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:


7 Comments on “Chartchums, Not Just For Literacy Anymore”

  1. Ms. Waldman says:

    I love the problem scale chart. Could you please take another picture so that I can see the bottom more clearly?

  2. Ryan says:

    Kristi and Marjorie – you are in a word . . . amazing. Thank you for sharing your brilliance and giving all of us a window into your thinking and classroom (Kristi). I love how that in everything that the two of you do – you can see the threads of independence, honoring children, scaffolding, and your essential beliefs about teaching. From the work that you do with kids, the teaching decisions that you make, and the charts you create, you can see these essential beliefs – like threads of gold – embedded in all of them. Keep blogging, and if you get a chance , come and visit – it’s a work in progress, but a start. Your blog is one of several mentor texts 🙂

  3. chartchums says:

    Thank you so much for your eloquent comments and encouraging words. We are definitely bookmarking your tappingintowords blog. Thanks for sharing!

  4. […] Chartchums, Not Just For Literacy Anymore (choice time, social studies & science) […]

  5. Adele and I worked together at P.S. 321. First, she was the president of the PTA. Then, the next year, her son Nicky was in my kindergarten class. The next year, she student taught in my kindergarten class. Then, the next year (and for many years after that) her fourth grade class and my kindergarten/first grade class were “buddie”. We went from being reading buddies to inquiry study buddies. One year we did a study of the seashore. Then another we spent the entire year studying bridges together. Then next year my children moved with me to first grade. Adele’s class and my first-graders did a year-long waterways study. We took so many trips together. We went on a boatride in Jamaica Bay with 5 instructors from the aquarium. We took the metroliner up the Hudson to the Croton Reservoir. Adele is a treasure. The P.S. 59 community is very lucky to have her as a principal. The problem is that she is so much of a workaholic and I never get to see her!

    • Kristi says:

      Agreed! I feel so lucky to learn with and from Adele, the experience of working at 59 has been a gift. We are also huge fans of yours! Warmly, kristi

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s