Chat and Chart

Hi Everyone! We hope you had a few days of relaxation over the long weekend (or week for some of you!) Marjorie went to visit her daughter in Israel, and Kristine went to visit her sister in California. Now we are back from our far flung (ish) adventures and ready to talk charts! Kristine has had chart puns rolling in her head for days: unCHARTered waters, Top o’ the CHARTS, Conversation CHARTS (a play on conversation hearts- for a Valentine’s themed post) CHARTlize Theron (she also understands that many of these are going nowhere), and Ready, Set, CHART! (As an aside, we would welcome your chart puns in the comments!) Sadly, none of them quite match the idea of today’s post, co-creating charts with children.

In our book, Smarter Charts, we talk about the challenges of creating charts with children. We want them to look good and be clear so that children will use them again. We also want children to be off the rug as soon as possible. Now that Kristine is with 4 and 5 year olds all day, the question that haunts her every day is, “How can I make sure this is as powerful as possible in the least amount of time?”  Small children + Extended time on the rug as one searches for the red marker = Nightmares beyond what was ever imagined.

This is where some of the advice we give in our book comes in handy: act like the chef in a cooking show. We have all seen cooking shows, Kristine herself is obsessed with the Barefoot Contessa (that house! that kitchen! her own boat?!), and one of the advantages to being a chef on a cooking show is that most of the prep is done for you, ahead of time. The Barefoot Contessa is not chopping every item in front of you, she only shows what she needs to show, and the rest is prepped off to the side for her to use when she needs it. That is the key to quick and clear charting: know what to create in the moment, and what to prep ahead of time.

The following two writing charts were created by Kristine (The Barefoot Chartessa? You decide) with her kindergarten class using this method.

Chart One: The Writing Process (A Process Chart)

Writing Process Chart

Writing Process Chart

This writing process chart has been hanging in Kristine’s classroom for months, but somewhere along the way it became unused. Kristine was finding books with no words or no pictures. Books with one page done, and books that were just scribbled on. To address this, she decide to revisit the writing process with her class in a more interactive way. Before the lesson, Kristine prepared the matching colored paper and drew the pictures. She left the words off the smaller paper and covered the backs of everything with the restickable glue stick (a favorite tool that turns any ordinary piece of paper into a sticky note).

For the lesson, a blank piece of chart paper was hung on the easel and all the pieces placed on the ground in front of her. The class sat in a circle around the rug. Kristine presented this issue: “Last night, when I was reading your “done” books at home with my hot chocolate, I noticed a problem… Friends, not all the books were done!!! Some of them were missing parts! It was so very sad to miss out on parts of your amazing books. I thought today we could explore all the things we need to do to write a book — and make a new chart for us to follow!” Kristine spread the pictures out so they could all be seen and asked the class, “What do you think we do first?” The students came up to put the pictures on the chart in a sequence that made sense to them. On the first attempt the order was a little scrambled, with turn the page coming very high on the list. Other students suggested revisions to the order until this one was reached and agreed upon by everyone. (Which, by the way, was the order of the original process chart) Kristine then put the smaller pieces of colored paper next to the pictures and asked children to go “knee to knee” and think about what we could call each step. Since children in Kristine’s class are familiar with the language of writing, this went very quickly. Kristine wrote the label next to each one, everyone reread the chart,  and then the children went off to write.

Because of the prep work ahead of time, the entire lesson was 8 minutes — most of that was spent on revising the order of the steps, thinking about what would make sense for writers. And the best part was seeing the children renewed spark and interest in making sure their books used all aspects of the writing process from start to finish.

Chart 2: Easy to Read Writing (An Exemplar Chart)

IMG_0681In NYC select students come in for early morning support. Kristine used this time for interactive writing to support the group with hearing beginning and ending sounds and writing a story across pages. She then took one page from the book that the small group wrote to use in her writing workshop minilesson. Before the lesson, Kristine had the small group work on the interactive writing page, and she also pre-cut colored paper. She wrote on some of the papers: spaces and sight words and drew the pictures. The other pieces of cut paper she left blank.

For the minilesson, Kristine put a piece of unreadable writing up on the document camera and said, “You guys, when I got home yesterday, Geoff (my husband) said he had left me a note on the fridge and this is what it looked like!” Kristine gestured towards the “writing” and the kids responded with the appropriate amount of shock. One student exclaimed that it was “just scribble-scrabble!” Kristine then put up the piece of interactive writing the morning group had created (with no papers attached) and said, “I think I need to show him what we know about easy to read writing!”

The class then read the writing and Kristine asked them to go “knee to knee” to study and say what made the page so very easy to read. As children named spaces and sight words (which Kristine had anticipated since they had focused on that as a class) she handed the pre-made papers to children to stick up on the piece. Then as other children named that the letters were “good” (renamed clear by Kristine) she quickly made another paper to put up, and did the same when another child noticed the “punatation” (a good attempt at remembering and saying the word “punctuation”). Kristine reviewed all the things that made the writing easy to read and asked the children to set a goal for the 1 or 2 things they would really practice to  make their writing easier to read that day (and every day). The chart was hung up and next to it was Geoff’s “note” (poor Geoff):


The whole lesson, start to finish, was about 8 minutes, thanks to the work that had been done already. Having some items prepped, and then having the children help to co-create the chart kept these charts looking clear and useful, while maintaining their useability for children. Both of these charts are referenced by the children frequently, in part because they are the ones who built them for the class.

In other, unrelated, news, we have a new app to tell you about! Valerie Geschwind, Kristine’s colleague, introduced Kristine to ifontmaker for the iPad. It allows you to make your own font from your handwriting and use it with Microsoft Word. It is easy to use and addictive. Two classroom uses:

1. You can create a class font from student handwriting for use on family letters

2. You can make your own wingdings — which Kristine used to draw some frequently used chart icons so when she types up charts, she can just insert the same icons that she would usually hand draw.

We are sure you have many more ideas for how this exciting app can be used, and we look forward to hearing about them in the comments.

Happy Charting!

Kristine and Marjorie

Keeping Charts Close – Part 2

Back in early September we wrote a post, Keeping Charts Close, about ways to deal with chart clutter when wall space is at a premium and also suggested how to make charts more accessible to kids by using presentation easels and table tents. We were recently reminded of this need for alternatives to hanging charts up in the classroom when we presented a Smarter Charts workshop for the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District in Houston, TX where many of their school buildings have open-concept layouts and lots of windows, which means that walls are at a minimum. Combine this with very strict fire codes and you have a real chart challenge. We had brought some examples of our portable table tents and the teachers were thrilled at seeing some possible solutions to their chart dilemma.

Then this past week, several of the teachers in our afterschool specialty group ( using charts to raise the cognitive demand on students) brought in examples of chart systems they use to keep charts up close to their students. They agreed to share them with our Chartchums teachers, so let the sharing begin!

In order to help her EL students remember all that a true story should contain, Isabel Calderon, from PS/MS 5 in the Bronx, made small versions of the class chart and then attached them to construction paper that was folded into a triangle to create a free-standing place card for each table. A simple, quick, and inexpensive solution.

This handmade table tent is light weight and portable, making it easy to place where needed.

This handmade table tent is light weight and portable, making it easy to place where needed.

Valerie Geschwind, from PS 59 in Manhattan, found that her Kindergarten children needed lots of reminders when it came to some of the conventions of writing, like spacing and using lowercase letters, so she decided to put these reminders right in front of them as they wrote. She found a creative new use for some old bookends. She printed out copies of the class chart, “My writing is easy to read!” onto card stock and then laminated them. She stapled two together across the top and sides and slid them down over one of the bookends. Voila! A freestanding chart stand for each table.

This is a typed version of a chart that encourages children to make their writing easy to read.

This is a typed version of a chart that encourages children to make their writing easy to read.

This is a side view of the book end with the laminated charts slipped over.

This is a side view of the book end with the laminated charts slipped over.

When it came time for her Kindergarten children to revise their “All About” books, Katie Lee, also from PS 59, decided to make the elaboration strategies she had taught accessible by first photographing her revision charts, then making color copies of them. She then made use of some 8-1/2 x 11 in. acrylic vertical stand-up sign holders (available from many office supply stores). She slid the photocopies in so the signs became two sided. One side gave strategies for how to say more, the other side included tips for adding details by using the senses to describe. What’s nice about these is they do not take up much space when placed in the middle of the table. The charts can also easily be changed out for newer or different ones depending on the needs of the students.

A photograph of a class chart was taken and then photocopied.

A photograph of a class chart was taken and then photocopied.

This shows the other side of the sign holder with another photocopy of a class chart.

This shows the other side of the sign holder with another photocopy of a class chart.

So as you can see, challenging situations inspire ingenious solutions, or as Plato once said, “necessity is the mother of invention.” Thanks to all the teachers who continue to share among each other and we look forward to hearing about more clever ideas that result from trying to help children learn to help themselves.

Happy charting!

Kristi and Marjorie

Planning with charts: What came first, the chart or the teaching?

Much of our conversations about charts are about how charts help make our teaching visible so our students understand and use what we are teaching. Developing student independence is a constant pursuit. In other words, charts are for the kids. Right? Of course. Who else would they be for? Administration? Parents? Classroom visitors? Yes, yes, and yes. But as we have been busy launching units, planning and delivering lessons, reflecting on what is working, what is not, we have come to realize that the person the charts are most helpful for is the teacher. Yes, the teacher. And this is why.

A teacher’s plate is always overflowing with stuff to do, deadlines to meet, paperwork to complete. Weekends are spent planning lessons for the week ahead. It is enough to keep anyone’s head spinning. So to keep from becoming dizzy, we suggest planning the chart simultaneously with planning your teaching as a way to maintain focus and clarity. Here is a case in point.

Marjorie has been working with teachers in Van Buren, Arkansas (hello Central and Tate K, 1, 2 teachers!), PS 192 in Brooklyn, and North Shore Long Island (Glenwood Landing) to find ways to help children synthesize their reading and to increase their conversational skills. The challenge was how to plan a lesson that would get children to say more about their books than just what was already stated in the book or just presenting a one-sentence idea like it was a fact carved in stone. After many minutes staring off into space (and a trip or two to the refrigerator) Marjorie started to think, “What might a chart look like that might help kids know what I am trying to teach them?” Thinking about the key characteristics of a good chart made the planning process much easier and helped smooth the way.

The Heading

The heading is key because it announces the big idea or goal of what you are teaching. It can be a question, a statement, or a reminder. Trying out a few possible headings is a good way to check whether you have a clear goal in mind. For example,

“Looking for ways to expand your thinking?”

“Ways to push our thinking!”

“Don’t forget to say more about your ideas!”

…then choose the heading that you think will grab your students attention and help make your teaching memorable. Marjorie chose to go with a statement because of the strong verb “push” which was what she wanted to challenge the kids to do—to push their thinking. It was also very visual—forces pushing forward.

Type of Chart

Thinking about the type of chart you need is also helpful in clarifying what you want to teach. Ask yourself, am I teaching a routine, a skill with strategies, a process, showing an exemplar, or teaching about a genre? This leads to thinking about whether you are teaching something that requires steps or items to choose based on need. Or do you want some kind of model students can use to guide them. In the case of the “Ways to push your thinking” chart, Marjorie decided she was actually teaching a process that would eventually lead to the skill of synthesizing. Knowing that a process chart might work lead to imagining some clear simple steps: first ask questions about your idea, then imagine possible reasons, then try to come up with some new ideas.


Now, what words to use? Do you want to introduce certain vocabulary or use known words. Will you use these words in phrases, sentences, or as labels? Then consider how you plan to use the words. If you want to repeat these words over and over so that the children begin to chant them, then short phrases might be best.  In this case, a lot of prompting would be needed so short phrases were decided upon.

Here is the chart that ended up helping make the lesson clear and successful:

Each post-it helped to reinforce what the teacher was saying and teaching.

Each post-it helped to reinforce what the teacher was saying and teaching.

This was also a chart that was used across the day, during the read aloud, reading workshop, social studies, and science because it was a big, huge idea that the teacher knew would need lots of practice to become a way of thinking. It was simple, accessible, and do-able. And for the teacher it took a complex idea, synthesis, and helped make it crystal clear to both teacher and students alike.

Here are a couple more charts that helped the teacher plan lessons that were explicit and clear. The charts also made the planning easier and kept the teacher focused as she implemented the lessons.

This chart uses a reminder heading, rhyme, and some favorite characters to grab kids' attention.

This chart uses a reminder heading, rhyme, and some favorite characters to grab kids’ attention.

The goal was to teach some strategies for elaboration. The shared writing text on the left allows many opportunities for kids to practice the strategies.

The goal was to teach some strategies for elaboration. The shared writing text on the left allows many opportunities for kids to practice the strategies.

Using charts as a planning tool, no matter what the subject, will help make planning simpler and more effective because it will help you, the teacher, focus and help keep your main goals always in sight. So perhaps the chart does come before the teaching. Let us know what you think.

Until next time, happy charting!

Marjorie & Kristi