My Name is Lori and I Love Words

by Lori Conrad

Okay.  I admit it.  I’m a word nerd.  There’s nothing I like better than a word-a-day calendar.  I’m a sucker for books with titles like The Grammarians and The Liar’s Dictionary.  I subscribe to three, well maybe four, word-centric social media sites.  I always click on articles like “15 Americanisms You Won’t Find Anywhere Else” and “9 Words Removed from the Dictionary”.  I kind of get a thrill when I come across words like hyponatremia or callithump or ctenophores in my reading.  I’ve been known to send pictures to family and friends of signs that use language in interesting ways – like the one I just sent my bird-shirt loving son that read:  One Bird Can’t Make a Pun . . . But Toucan!  And don’t get me started on how much I love a good “made-up” word that is perfect for its context and absolutely should be added to Webster’s dictionary (like when a writer coined schlockenspiel to describe the ridiculous Triforium in LA or when the Denver Post proudly coined Omahallelujah when the Broncos won Super Bowl 50).  Yes, I’m a word nerd.

And my goal is to build the ranks of fellow nerds.  After a year together, my kindergartners were proud, badge-wearing “Word Explorers”.  My 5th graders proclaimed themselves “Word People”.  In both cases, I felt a sincere sense of mission accomplished.

Regardless of the title we gave ourselves, we shared a love for the sounds and sentiments of language.  We were curious about letters and words and sentences.  We found JOY in the messiness and wonderment of it all.

With today’s heavy-handed push toward published curriculum, letter study and word work isn’t inspiring much curiosity and even less joy.  So what to do if, like me, you want to support and celebrate rooms full of word nerds?

Make Room for Study that Begins with Students’ Questions

In the introduction to his book, The Curious Classroom, Harvey “Smokey” Daniels defines teaching via inquiry this way:  “. . . building instruction out of children’s curiosity, rather than from a curriculum guide, a standard textbook, or a handed-down unit . . . investigating and exploring, instead of just sitting and listening . (creating) an active, lively space where children make choices and take responsibility for their learning . . . (building) classrooms where teachers flow between their role as an expert and their job as lead learners . . . “ (pg. xi)  This sort of inquiry stance grows students’ word consciousness, e.g., their awareness, enjoyment, playfulness, interest, appreciation and satisfaction in knowing and using words well!

“How come it sounds like /t/ but it’s spelled ed?” 

“Is there ever a word that has a q and not a u?”

“Is it tion or sion?  How do I figure it out?”

Image courtesy of Unsplash

It’s questions like these that give our studies direction.  We start with a question.  We search for words/examples that might provide an answer(s).  We name possible patterns that lead to a ‘rule’ or generalization we might test out in our daily reading and writing.  We find exceptions or ‘non-examples’.  And finally, we name all the ways this new knowledge, new thinking matters.    

Curate Book Stacks that Mentor a Love of Language

We all know the power of a great stack of books.  They can teach us everything from how to treat a new friend to how to craft a fabulous sentence.  They can also help us fall in love with words.  My friend and colleague, Franki Sibberson, is spending the year sharing various text sets in her blog, A(nother) Year of Reading.  A few weeks ago she wrote about her collection designed to help readers fall in love with words and word play.  In this blog post, she reminds us that kids “are much better able to pay attention to the skills of words (vocabulary, parts of speech, spelling patterns, etc.) once they see how amazing words are.”  A book stack can invite learners to simply delight in words.  A few favorites in my stack are:

  • CDB! by William Steig (my first in the stack)
  • Take Away the A by Michaeil Escoffier
  • Wonderful Words by Lee Bennett Hopkins
  • Misery is a Smell in Your Backpack by Harriet Ziefert
  • Words by Roald Dahl
  • A Dictionary for a Better World by Charles Waters and Irene Latham

A Walk in the Words by Hudson Talbott (my most recent in the stack)

Study the Word-Level Patterns in Students’ Reading and Writing

The most reliable source of information for planning authentic, ‘just in time’ instruction is now, and always will be, the learners themselves.  When I take the time to study what students are figuring out about print, through the conversations we have about their reading/writing and through samples of their actual reading/writing, I always come away with a plethora of next steps for my teaching.  When I let kids lead the way, learning always follows!

My friend and colleague, Cheryl Zimmerman, shared this ‘flow map’ that captures what I mean:

Gather Student Work Samples

Anchoring word study instruction to students’ ongoing writing helps create long-lasting impact for students.     


Clarify Assessment Lens

Each piece of writing can offer insights into students’ progress toward achieving overall literacy standards and/or specific standards that match recent instruction. 

Name Strengths

It’s essential to always have an asset mentality when examining student work.  It’s all too easy to get lost in what students can’t yet do and miss all the successes they are having  as writers and thinkers.

Plan for Next Steps

What new piece of information will offer the greatest leverage for students’ writing success?  What context would this instruction best fit?  In a one-on-one writing conference?  As a whole-class inquiry study?  With a small group of writers?

Trust Yourself

It might sound simple, maybe too simple, but classroom teachers are the most important factor in creating legions of word nerds.  Without teachers, kids might discover the power of language.  Then again, they might not.  But when learners get to link arms with others who are fascinated by the words in our world, and when one of those fellow word nerds is their teacher, they become wide-awake word wonderers!  So trust that you play an amazing role in this journey.  Like Jennifer Scoggin and Hannah Schneewind state at the end of the introduction to their book, Trusting Readers:  Powerful Practices for Independent Reading (and I’m paraphrasing):

“I invite you to trust yourself to make decisions about what is best for the students in your classroom based on what you know about them. I invite you to trust your students to lead the way. I invite you to trust the beauty of naming students’ strengths and using those as a jumping-off point. I invite you to trust in the power of having your own life as a word nerd!” 

Whether you call me a logophile (a lover of words) or a logomaniac (a person who is obsessively interested in words), my name is Lori and I’m crazy about words!

Lori L. Conrad has over 36 years of experience as a teacher, literacy consultant and classroom coach.  During these years, she’s worked alongside some pretty amazing learners and wonderfully thoughtful colleagues throughout Colorado and the United States.  She’s published numerous articles about reading and writing, and is the co-author of Put Thinking to the Test (published by Stenhouse).  Lori’s family includes four dear adult children, a terrific husband, a big dog, and a beautiful new grandson.  Lori is co-chairing the 2023 CCIRA Conference with Patrick Allen. She can be reached via email at

Professional Development Post- Pandemic

By Fran McVeigh

As the pandemic continues, stress, time and the health of staff continue to be major concerns. And yet, what if professional development was reconfigured? What if district professional development was redesigned to include personal development? What if teachers were allowed to dream about professional learning that met their personal needs?

What should professional development consist of?

Lists, lists, and more lists abound of the most important characteristics of professional development. District leaders may choose a “research-based” list without a deep study of the specifics of the research. Influences on choices may include the authors, publishers or other messages from similar topics. In a literature review, three favorites stand out because of their specificity but also because of their overlapping nature.

Linda Darling-Hammond is synonymous with professional development and decades of research in the field of PD for educators. Darling-Hammond and associates at the Learning Policy Institute (2017) identified seven characteristics of effective professional development (PD). 

Regie Routman has decades of research in effective literacy teaching and she takes a little different view of PD in her blog post titled, “What You Need to Know about Professional Learning:  10 Essentials for Becoming a More Effective Teacher.” Regie shifted the focus to the effectiveness of the teacher. These attributes could be measured and quantified with a bit of planning (or not).

Richard DuFour in ASCD’s “What is a ‘Professional Learning Community’? focuses on the principles of a professional learning community. It may be “assumed” that teachers and administrators are part of a professional learning community, but is that really true?  And are the right people included? Or are they “going through the motions and checking it off a list”? His list for learning communities includes the following principles.

As I thought about this blog post, I scrolled back and forth among these characteristics so much that I finally had to put them side by side to study them. If I were in charge, how would I proceed?

How much do these three lists overlap?

My first question of study required a way to organize the data in the three columns. I considered a Venn Diagram, but I quickly rejected it as I find the disorganization of a Venn Diagram to be confusing when trying to explain relationships that have previously been prioritized. Many of these had the exact same word “collaboration” for example but the reasons for the collaboration may have varied. Through this process the original 22 items became 15. Someone else completing the same activity may mark items differently and that’s okay because the point is the conversation that occurs when the same items occur again and again:  content focused, supports collaboration, prioritizes PD and develops shared beliefs and common language. If these are already in place in your district, building, grade level, it might be time for a quick check of how you onboard new staff to increase their understanding.

A leadership team could read these three pieces and engage in this activity as they develop or review their action plan and determine goals for Professional Development. Don’t neglect any items with one “X” if it matches current instructional expectations like “incorporates active learning”. 

Time is one of the most valuable resources a district has at its disposal. District PD time is not the place for a continued stranglehold on teacher attendance for all staff to view Zoomed in experts while the pandemic continues. This district-mandated PD should be half or less of the district’s PD in terms of time and expenses. Let me repeat that, this PD should be half or less of the allocated time for district PD in terms of time and expenses.


And this part of the PD is the dreaming part. Half or more of the district PD time and expenses should be allocated for personal learning. What if teacher teams developed their own action research? What if teachers had their own book studies? What if teachers visited via Zoom with teachers working on similar goals in another state or country? What if teachers developed their own Twitter chats to engage in conversations with teachers around the world. What if teachers had CHOICE in their learning in terms of the questions they want to explore and the time and location for those explorations?

Of course there would be some accountability measures in terms of approval processes, timelines, goals, etc. because the ultimate goal is to increase the effectiveness of all teachers. But what if we dared to dream? And if the district helped provide the resources? 


Books, articles, videos and experts. What if these could be accessed when teachers have time to relax and think? Not necessarily during the early dismissal every Wednesday afternoon. How could teachers be empowered through a commitment to provide resources that will improve their knowledge and skills and the desire to promote differentiation and collaborative opportunities to best meet the individual personal goals of each and every teacher.

Let’s make personal learning personal. Where do I go for personal learning? I firmly believe that learning is my responsibility. When I have a question or need help, I can ask about it on Twitter or an email. The results are often almost immediate.  What other sources exist?


Twitter is often my first choice. So many hashtags to check on in Tweetdeck. #NCTE. #ILA. #CuriosityCrew. #TextTalkTea. #G2Great. #TheEdCollab. #TCRWP.

Twice a year #TheEdCollab sponsors a day of free workshops and their sessions remain available until the next meeting day. There are multiple choices on hot topics all day long.  Access:

Twice a year #TCRWP offers a Saturday Reunion of free workshops. Their sessions are not videotaped but twitter often has a steady stream and “watch parties” offer participants many opportunities to share their sessions. Access on Saturday, October 21, 2021:

Blogs are a great source of information. Typically the “About” headings provide background about the authors in order to determine the perspective behind the writing. Affirming? Disrupting? Challenging your beliefs? These may be different lists. What are some examples of blogs I read and reread? When I want reading and writing information I turn to Two Writing Teachers and many of the individuals who are daily bloggers as “March Slicers.” For poetry, I go to Amy Ludwig VanDeerwater’s “Poetry Farm”. To study information writing and reading I go to Melissa Stewart. To study leadership I turn to Matt Renwick. Some publishers like Heinemann also have blogs that fill my learning heart and brain. Again, these are just a few of my examples to give teachers a starting point for their own passions and creativity.

A learning community:  I’m fortunate to be in several groups where information, articles, resources, are shared on a daily basis. Then it’s my choice on whether they become a MUST READ NOW or the link or title goes on a resource page for perusal at a more leisurely pace. 


Memberships in groups including state and national organizations like ILA and NCTE. These have annual conferences, published research and webinars throughout the year. 

#BookLove Book Club – The summer 2021 calendar of speakers plus the elementary and secondary book studies connected over 1,000 teachers who discussed books, reading, writing, author’s craft, translanguaging and actually listened to authors talk about their books. And participants can access those videos throughout the school year so students can also personally hear from authors.

What if districts paid for these memberships? Or for professional journals? Or the books?  What if there was a professional stipend allocated for each teacher?


Before “Normal” returns, we can and MUST re-envision professional learning, not professional development. Normal PD wasn’t working before the pandemic or now if it resembles the all district cattle calls. It must lose its top down, district-driven mandates in order to bring back personal learning and joy for teachers. Many teachers currently do seek out their own learning opportunities, but what if it were to become a valued opportunity for districts to respect teachers’ choice of optimal learning times, modes and topics? There is a reason that Regie Routman has these as her top two elements:  “Prioritize professional learning” and “Make time for professional reading”. Ensuring that teachers have the time, energy, and resources for learning and reading are the new professional rights of teachers. Districts need to loosen their grip on time spent on whole district PD and encourage collaboration and differentiation that supports the needs of all their learners: students AND teachers. Now is the time to dream of the possibilities and make necessary changes!



Dufour, Richard. (2004) What is a Professional Learning Community? ASCD

Darling-Hammond, L., Hyler, M. E., Gardner, M. (2017). Effective Teacher Professional Development. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute. This report can be found online at

Routman, Regie. (2020 ). What You Need to Know about Professional Learning:  10 Essentials for Becoming a More Effective Teacher. Heinemann blog.  

Fran McVeigh is an Academic Coordinator for Morningside University, Sioux City, Iowa, as well as a Literacy Consultant. Previously she has been an elementary teacher, a special education teacher, principal, district curriculum and professional development coordinator and a regional literacy consultant for multiple school districts. Fran is also a co-moderator of the #G2Great chat, can be found on twitter @franmcveigh and on her blog “Resource-Full”.

Evidence-Based Directives in Developing English Learner Writing Proficiency

By Dr. Kate Kinsella

Current research on teaching academic content and writing to English learners in intermediate and secondary grades points to the need for explicit guidance and targeted language supports to help students move from information presented in a graphic organizer to writing sentences, and from writing sentences to composing paragraphs. Additionally, planned and interactive examination of accessible exemplar texts must undergird units of study in informative, opinion/argument, and narrative writing. Scheppegrell (2017) advocates for such “genre-based” writing instruction for English learners at all ages and levels of English proficiency to ensure they comprehend the organizational features and language forms characteristic of distinct writing types. Another key finding is that pre-writing lessons should integrate intentional, interactive language instruction in priority vocabulary, sentence structures, and grammatical forms students can later leverage in formal assignments (What Works Clearinghouse. April 2014. NCEE 2014-4012). 

Steps in Introducing English Learners to a Formal Writing Type

Years of supporting English learners in grades 4-12 to successfully transition from the routine journal and story assignments of primary and newcomer coursework to grade-level, standards-aligned course demands like an argument essay have deepened my understandings of the conscientious teacher planning and intentional instruction these students deserve. I don’t purport to cover every instructional imperative in this brief article, rather some bedrock instructional supports for English learners that their English-only classmates will no doubt equally appreciate. 

Step 1: Prepare a Clear Definition of the Writing Type

Many English learners, novice and long-term alike, are apt to approach a prompt for a formal assignment such as an opinion paragraph or personal narrative essay with comprehension gaps regarding the essential elements of the writing type. Without a firm handle on the expectations for organization and development of ideas, many simply respond to the general topic but not the specific task demands. 

It is imperative to present an accurate yet accessible definition of the assignment writing type, one suitable for their age, level of English proficiency, and literacy skills. I offer the following definitions as examples from my English language development (ELD) practice in 4-12 contexts: the first pitched at an entry point for a younger or emergent speaker with basic English literacy skills; the second more detailed and nuanced for an adolescent English speaker and reader at intermediate to advanced proficiency.

Opinion Paragraph Definition for Novice English Learners

What is an Opinion Paragraph?

Opinion Paragraph Definition for Intermediate – Advanced English Learners

OPINION PARAGRAPHAn opinion paragraph states a claim in a topic sentence, and supports it with reasons and evidence from sources. The introductory (topic) sentence clearly states the writer’s claim about the topic. 
Detail sentences support the writer’s claim with logical reasons and evidence from text or the writer’s prior knowledge and experience. Transition words or phrases connect opinions, reasons, and evidence. The concluding sentence restates the writer’s claim about the topic.

Step 2: Prepare an Appropriate Writing Exemplar 

Based on consistent feedback from former English learner students, whether in K-12 or college coursework, the most valuable second-language writing instruction they have received included analysis and marking of an accessible exemplar that met the specific assignment expectations. Being provided with an appropriate writing model for a major assignment would seem to be common practice in intermediate and secondary coursework across subject areas. However, this practical learning scaffold is rarely afforded multilingual learners and striving readers. Whether it is a model of a science fair proposal, a current event news article summary, or a personal narrative, English learners depend on their teachers across the school day to serve as the informed writing coaches their families can rarely be. This includes showing them a well-crafted and comprehensible model of what they are intended to produce. If the teacher isn’t capable of identifying or creating an appropriate assignment exemplar, one can question the fairness of charging an English learner or striving reader with the task. 

A predictable challenge for educators of English learners is identifying a writing exemplar that is not only on topic but also suitable for learners within a specific English proficiency range. Early in my career, while directing a Freshman English Program for first-generation college students, I learned the hard way how important it is to come equipped with an approachable writing model that can at once engage and educate students. My well-intentioned yet naïve colleagues and I included in our syllabus a traditional anthology of iconic essays written by published U.S. authors, from Joan Didion to James Baldwin. Because our students were recent high-school graduates from immigrant households, they found the essay subject matter far from compelling, and text structure to be an inaccessible model of the writing they were expected to produce. Out of desperation, I scoured my files of former student writing and selected an opinion essay on a contemporary issue that these first-semester bilingual college students found immediately comprehensible. In future classes for college and high school English learners, I compiled a course reader with previous student essays that served as catalysts for animated pre-writing discussion and engaged exemplar analysis. 

Because a relevant exemplar is such an axiomatic teaching and learning tool, I advise composing a suitable model or adapting a piece of former student writing. If I devote time to writing an exemplar paragraph or essay for a more advanced ELD cohort, I can easily modify it for learners approaching the task at earlier stages of English proficiency. Optimally, colleagues can collaborate on identification and development of appropriate exemplars for prompts that will become curricular mainstays. Once students have submitted final work, these compositions can be archived with permission and adapted to serve as models or drafts for practice revising and editing. 

Experience has shown me that the exemplars provided by English Language Arts curriculum publishers are frequently unwieldy, irrelevant, or devoid of intent to promote positive identity development. I have not found it beneficial to devote class time to extensive analysis of a writing sample that is completely disconnected from the specific prompt I intend to assign. English learners are often challenged by the shift in conceptual focus and struggle to perceive the essential text features. Of equal concern, the unrelated model lacks precise topic words, suitable transitions, and phrasing for the introductory statements and reflective conclusion they might repurpose.

Sample Introductory Opinion Prompt and Exemplar

Prompt: Teachers, parents and students often have different perspectives about the influence of texting on students’ communication skills. Based on experience as a middle-school texter and writer, is texting ruining students’ academic writing skills? Write an opinion paragraph that states your claim and supports it with reasons and evidence. Draw from your background knowledge and first-hand experience.

Sample Opinion Paragraph Exemplar (Intermediate – Advanced English Learners)

Texting is Not Harmful

After learning about texting and students’ writing skills, I firmly believe that texting is not ruining students’ academic writing. A key reason is that students know when it is appropriate to use textisms, and when they need to use correct spelling and grammar. For example, I regularly use emojis and GIFs when I send messages to my classmates and friends, but I never include them in my homework assignments, presentations, or essays. Another major reason that I am not convinced texting is ruining student writing is that most of us use technology with software for writing like GoogleDocs and Microsoft Word. If I accidentally use a textism like IMO instead of the phrase In my opinion, the computer will immediately point it out as a mistake for me to edit. So even if I apply texting language in a draft, I can easily correct it. For these reasons, I conclude that students’ writing is not seriously harmed by texting. 

Step 3: Guide Fluent Reading of Writing Exemplar

Guide reading of the exemplar using an evidence-based reading fluency routine.

To reap the benefits of a writing exemplar, English learners must first be able to read the material fluently. Fluent reading includes accurate pronunciation, appropriate pacing, pausing at meaningful intervals, interpreting punctuation, and expression. Because English learners are often basic readers in their second language who approach academic prose with gaps in language knowledge, they cannot be expected to comprehend text after a teacher read-aloud when they have been simply listening. They also cannot grasp the exemplar features from a displayed model with no concrete analysis tasks other than the teacher’s commentary. 

Structure multiple accountable readings of a writing exemplar and provide effective models of fluent reading for all basic readers. Otherwise, any attempt at exemplar analysis will be fruitless. The Oral Cloze Fluency Routine is a productive alternative to unproductive strategies like Popcorn Reading and passive teacher read-alouds (Harmon and Wood, 2018; Kinsella, 2020).  

Rather than passively listening as the teacher reads aloud a writing model or text section, students follow along with a copy in hand, silently tracking and chime in with a word the teacher has selectively omitted within a sentence. Students pay close attention to the teacher’s pronunciation, intonation and timing. They stay actively engaged and poised to fill in the missing word. This low-stress fluency-building routine with an active and accountable process can be repurposed with peers during a Partner Reading of the writing model or assigned text passage. 

Oral Cloze Steps

Read aloud a single paragraph and omit a few selected words while students follow along silently and chime in chorally with the missing words. Model fluent reading at least twice, omitting different words, and picking up the pace slightly.

Partner Cloze Steps: 

Students read the assigned paragraph three times: once silently to choose words to omit while reading to their partners, once aloud to their partners, and once following along and chiming in with the words their partners leave out. 

Choosing Words for Oral Cloze

  • Omit three or four words per paragraph, each within a different sentence and evenly distributed from the beginning to the middle and end. 
  • Omit nouns or verbs at natural places to pause, after a meaningful phrase or at the end of a sentence.
  • Choose words that drive text comprehension, such as academic vocabulary you have already taught. 
  • Choose topic-related words that were introduced earlier in the text.
  • Do not choose words that will pose pronunciation problems. 
  • Do not distract students by omitting too many words or stopping mid-phrase and interrupting fluent reading. 

Exemplar with Words Highlighted in Preparation for Guided Fluency Reading

Prepare for introducing an exemplar by reading the text in advance and carefully selecting the words you intend to omit on the first and second read. If you omit words on the fly during a spontaneous read aloud, you are less likely to select strong yet familiar choices that come at the end of phrases or clauses.

Yellow = 1st read Blue = 2nd read

Step 4: Guide Discussion of the Writing Exemplar

Along with an assignment exemplar, students benefit immensely from a set of marking tasks and response frames to guide reading, discussion, and text marking. When the exemplar is merely projected on a screen, students lack a tangible resource to interact with and return to for precise language choices and review of correct grammatical forms. Additionally, when the exemplar is simply read aloud by the teacher without a visual aid, English learners cannot hold the teacher’s verbal analysis of the text’s strengths in their auditory storage. Distribute a hard copy of the writing model accompanied by a set of specific marking and discussion tasks. A familiar set of marking tasks and response frames can be repurposed as students read and offer feedback on each other’s drafts. 

Sample Text Marking and Discussion Tasks for Opinion Paragraph

Mark the opinion paragraph text elements. Discuss them with your partner.

  1. Put brackets around the writer’s claim within the topic sentence. 

The writer’s claim is ___.

  1. Draw a box around transition words or phrases that introduce a reason

(One, Another) transition that introduces a reason is ___.

  1. Underline and label reasons that support the writer’s claim with the letter R.

(One, Another) reason that supports the writer’s claim is ___.

  1. Underline and label evidence that support the writer’s claim with the letter E.

(One, Another) piece of evidence that supports the writer’s claim is ___.

  1. Star six precise topic words. Check six high-utility academic words.

(One, Another) topic word is ___; (One, Another) high-utility word is ___. 

  1. Put parentheses around the restated claim in the concluding sentence.

The writer’s restated claim in ___. 

Step 5: Create a Precise Word Bank with the Writing Exemplar

A well-crafted exemplar paragraph or essay can be mined for vocabulary English learners can later apply in their own drafts. When I adapt former student writing to use as an exemplar, I regularly strengthen the work by adding more words related to the prompt focus as well as high-leverage academic words used in formal writing. Topic-focused words in the exemplar paragraph include nouns like software and assignments as well as strong verbs like harm and edit. High-utility academic vocabulary includes words not commonly used in casual conversation but widely applied in academic interaction and writing. Within the exemplar addressing the impacts of texting, two high-leverage academic word choices are the adjectives key and major used as frequent word partners with the noun reason

English learners approach most any writing topic with gaps in vocabulary knowledge. It isn’t fair or productive to simply encourage them to consult a peer or use a thesaurus when they are likely to be assaulted with a tome of unfamiliar words. I believe it is the teacher’s responsibility to equip developing English speakers with portable words for the assignment topic and the text type. Every class has a range of English proficiency so I strive to include words that will provide a suitable lexical stretch for my diverse learners. While analyzing the exemplar and identifying precise word choices, I can point out the writer’s efforts to use synonyms as lexical chains as in the conscientious selection of the nouns students, friends and classmates or the verbs ruin and harm. Students enjoy the process of identifying strong word choices with their teacher and classmates and compiling the precise word bank. This resource can be posted as a visual display or duplicated and distributed as an assignment reference. 

Precise Word Bank Generated from Student Writing Model

Writing Topic Words

High-Utility Academic Words

    to text, texting, textism    students, friends, classmates    academic    writing skills    to ruin, to harm, harmful, harmed    spelling, grammar, language    emoji, GIF, message      software, technology    homework assignments, essays    to edit, mistake, draft

    to firmly believe    key, major     appropriate    correct     regularly    to include    to be convinced    opinion, reason, example    to apply    to conclude

Closing Thoughts

English learners approach standards-based writing assignments with formidable language and literacy challenges. We can support them in becoming more effective English writers by devoting more class time to planned, intentional, interactive instruction that ensures they understand assignment expectations and approach the task with accessible models and applicable language tools. 

Kate Kinsella, Ed.D. ( writes curriculum, conducts K-12 research, and provides professional development throughout the U.S. addressing evidence-based practices to advance English language and literacy skills for multilingual learners. She is the author of a number of researched-informed curricular anchors for English learners, including English 3D, Language Launch, and the Academic Vocabulary Toolkit. 


  • Harmon, J., and Wood, K. 2010. Variations on Round Robin Reading. Middle Ground 14 (2).  
  • Kinsella, K. 2020. English 3D: Language Launch. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 
  • NCEE. April 2014-4012. Teaching Academic Content and Literacy to English Learners in Elementary and Middle School: Educator’s Practice Guide/What Works Clearinghouse. Washington, DC. National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance.
  • Schleppegrell, M.J. 2017. Systemic Functional Grammar in the K-12 Classroom. In Handbook of Research in Second Language Teaching and Learning (Vol.3), edited by Eli Hinkel. New York, NY: Routledge. 

Perhaps Radical Change Comes From Radical Hope

By Brent Gilson

I am writing this post less than 48 hours before I return to the classroom for what will be my 12th year of teaching. Every summer, I spend time reading, reflecting, and planning. I look back on the previous year and the successes along with the struggles. The last few years have provided me with many struggles. Professional stumbling blocks partners with a global pandemic have impacted my self-confidence as an educator. That weed that is imposter syndrome has had the perfect growing conditions and grow it did. Like the vines that have overtaken my wife’s garden, I can push it back for a time, but without removing the roots, we are bound to end right back where we started. So I look at the 2021/2022 school year this year as a chance to pull the weeds. To do as Dr. Gholdy Muhammad recently reminded me and focus on GENIUS and JOY.

Last spring, as a Grade 12 valedictorian was giving his closing remarks, he thanked a teacher for helping him develop a love for reading. Unfortunately, he targeted another for ruining his love for reading. The cause of that breakdown? Mandatory journaling. I love Notebooks for myself, and I love having students use them as thought collectors. I often struggle to remember moments of books, even the key ones when they happen early in a text. A notebook has always served as a record keeper of sorts. That said, I have learned that, like all things, when we take away autonomy, so many things become tasks of compliance rather than tools for success. I pondered those words a lot this summer. How often has the work I champion seen as a task to the students I learn with?   

This pondering has led me to explore my practice, the 20 minutes of Independent Reading, the organized periods of writing and reading time, the whole class novels, the poetry unit. I think we all are familiar with these structures. They “work”. But what about the kids they don’t work for?

Covid-19 and its impact on our year were widespread. Now we have countless snake oil salesmen monetizing the interruptions and roadblocks with an imagined term to draw on the insecurities and fears of decision-makers. “Learning Loss” has been used to market solutions, but very little will be done to address issues. So, as I reflect, I am also considering this, “ What am I doing to help my students showcase their GENIUS, facilitate JOY, carry ourselves with EXCELLENCE and ignore the noise of those who are looking to profit off a pandemic.

I see many people mention the time pre covid as the before time. When I consider the changes that I will be instituting this year, the “before time” practice of dedicated independent reading is first in my mind. I often wielded it as a must because I was worried that kids wouldn’t take the time to read if I didn’t. Last year during the pandemic, I kid watched a lot more. What did their reading habits look like? What did mine? Was I sitting down and reading every day? Were the distractions and stresses of Covid impacting my students’ ability to read and focus as much as they were mine? We started making room for other Literacy related tasks. Students began exploring poetry and multimodal representation. They were writing more, writing music, writing comics, and creating.

I wondered about how I could make room for this every day. We have a limited amount of time and, unfortunately, a mandated year-end test. I decided that it was time to loosen the expectation of mandatory 20 minutes of reading. Now before you saw, I have lost it let me explain. Students will, of course, have time protected to read if they choose it. But, they will also have those same minutes to create, share, write, and explore. I have settled on calling it Studio time. A still protected everyday portion of time that students can pursue the literacy goals and interests they have.  

Reading will also be a class venture with a whole text, shared experience with book clubs, and responsibilities to independently complete and share reading of their choice. We are not removing the reading requirement, but I am extending the respect to my students that I believe they are responsible enough to do this work, alongside me, without me telling them when and how to do so. We will be responding to the questions around theme and conflict, character reflections, and discussions around the text in multiple ways. We will, of course, write essays, but we will also explore multimodal representation. We will showcase our thinking in ways that work best for the citizens of room 157 while also preparing to achieve excellence in more “traditional” forms.

We are writing with beautiful mentor texts as our anchors. Essays and articles by incredible writers as we study their craft, follow their lead, and then create our unique writing voices. I often make connections to my hobby of weightlifting when I talk to my students, I am successful, but I become better with a coach. My trainer has video tutorials. These are the mentor texts of weightlifting, and these beautiful pieces of writing we will explore will provide us with that same example of excellence. We will also write in new ways: digital compositions, photo essays, poetry anthologies, picture books, films. Text creation needs not be limited to the strokes of a keyboard just because we are comfortable with it. We will arm ourselves with our notebooks and a pencil or pen; we will storyboard, draft, and erase… a lot. But we will practice the craft we are studying. Rather than just working through practice exams as they have in the past, we will become authentic writers; then, no exam will serve as a roadblock.

As I sit here putting some ideas down on a page, I am reminded of how much I love the process of weeding my professional garden. Taking out the things that no longer work, that choke out the creativity and joy. What do we intend to plant in our classrooms this year? What changes will help our garden thrive? These are the questions I hope we all ponder before they blow the dust off our filing cabinets, change the dates from 2020/2021 to 2021.2022 and continue to let the weeds take over.

Brent Gilson teaches in a junior high setting in Canada. He enjoys reading MS and YA literature so he can share it with his students.  Brent’s teaching life was changed after attending professional development with Kylene Beers and he continues to strive to improve his practice and student access to texts of all forms. Follow him on Twitter @mrbgilson and read his blog ThingsMrGSays

Using Robust Practices to Nurture Successful, Engaged Readers

By Judy Wallis

We have so much research to show that many factors contribute to the growth of capable and confident readers: a coherent curriculum, robust teaching practices, the volume of reading, access to high-quality, engaging texts, productive talk, and a supportive classroom context (Duke & Pearson, 2002). All of these provide the very foundation upon which exemplary teaching and student success rest. There is also wide agreement that teachers who differentiate instruction ensure greater student success. Because students differ in their knowledge, skills, and cultural background, individual differences present challenges for both readers and teachers. While teachers and students faced unprecedented challenges during the past year, both continued to learn and grow. One of the most important things I learned from working over the years with Regie Routman (2007) is a whole-part-whole approach results in greater gains for learners in all areas but particularly in the area of comprehension. The challenge, then, is to ensure that students have instruction that ensures they develop the “flexibility and adaptability of their actions as they read” (Afflebach, Pearson, & Paris, 2008, 368) so that they move from effortful and deliberate use of strategies to automatic use of skills in the service of understanding.  

Gradual Release of Responsibility

We know from years of research, planning teaching using the gradual release of responsibility is most successful in teaching comprehension (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983). There are three regions of responsibility within this model. The first region is mostly the teacher as modeler and demonstrator; in the third, the responsibility shifts mostly to the student; and in the middle, teacher and student share responsibility. For students to arrive successfully at full responsibility, shifts in participation occur that include increasing participation by the reader and well-planned scaffolding by the teacher (Au & Raphael, 1998). The teacher’s role is to determine when and how these shifts occur and what support a reader might need.

Too often, the middle region is either skipped or shortened, which results in students’ lack of long-term success. When this occurs, teaching is often planned around a narrow, isolated skills approach that makes learning harder rather than easier. To ensure success, teachers need to consider learners’ potential independence with a task and the probability that learners can transfer that learning to a new and similar task (Cambourne, 2001). 

Two Approaches to Supporting Students’ Growth in Comprehension

The challenge for teachers supporting striving students is finding the best way to approach gaps in learning. For example, one approach is to take an isolated or part-to-whole approach in which the teacher focuses narrowly on one skill at a time. This parsing approach has enormous appeal in that it uses the premise that it is more manageable for students, and they will put the parts/skills together taught over time to become successful readers. However, the skills may not make sense to the reader in the absence of the whole (Perkins, 2009). Too often, using this approach results in never demonstrating how the parts “look” in a whole task/performance. The other approach to learning is first situating learning within a whole task/performance, focusing on the part, and finally demonstrating the part within the whole. As Routman (2018) notes, whole-part-whole teaching needs to become part of our beliefs system about teaching and learning. 

Using this approach, along with the gradual release of responsibility, results in much more successful teaching and learning and is actually more efficient. 

If, for example, students are striving to be more successful making inferences, we could explain what an inference is and then send them off to make inferences in a text. Students may understand what inferring is, but they may lack the procedural (how) and conditional (what) knowledge needed to actually apply the strategy within the performance of reading a text.  On the contrary, we would likely be more successful using a whole-part-whole approach by situating inferring in the “whole” performance of reading. Too often, we try to teach an isolated skill (e.g., determining character’s feelings) without identifying it as an inference and what it looks like and sounds like when we read a text. Duke and Pearson (2002) suggest students need explicit modeling of strategies to become skilled readers followed by a great deal of time reading. Here’s an example of what whole-part-whole teaching might look like. It foregrounds inferring but nests it in a real text, includes explicit modeling, and offers students opportunities to engage in collaborative use.

Teacher: We are going to be reading a terrific book today. The title of the book is Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes. As readers, we do many things to make sense of and monitor what we read by listening to the thoughts inside our heads.  Today, we will focus on one particular strategy as we read—inferring. Inferring is when the author doesn’t tell us everything, and we as readers must combine our own background knowledge (BK) with the clues the author provides in the text (TC). So, inferring is really like teamwork or partnering with the author. I’m going to start reading and making inferences as we go. But before I begin to model my thinking, turn and talk with a thinking partner about what you understand about what a reader does to infer. 

Students: Turn and talk—teacher listens in. 

Teacher: Let’s have a couple of you share what inferring is. [Students share.] So, we all agree that inferring is using our background knowledge along with text clues to understand a text.

Teacher: (Begins reading) Ah, the text says that Chrysanthemum’s name was “absolutely perfect” when she was born, and as she grew, Chrysanthemum thought so, too. I am inferring she was pretty happy her parents named her that. [Reading on.]

(Teacher may record inferences on an anchor chart.)

Hmmm . . . I’m inferring things are changing when Chrysanthemum goes to school. Her friends start making fun of her name, and she’s feeling pretty unhappy about her name. [Reading on.]

Let’s talk about what the author says and what we can infer from the text clues: “She walked as slowly as she could. She dragged her feet.” Turn and talk about what you are inferring using the text clues and your own background knowledge and experiences.

Students: Turn and talk—teacher listens in. 

Teacher: As we read on, I’m going to give you opportunities to turn and talk about the inferences you are making. 

Teacher: Before we read on, let’s look at some of the inferences we made as we read. In every one of them, we used our background knowledge and the text clues to help us understand the story. So, inferring is an important strategy that readers use in everything they read. We make inferences when the author leaves a gap for us to fill. But, we always use the text to support what we are inferring. 

Teacher: Continues reading the remainder of the text and providing opportunities for collaborative use through turn and talk.

Teacher: Let’s review all the inferences we made. We found places in the text where we as readers had to fill gaps the author left. As readers, you will do the same thing as you read independently today; think about what you are understanding and when and why you need to be partner with the author. As readers, we are aware of our inner conversation that helps us monitor our understanding.

This example shows how we start with the whole (reading a text), focus on a part (inferring), and then refocus on the whole (reading a text). The reminder to use what was learned is essential as is “daily access to irresistible books” (Harvey & Ward, 2017, 88). Teachers often use a part-to-whole approach with striving students, which leaves them on their own to understand how the parts fit together. While an atomistic approach sounds like a time-saving one, it is actually inefficient and results in learners waiting to put the parts into the whole performance of reading. Perkins (2009) calls this principle of learning: “play the whole game” (8). One important idea to keep in mind is that we watch for the hard parts to foreground them to strengthen learners’ potential for independent use. 

Scaffolding and Talk

Scaffolding and talk play key roles in working with students both in accelerating learning and addressing gaps. In the previous classroom example, we can imagine places where scaffolding and additional opportunities where student-teacher and peer-to-peer talk might be both necessary and productive. While originating from Vygotsky’s (1978) zone of proximal development (the gap between what the learner can do independently and with assistance), the term scaffolding comes from the work of Wood, Bruner, and Ross (1978). Scaffolds are temporary. Pearson (personal communication) suggests that we always have a plan for taking down a scaffold. The point of a scaffold is not to make the task easier but rather to create just the right conditions for a learner can be successful. That means we have to be “in tune” with learners. Often, we provide too much support, resulting in learned helplessness. I think of scaffolding as climbing a rope ladder. As teachers, we move one knot/scaffold at a time, providing only the necessary support.

When working with readers, and particularly striving readers, instead of identifying specific gaps, too often we use a checklist, part-part-part approach. Research has demonstrated that reading is a complex process, and there’s little evidence to support that teaching the single components of reading one-by-one leads to gains (Oakhill et al, 2019). Another important consideration is the extent to which a student has initially engaged in modeled instruction and had opportunities for supported practice. The gradual release of responsibility is key here because too often students move from teacher-focused instruction to independent use, skipping the valuable area of shared responsibility and coached performance. When this occurs, learners don’t have the value of those temporary supports that ensure they will later be able to successfully carry out and transfer learning to new situations. 

Scaffolding is largely dependent on talk—both that of a teacher to student and also peer to peer. Vygotsky (1978) and Johnston (2004, 2012) demonstrate how individual thought is created through the process of thinking, talking, and acting together with others. We know that when learning is scaffolded through talk, students’ understanding of both the process (procedural knowledge) and the product (comprehension) are strengthened. Teachers use talk to facilitate and support learning, and students use talk in exploratory ways (Barnes, 1992) to develop and revise their thinking. Instead of defaulting to the traditional Initiate, Response, Evaluate (IRE) pattern (Cazden, 1988), teachers can shift form an interrogational stance to one that incorporates much more student talk. Allington (2002) found that exemplary teachers encouraged and modeled this type of talk. Not only does talk support and promote learning, it also offers teachers valuable opportunities to gain insights into students’ understanding and their gaps and misconceptions.

We know that reading is complex, that teaching reading is complex. However, when we implement practices and structures that we know make a difference, we uncomplicate our teaching and increase our students’ potential for success.  Some years ago, I wrote an op-ed about not forgetting joy. As we strive to support learners in these challenging times, we must stay focused on what we know works and the exemplary practices that help our students grow into strong, successful, and engaged readers . . . and the joyful experience of being present to witness extraordinary moments of learning. 


Afflerbach, P., Pearson, P. D., & Paris, S. G. (2008). Clarifying differences between reading skills and reading strategies. The Reading Teacher, 61(5). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Allington, R. L. (2002). What I’ve learned about effective reading instruction. Phi Delta Kappan. 83 (10), 740-47.

Au, K.H., & Raphael, T.E. (1998). Curriculum and teaching in literature-based programs. In T.E. Raphael & K.H. Au (Eds.), Literature-based Instruction: Reshaping the

Curriculum. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon Publishers.

Barnes, D. (1992). From Communication to Curriculum, Second Edition. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Cambourne, B.L. (2001). Why do some students fail to learn? Ockham’s Razon and the conditions of learning. Reading Teacher, 54 (8). Newark, DE: International Reading Association. 

Cazden, C. B. (1988). Classroom Discourse: The Language of Teaching and Learning. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Duke, N. K., & Pearson, P.D. (2002). Effective practices for developing reading comprehension. What Research Has to Say About Reading Instruction, Third Edition. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Harvey, S., & Ward, A. (2017). From Striving to Thriving: How to Grow Confident, Capable Readers. New York, NY: Scholastic. 

Johnston, P. H. (2012). Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers. 

Johnston, P. H. (2004). Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children’s Learning. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers. 

Oakhill, J., Cain, K., & Elbro, C. (2019). Reading comprehension and reading comprehension difficulties. In D. A. Kilpatrick, R. M. Joshi, & R. K. Wagner (Eds.) Reading Development and Difficulties: Bridging the Gap Between Research and Practice. New York, NY: Springer.

Pearson, P.D., & Gallagher, M.C. (1983). The instruction of reading comprehension. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 8, 317–344.

Perkins, D. N. (2009). Making Learning Whole: How Seven Principles of Teaching Can Transform Education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Routman, R. (2007). Teaching Essentials. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Routman, R. (2018). What You Need to Know about Professional Learning. Heinemann Blog.

Wallis, J. (2013). Teachers, don’t forget joy. 

Wood, D., Bruner, J.S., & Ross, G. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem solving. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines. 17(2). https: //

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Children’s Literature Cited

Henkes, K. (1991). Chrysanthemum. New York, NY: Greenwillow Books.

Judy Wallis has spent the past five decades as a teacher, literacy coach, university instructor, and staff developer. She served two large and diverse Houston-area school districts as director language arts and provided leadership support to literacy coaches for 21 years. Her professional work focuses on reading comprehension, writing, and whole-school/district change through robust literacy instruction and shared beliefs. She has also worked to link research and practice and to nurture and celebrate the strengths in others. In addition to the “Blue Pages” in Conversations with Regie Routman and Comprehension Intervention with Steph Harvey and Anne Goudvis, Judy has authored a number of book chapters and articles.