable to mindlessly read anythinganymore. Online articles, advertisements, tweets, and even beach-appropriate fiction just screamed CRAFT ANALYSIS!!!! at me. I couldn’t really relax and let go while reading anymore–instead, I was hypersensitive to the words I read, thinking constantly about what the author had lived, and done, to write such a work.

The total immersion in craft study of those two weeks has stayed with me, five years later. In every book I read, I have a new appreciation for the work of the writer–the work of writing.

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The craft of language, the power of literacy, is everywhere.

And seeing writing everywhere helped transform me from a lifelong reader into something more: a writer.

I start my day with the awesome Twitter crew at #5amwritersclub. Many participants are teachers, writing before they begin the day with their students, and many others are parents, writing before they begin the day with their children. I identify with both groups and love the sense of identity that comes from writing beside my tribe.

I feel the same way about writing in online communities like this blog. Every time a Three Teachers Talk post appears in my inbox, I think about not just what the post says, but also what my fellow teachers were thinking and doing as they wrote. I have watched Amy’s and Lisa’s thinking grow over time, since I’ve had the privilege of reading their writing. When Amy wrote about beating the dread, and when Lisa wrote about settling into summer, I read beyond the “I agree” part of my teacher brain. I thought about those women, both moms, cramming in some writing after their (grand)kids’ bedtimes, or in the early morning hours before school, or on their too-packed planning periods.

This is, in part, what helped me shape my identity as a writer. I saw my peers, my friends, my teaching neighbors writing. I saw their process, their thinking, their methods translate into writing. It showed me what was possible: that I, too, was a writer.

Our students need to see this.

As we kick off this school year, we need to make not only our own writing processes visible–from initial thinking, to drafting, to tinkering, to publishing–but our students’ processes visible, too. Students who see one another write understand that it’s not a one-track process; writing can look different from one kid to the next, and from one school year to the next. The possibilities are endless.

We can all be writers. We should all be writers. Viewing the world so differently has no doubt made my brain more tired, but it has made my life so much more rich.

Believing that I could become a writer took time, a shift in my mindset, and lots of work…but it transformed my identity and introduced me to a whole community of writers I wouldn’t have met otherwise, and for that, I am forever grateful. I can only hope that my students someday can feel this sense of gratitude to the writers–both the teachers and students whose words they read, and the published poets and authors whose craft we study to get better–that I feel for every writer, every human, that I know.

Please leave a comment and let us know how you plan to make the writing process more visible for your students this year, so you might all become writers!

Shana Karnes is a mom of two, an avid reader and writer, and someone whose life has been immeasurably bettered by literacy and all it entails. She is grateful to be part of the Three Teachers Talk community, and loves equally her NWP@WVU and WVCTE (where a version of this post appeared earlier) peers and pals. Connect with Shana on Twitter at @litreader. 

Let’s Talk Summer Reading–Without the Pressure

Summer is one of my favorite times of year for reading. I love lying out in the sun with a light paperback, curling up in the corner of the couch with a classic, or falling asleep with my e-reader in my hand under a whirring fan.

Summer reading should be fun for everyone, but especially for teachers and students.

Instead, it’s become such a controversial topic–a buzzword laden with hidden meanings and tensions and polarizing sides. Much of the discourse around reading, and education in general, feels exhausting to me lately. Banned books, mandated books, and everything in between can spark vitriol in teachers who profess to love our students, profession, work.

summer-reading_xs.jpgBut, as ever, reading is the great escape.

And we need that escape–I feel like I never get a break from teaching, and when I do, I don’t know how to seize it. But one thing I love doing in the summertime is reading a book without looking for craft mini-lessons, or thinking about a booktalk I’ll give, or which kid I’ll recommend that title to. That kind of reading can wait until August.

So let’s talk about summer reading, without the pressure. I don’t want to argue with anyone about whether students should be assigned books, or required to participate in book clubs, or the danger of the summer slide or the 20 minutes of reading per day.

I just want to talk books.

Here are some genres and titles I’ve loved so far this summer, and I would love desperately need your recommendations. Please leave them in the comments!

download-1.jpgMurder-Mystery

Still Life is the first in the Inspector Armand Gamache series by Louise Penny, and I’ll forever remember reading it in beautiful Canaan Valley, WV during an anniversary getaway. This beautifully written murder-mystery is set in a small town in Canada, and our hero, Gamache, is a quiet observer of human nature, which helps him solve mysteries. I adore the way Penny crafts his thoughts about what he sees, and how many lovely backstories are woven through each mystery in this series.

Page-Turners

download.jpgThe Word Exchange was completely, compulsively, un-put-down-able. Alena Graedon is a new author for me, and her tale of a world that loses its grip on language once a massive tech company monopolizes and commoditizes words was, for me, perfectly timed–I’ve been a little unsettled lately by my observations about how addicted to technology everyone is, and how afraid I am of what it’s doing to my students, and could potentially do to my children. This book spurred me to action in terms of deactivating my Facebook and Instagram accounts and making a conscious effort to leave my phone in another room–to make space to just be, and be bored, and have time to think and wonder and ponder.

download-2.jpgThe Power by Naomi Alderman was just wonderful. It had all the elements of a gripping adventure story, along with a powerful message about what corrupts us. In this novel, women develop an electrostatic power and a society shifts from patriarchal to matriarchal in the space of a few generations as a result. The effect of women suddenly becoming more physically powerful than men leads to widespread revolution in everything from interpersonal relationships to world leadership. It’s beautifully written, too.

download-3.jpgDear Martin was a book I’d been recommended a thousand times, it seemed, but after reading so many books that felt similar–The Hate U Give, Long Way Down, etc., I just couldn’t pick it up–but I’m so glad I finally did. Nic Stone crafts this novel as a series of letters from young Justyce McAllister to Martin Luther King, interspersed with transcripts of news reports and first-person narrative. It’s complex and thoughtful and plausible and readable and powerful. I loved it.

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Nonfiction

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing is Daniel Pink’s latest offering, and as usual, he has an insightful book that has applications for me as an individual, a parent, and a teacher. Pink discusses all the elements of timing that govern our lives, from being a “morning person” to a “night owl,” to the power and importance of building in breaks, taking naps, and seeking out social and alone time. He frames this all in the usual compelling narrative style that makes his writing so readable and interesting to me.

download-4.jpgTeaching Books

180 Days is proving difficult for me to get into. I’ve had it on my desk for over a month, but every time I pick up this collaboration between Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher, I feel like I’m having an emotional battle. My former classroom teacher self wars with my preservice teacher professor self wars with my currently nonteaching summer self when I read about the decisions that go into planning for a packed, skill-building, book-loving, writing-doing, meaningful, 180-day school year. I think it just contributes to that overall feeling of exhaustion I have, so maybe I just need to pick it up when I’m a little more rested.


What are you reading this summer? What books and places help you take a break from teaching? Please share in the comments or on Twitter via @3teacherstalk.

Shana Karnes is enjoying summer reading in West Virginia with her two daughters. She spends lots of time at the public library, the university rec center, and Target–because books, running, and iced coffee while shopping are joyful things. Shana works with practicing teachers through the National Writing Project and formerly taught preservice educators and high school students. Let’s talk reading on Twitter–I’m @litreader for a reason!

Can’t Turn Off the Teacher

It’s finally summer break! That wonderful time of year when I can shut my brain off entirely–no reading, no writing, no thinking.

That’s the goal, anyway. What ends up happening is a week of mindless Netflix binges (this year it’s Suits, because I want to see Meghan Markle pre-princess), romance novel reads, a few days at the beach, a few household projects tackled.

Then it’s right back into teacher mode, even when I don’t want it to be.

Listening to a podcast? Oh, sounds like a great format for conferring. Texting with my family about a book? Oh, what a great genre for a literary autobiography. Selling a car on Craigslist? Oh, what a great authentic writing piece for my high school students. And the list goes on:

I can’t seem to turn off my teacher brain, even when I crave the break from the school year summer provides.

Image result for when daniel pinkI grapple with this every summer. As a new teacher, I tried to make myself take the whole summer off from thinking about teaching, feeling like I was doing something wrong when I started doodling writing units or reading activity ideas. Later in my career I felt satisfied if I could turn off my teacher brain for just the month of June, and get back into the swing of things starting July 1.

We all need breaks. Daniel Pink’s latest book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, reminded me of that. He gives some background on the effectiveness and helpfulness of “vigilance breaks” and “restorative breaks,” the latter of which are taken to help sharpen our mental acuity after too much thinking and focus around one task. Without breaks, we lose motivation, make more mistakes, and work less efficiently.

Teachers, you deserve a break.

You need a break.

But if you’re like me, and you just can’t turn off the teacher–that’s okay too. It’s okay to read a book as both a reader and a writer. It’s okay to buy a frozen pizza as a mentor text for the make-your-own-pizza kit you buy to make with your two-year-old. It’s okay that when you say “I love you” to said two-year-old, and she says, “okay,” back, that you think of The Fault in Our Stars and know that she means “I love you too.”

This summer, I hope you’ll find balance as you sink into your off-duty teacher self: taking classes, scrolling Twitter, reading and writing at a pace without deadlines. I hope you’ll embrace the fact that even outside the school year, you can’t turn off the teacher.

Shana Karnes is spending her last summer in West Virginia exploring the wild and wonderful state, taking her kids to various WV landmarks, enjoying the mountains and history. She’s tackling all the projects she totally neglected during the school year–one of which is doing some writing for herself…even though that writing usually winds back around to teaching topics. Find Shana on Twitter @litreader.

3 Ways to “Wrap Up” Your School Year

I am an unabashed gift giver.

I love tangible ways to express my appreciation for friends, students, family, colleagues, and anyone else I count as important.

…I also love shopping.

But with an impending move to Wisconsin on the horizon, I don’t love clutter in my home–so I am gifting left and right. That was part of the inspiration this year for how I wanted to finish the semester with my students–students I’ve been with for multiple years, in some cases, and others who I’ve only gotten to know and learn with for one semester.

Like any ending, this one tended to color the ups and downs of our school year into a tone more rosy than reality may have painted. With two kids under two, a hectic semester of required assignments, and the ever-present student mood swings offered by snow days, spring break, and finals week, we all struggled at times to stay committed to our work. No school year is ever smooth, or perfect, or simple–but I still like to celebrate its end annually with something tangible. As such, I give each of my students a gift at the end of every year, and have every year since I began teaching.

Here are three ways I “wrapped up” the ending of this school year–literally.


The Gift of Reading

Two groups of my students and I have been together for two years now, and in those two years, I’ve gotten to know these kids (I mean, they’re adults, but I will always refer to my students as “kids” when I think of them) incredibly well. They will be teaching in all content areas, in all grade levels, but still–I can’t seem to turn off my English teacher brain long enough not to say, hmmm, I know exactly what book that forward-thinking history teacher would like.

So this year, I pulled from my own bookshelves one or two books for each of my students–for their personal reading, for their classrooms, or both. In each book, I wrote the student a note, then wrapped each book individually. This time-intensive gesture has been rewarding in spades as my students contact me to tell me they’ve read and loved their books.

The Gift of Writing

We use Google Docs quite frequently, and one of my favorite activities to have students work on is to respond to a writing prompt on a collaborative Google Doc and proceed to write, think, and argue together on one page.

So this year, I printed out every collaborative Google Doc, group-written book review, team-created list of strategies, or class-crafted series of ideal classrooms, social justice non-negotiables, and pedagogically challenging teaching moves that we’d created and bound them together into a class “Anthology of Awesome,” which each student received.

On our last day of class, we shared the anthologies with donuts and coffee. I also brought thank-you notes for students to write to one another–personal messages they hand-wrote and hand-delivered to their critical friends, who had helped read and respond to their work all semester long.

With these pieces of writing in their pockets, my students left class with tangible reminders of the intellectual portion of our time together.

The Gift of Family

For better or for worse, with the end of each school year together, a class is like a family. Some members are dysfunctional, some are estranged, but in general, we’re a bunch of former strangers who now love, appreciate, and respect one another more than we did four quarters ago.

To help us remember this time together, I wrote my classes each a letter that highlighted each student by name, and comprised some of our memories together, our shared goals, and our funny moments. I added this letter to the beginning of our class anthology to serve as a reminder of our Screen Shot 2018-05-30 at 7.11.46 AM.pngstudents’ names and personalities. For my future teachers, I created our ideal school, in which we’d all teach and get to work together forever. In past years, I simply wrote a letter of well-wishes to my kids, and included each student’s name and a little compliment toward them all.


As we wrap up this school year, these simple gifts are things you might consider crafting to help end your year with students on a high note. It’s easy to get caught up in the end-of-semester hubbub of grades, exams, and packing up classrooms, but I hope you’ll pause to commemorate a year of learning as a group in some way with your students, as well.

Please share how you “wrap up” the school year meaningfully with your students! We’d love to know in the comments, on Facebook, or on Twitter!

Shana Karnes will soon be leaving the wild and wonderful mountains of West Virginia for the great lakes of Wisconsin. She is excited to continue her involvement in Appalachian education by leading institutes with the National Writing Project at West Virginia University this summer, but will otherwise be relaxing and devouring as many books as she can during her two daughters’ nap times. Connect with Shana on Twitter at @litreader.

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