March Matters

March is a month that matters for many reasons. For many it is a time of assessing, writing report cards, arranging parent-teacher conferences, and organizing open school week. It is one of the longest months with 22 schools days without even a single three-day weekend. But March is also one of the most fulfilling months because this is the time of year we begin to see our young students flower. They seem to grow overnight. Not only are they taller, but things seem to start clicking and all your efforts finally seem to be paying off. With this new maturity comes new expectations, both for our children and for our charts. March matters.

Charts make our teaching visible, but how can we make sure our charts grow and change across the year as our children grow and change? A recent workshop on Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK) presented by the brilliant Janet Steinberg got us thinking about ways we can grow our charts, extend their usage, and deepen the level of teaching and learning. In a nutshell, the four levels are: 1. Recall, name & define. 2. Notice, describe, & explain. 3. Apply, analyze & evaluate. 4. Synthesize, reflect & modify. Let’s take a closer look at how this might play out when it comes to charts.

A typical chart found in the classroom is a list of strategies. For example, a list of things to include in a persuasive review. The chart below names things reviews often have and the children are expected to use the chart to remember these points when they write their own reviews. The chart tells them what to do. These characteristics make this type of chart a DOK level one.

This chart gives a big picture overview of what a “rave review” often includes.

This is the chart under the poster used to launch the unit. "Critics review things that are interesting & memorable."

One way to make this chart a DOK level two is to add in the why and the how.  We don’t just say it and name it, we show the steps or how to do it. Many charts found in classrooms are procedural charts. You can see in the example below how the chart is growing and becoming more specific as the review unit proceeded. So next to the statement, “Hook the reader,” the teacher has added two ways to hook the reader and why they might work. One is, “Make a strong statement to get attention,” and the other is “Ask a question to get readers curious.” The “Describe it” statement is elaborated by reminding children of what they know from previous units, to use one’s senses when describing something. “State your opinion” is broken down into “Pros” and “Cons” and both have steps for coming up with pros and cons. For example, under “Pros” it lists the steps as: 1. Think about things you like. 2. Find some examples. 3. Say why you like each one. Compare and contrast is similarly broken down into steps. On the original chart there was no mention of either why a writer would do these things, nor how to do them. The final bullet tells the student to “Give a rating.” The revision includes the why…so people can quickly see your opinion, and an example showing three stars for great, two stars for okay, and one star for so-so.

This chart is growing as the teacher adds in the why and breaks down each part into steps.

This is a close up of the large post its containing the why and the how that were added to the original review chart.

This is another close-up of the post-its added to the chart with the why and the how.

Wondering how this chart could get any better? Try adding a kid’s example and ask the child to discuss what she has done to write her review. Then annotate all the ways the child is using what has been taught. The chart below shows a photo copy of one child’s review with the annotations created during one such discussion. The descriptors come from the chart above and each one is color coded to make each craft move distinct and clear and a model for others to use when writing their reviews. Ultimately, it is the discussion, the explanation, and the giving of reasons that encourages deeper thinking and understanding that leads to a DOK level three.

This is a photocopy of a child's review that has been marked up and names all the child did as a review writer.

Our charts contain all that we have modeled and demonstrated and help remind children of what we have taught as they practice on many pieces over many days. But our charts are strengthened when we have many discussions about what is on them, what is added to them, and what is deleted from them. To further grow the purpose and use of these charts in a way that moves them towards a DOK level four, would be to have children to use them to  reflect on their own writing, to mark up their own writing in a similar way as the example above shows, and to encourage them to take risks, make modifications, try something new, and even create their own charts that are customized to their needs and desires. They could also extend what they have learned during this review unit to social studies, science, reading, and mathematics, thinking about hooks, opinions, pros and cons, to just name a few.

We would like to thank Janet for pushing our thinking, along with Natalie Louis and Mary Ann Colbert who always ask the most thought provoking questions. We never cease to be amazed by what there is still to learn about classroom charts and we love that we are learning, not only alongside you, but from you as well. Keep sending us your ideas, your questions, and pictures of your charts.

Until next time, Happy Charting!

Marjorie Martinelli & Kristine Mraz

Featured Teacher Feature

For those of you who had a February break, we hope you are feeling rested and ready for March. For those of you that didn’t… HANG IN THERE! April is just around the corner, or maybe down the corner and a little further down the street.We hope this week’s post gives you a jolt of energy as many of you are moving into character units.

This week on chartchums we are going to examine the great teaching and charting work of a first grade teacher: Molly Hobbs. Molly is a teacher at the Taipei American School in Taiwan. Walking into her classroom feels a lot like walking into a warm hug. Besides maintaining a lovely environment of respect and kindness, her students have reading workshop routines down pat, baggies exploding full of books, and a great love of books. When I first worked with Molly, she expressed concern around student comprehension. She felt, as many first grade teachers do, that students were so focused on reading the words RIGHT, that they were not doing the thinking work that truly defines reading.

Now, one month later, the class has just completed a unit on character, which Molly adapted to address the comprehension needs of her readers.

The Charts:

A chart to support readers in thinking about characters

A chart to support partners

A chart to support readers in using clues

A chart to support readers stuck on tricky words

Some Take-Aways:


Charts are an easy and supportive way to let children in on the big goals of the unit. Oftentimes the headings name out the big goals. In this unit you can see that Molly had three big goals for her students, renamed in child- friendly ways.

Child friendly heading: We can read like movie stars- think about the character, use clues from the text

Reading Goal: Use clues from the text to infer about your character as you read

Child friendly heading: How do partners talk about books?

Reading Goal: Develop higher level comprehension and conversation skills through partner time

Child friendly heading: I’m confused…now what?

     Reading Goal: Readers monitor for meaning and get themselves out of trouble spots

As Molly moves away from this unit, she might take small photos of specific charts and give them a to a few readers who need to continue working on that goal. Perhaps a few children need to continue to monitor, and others need to work on inferential thinking. The small photo can go right in or on their baggy as a reminder of the work they must do as readers.

In some schools teachers are required to post student names and the goals they are working on. A more flexible and easy way to do that is to have children put their names on post-its and then place them on the charts that have the strategy they are really focusing on for a period of time.


Molly’s charts underscore a few of the key components in making charts accessible for all students.


The language on the charts is very simple, even though the concepts are not. She uses very simple language on each chart, many of which are common sight words. For example: “read on” or “use the cover”


Molly uses a combination of lovely visuals on her charts. One thing she has done particularly well is integrate them with the words to create more meaning. The speech bubble that says “read out loud” both states the strategy and shows it through the use of the speech bubble.

Molly has also effectively used well known texts on these charts: the Elephant and Piggy series by Mo Willems is a perfect example of how characters can act the same across books. Molly also knows this series is near the reading level of many of her students.

Finally, some visuals are provided by the students. If you look closely at the tag words you will see that students have posted some of the tag words they have found in their texts, like whispered, asked, and screamed, to name a few.


Molly has done a beautiful job of keeping the charts attractive without becoming busy. She has even split up one goal into two charts to ensure students are not overwhelmed when they look at the charts. She uses color effectively to isolate and identify different strategies. Additionally, all the visuals and language are in the service of the students and the work they need to do. It is easy to get carried away with just one more color, or one more picture, or one more SOMETHING, but Molly has struck the perfect balance between attractiveness and useability.

Roadmap of the Unit:

At the end of a unit, the charts you have created with your students should serve as a roadmap for the hard work of the past 4-6 weeks. We can see the smart teaching Molly has brought to her students through this unit on character. The students now have more strategies for inferential thinking, working at higher levels with partners, and monitoring for meaning. Because her students had been so focused on word solving, Molly chose not to highlight that aspect of reading in this unit. Next year’s class may work in an entirely different way, which is why at the end of this year Molly will keep photos, but let go of the actual charts. To use them again would sculpt the class to the teaching, rather than the teaching being formed by the class.

Thanks to Molly for opening her classroom doors and for being such an inspiring kind spirit, and thanks to everyone for sending your love and support to us for the past 6 months! Some of you have been asking for updates on the chart book we are working on, and so we are happy to tell you the manuscript for Smarter Charts is now done! We will keep you posted with details as they come in.

We will see you again next week, until then: Happy charting!

Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine Mraz