Category Archives: Shana

Remembering Why We Become Teachers

Last week, when I met with my new crop of Spring semester students for the first time, I asked them to write one sentence that told me how they’d come to teaching.

Do you know what almost every single student wrote?

“Because I love working with kids.”

It was a reminder, for me:  these young, idealistic, preservice teachers, on the very cusps of their careers…were here because of LOVE.  For children, for learners.

We will spend the next three years with them working on their teaching craft, their pedagogy, their educational philosophy.  We will offer classes in professional inquiry, classroom management, instructional design, content area methods, technology integration, special education, and more.

But we do not offer a class on why most of these students become teachers:  a class on caring for kids.

We cannot offer such a class, because what would we put in the syllabus?  It’s very simple:  just remember to love and care for each of your students, day in and day out.

And that, for me, is the key.  To remember we care for kids.  To keep our students at the center of our classrooms.

I don’t believe anyone can be a good teacher if they merely love their students.  Good teachers must, in addition to caring for their students, have mastery of content, pedagogy, and methods.

67685151d15291cb47b599262f7625a8Whether or not our instructional practices show our care for our students is a good acid test for teaching reading and writing.  Does assigning a book and then creating fifteen “gotcha” pop quizzes make students feel competent and confident as readers?  No.  Not a good practice.  Nor are so many of the worksheets, textbook curricula, or 1990s-designed unit plans I’ve seen employed by some teachers.

But those are boring, you say.  Well, what about something more fun?  When teaching high school English, does assigning a reading project of tracing your hand and making it a turkey on which you list five books you’ve read make students feel competent and confident as readers?  No.  Not a good practice, either.

You’ll notice I’m measuring good teaching and good learning by student competence and confidence, and not by some other measure of “students are having fun,” or “students enjoy themselves.”

There are five core human drives that apply across all societies, all classes, all ethnicities, all ages, all genders.  One of them is the drive to learn.  All students want to learn, to satisfy curiosity, to demonstrate mastery–both to themselves and to others.  Offering them learning opportunities to achieve and demonstrate this mastery show our love and respect for students, not our supreme wisdom or sublime control or smart strategies as teachers.

I’ve been troubled, lately, by how much talk there is in education about “fun” in the classroom, about how “students wouldn’t need grit if we made learning more fun,” and so on.  When we make things too easy on our students (and too hard, or too meaningless), we aren’t showing our love and respect for our students.

Teaching and learning are difficult, complex things.  They can rarely be boiled down to an algorithm, a strategy, or a single method.  Carol Dweck, coiner of the phrase “growth mindset” (the foundational principle behind books I’ve loved like Peter Johnston’s Opening Minds and Choice Words), recently gave an interview in which she expressed heartfelt regret that her work was being turned into an easy and fun strategy for teaching.  This “false growth mindset” essentially says that all you have to do to foster learning is praise kids for effort, whether or not that effort was successful.

When we focus too much on praise, or effort, or one simple strategy that will solve everything!!, we run the risk of teaching the strategy rather than the student.  Amy recently shared with me a piece that it took me about four reads to unpack:  “On Writing Workshop, Cognitive Overload, and Creative Writing.”   This excellent blog post reminded me that when we do something like book clubs, if we spend too much time teaching students how to do book clubs, we aren’t spending enough time getting kids to actually do the work of literacy.

That’s not to say I don’t find value in book clubs, or the multigenre project, or any other lens through which kids might read or write.  There is great value in using a few core strategies, again and again, to help students make sense of what they’re trying to understand.  The key word is a few–so that students keep their focus on literacy, not the strategy or the project or the assignment.  Keep it simple:  quickwrites, book talks, constant revision, constant talk, and a high volume of diverse reading and writing.  Period.

When we keep our classrooms simple, doing more with less and simplifying our instruction to include mostly reading, writing, and talk about reading and writing, we are keeping our care for our students at the forefront of our work.

As we launch into 2017, let’s remember why we became teachers in the first place:  because we care about our students.  Keep that love for learning at the heart of your work, and growth, competence, and confidence will be your rewards.

Shana Karnes lives in West Virginia and teaches sophomore, junior, and senior preservice teachers at West Virginia University.  She finds joy in all things learning, love, and literature as she teaches, mothers, and sings her way through life.  Follow Shana on Twitter at @litreader.



Keeping Workshop Values at the Heart of Our Teaching

I have written before about what awesome students I had this semester.  It was my first attempt at college teaching, and I was nervous about how to approach everything–my courses, my students, my grading.

I was so close to falling into the trap that I fell into when I first began teaching, and simply reverting to doing what I’d seen done.  The first week assignments were due, when a few kids’ were missing, I almost got mad, and gave them zeroes, and had a serious meeting with them.  You just can’t not turn in work in college!

But, instead of deducting points or getting mad…I asked myself:  what the heck would that achieve?  Do I want these students doing that to their future students?  What is the point!?

So, I just talked to them.  I tried to understand why their work wasn’t done, and I tried to help them understand why deadlines matter in our course.  I gave them the first second chance they’d gotten in college.  And when they turned in their work, I was so glad–it was amazingly high quality.

There were other ways I modified our course, too.  Although according to the course design, all of the students’ long-term assignments–writer’s notebooks, lesson plans, major projects–were slated to come in at the end of the semester, for one bombshell grade, I asked that they turn them in in chunks so I could give them frequent, ungraded feedback.  I didn’t want to wait 16 weeks to discover they’d been way off track the whole semester.  The students were grateful for some of the only formative feedback they’d received while in college.

I asked them to make their notebooks more authentic, their responses to our assigned books and articles more honest, and their research and data analysis more realistic.  I gave a lot of positive, specific feedback in return for their risk-taking, asked them lots of questions to keep them thinking, and in turn, I saw them begin to take more risks in their thinking and writing and teaching.  We built a community of teachers who questioned the status quo, and I could see their growth.


I’m so thankful that I kept my workshop values in place when I began teaching preservice teachers.

I asked for authenticity, honesty, and dialogue when we engaged in our study of books and articles and our students.  In return, I gave specific, frequent feedback, the opportunity for revision of thinking and writing, and time for students to talk with one another and with me.  Keeping these non-negotiables in place has helped me craft a classroom and a course that I’ve enjoyed teaching and that has allowed my students to grow (although I already have lots of ideas for improving the course next semester!).

We ended our course with a final class period of presentations of the students’ semester-long projects.  Students gave one another feedback, and I wrote beside them, writing in note cards as I’d seen Penny Kittle do in our summer course at UNH.

This note from a student in her writer’s notebook proves to me that all students, no matter their age–from kindergarteners to the 21-year-olds I teach–crave the time and attention and care and respect of their teachers.  We should keep that at the heart of our teaching, always.


I know, like many of you, that I’ll be using winter break to rethink and re-vision my teaching for 2017.  I hope that we’ll all create goals and routines that keep workshop values at the core of our teaching–values of risk-taking, time for talk, revision, reflection, authenticity, dialogue, honesty, and all else that encourages our students’ growth in the most important of ways.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!  How will you be spending your time away from school?  Please share in the comments.

How I Made the Move to Workshop: 10 Key Steps

Like many teachers, I established a very traditional classroom when I began my career.  I taught whole-class novels, gave multiple choice tests, and assigned long essays that I thought were full of academic rigor.

After struggling to engage kids, battling behavior issues, and watching kids grow to hate reading, I realized:  none of what I was doing was authentic, and much of it was not research based.

I didn’t even know why I was teaching the way that I was teaching.

Of course, in hindsight, I know I was doing what I’d seen modeled:  years of traditional schooling, a 4×4 model, and strict assessment modes.  It was all I’d experienced, and despite learning about more authentic workshop methods in my education program, I didn’t know how to put those in place because I’d never seen them.

But I decided I didn’t care that I had no idea what I was doing…I was tired of seeing kids unhappy, and being unhappy as a teacher myself.  So, slowly, I made the move to workshop.

I’ve been inspired lately by one of our readers, who comments under the handle ML.  “I’m so ready to try workshop,” ML wrote several weeks ago.  I suspect ML was feeling the same fatigue that I was while running a traditional classroom.

Then, ML wrote, “Ok, I’m in!” last Friday on Jessica’s post.  I can’t wait to hear how the move goes, and as I wondered, it got me thinking about my own journey to a workshop classroom.  Apparently, ’tis the season for this kind of large-scale reflective thinking, as I wrote a post about a year ago about what teachers need in order to feel sustained.

But now I’m thinking about what teachers need to make the move to workshop, and how we might take these steps.  Here are the ones I took.

imgresThe first change I made was offering choice.  Keeping the anchor texts and assignments I’d been using in place, I began to offer some choice in assessments.  On essay tests, I gave several options for prompts.  For projects, I created many different possible products.

Next, I began to offer some choice in reading and writing.  I added Free-Write Friday to our daily notebook writing routines, and increased time to do independent reading in class from once per week to every day.  I slowly started to grow my classroom library, too.

Over the course of a year, I gradually stopped making so many of the choices in my classroom and started offering them to students instead.

In terms of reading, we read fewer books as a class, and when we did read a work together, students guided the discussion, and assessments became more authentic and choice-based.  I began to notice that students were much more successful with their reading when our fabulous librarian, Lara Walker, recommended specific titles to kids during our biweekly library visits.  So, I added booktalks to our routine; first weekly, then daily.

My reading life began to change when I started to give booktalks.  I realized that I was quickly running out of titles that I knew would hook kids, so I took a two-pronged approach to fixing that issue:  first, I began to read much more widely.  Second, I redoubled my efforts to grow my library so that it filled up with titles kids would actually read.

Autonomy in reading spread to other areas of my curriculum quickly.  Kids felt emboldened to offer opinions on whole-class texts, so we moved to a more dialogic mode of learning rather than a traditional autocratic one.  I stopped giving tests in the traditional sense, abandoning multiple-choice questions and regurgitation-type essays.  I wanted kids to have some wiggle room in their writing just as they had in their reading.

I knew how to teach a thesis statement or a critical lens, but I’d never had a class on how to teach kids to WRITE commentary or satire or poetry–only how to read them.  In studying those genres to figure out how to teach them, I realized that I was doing exactly what my students needed to do: read like writers.  They began to read not only sample written products like writers, but also the books they were enjoying as well.  Mentor texts came from everywhere, with my students beginning to shoulder more of the cognitive load of finding and analyzing pieces of writing.

Many of my colleagues turned up their noses at my approach, wondering how I knew if my students were reading and writing if I wasn’t reading the same book they were or giving a test or a paper over it.  I argued that teaching was both art and craft, and that I just knew my kids were succeeding:  I talked to them, didn’t I?  I watched them read, I heard them bemoan twist endings with friends, I read their revision-riddled notebooks.

I had mountains of data that weren’t tests.

As all of this happened, my students grew as readers and writers, and we grew closer as teacher and students.  I cultivated friendships with my kids and took on an identity not just as a teacher, but as an usher toward a love of reading and writing.

Love, some colleagues said.  Fun.  Phooey!

But, as the brilliant Pam Allyn said:  love leads to practice, which leads to fluency, which leads to stamina, which leads to mastery.  You can’t do a thing well if you don’t love it.


A good representation of my workshop classroom

My traditional classroom faded away.  Rows were replaced by table groups, textbooks were replaced by a huge classroom library, and mountains of essays to grade were replaced by a tower of teetering writer’s notebooks.

I made the move to workshop organically, almost on my own, but aided by the brilliance of classes from the National Writing Project, the University of New Hampshire Literacy Institutes, and the work of many teacher-writers:  Penny Kittle, Tom Romano, Kelly Gallagher, Donalyn Miller, Tom Newkirk, and countless others.  They reaffirmed that the moves I was making were the ones that were best for kids.

In sum, here’s how I made the move to workshop:

  1. Offering choice, slowly at first.
  2. Increasing our use of the writer’s notebook as a space for ungraded, low-stakes writing.
  3. Making time for independent reading every day.
  4. Giving booktalks every day.
  5. Growing my classroom library and my own reading repertoire.
  6. Learning to read like writers and study mentor texts.
  7. Shifting the cognitive load of curricular choice from me to my students.
  8. Valuing talk as an assessment, instructional, and practice tool.
  9. Keeping records and compiling data that were valuable and authentic.
  10. Reading lots of blogs and books and journals and articles that helped me add research-based practices to my pedagogy.

I hope ML will keep commenting and let us know how the move to workshop is going.  In the meantime, can you share with us the story of your move to workshop?  Please tell us in the comments!

Start with a Question

“Questions are at the heart of it all.  Just start with the question.”

These were the first words I heard at NCTE, and they were from the mouth of our beautiful mentor, Penny Kittle.

Penny was opening a workshop honoring Tom Newkirk, a true beacon of hope in the sometimes desolate landscape of education.  A bevy of thinkers–Gretchen Bernabei, Ellin Keene, Tom Romano, Jeff Wilhelm, and more–spoke about the ways Tom Newkirk had helped them grow as teachers, thinkers, readers, and writers.

And you know what they all had in common?



Notes from Cornelius Minor’s portion of a session on equity in education

Ellin Keene, whose books were edited by Tom Newkirk, said that he never “wordsmithed” her writing.  Instead, he wrote questions in the margins.  She called him the “rare provocateur who asked questions because he genuinely wanted to know the answer.”

Jeff Wilhelm, who wrote book after book that was inspired by Newkirk’s work, said that he always found his book topics by lingering on a question he was wondering about.

Tom Romano framed Newkirk’s thinking in a “says who?!” style: the Common Core says narrative writing is for sissies?  Newkirk replies, “SAYS WHO?!” and writes Minds Made for Stories.

Vicki Boyd, Tom Newkirk’s editor and the general manager of Heinemann, said that Tom’s words led her to believe we should all “get curious about the stories that lead people to their stances and beliefs.”  We must ask questions to understand one another.

Questions prevailed as a theme: when speakers talked about their process for discovering their topics or planning their talks, questions were at the heart.  When I jotted something powerful in my notebook, it was usually a question.


It’s not about the answers, I was starting to notice everyone saying. It’s about the questions.

Maybe we’ve known this for a while, and it just took some time for me to find the red thread of questions running through our work.

When I was planning for NCTE, I framed my thinking around questions.

Yesterday, Amy wished us “joy in the journey” in her post synthesizing her learning at NCTE.

I wrote about valuing process over product in this post.

Amy wrote about it back in 2013.

And apparently there’s a great new book out by Katherine Bomer called The Journey is Everything (sorry I missed that; it came out April 22, and I was busy having a baby right then…brb while I add it to my Amazon cart).

It is, apparently, about the journey, and the process, and the questions…not the finish, or the product, or the answers.

We spend so much time wondering how to get it right, when what’s important isn’t the getting it right part.  It’s the wondering.

And apparently I’ve known that all along, but I like to keep forgetting to keep questions at the heart of my thinking and teaching.

So, as we race toward the end of 2016, I will try to start with questions in everything I do: my talk with students, instructional design, grading, and even my ever-fluctuating educational philosophy.

I have the pleasure of being able to give only feedback, and no grades, on my students’ final projects for the semester.  These large-scale assessments are meant to go into their final portfolios that they’ll defend before graduating, so I am unencumbered by rubrics and numbers.  I’ll focus on the questions they ask, and ask them some of my own, as I read their work.

As I think about planning for next semester, I’ll wonder how I can get more students questioning themselves, one another, and all the many routines and philosophies they see around them.

And as I move forward with my writing here at TTT, I’ll remind myself, every time I sit down with my notebook:  start with a question.


What questions are you asking? Please share in the comments. (Or ask some questions of your own!)

Change is Good

Last week, I filled up more pages in my notebook in four days than I did in the last six months combined.

What the heck were you writing about, you ask?

Why, #NCTE16, of course.  The annual Mecca of English teachers, where we get to speak, listen, read, and write all about what we’re passionate about: students and learning.

I wrote down amazing ideas.

Pressing questions.

Inspiring quotes.

Endless book recommendations.


I wrote down a lot of beauty and hope and happiness, but I also heard some scary things, and I wrote those down too.

Things like teachers reading To Kill a Mockingbird–OUT LOUD! THE WHOLE THING OUT LOUD!–to their classes over the course of eight weeks.

Things like spending six weeks on a memoir unit only to produce–wait for it–six-word memoirs, and nothing more.

Things like hearing Harvey Daniels questioning whether to let students talk with one another for fear that they’ll be too hard to quiet down.



I just read Peter Johnston’s Opening Minds, which centers on the philosophy of getting students into a dynamic frame of thinking–a mindset in which all things are changeable, and that nothing is static.  So, maybe I heard some things that troubled me about what’s going on in education in America, but if I think like Johnston wants me to, then I know we’re just not where we need to be…yet.

img_5964I talked with my writing friends about this.  Amy, Lisa, and I spent so many lovely hours together squeezing in conversation wherever possible–escalators, restaurants, hotel rooms, Ubers, the NCTE exhibit hall.  We thought, talked, wondered, worried, questioned, and quested.  We wrote down many pages of ideas for Three Teachers Talk.

In our conversation about those cringe-worthy teaching practices I overheard, we wondered this:  why are so many teachers afraid to change?  Why are we so glued to the ‘way we do school’ historically?  Why, when we brainstorm ideas, do we wonder what can go wrong instead of wondering what can go right?

Change is good, people!

We wondered–to reframe the thinking about what secondary English classrooms look like, what do teachers need?

We examined our own practices to answer this question.  We found that we each relied on four things to make decisions about the learning in our classrooms:

  1. Research-based best practices.
  2. Examples of other classrooms that look like ours.
  3. Specific strategies and assignments to try out.
  4. Conversations with like-minded friends about our ideas.

And we asked ourselves:  is Three Teachers Talk answering these questions?

Perhaps, incidentally, we were, but we wanted to be more deliberate.  So, we’ve made it our goal to approach those themes more regularly.

On Mondays, we’ll share our responses to the research we read, the quotes we hear from educators, or the ideas we have in our notebooks.

On Tuesdays, we’ll continue to share specific strategies, mini-lessons, and quickwrite ideas we’ve tried out.

On Wednesdays, we’ll converse together in a #3TTworkshop format and share writing from our friends in the form of guest posts to show a variety of perspectives on common ideas.

On Thursdays, we’ll share examples of what’s going on in our classrooms–stories about students, successes, failures.

We hope you’ll find our freshly-framed writing helpful and thought-provoking, just as we found the things we heard at NCTE to be.  Please join the conversation in comments, on our Facebook page, on Twitter, or via guest post.  We’d love to hear your voice!


Designing a Unit in Workshop: Just Try It

The NCTE Annual Convention begins this week, and as always, its onset has prompted me to try and synthesize a year’s worth of thinking around one pressing topic.  What I’ve been considering this year is the value of units of study within a workshop classroom–the hows and whys and what ifs of planning for complex, themed units.

So, we know that teachers who engage in a workshop classroom often have many of the same routines in their schedules:  time to read, time to write, time to talk.  They often have many of the same components:  mini-lessons, booktalks, mentor texts, conferring.

These are all good things.

They are all engaging practices on their own, but to take on real power, they need to be strung together, applied again and again, over the course of units of study and throughout the year.

When I work with teachers who are diving into the workshop model for the first time, I model as many of these components as I can.  Teachers are engaged–they write, they read, they look at the craft of poetry, they analyze articles.  They are energized and enthused to try these strategies with their students.

But every time, I see one smart teacher, her brow furrowed, her face concerned, in the back of the room.  She tells me, either in person or on her evaluation card:  I don’t see the rigor in this model.

And she is right.  In one day’s work, students are only advancing incrementally.  If we just have fun every day playing with words in our notebooks, listening to podcasts to study their craft, or doing book passes ’til the cows come home, our students are not growing by leaps and bounds as readers or writers.

And that’s where designing strong units of instruction comes in.

Whether it’s reading or writing instruction, harnessing the daily moves of a workshop routine to build toward an authentic product is where rigor lives.

I like Kelly Gallagher’s words to sum up the idea of starting at the end when designing a unit:

Screen Shot 2016-11-14 at 9.53.49 AM.png

Begin by thinking about what you’d like your students to achieve.  Did you just hear an amazing commentary on NPR?  Wow, what a great writer that guy is–I want my students writing like that.

Start with your vision.  That’s where you begin.  Then you ask yourself:  what do my students need to know in order to write like that?

That’s where the workshop routines come in:  booktalk examples of strong nonfiction writing.  Teach mini-lessons that get at the craft of strong commentary writing.  Flood your students with mentor texts, both published pieces and each other’s work, so they can see both the process and the product.  Let them experiment with drafts in their writer’s notebooks–lots of ungraded, low-stakes practice should live there.

At the end of the unit, don’t destroy all of your hard work by trying to “grade” everything objectively with a rubric.  Our beautiful mentor Penny Kittle sums that up nicely:

Screen Shot 2016-11-14 at 10.06.44 AM.png

When best drafts land on your desk, ask:  how do I know students achieved what I wanted them to?  Utilize self-assessments, celebrate the writing, respond authentically.  Consider how each student advanced individually.

Our students deserve high quality instruction that offers them choice, volume, and authenticity.  They deserve units that will allow them to continue to build on their constantly-increasing mastery of their reading and writing skills.

I’ll be sharing more about planning units in an Ignite Session on Saturday morning, from 9:30-10:45, in room A412.  

And I’ll discuss how and why to build rigor into your workshop units in more depth on Sunday afternoon, from 1:30-2:45, in room B211.

Will you be at NCTE?  Please let us know in the comments.  We would love to meet you!

If you can’t make it to Atlanta, you won’t be missing out–tune in to Twitter using the hashtag #NCTE16 during our session times to join the conversation.


Mini-Lesson Monday: Great Sportswriting is Worth Two Reads

In fifth grade, I attended a writing workshop with sportswriter Paul Daugherty at the helm.  A columnist for the Cincinnati Enquirer, he encouraged we wee ten-year-olds to think about how we might revise more quickly and do our prewriting in our heads.  He spoke about his experiences writing half a story while watching a game unfold, sometimes being tempted to write the ending before the ending had even occurred.  At age ten, I found him eloquent, mysterious, and inspiring–I decided then that I wanted to be a journalist.

Although I dropped my journalism major after one year in college, I still enjoy Daughterty’s columns in the Enquirer and occasionally Sports Illustrated.  And as an adult, I see his process in his product.  The craft of Daugherty’s writing is one of the things that made me enjoy sportswriting, and now, strong pieces about America’s most-loved athletic pastimes are some of my favorite things to read.

So, when Tom Romano sent me this piece from the New York Times, I thought immediately of how students would love the “metaphorical, descriptive” writing “with quotes and assertions and a great final line.”

Screen Shot 2016-11-07 at 5.56.48 AM.png

Tom Romano’s great description of this piece in the Times.

Objectives: Identify patterns in the author’s writing to characterize his voice; find where the author cites evidence that supports his claims; infer the writer’s process; apply concepts of writer’s voice and strong argument writing to your own nonfiction pieces.

Lesson:  I’ll distribute copies of “Twitchy, Sweaty, but Triumphant” by Michael Powell for students to read, but I’ll also have the piece projected on the Smart Board so kids can see the great accompanying photography.

Because ’tis the season of moving past narrative and into nonfiction writing (in which we often harness the power of narrative, by the way) students will have already been immersed in a study of making claims supported by evidence, crafting a clear and purposeful structure, and maintaining a voice and style that defy the conventions of a five-paragraph you-know-what.  This article will serve as a mentor text that features all three, plus some insight into that long-ago lesson I learned from Paul Daugherty: the speed of a sportswriter’s process.

“We’ve been studying a variety of nonfiction pieces that have great style as well as strong claims–commentaries, columns, and speeches.  And here’s another example of those traits in this sports article.

“As you read it, look for the writer’s voice and the way the writer makes claims and supports them with evidence, as we’ve been doing throughout this unit,” I request.

We take ten minutes to read through the article, annotating quickly and noting writerly moves that jump out at us.  I model on the document camera, noting what I see–the unnamed players throughout the first paragraphs of the piece, creating a universal scene; the sheer entertainment of his vocabulary (words like gluttonous, beatnik, facsimile that you wouldn’t expect in a sports article); his unique turns of phrase.

I then ask students to share in table groups what they noticed about craft and claims.  After they share and we debrief, I return to the article.

“One of the things I find fascinating about sportswriting is how quickly it has to happen.  The turnaround is so quick–we spend a few weeks polishing pieces of this length, but these writers only have a few hours.”

(In keeping choice central to my curriculum, students always get to choose either their process, genre, or topic.  Because in this unit students are constrained to one genre–nonfiction–I will make an effort to help them choose their own topics and processes.  That’s wisdom I gleaned from Writing With Mentors.)

“I want to consider the writer’s process, and I found some good evidence of it:  let’s look at Powell’s tweets from during the game.”

I pull up Powell’s Twitter account and we scroll down to see his game-time tweets, many of which contain some of the same phrases  in the article: the Dead End Kids, the Lackawanna freight train rolling through, the pitchers being gassed.  Students notice these unique phrases immediately.

“What could you infer about Powell, given that this game ended at around 1:00 am and his piece ran at 9:00 am?”

I elicit students to share:  “He was already writing a bit during the game.”  “He writes sports all the time so he can already pull up a lot of the jargon quickly.”  “He really loves his subject, since he’s up watching the game and tweeting and having fun with it.”  “He’s knowledgeable about the history of these teams–maybe he did a lot of research beforehand or maybe he just knows it from writing about it a lot.”

Now, students have painted a picture of the piece’s author.  We can go into the reading warm, not cold.

“So, let’s read again, and consider his process this time,” I ask.  “Look now to see how his tweets–evidence of his prewriting–are in the article and what that teaches you about his process.”

We read the article again, a fresh purpose for reading helping us see the writer’s process come to life.  Once we’ve finished, we talk in table groups and then debrief as a whole class about the evidence we see of Powell’s writing process based on his tweets and what we know about sportswriters as a group.

These two reads give us three things:  another example of writer’s craft, more examples of claims with supporting evidence, and an example of process.


I love this great photo of the Cubs’ moment of triumph from the Wall Street Journal. 

Follow-Up:  After students read this piece, there are many opportunities for follow-up.  One is to simply have them apply its writing lessons to their own nonfiction pieces.  Another is to have a lengthy conversation on writing processes, and how they can be short yet incredibly effective–students can see that prewriting doesn’t have to take the form of a web or an outline, but that it can be tweets, too.

Daugherty’s work, the now-defunct Grantland, and The New York Times sports section are some of my favorite places  to find great sportswriting.  What are some of your favorite resources for finding great nonfiction for your students? Please share in the comments!


Mentors with Insights, Ideas, and Resources for Secondary Readers & Writers Workshop

Literacy & NCTE

The official blog of the National Council of Teachers of English

kelly's blog - Kelly Gallagher

Mentors with Insights, Ideas, and Resources for Secondary Readers & Writers Workshop

Moving Writers

Move the writing. Move the writer.

Blog | The Educator Collaborative Community

Voices of Educators Making a Difference

The Paper Graders

Teachers thinking about teaching, education, technology and anything else that bugs us.

Ethical ELA

conversations on the ethics of teaching English

the dirigible plum

A Blog about Learning, Teaching, Writing, and Reading

%d bloggers like this: