Conventions, conversations, and calories

Between the 101st Annual NCTE Convention in Chicago and Thanksgiving, we are truly filled up with delicious conversations and calories. We hope your holiday was just as satisfying. This week’s blog will share with you a few convention highlights and some thoughts about how they might lead to some new chart making ideas.

The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) brings together authors, teachers, and book publishers from around the country each year to present workshops, give keynote speeches, and share the latest in professional and children’s literature. Seeing and hearing so many educational rock stars never fails to energize and inspire. And browsing through the tons of new books makes everyone feel like the proverbial “kid in a candy shop.”

Exploring Language and Wordplay in Picture Books was a workshop presented by authors Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld. You might remember Amy as the author of Little Pea, Little Hoot, Little Pig, and Spoon. Tom is the author of What Are You So Grumpy About? and E-mergency. But together they have written several books: Duck! Rabbit!, The OK Book, and soon to be released, Wumbers. They shared with the audience how they see and hear letters and words as messengers of multiple meanings. For example, most people look at the letters, ‘OK’ and think, okay, that’s just a shortcut version of the affirmative or mediocre. Amy, however, saw something very different when she turned these familiar letters a mere 90 degrees to the right. Suddenly the O became a head, and the K became two arms and two legs, inspiring The OK Book, which sends the message it is better to try things and be just okay, than never to try at all. The bigger message for teachers might be to try and look at what we see day after day in new and surprising ways by simply turning something a few degrees to the left or right.

Turning letters into a person (The OK Book by Amy Rosenthal Krouse and Tom Lichtenheld.

Amy and Tom shared a couple more examples of how they make things out of words. Take the word OLD for example. Tom quickly turned that into a picture of an old man. Two arrows going in opposite directions was suddenly turned into the message, The more you give, the more you receive. The word “Love” becomes a little girl reading a book. In their upcoming book, Wumbers (July 2012), they find fanciful ways to combine numbers and words (a nod to William Steig’s CDB). “It is s2pendous.” “They are pre10ding.” “Would you like some honey 2 swee10 you tea?” “Yes, that would be 1derful.” Can’t you see making use of some of these graphic elements in your charts?

Tom turned the word "OLD" into a picture of an old man.

Symbols can be turned into words with meaning: "The more you give, the more you receive."

The word "LOVE" is transformed into a picture of a girl reading a book.

Just like Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld explore language and wordplay in their picture books, teachers can also explore language and wordplay when making charts in order to make teaching engaging, memorable, and clear. Bringing in some playfulness and creating charts that are interactive can go a long way in making our charts worthwhile and useful. Amy ended the workshop by saying, “Simple is the hardest thing to do, but you know when it is right.” The same goes for charts.

Another children’s book author presenting in Chicago was Seymour Simon, an author known to teachers around the world for his exquisite nonfiction science books (He refers to them as photo essays). The workshop, Learning From A Master: Elevating Nonfiction Writing Through High Expectations for Craft, was chaired by Ellin Keene and also included professional authors, Linda Hoyt and Ann Marie Corgill who demonstrated how to use Seymour Simon as a mentor author for young writers of nonfiction books.

Here are some key points raised during this workshop that relate directly to charts:

  • Use photographs, illustrations and diagrams to clarify.
  • Use comparisons to make the incomprehensible something a child can grasp.
  • Use lots of teacher modeling to show how something is done.
  • Put exemplars up on charts to be used as models.
  • Make teaching clear by stating why it is important, demonstrate how to write this way, and show what it looks like once it is written.
  • Slow down and make it simple.

An example of one of Seymour Simon's 250 science picture books.

A nonfiction craft chart based on some things found in Seymour Simon’s books might include:

  • Use comparisons (Is like….)
  • Ask a quesiton (But what is…?)
  • Use strong verbs (grind, crush, bubble)
  • Add compound descriptors (cold-blooded, tooth-filled, rodent-eating)

These are just to name a few craft moves children can learn by studying such a master writer. Of course, the charts you make will include photos, illustrations, book covers, and children examples. We can’t wait to see the types of charts you create!

We hope this fills you up for a bit. And of course you can always find some tasty leftovers in our earlier posts.

As always, Happy Charting!

Checking In On Charts!

Happy November everyone! For this week’s post we are revisiting a school we saw in an earlier post, “Making the Most of It.” We are going to check back in with PS 1 in Chinatown to see what these incredible teachers have been teaching and charting in the past month. These charts hail from the amazing first grade classrooms of Rosie Young and Karin Ma, who both incidentally, ran in the recent New York City Marathon! Talk about doing it all.

Wrapping Up Previous Units:

A hallway bulletin board celebrating the work of the past month!

On this board, we see Rosie’s personal connection to running inspiring her students as “Reading Marathoners.”  At the end of September’s unit, the children reflected on the things they learned to help them read longer and recorded these in words and pictures. From “I be stronger. I do not talk to nobody.” to “I focus on my books.”  children thought about the strategies that worked for them. Surrounding the reflections are photographs of children reading and also shots of the end of unit reading ceremony where the children’s reading efforts were celebrated, complete with medals.

Charts are a great way to help children reflect. The language of strategies on charts helps them think seriously about what they have learned in the past month and remind them of what they now know as they move forward.


The other side of the board

Using Student Work:

A chart to support types of leads

Here we see the power of student work on a chart. After using mentor texts to teach about various types of leads, Rosie photocopied student leads that attempted the same work.  You can see that the children marked their lead with the same icon written on a post-it that is on the chart to identify what kind of lead they had written. Keeping symbols consistent helps children learn and apply their meaning. Rosie could use the same icons on her reading charts as well!

Getting Ready for the Next Unit:

genre chart

Before starting the next unit on realistic fiction, Rosie and her class studied a few realistic fiction texts. Above is what they noticed reoccurring time after time. This definition of the genre will serve as a touchstone for children throughout the unit. Whenever starting a new unit, studying exemplars and charting their characteristics can go a long way in supporting young writers.

Show What you Mean:

This chart comes from Karin Ma’s room. The annotations around the revision are a great support for children. It also works as a great self assessment for children! They can bring their pieces right up to the chart and ask: “Have I revised in all the ways I could?”

Now a few from Ginny Wong’s Kindergarten Room:

Make it Your Own:

A chart for reading emergent story books

A chart very similar to this was in a previous post, but what we love is that Ginny adapted it to match her own class by using examples from one of their favorite books! We also love are the way she draws a hand and a person in profile. Each drawing is so simple and clear.

Help Children Name the Unit:

Here we see something Ginny does for every unit. She and her children make a sign in interactive writing to name the unit and then hang it up. This way children know the name of the unit they are working on, and the goal of their work over the next month. What a smart way to help 4-5 year olds make meaning of their work in school.

One Last Thing:

Writing Center September

Writing Center November

There are not many differences between Rosie’s writing center in September and her center in the first week of November, but there is one very important one. Her paper choices moved from 1 line, 2 line, and 3 line to 3 line, 4 line, and 6 line. I think this underscores one of the most important aspects of tools and charts–once routines and organizational structures are in place, those don’t change. This is what helps children become and stay independent. However, the rigor and demands of those tools and charts are ever increasing as our children grow as readers and writers.

Have a great week, we look forward to hearing from you! Until next time, happy charting!

Classroom Snapshot: Reading Edition

This week we have a treat here at Chart Chums: our very own guest blogger!  This week we will hear from Alyssa Newman, a remarkable second grade teacher at PS 277 in the South Bronx. Alyssa is a charting pro, and what follows is her description of how she is using charting to help her students do great reading and thinking work around the characters in their books. Enjoy!

Revised Chart with Written Prompts Added to the Icons

When I first introduced this chart, the only post-its I used were the symbols, because this was the first writing about reading work we tried this year. Of course, the post-it was a novelty, and yes, more than half my class approximated by using 14 post-its in one 16-page book (did you know you could have 14 favorite parts in just one book?)  The mid-workshops and shares were good times to conquer this issue.  It didn’t take long before my kiddos were ready for more of a challenge; so, I pulled the chart back out during another minilesson and taught my readers that we can use words, not just symbols, to make our thinking visible (this time I added on the prompts). I carefully selected the language on the post-its—I could have used the same beginnings, “This part is my favorite because… This part is funny because…” But I wanted kids to have a variety of language choice when articulating their thinking.

Individualized Personal Charts

I gave the kids these differentiated personal charts to keep in their book baggies.  I experimented with this a bit, in terms of who gets what chart, and I found that it worked best in my class to have my readers in C-I books using symbols only and J+ readers using prompts (there were a couple of exceptions).  My readers below J still get an opportunity to try on these prompts during read alouds in their reading notebooks (which has a special section for responding to the whole class read alouds).

We’re now in our character unit, and the kids feel much more comfortable writing about their reading.  I wanted to continue this work and angle it to support the unit, so here’s what I did.  I created a pre-assessment using two read alouds (The Meanest Thing To Say –Bill Cosby and Iris and Walter The Sleepover –Elissa Haden Guest, both Level K) and had kids stop and jot at four different points in the text (I did this with two books so I had enough data on each student.) The questions each assessed another skill that we would work on in the upcoming unit.  These included retelling/determining importance, prediction, inference, and author’s purpose.  I analyzed the student responses, and noticed many of my students needed help with all four of these skills—but if I wanted to tackle any of them, I needed to start with retelling/determining importance first. I also had to think about which visual, concrete supports they would need in order to do this.

This chart provides sample questions that will lift the level of children’s thinking.

So…that’s how this chart came to be.  Teaching kids to figure out what the main character wants, what the problem is, what the character does to get what they want, and what the solution to the character’s problem is, is one strategy to meet the skill of retelling/determining importance.  I taught each of these components in a separate minilesson, and then followed up teaching kids to read across each of the post-its to retell the story. The chart acted as an ongoing reference point.

During the share each day, kids were able to put up their post-its in the appropriate category.

A Continuum of Post-its from Fancy to Fanciest

My class has a Mo Willems/Piggy and Elephant obsession (okay, maybe it’s more me than them), so I used the “Very Fancy” concept from I Am Invited To A Party to create the continuum (way cooler than 1-2-3-4.) This chart is an exemplar tool that I used to accompany the previous chart during my minilessons.  The yellow post-its are the work that I demonstrated during the “teach” portion of the minilesson, and the orange post-its are basically a tool for kids to use during the active engagement, and for when they want to try out the work independently.  When I sent my kiddies off, they were super excited to try and be the fanciest they could be!  Having them come up and share their post-its at the end of the workshop holds them accountable for this, so I plan to make them their own personalized version to keep in their book baggies, as well (this also helps with the foot traffic between table and chart during independent time!)  In the next bend, I’ll create a similar chart, only that one will support inference work.

Alyssa has generously offered to answer any questions about her great work here, and her future work around this. You can send an email to and we will happily get it to her!

Thanks again to Alyssa for sharing her great work, and until next week, happy charting!