Literacy Dance Party!

Hey, Summer!! Going by too fast, time to dance! Clean out the garage and DANCE!

Oh, okay, I’ll do a little writing first.

Don’t believe me, just watch!

Lisa wrote on the N&N site (and thank you!)

“Thank you for the blog post in which you explain your alliterative days of the week. (I use a similar idea in my history classes.) I now have some drill down questions: Do you read whole class novels? If you have the students write each day, how do you structure the writing? Do you fit in grammar? How do you work with such discrete topics? I find that I like a reading piece to be at the hub of class and then the spokes are the writing assignment, grammar, oral presentation, etc. What do you think?”

These questions made me realize I never stop thinking about this stuff. 


Whole Class Novels:

It Depends.

Usually, no. Unless you count that time I ‘jigsawed’ The Hobbit. And I will do Absolutely True Diary. I prefer to do units that serve both the Social Studies and ELA content areas, and provide multiple texts and genres to serve the unit’s demands. Rarely have I ‘taught’ a whole class novel, and I’m not sure I’ll start now.

Structure Writing:

In 2015 I participated in my second Puget Sound Writing Project invitational, which includes teacher research or action. My contribution included a question I’m still not sure how to answer, and that is, ‘if there’s close reading, can there be close writing?’ given mentor texts, etc. The Writing Thief inspired me.

Also, my writing philosophy is closely tied with my fine arts’ days — throw something down on the canvas, make a mark, and then develop. Direct instruction for writing develops from common things all middle school writers do, and then the feedback/conferencing speaks to the individual writer. I use a lot of portfolios, writing goals, genre exploration, etc. In December for the past several years we’ve done a Drabble-A-Day using a lot of image prompts, RAFTS, etc. WriteAbout is a great resource, too.

Writing Closely Prezi


Sometimes grammar is placed in a mini-lesson, based on things I’m noticing students doing, or not doing. This is when some stations or small group work comes in handy, or information based on exit tickets, quick quizzes, or surveys. Students will always need to know some basics:

  • Parts of speech
  • Sentence structures
  • Active v. Passive
  • Subject-verb agreement
  • Site words
  • ….feel like I’m missing, oh, say, about a hundred other things…

Grammar and writers’ craft are so closely connected, this is rich for close reading with a mentor text and discussion.

I have some book suggestions, etc. I’ll post later. I’ve been enjoying using Grammarly, too, as a way to get instant feedback that’s more precise than any Microsoft Word function.

Discrete Topics:

This is a tough one. Our ELA/SS district’s vision is all about skills. (Spontaneously starts singing Meghan Trainor’s All About The Bass in my head.) On the other hand, they’ve done a great job of providing single title novels, so if a teacher wants to teach a whole class novel she/he can. Over the years, I’ve noticed I usually don’t do a whole class novel, maybe one. Mostly I use short stories, excerpts, poetry, etc. and am heavy on the writing.

This may be the toughest to answer. In most cases, I created a unit based on Understanding by Design. This is my palette, and where my teaching creativity resides. There are enduring understandings and then essential questions that are flexible and ambiguous enough to provide multiple access points for students to construct their notions of themes and ideas. We’ve done thematic units such as Journey of the Hero, Voice, Coming of Age, etc. These units include a variety of novels for choice and instructional needs. I always go back to Lucy Calkin’s ‘Black Diamond Ski’ analogy. Read what you want, try to find a ‘just right’ book, but don’t be afraid to stretch.

These thematic units come first, and then the discrete topics help fill in the knowledge to support the big idea, so it really doesn’t matter. Or rather, that’s all that matters.

Note: this is really tough for eighth grade students. Heck, it’s tough for adults. Many of us just want the Q&A, the answer, and the points. And there is some legitimacy to this. If everything was close, deep reading and thinking and we never gave our brains a chance to be bored, or alternate in activities, well, we all know how that turned out.

Not sure if this was helpful, but gave me a great place to start. Sometimes just throwing ideas out there, asking the questions, and hearing others approaches help me the most. Any ideas you think of and want to add please go for it!

PS And now to go find book titles….

And keep dancing!

Older posts that might help:

Gluing the wings back on

National Writing Project

Stitching Together Themes

Memoir Writing Presentation: