Education Writing

Let There Be Light!

When I started a fifth-grade writing workshop 20 years ago, I fired a lot of shots in the dark before I hit on an effective approach to teaching imagery-writing strategies, especially when it came to rendering sense of sight.

The prompts and feedback I used to offer in efforts to guide my students’ descriptions of what they or their characters see would generate laundry lists––i.e., I see a dog and a car and a sidewalk––more often than the vivid and dynamic sentences I was hoping for.

Why Hurts Is a Verb: A 14 Million Year-Long Story

It’s February 2020, one of our last weeks in the classroom before everything turns inside out, but we don’t know this yet. I am a writer in residence at a public elementary school that serves San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. A San Francisco Arts Commission grant funds my residency, part of an initiative to place poets and fiction writers in public schools, community centers, and jails to lead creative writing workshops. I’m about to teach––and learn––my most difficult lesson as an educat

From Fifty-One to Eleven

When you were five the sky looked so enormous it was invisible. Then your big-kid eyes grew in at nine and you saw its shortcomings in a documentary about the Apollo Missions. From space, it’s nothing really, just a webby membrane coating the world in a thin, blue hum. Back then you didn’t think about how it’s all that separates us from never-ending darkness.

But now that you’re eleven, you do. You’re hardly a kid anymore. You know the same amount of math most grown-ups do: enough to figure out

The Poetry of Prepositions

As a San Francisco WritersCorps Teaching Artist in Residence, I spent the last six years teaching creative writing workshops to third, fourth, and fifth-grade second-language learners at a public elementary school that serves the City’s Tenderloin neighborhood. I’m always scouting out engaging ways to integrate lessons on syntax and mechanics into creative projects, and when I discovered Robert Burleigh’s poetry picture book Hoops, I scored!

My class was full of basketball fans who had also bee

Escaping the Revision Trap

The kids in my upper-elementary writing workshops all hate revision. In fact, they seem to have blocked the word out of their Mindcrafty minds. Whenever I mention “revising,” I get blank stares. If I press the kids to jostle their memories, some might offer up explanations like, “That’s where you fix the red underlines.”

When I remind them that Grammarly is not going to save them here, that revision is something actual humans still need to do by hand and brain, that it’s way more about making m

Unlock Authentic Learning in Your Writing Workshop with this Revision Checklist Edit —

Over the years, my upper elementary writing workshop has featured dozens of revision checklists, and with each new iteration, I was sure I’d found the right chemistry. Ultimately, though, none of them ever amounted to more than a series of boxes to check. They were just too abstract for my young writers to grasp. Typical checklist questions like, “Does my writing make sense?” or “Are my words interesting?” don’t offer much guidance to kids who lack experience translating directions like these in

The Google Docs Table Feature: A Teacher's Swiss Army Knife

Here’s what the table actually looks like with borders showing so you can visualize (it’s actually only the left box that’s empty):

Once the table is set up, ask students to click their names and write responses in comments boxes, like this:

Workshopping student drafts--presenting works in progress for peer critique--is a key component of writing workshop, but it is also the most easily derailed. When I first started teaching, workshopping student writing meant an oral class discussion, often

Exploding the Moment with "Part Charts"

Nudge Young Authors toward Verbs that Describe with this Writing Workshop Scaffold

One of the biggest writing workshop roadblocks is sheer overwhelm. The sense that the task ahead is never-ending, especially for learners who get stuck on big picture stuff like character and conflict. Often, these students uncover the path forward when you point them in the opposite direction, and “Part Charts” are my go-to tool for getting granular.

The STEAM-Powered Writing Workshop

The writing workshop has been at the heart of my upper-elementary classroom since I began teaching years ago, but the tech tools my students use to publish their work have evolved with the times. In recent years, Plasq’s ComicLife has become an indispensable digital addition to my students’ writing toolkit. What, at first glance, may look like a few motivating bells and whistles has, for me, become essential and transformative. ComicLife is ideal for the differentiated classroom. I rely on it

A Concrete Approach to Teaching Revision: “Sensory Mapping” with Google Docs

After a writing conference with me about his opening, Daniel added the table below to map out the moment where his hero first acquires his superpowers. He began with boxes for each of the five senses, then zoomed in further on the sense of touch, adding a smaller table inside the sense of touch box where he wrote about how four of his hero’s individual body parts felt or reacted.

After adding details to his sensory map, Daniel then copied and pasted key sentences from his table into a unified p