Chart Q & A

On Saturday, both of us, Kristi and Marjorie, presented chart workshops at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project’s Saturday Reunion. It offered a wonderful opportunity to see so many of you and to hear how things are going. We also found that many of you had similar questions about charts, so we decided to put together a list of five chart tips to help answer your wonderings. Some are recurring, some are new, but we hope you find these tips helpful.

1.    Where do you buy those repositionable glue sticks?

These glue sticks are amazing because they turn any piece of paper into a sticky note. Just a few swipes across the top of a piece of paper, then let it air dry for about a minute, then you can stick it up on most surfaces. The best thing is there is no residue left over when this homemade sticky note is removed. Repositionable glue sticks are made by such brands as Elmers, Scotch, and Avery, and can be found in most office supply stores, as well as art stores and craft stores. We suggest the jumbo size because once you start using them you won’t want to stop.

Turning copy paper into sticky notes

This second grade reading chart was created using fluorescent colored copy paper that was turned into sticky notes using a repositionable glue stick.

2.    Where do you find pink (and other colors) chart paper?

In addition to basic white, chart paper comes in pastel or brilliant colors. Brands such as Pacon or Top Notch can be found in most teacher specialty stores and some office supply stores or online. One way to use colored chart paper is to use one color for all the writing charts, another color for all the reading charts, and another color for all your math charts. For example, Tammy Marr, at City Heights Elementary, made all her math charts on pink chart paper to make it clearer that they all go together. But don’t worry if you don’t have colored chart paper. White chart paper provides crisp contrast to the print and the visuals you put on the chart which is highly effective.

color charts

The pink paper is what links these math charts together.

3.    What if I don’t have enough wall space for charts? (the fire inspector just came and told us we could only have charts on 20% of the walls)

We addressed this question in an earlier post and in Section 2 of our book on pages 43 – 46. Table charts or table tents are one solution and provide a portable method for bringing the charts to the children on an as-needed basis. They can be made from simple file folders or three-ring binders. Skirt hangers are another tool for collecting and storing like charts together that can be brought out as needed. A sketch book is another handy tool for organizing your charts.

sketchbook chart pad

This sketchbook makes a portable container for charts.

4.    What do I do with old charts? 

First of all, a chart is old and ready for retirement when it is either dusty, yellowed, or no longer needed (see Section 3). Hopefully those beginning of the year routine charts are in this last category – no longer needed because your students have now internalized these classroom basics. Skirt hangers can come to the rescue once again by hanging old charts on skirt hangers and hanging them in a closet. Or you can gather them together and turn them into a big book by having the kids make an illustrated cover and put them with the other shared reading texts. And Janet, a Chartchums fan, staples one chart on top of another on a bulletin board. She loves when she sees children go up to the charts and flips through them when they need an archived chart. Of course, retired charts can be brought out of retirement anytime they are needed.

A skirt hanger holds a cluster of charts ready when needed.

5.    How do I get my students to use the charts?

The more you and your students touch a chart the more important the chart becomes. Bianca Lavey, a Kindergarten teacher at the Buckley School in Long Island, photographed her charts and added them to the children’s shared reading folders. Each morning the children start their day by reading the charts in their shared reading folders, along with the poems. She reports that the kids love reading them to each other and often quote the charts during reading and writing workshop time. How cool is that?

Shared reading folder with pointer.

We hope these tips have been helpful. Let us know what other questions you have about charts or tips you can share that have worked for you in your classroom.

Until next time,

Happy Charting!

Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine Mraz

Sharing is Caring: Ideas, Tools, and Charts

Teachers are an amazing group of people. They are not only creative, conscientious, and curious, they are also incredibly generous and sharing. We have heard from many of you and want to share a few here.

Amy Newman is a teacher who has quite the way with words. She has created a wonderful assortment of headings for each of her charts that are designed to engage her students and draw them in to what each chart is teaching. She uses rhyme and rhythm to help make the headings stick in her students’ heads just like an advertising jingle stays in our heads forever. The headings make what she is teaching memorable and the students can often be heard chanting them as they head off to work each day. Thanks Amy for sharing your clever ideas with us.

Reading Chart Headings:
Your reading can go far when you get to know who the characters are! (monitoring for meaning)
Read your book for a little bit, then jot what you noticed on a post-it! (monitoring for meaning)
Keep forgetting what the book is about? Stopping and thinking will help you out! (monitoring for meaning)
Found a part that’s tricky for you? Here are some things that you can do… (word attack strategies)
Our reading can go far when we think about what type of reader we are. (self-reflection)
Writing Chart Headings:
Want to make your writing great? Try these tips to elaborate… (elaboration)
Writers use what they know to help their writing really grow! (self-reflection)
Done, finished, think you’re through? Editing is the thing to do! (editing)
Use what you know to solve writing problems as you go! (revision)
Need some help figuring out what to do? Your writing partner is the one to go to! (partnerships)

Nancy Burrill, a teacher from Seattle, Washington who has been teaching for 34 years, sent us a note letting us know how helpful the book has been in her first grade classroom and how well the ideas work with The Daily 5/Cafe. She also sent along a couple of samples of her favorite chart making pens. They are the Sharpie Flip Chart Markers. The colors are rich and they flow easily and without a stink across any kind of chart paper. Thanks Nancy for sharing.

Sharpie Flip chart markers

Nancy’s favorite chart markers.

Lisa Ockerman, a literacy coach from the Pinecrest School, was planning for a small group and remembered a chart she had used last year with a class of first graders. But when she looked at it she questioned whether or not it would support the young readers she would be using it with this time around. There was lots of print, very little visuals, and not very clear as a result. So she decided to revise the chart, making the text simpler, the graphics bolder, and with clear pictures as examples. She shared with us the two charts, one she labeled “Before Smarter Charts” and the other, “After Smarter Charts.” She said the new version of the chart was not only more effective, it actually took less time to make. Thank you Lisa for sharing the before and after photos.

Before and After

Before and after versions of a first grade chart.

So in the spirit of sharing is caring, if you have some charts, tools, or ideas you have found to be super effective you can email photos to

Upcoming events: We will be presenting two chart workshops at the Teachers College Reading & Writing Project’s Saturday Reunion on Saturday, October 27, 2012. We will also be signing books at the book sale. Stop by and say hi!

Until then, happy charting!

Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine Mraz

Chartchums, Not Just For Literacy Anymore

Hello again! Thank you everyone for your warm wishes and positive feedback on our webcast on Education Talk Radio with Larry Jacobs! If you did not have a chance to hear it, or would like to hear it again (and again and again) you can find it archived here.

We here at Chartchums have been busy; Marjorie just presented at a literacy conference in Boca Raton, Florida and Kristi has been ear deep in fingerpaint and emergent literacy. One of the wake up calls for Kristi as she moved back into the classroom has been the world beyond literacy. Social studies? Math? But there is one constant that carries through them all: if you want children to remember what you have taught, and work independently, you need charts. As you look through these charts, you will see many of the themes we have discussed in literacy charts: clarity, use of visuals, and color. The fundamentals of useful successful charts remain the same regardless of content.Here are some thoughts, ideas, and snapshots from Kristi and her wonderful Kindergarten classroom at PS 59.

Choice Time Workshop

PS 59 in Manhattan operates under the wise direction of principal Adele Schroeter and assistant principal Alison Porcelli.  Along with being brilliant, thoughtful, and ethical leaders, Adele and Alison are former early childhood educators that believe strongly in the power and impact of play. Play is not separate from learning, play IS learning. You can learn more about making the most of play in Alison’s book, coauthored with Cheryl Tyler, entitled A Quick Guide to Boosting Language Acquisition in Choice Time available for purchase here. Part of the beauty of choice time is the way it mirrors the work happening in reading and writing. We use the same words: plan, revise, build stamina, and it follows the same structure: short lesson, followed by ample time to create, then a share at the end.

Choice Board

Children select their center on the choice board (the photo shows the top half, cardboard construction is an additional center on the bottom half – not pictured). The top section has the rug colors and matches the children’s rug spots. The order of the color squares indicates the order of the children choosing centers and rotates daily. Children stay in their center for 45 minutes. The pictures, routine, and daily  use of this tool make it one that can be used independently by children.

The Play Routine

What makes choice time different, is that we ask children to plan with their centers before they play. Children in the same center gather on the rug and decide what they will create, what they will need, and who will take each part. In the cardboard construction center children recently made a 6 foot long double decker bus, with one child working on the outside, one working on the steering wheel and buttons, one working on seats, and the final child making signs for each stop: Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, etc. These plans often undergo revision, which is a wonderful analogy to share with children in writing. “Remember when you realized you didn’t have enough room to make the zoo in blocks so you moved it? That’s kind of what we do in writing workshop when we add more pages!” The simple language and accompanying text make it easy for children to use. It also mirrors the reading and writing routine charts in the room, making it three times as successful.

Building a Skyscraper

Social Studies

Part of the kindergarten curriculum is learning about community. One aspect of community is finding ways to work and live together. I learned about the “problem scale” from my brilliant colleague Kat Cazes. Kat is incredibly thoughtful when developing tools and charts for children.

Problem Scale

The problem scale has two parts: the type of problem (glitch, bummer, and disaster) and ways to solve these problems. This scale is hanging in the Solution Center (salushen chenter). When two or more children encounter an issue, they bring it to this area and talk it out. There is a classroom job called “Peacemaker” who assists in solving problems. There are clear pictures, and color coding to help children understand the severity of each problem. Glitch is green because it is simple to solve. Bummers are yellow/orange, because you have to slow down and take some time to solve them. Disasters (like a volcano) are red because everything stops to solve them. Each step to solve problems is simply illustrated to assist in independence in this area.

Above are two children sorting out a “bummer” in the solution center. Nearby are speech bubbles with kind words and pictures that might be helpful when solving problems. This helpful reminder is just to the left of the two boys:

“Use Words”

This sign was made during choice time at the art center by a child who wanted to make a gift for the class. Interestingly enough, she made a companion sign that said “No grabbing” in red (the opposite of this green sign), already using some of the color cues in the classroom and the world.

Social Studies and Science Inquiries

Another beautiful aspect of PS 59 is the emphasis on learning through inquiry. Valerie Geschwind, an incredibly smart, talented and accomplished teacher sets a beautiful model of using inquiry in the primary classroom. In her school study she has taken her class on several trips to the main office, even bringing back a walkie talkie the children can study and sketch over time. Valerie also has recurring “Think Tanks” where her kindergarteners gather around and talk about what they are learning about the school. Together she and the other members of the K team developed a chart for children to teach them more about the process of inquiry or investigation. Accompanying this version of a chart is an arrow that helps the class track their way through their investigation.

The Inquiry Process

The simplicity of language, clear and consistent picture cues, and color choice helps this chart become a tool for children. For more information on the inquiry process in the primary classroom, you may want to check out Young Investigators, available for purchase here.

Writing Workshop

Below are a few classroom charts emphasizing the importance of drawing in writing workshop. We at chartchums cannot emphasize enough the importance of spending time studying and teaching drawing to writers. The work children do when representing a scene in pictures is no different than the work they do when composing with words later on. Katie Wood Ray has a beautiful book on this subject called In Pictures and In Words.

The “We Can Draw” Chart

Each of these lessons was taught on the dry erase board, and then the chart was made from student work that was generated during writing workshop. These skills are on paper with restickable glue so they can be removed for close study by the other writers in the room. Once children began attending to the subtleties of the illustrations in read alouds and in their own books, they began innovating in their own books. “Dreaming” came about this way when a child saw it in a book, and recreated it for herself with no direct instruction besides, “Writers study other writers for ideas”

This student is an English language learner who does not yet write conventionally, but through an emphasis on drawing as a  representation of ideas, she has clearly communicated a scene. This book was made after several short lessons that emphasized drawing. Note the movement up the stairs, the backs of the people watching, and the thoughtful and intentional use of color. Many of these things were modeled repeatedly on class stories, taught in short lessons, and noticed in books.

This  chart deals directly with writing stories. The big ideas are simple and uses one word for easy reading. The color coding helps children identify what the big idea looks like in context. The post-its were put up by children to indicate the thing they wanted to work on that day. This chart has been reread many times in shared reading and also referenced during reading workshop to increase “stickiness”. Katie Lee, Mollie Gaffney, and Kat (three lovely and smart teachers) also have pages from read alouds on their charts. It is beautiful to look at their charts and see a child’s work right next to a a page from Caps for Sale! Kristi also added a photo of this chart in her parent letter as an easy way to let parents know what their children are working on in writing.

And last but not least, developing independence! The above chart started as just drawings and the children helped determine what should be green and what should be red. Accompanying it is a hat that Kristi wears when children need to be working independently: one side is red (closed for business) and that side is up when the she is conferring and meeting with small groups. The other side is green (open for business) which indicates the teacher is available to meet with anyone who needs her. The hat is almost now always worn on the red side, as children’s independence and confidence in their own problem solving has increased substantially.
Keep your eyes peeled for future math charts, guest posters, and even a book giveaway! As always, send us charts so we can share them with the world.

Until next time, happy charting!
Kristine Mraz and Marjorie Martinelli

PS: For all our Canadian friends and followers you can now order Smarter Charts from:

Stay Tuned to Education Talk Radio!

Just a heads up that Kristi and Marjorie will be guests on Education Talk Radio tomorrow, October 9th, at 3:30 pm Eastern Standard Time. You can tune in and listen live by going to Larry Jacobs will be conducting the interview and asking about the new book, Smarter Charts and why charts are such an important classroom staple. You will be able to find it  archived at if you miss the live webcast.

Happy charting!

Revising Charts for Clarity and Purpose

As a follow up to last week’s post, Clarity is Key, we would like to show you how a couple of teachers from Van Buren, Arkansas have tried to make their charts clear and easy to use by revising, pruning, and clustering. Charts no longer need to be seen as static, permanent or precious. Instead of being static, charts should be dynamic, changing to match the needs of students. Instead of being permanent, they should only be up when working helping kids do what we have taught. Finally, we as teachers can’t become too emotionally tied to the charts either because of the adorable student photos illustrating them or because of the extensive time and effort put into their creation.

At King Elementary School in Van Buren the first grade is currently in the middle of a mentor author unit of study. They are studying Tomie DePaola and have made many discoveries as to what he does as a writer to make his stories so enticing and memorable. April Evans and her first graders came up with many noticings which she added to a chart along with examples from Tomie DePaola’s books.

April's First Grade

This chart includes actual examples from Tomie DePaola’s books to highlight the many craft techniques he uses as a writer.

But when she looked at her students’ writing she wasn’t seeing many of these craft moves being used. Looking back over the chart she had so carefully put together, she realized that there were so many things on the chart that it was impossible to teach any one of them well. So she chose a few craft moves to teach that would most benefit her students and began a new chart. When she saw a few children trying out the strategies she added examples from their writing to the chart. The arrows highlight the child and the craft move he or she used.

April Evan's class

This is the revised craft chart that encourages children by including examples of classmates who have tried each craft move.

Once she had taught these strategies, instead of continuing to teach new things, she used the chart to remind children of what they had learned and encouraged them to revise all the books they had already written by trying out these craft moves. This got children to practice not just once, but lots of times. The chart also provided concrete ways partners could talk to each other about their writing. For example, a partner could use the chart to give a specific suggestion like, “Have you thought about adding dialogue here?” Or, “This might be a good place to add ellipses.” Ms. Evans saw an immediate increase in the amount of craft being used in her students’ writing which also increased the volume as well. The children were excited by how quickly they were seeing their writing grow and blossom.

At Van Buren’s City Heights Elementary School, first grade teacher Tammy Marr has been working on organizing her charts by topic and placing them in the classroom where they make the most sense. For example, her reading charts hang just above the classroom library where she can remind children to reread them as they are shopping for books.

Rockin Readers Retell

This reading chart hangs above the classroom library. The shopping bags list which day of the week each group shops for books.

Ms. Marr has also placed her math charts next to the math materials. She starts each math lesson with a shared reading of the charts so they continue to remain fresh and current in her children’s minds. She tries to keep them simple, using clear pictures to go with each phrase or sentence, and also leaves plenty of white space around each idea so they are not cluttered with information. This makes the charts easier to navigate and use.

Math charts in math center

These math charts are clustered together next to the math center.

Many thanks to all the teachers at King and City Heights Elementary Schools for being such enthusiastic and adventuresome teachers as they continue to reflect and revise their teaching and their charts.

Happy charting!

Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine Mraz