Charts as Models and Mentors

In the Italian preprimary schools in the Reggio Emilia district of Italy, the environment is considered the third educator, alongside the teachers and the parents. They have successfully shown that what surrounds our children becomes influential models, whether they are the teachers, the parents, or the environment. The charts that are hanging in each of our classrooms are an integral part of this environment, which can have a powerful effect on children. Charts not only record our teaching, but they are powerful models for children to look towards and mentor themselves to in order to do what they are trying to do even better.

Models and mentors are a valuable asset when it comes to learning something new. They become even more valuable when it comes to learning how to do something even better. We often think about “mentor authors” when teaching revision and craft in writing on the way towards publishing and reaching a targeted audience. But mentors and models are useful no matter what it is you are trying to make better, whether improving one’s writing or learning how to improve one’s home decorating skills. Donald Crews and HGTV have one thing in common – they both provide models that not only inspire, but seem accessible and do-able.

But models and mentors can provide a vision and a pathway no matter the subject. Today’s post focuses on a small, but often annoying tool children are often asked to use to hold onto their thinking while reading: the post-it note. We have heard many a teacher lament that these small tools are being poorly used and not very helpful as a result. They find more post-its on the floor than in the children’s books. Rather than encourage intricate, thoughtful thinking, they are often used to demonstrate intricate origami folding patterns that have nothing to do with reading.

One resourceful and thoughtful teacher in the Bronx, Kathleen Snyder at PS 157, decided to explore this universal dilemma by thinking about why her kids had random post-its scattered everywhere, throughout their books and everywhere else. She started by asking, “Why do you use post-it notes?” and “How did you decide what to write on the post-it note?” What she discovered was that many children understood the post-its were to be used to record important places in their books, but they were less sure about what to actually write on the post-it. Together we decided to come up with some model post-its that would act as mentors that would support the children by showing them examples of what to write and to encourage them to write even better notes about their reading by providing a continuum of possible notes.

This chart is set up like a rubric and shows a progression of Post-it examples and specifically names what has been done under each post-it.

If we consider a possible progression, the first might be using symbols to mark thinking without any writing. You might ask, What can you draw to show how the character is feeling? Then, you can move towards the use of general words to describe feelings or facts. For example, you might ask, What is a word for that feeling? Have you ever felt that way? 

Using a picture plus moving to general words to describe feelings

The next step is to elaborate on this basic thinking by using more specific words along with examples or reasons. At this stage we want to encourage children to ask lots of why and how questions.

This model post-it shows that readers not only state a fact (he is sad), but they add a because (he lost his dog).

The next stage is to expand on the literal explanation for how a character might feel to adding in not only the why, but what else might happen, support this thinking with examples from the text, and talk about what has changed.

Moving to more specific words with reasons or evidence.

Ultimately we want to show children how they can use all they have learned and accumulated as they read forward in a book to make better predictions and even more interesting interpretations. Synthesizing and summarizing helps children realize there is more to reading than just figuring out random words.

This post-it models how readers think about cause and effect and also include supporting details.

Post-its are only a tool. They are not the end all reason for using them. They are actually a very concrete way to introduce young children to the concept of note taking and keeping track of thinking. The thinking is key. What makes the last post-it more powerful than the first one is it begins to answer some open-ended questions that encourage thinking. What, why, and how are great question starters that can launch further investigations. But how exactly to capture the thinking and ideas in a way that is efficient and helpful requires models children can mentor themselves to in order to make sure they have have a structure to follow and, ultimately, to move beyond.

A first step is providing models and mentors for the basic tools that will later become critical as children begin to internalize the external models they have been immersed in and influenced by the third teacher – the environment. Even something as simple as a jot on a post-it note needs to be modeled and the model displayed for children to refer to just like they refer to a mentor text to craft their writing. The charts we create have a definite influence on what we teach, but even more importantly, on the children sitting before us each and every day.

We will be taking a short break from the blog in order to  finish our book (Smarter Charts-Heinemann) and other fun stuff, but we plan to launch a new blog post by the end of February.

Until then, Happy Charting!

Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine Mraz

International Appeal

Hello again! For this week’s post, we will celebrate powerful charts in classrooms from the exotic locale of Taipei American School, located in Taipei, Taiwan.

Before we start looking at charts, a word or two about the school. Taipei American School (TAS) is a pre-K to twelve school located in the Tien-Mu area of Taipei. The bulk of their students are Americans of Asian Heritage with a smaller percentage from around the world. The teachers have been using readers and writers workshop for the past four years, led by a fearless and brilliant coach: Carrie Tenebrini. All the teachers at the school are warm, lovely, passionate educators and their quest for student independence and clear explicit teaching is evident in the charts they make.

As a visitor in Taipei, the teachers made sure I was well fed and cared for, but there were times when I found myself alone with another colleague. Rather than give in to panic surrounded by a language we did not know, nor could we read, we used the one thing readily available to us: symbols and visuals!

Directions on the Airplane

It was striking again and again, how critical visuals are in helping one function in the world. From the above example of “do nots” when flying (Although, who exactly, is operating remote control cars is not clear to me) to the below icons for exit and slippery, we were able to maneuver our way through the country.


Slippery when Wet

The same is true for the charts in our classrooms. Especially in a school with a large percentage of English Language Learners, like TAS, visuals and icons are the linking language for students. They may not know the word in English, but they know the concept and a visual or an icon helps them interpret the charts in your room.

Using Photographs

Rereading chart with student images from the classroom

The first grade team at TAS has long been talking about getting more student images on their charts. From sample post-its to photographs, using student work and pictures makes the chart instantly more accessible. Even if I am not sure of the language, the pictures show me the behavior that I can replicate on my own. As an aside, this team also color codes their charts- anything green is reading, anything blue is writing… so smart!

Using tools

Amanda, a wise second grade teacher at TAS, used a photograph in this chart to help her readers get and stay organized with their materials. The photograph allows a touchstone for children to refer back to, as well as a prompt for what to do every day. The annotations around the side support the work that readers should be doing with these tools!

Using Shared Texts


Jennifer, another thoughtful second grade teacher at TAS, has been working with her students around fluency. This chart takes a text that the students know well through shared reading experiences and annotates it with post-its. On each big sticky note there is an icon to show what to look for and an explanation on how that will change your reading. Since children spent a long time working on this text, there is no new instruction happening on this chart, rather a powerful reminder of all they know, so they can use it again and again.

Holding Students Accountable, Even the Littlest Ones

Kindergarten rereading chart

Carlee, an amazing kindergarten teacher, is the source of this chart. Before we look at how she is holding five year olds accountable, a quick word about the symbols. The book lets the children know this is a reading chart. The symbol for rereading was spoken about and made with our fingers before it was put on the chart, and each section of the chart has a clear picture to remind students of the strategy. This chart was built over several days, but Carlee took this chart one step further when she had her five year olds put their name on the strategy they were going to try this day. This small act of goal setting holds children accountable for the teaching you have done and creates a purpose to the work they are tackling back at their own seat.

Thanks again to the incredible teachers at TAS for a week of hard work, smart thinking, and powerful practice!  Until next time, Happy Charting!

Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine Mraz