The Weather, and The Charts, Are Changing

Hello again! It is a rainy Sunday here on the East Coast, and storms often bring with them some sort of change. Before the rain the trees were green, after the rain we began to see the change to yellow and brown. It is also fortunate because if there wasn’t the rain we wouldn’t appreciate the sun, and vice versa. And with the benefits of change in mind, lets think a bit about charts.

This week’s post is really about the way charts grow and change over time in a classroom. Charting will never be static, it is not something that can be done ahead of time and then sit for a year on the wall. Charts, like all living documents, need to be created with your classroom community and grow as you teach more, or as classroom needs change. Below is a series of photos from a first grade classroom that records how the writing process chart grew and changed over the first few days of school. These photos come from the incredible Tricia Newhart, who teaches in Orinda, California. A word about Tricia- when we close our eyes and imagine the ideal “workshop classroom”, Tricia’s room comes to mind. Her responsiveness to children, knowledge about reading and writing, and her absolute fearlessness and bravery in trying new things makes her an inspiration to all!

The Writing Process

Here is Tricia’s writing process chart at the very beginning of school. You will notice that she has photos up of children actually doing each part of the chart. Like concrete samples, photos are a great way to capture complex ideas in an accessible way. It also makes the chart tailor-made to each classroom and much more engaging to children. We all tend to look more closely at things when we have been ‘tagged’ in the picture!

Children's Names Added

At this point, each child has his or her name on a post it, so that they can mark which step of the writing process each child is on. This is a great technique for any chart. Children can put their names on post-its for strategies they want to try, or as Tricia did, to keep track of where they are in a multi-step process.

Students Making Plans

Here we have that very idea in action!

Student Samples are Added

Here you can see the chart in its final stage stage. Now that children are close to revising, Tricia has added some student work with the actual revisions highlighted in yellow and annotated with sentence strips. If you have been looking close, you will see that the bulk of children moved from planning into the sketching and writing. Tricia is well aware of where they are and taught the next thing that MOST children would need.

Slowly building the chart as needed makes each part more accessible and memorable for children. It also keeps students from getting overloaded from day one. Tricia painted the big picture of the process on day one, but introduced parts more specifically (using post-its to make a plan, ways to revise) as the children needed it.

And one last lovely idea from Tricia:

Story Idea Spot

Here Tricia gives some space for children to put story ideas that pop into their heads during the day. Children can go back to access this during writer’s workshop. Again, the interactive nature of Tricia’s room shows the amount of independence she expects of children and the honor she gives to their thinking and writing.

Enjoy the week ahead as you begin to wind down some old units this week and look to start some new ones. We hope you will carry some of this with you into your planning with colleagues!

Until next time, happy charting!

Let the Reading Work Begin!

Welcome back! We hope you rested this weekend and are ready for the week ahead. By now, many teachers have established some basic routines and are looking towards the rest of the year. Of course, all routines will have to be practiced and revisited throughout the year, but most children know their spots, can locate their baggies and writing materials, and are ready to go! Now you need to teach them some things they can do in those spots and with their tools and materials. So in this post, we will explore some of the charts you might be making around the important work in reading that your children have begun. We have divided this by grade level, but you may see charts in other grades that speak to you as well. As always, we want you to look at these charts as inspiration for you, not as a product to copy. The best charts have your voice, and your children’s voices firmly implanted on them.


A Kindergarten Chart to Support Early Reading Behaviors

This first chart addresses what children are doing in reading workshop, when they may not yet be conventionally reading. Rather than letting children flip quickly through books, this chart accompanies a lesson that teaches how readers touch each thing in the picture and say what they see. This work is building a sense of story and developing young children’s oral language, both of which will support them as they move into more conventional reading. A few things to notice about this chart:

Amount of writing versus amount of visuals: Charts are meant to be used by the children in the classroom. If most children are not yet reading, charts with lots of words will be overwhelming and unused. The big strong visuals will remind children quickly and easily the job of readers during readers workshop. It shows, not just tells, in a way that is understandable to any child. When making charts consider the amount of print that your children will be able to reasonably handle.

Use of actual texts: Kindergarten children are nothing if not concrete. You may say they look like “a million bucks” and they will stare right back at you, as if you have spoken in another language. And, in some sense you have, until you explain the mysterious phrase. Using actual texts (these are just color copied on a printer from Mo Willems lovely book, Cat the Cat, Who is THAT? ) will not only draw attention to the chart, but will cement the skill in children’s minds. The teacher in this case used this text to demonstrate the skill of touching what was in the picture and saying what she saw, and then put the same page on the chart. Just like in the writing chart in the previous post that used the actual paper, consider if you can use the actual item on the chart.

First Grade

A First Grade Chart Working Towards Longer Stamina

A few posts back (Are You Ready for Reading Workshop?) we looked at a chart that recorded how children’s stamina was growing. As we all know, you can’t just will children to read longer. This chart shows some of the strategies the teacher taught over several days to build that stamina. A few things to notice on this chart:

Amount of writing versus amount of visuals: This first grade chart has more writing, but still a strong amount of visual support. The vocabulary is not overly complex, the phrases simple, and the separate strategies are divided by color to make the information on the chart easier to group.

There are steps: This chart could just have had three bullets that say: set a goal, make a plan, meet the book, and be done. Instead, this teacher felt that each of these ideas needed more development, so provided a series of steps for children to follow. When you are teaching something that feels complex, it can help to break it down into a few simple steps and record those on a chart. Try not to have more than four or five steps on any one chart, because more than that becomes hard to follow, and even harder to remember.

Second Grade

Beginning of a Second Grade Chart about Post-Its

This second grade chart is teaching children ways to use post-its to record their thinking as they read. The 6 x 8 inch post-its used on this chart are the ones mentioned in a previous post (Shopping the Specials) which are not only large, but come in eye-catching, fluorescent colors. A few things to notice about this chart:

Amount of print versus amount of visuals: This second grade chart is much heavier on print, but the print is broken up in an accessible way. And it still has visual support. In general, we try to avoid charts that look like unbroken lines of print with tiny visuals. We want charts to work like billboards, where kids can get the meaning in a drive by way. In other words, in a split second the message is seen and understood.

It is growing: This chart has only just begun! The teacher will be adding additional strategies as she teaches them to the readers in her room. The nice thing about the large post-its used on this chart is that they allow the teacher to easily add on. Another lovely aspect is that children can take them off. If students need help with a particular strategy, they can pluck it off, put it near where it is needed, and then return it when they are done.

Some of you have asked about sending in your own charts! Please do! The best way to do this is to send photos in an email to We have already received some which have been posted, and others that we are holding on to until we have the perfect post for them. We’d also like to give a big THANKS to those of you who have been referring this blog to your friends and directing others to this site. Making powerful, effective, and accessible charts that support independence is not easy work. So we appreciate you taking this journey with us.

Until next time, happy charting!

Making The Most of It

Congratulations!  Many of you have completed the first week or two of school, and that deserves a little celebration. So sit back, pour yourself a cold glass of …. water, and peer into some classrooms in K, 1, and 2 to see how they are making the most of these first school moments.

The pictures in this section are from one school in New York City’s Chinatown neighborhood, PS 1. As you can imagine, many of the children do not speak English as a first language, and yet you will see that these teachers have jumped right in and begun some incredible work inside of the writers workshop. Our idea in sharing these is not that you feel compelled to copy these insightful tools for independence, but rather you feel inspired to invent your own. The majority of these pictures hail from the classrooms of Rosie Young (a brilliant and dedicated first grade teacher whose kindness will knock you over), Karin Ma (a teacher who inspires such a passion for writing in her students that last year they successfully lobbied the board of education for an air conditioner through their letters) and Maria Willis (a second grade teacher whose belief in what children can do results in volumes of powerful writing every year). We will point out some things you may want to notice, so that when you make your own chart magic, you can rely on some of these tips!

Build Stamina with Support

This first grade chart shows steps that writers should follow when they think they are done. The clarity of each step is reinforced with hand drawn pictures. When you add visuals, don’t feel the need to make them overly detailed or realistic, simple is really better.

Writing Center

Revision Tools

We here at Chartchums are pretty much obsessed with helping children become more independent. Charts are one of the main tools we use to accomplish that, but the writing center, and the writing tools it contains, are also essential elements. Note the clear labels and the accessibility. Whenever making tools for children, step back for a minute and try to see it as a 6 year old, then make sure they can find and use it on their own after it is introduced.

Tools for Writing

Speaking of introductions, you might do a lesson where you name everything in the writing center with a visual as you teach its purpose. This chart is an example that reinforces that instruction. When it comes to vocabulary, never assume! This is a quick and easy way to teach the tools of the writing center, while also teaching the vocabulary of the classroom.  Think of all the places you could use this idea: math, science….the possibilities are endless!

First Grade

Second Grade

These are two different charts around the same basic concept: getting ideas. The second grade chart has more words, and the process is included on the same chart. The first grade chart is only about getting ideas, and has a few ways to do that. The visuals in both help all levels of writers, and the use of the actual paper on the second grade chart makes it very concrete. Whenever making charts, consider using the actual item on the chart when possible. I know when I put together Ikea furniture, I have to hold each screw up to the picture until I am holding the one that matches the illustration. Photographs and actual student work can serve the same purpose.


This is a close up of a class schedule. You may not think this is a chart, but it certainly is a tool that shows children how they will proceed during the day. The pictures and icons make the schedule much more user friendly, and this teacher matches the icons around the room. For example, the Reading Workshop label is also on the reading workshop baggies. Continuity and repetition of symbols can go a long way in helping children remember and accurately use the materials and tools in the classroom. Also, check out the arrow! What better way to draw attention to the current subject. Imagine something like  that on a writing chart, highlighting a specific skill the class is learning and might want to try.

Treat yourself well this weekend, and as always…

Happy Charting!

Make Magic With Charts

Yes, charts can indeed be magical, but only when the children using them become magicians and learn how to transform simple words on paper into powerful tools for problem solving. When children learn to use a chart to remember a forgotten procedure, to help others help themselves, or to share what has been learned with others, they become not only more confident, but they engage with learning in a pro-active, can-do way, that can lead to lifelong success in school and beyond.

As primary teachers we long ago discovered never to make any assumptions about what young children understand and know about even the most basic of things. Have you ever said something like, “It’s time to end our writing time,” only to have several youngsters jump up, head to the cubbies, and start gathering backpacks, lunchboxes, and coats, thinking the ‘end’ you mentioned meant the end of the school day? Well, we can’t make any assumptions that our children will know what we mean when we say, “Use the chart to help you,” or to even know what we are doing when we write in front of them on a gigantic piece of paper that is bigger than the average first grader. Some children think charts are just for decoration (especially the store-bought ones), like the borders surrounding the bulletin boards or the art prints hanging up around the room. We know charts are more than decoration, no matter how nice we try to make them look, but do our kids know?

With this in mind, we started to think about some ways teachers might introduce the actual purpose for charts that will be showing up in abundance across the school year in a way that makes no assumptions about what kids know, and don’t know, about charts. One idea is to just ask, “What are charts for?” Then listen to the responses for signs of understandings and perceptions held by the students. Don’t be surprised at the range of answers you might hear, from “What’s a chart?” to “It’s for the teacher.” Chances are no one has ever asked them this question before. This is a great way to benchmark your children’s early understandings and will help lead you in a direction built on reality, not dreams or fantasy.

Once you have a sense of what kids know and don’t know about charts, you are ready to proceed. Share with your students why you use charts in the classroom. You might explain what charts are for and why we have them, how they can be helpful, and when they can be used. This then becomes one of the first charts you might create in your classroom. It can be created first orally, then made more permanent using shared writing or interactive writing, then reinforced through shared reading. Below is an example of one such chart created using such a sequence. As the teacher looked over some of the key points the word ‘magic’ began to appear. She then organized the points as an acrostic and it became one of the shared reading texts read together across several days. This type of chart is important early on, but is rather short lived once the children understand the purpose and intent behind the chart and why we see and use charts in the classroom.

The beginning letter of each key point spells out "magic."

This Just In!

We are pleased to present the first of (hopefully) many charts from ACTUAL classrooms. This one is from the fabulous Erik Anderson of Blaine Elementary School in Seattle. First a word about Erik, Erik is an intuitive, generous, kind, and brilliant second grade teacher. There is much to be impressed by when you talk with him, or watch him interact with children. One of the things that always strikes me is the depth of knowledge he has about each child: their likes and dislikes, family, friends, things big and small. His students adore him, and his teaching is impeccably matched to the faces in front of him. His thoughtfulness and knowledge about the specific children he has this year pop out in this chart.

Second Grade Reading Chart

Shall we look a little closer at the amazing things Erik has done?

First, the heading is clear practical and easy for children to understand. What should I do when I finish my book? Children can independently, and easily, determine if they need to use this chart.  As a matter of fact, it answers a question echoing in classrooms across America, “I’m done, now what?”

Second, this chart has options! This is a great example of a repertoire chart in that there is one big idea (you can do things with your book even when you finish reading it) and several options: reread it, quiz yourself, and storytell it. Children can all achieve the big idea in a way that matches who they are as reader. This is a nice example of Erik’s thoughtfulness about who is in his class, he has drama bugs who will want to act out, and competitive spirits who want to challenge themselves to see what they remember. You can imagine how Erik could add even more choices over time!

Third, look at those illustrations! Engaging, show some internal thinking, capture a big concept in a few simple lines- a great way for children at all reading levels to independently access the chart.

And the last thing that we will mention, though we could go on and on and on, is the lovely little addition of WHY! Too often we say what to do, but we don’t give reasons. This chart, in simple second grade friendly language, gives reasons why I might decide to storytell it or quiz myself. So smart!

Drop a comment here to share your love of Erik’s chart, and send your own charts to We are trying to stay seasonal, so we have a few charts on hold to show later in the year. Now we are looking to showcase beginning of the year type charts!

As always, happy charting!