Charting Step by Step: Every Strategy Has a Process Attached to It

The heart and soul of teaching is all about breaking down complex skills into bite-size steps so that children can do them by  themselves. We often break skills down even further into strategies, and for each strategy there is a process, or a series of steps, that you go through to achieve a goal. Charting these steps ensures that children have a tool at hand should they forget what to do next. We call this type of chart a process chart. The beauty of this kind of chart is that it can help us think about our unique students and plan for what will help them best understand and do the skill we have in mind. To quote Confucius, “When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.” Process charts provide such steps.

We devote a whole chapter to this important type of chart, the process chart, in our book Smarter Charts for Math, Science & Social Studies. Any process requires a direction, which often leads to steps. For example, scientists go through a process whenever they are going to explore something. The chart, “Scientists can…” reminds children of some helpful steps in the scientific process. First, look closely. Then ask questions. Next, make some theories, confirm or revise those theories, and then do it again and again.

This chart introduces the basic steps of the scientific  process.

This chart introduces the basic steps of the scientific process.

Teachers know that telling kids is not the same as showing them how to do something and then giving kids lots of opportunities to practice that thing. To quote another favorite Confucius seed of wisdom, I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand. Process charts help children see and remember so that they can do and understand.

In most classrooms, creating a community that works cooperatively and compassionately together is a big goal. But knowing how to socialize is a learned skill. With Confucius in mind, will telling kids to be nice make this happen? They need to see what this looks like and then do it themselves. The chart below is one example of how a process chart might go that hopes to help kids be able to develop some of their interpersonal skills starting in kindergarten.

Each step of the process is blocked out making each action clear and distinct.

Each step of the process is blocked out making each action clear and distinct.

The value of process charts is not only that they remind children of each step, but they illustrate how these steps are repeatable. For example, when children are beginning to learn to write words we want them to repeat saying the word, hearing the sounds, then writing the letters that match the sounds, then doing this with each sound and with each word the child tries to write. The simpler the steps, the easier to repeat. The chart below was created for some children who were working on hearing more sounds in words so that they would start writing more letters to go with those sounds. The simplicity of the chart also makes it perfect to make as a table chart or as an individual bookmark.

The icons provide quick visual reminders of the steps to follow.

The icons provide quick visual reminders of the steps to follow.

Process charts help teachers teach and help children learn. The key is keeping the steps explicit and clear, providing visual icons that are instantly recognized, and getting the kids to use the chart often. Eventually the children who are beginning to internalize the process can then use the process chart to teach any classmates who could also use the support. Talk about empowering kids!

Happy Charting!

Marjorie Martinelli & Kristi Mraz

Charts That Teach Beyond “Just the Facts”

Genre and Concept Charts – Charts That Teach Beyond “Just the Facts”

Routines were the main topic of our last post and aligned with the first section of our new book, Smarter Charts for Math, Science and Social Studies. We heard from many of you who agreed that routines were a key focus during the first weeks of school. The time spent early on developing expectations and creating community makes all the difference as the school year moves forward. We thought it would make sense to follow the path of the book and talk next about genre and concept charts – charts that teach beyond just the facts.

What is it? Why would I make it?

Charts that teach specific information about a genre or a concept are very much needed to remind children of key ideas, vocabulary, concepts, and other important information being studied. For example, shapes, colors, forms, techniques, and types are all concepts that can be explored through inquiry, discussion, and experience. Concept and genre charts capture and display this information for children to reference again and again in discussion, writing, and thinking. This can be a critical support in helping children learn and use content specific vocabulary actively and purposely across the day.

One example is the concept of question words. These are often taken for granted and simply referred to as “the five W’s.” The heading “Question words that help you think!” lets children know the purpose. The chart itself helps kids remember the words and the visuals help remind them of what each question word means and the type of answer it asks for. The chart was added to slowly so that each question word could be explored and practiced. Concepts are best taught one or two at a time and always in context. Concepts are also best learned when children have multiple opportunities to practice them in a multitude of different situations.

This is a finished concept chart of question words. The visuals help show what each word is asking.

This is a finished concept chart of question words. The visuals help show what each word is asking.

Concept charts in particular are often the type of chart most often bought ready made. Just look around your classroom. See that color chart? The shapes chart hanging in the corner? The money chart with each coin drawn larger than life? While these charts are often polished and shiny, they are also the ones that quickly become unseen and unused, like wallpaper. Why? Because it is like turning right to the last page of a book and reading “The End.” Nobody does that because they would miss the journey, miss all the fun, miss any sense of discovery and adventure. The most important thing in the making of a concept chart is the inquiry done by the kids.

Interactive writing was used to create this concept chart with the children.

Interactive writing was used to create this concept chart with the children.

Genres are another important concept we teach students through inquiry, charting their discoveries along the way. They are often created at the beginning of a unit of study and then added to as children make continued observations of the genre being studied. The example below was created with a class studying pattern books. The T-chart format allows for contrasts to be made between the characteristics of a pattern book versus a story book.

Using examples from the pattern books and story books the children have read increases the meaning the chart has for the kids involved.

Using examples from the pattern books and story books the children have read increases the meaning the chart has for the kids involved.

Genre and Concept charts are most useful when they are made with kids and are constantly being revised as children’s experiences grow and become more nuanced. They can be a vital tool and are fun to make too.

Happy Charting!

Marjorie and Kristi

Smarter Charts: Here, There, and Everywhere!

Wow! It is hard to believe that the 2014-2015 school year is already well under way. We at Chartchums have been busy getting back into the classroom, putting the final touches on a digital course about charting for the Heinemann Digital Campus, and welcoming our newest book, Smarter Charts for Math, Science and Social Studies: Making Learning Visible in the Content Areas into the world. This book is the perfect companion to our original Smarter Charts book where we first showed you the why of charts and the nuts and bolts of charting. It also continues the charting conversations we engage in here at Chartchums.

In our latest book we build upon our original charting foundation and go even deeper into the different types of charts and how they can support instruction, no matter what you are teaching. This book goes beyond literacy and will show you how to turn complex ideas into kid-friendly visuals, help children internalize complex processes, and even increase your instructional time, no matter what the content area or subject you are teaching.

In addition to the introduction, appendix, and bibliography, there are five sections that define and illustrate each type of chart and how it can be used to clarify and energize your teaching, showing you how you can . . . Make learning visible in the content areas!

Section 1: Routine Charts: Supporting the Engagement Necessary for Independent Functioning

Section 2: Genre and Concept Charts: Charts That Teach Beyond “Just the Facts”

Section 3: Process Charts: Every Strategy Has a Process Attached to It

Section 4: Repertoire Charts: Decision Making and Strategic Thinking

Section 5: Exemplar Charts: Bringing It Back to the Big Picture


This week we will focus on Routine charts since they are such an integral staple at the beginning of the year.

Section 1: Routine Charts – Supporting the Engagement Necessary for Independent Functioning

What is it? Why would I make it?

Routine charts make clear the expectations and help kids know what to do and how to do it in order to be productive, positive, and proud throughout each and every day.

For example, playing math games. Teaching the routine of deciding what to play, reading the rules, setting up the game so you can play, play, play, then not to forget the clean-up at the end. The chart helps remind children of the steps that will allow them to participate in math games smoothly, allowing more time for playing and fun.

Routines help insure that games are played well and for fun.

Routines help insure that games are played well and for fun.

What about the routines that have to do with the basic smooth functioning of the classroom and the maintenance of materials? Think about all the materials we put out for our students to use. How often do we assume our kids know how to use them, or better yet, know how we think they should be used. Instead of getting upset, plan on teaching into the ways we want to see these materials used. One typical routine often pertains to the use of the hand sanitizer. Every year we think we can simply put out this important sanitary tool and all germs will go away. What we often forget is that kids often see this gelatinous substance as a fun sensory thing worth experiencing ‘hands on’ and spreading the fun around. Teaching explicitly into how to use this key tool can save not only time but money.

The steps for using hand sanitizer also reinforce expectations.

The steps for using hand sanitizer also reinforce expectations.

Another routine that needs to be taught explicitly is how exactly to put materials away. Whether math, science, reading or writing, there should be a routine that helps everyone end the workshop efficiently and quickly. One important thing for students to learn is how to put books away, especially at the start of the school year. This chart was one Kristi created with her Kindergarten students for returning books to their proper homes in the library.

This chart reminds children of the steps for retuning books in a way that will help maintain the class  library.

This chart reminds children of the steps for retuning books in a way that will help maintain the class library.

Routines may seem simple and easy, but routines only get that way by teaching each step explicitly, providing many opportunities for practice, and providing visual reminders of those steps. Routines, like anything important, are worth charting with the students in order to be for the students.

Until next time, Happy Charting!

Marjorie & Kristi

A Chartchums Table of Contents 2013-2014

As teachers across the world ready themselves for the new school year ahead, we thought we would clean house a bit and first organize the past year of posts here at Chartchums by creating a table of contents for the 2013-2014 school year. Most of these posts are universal and do not expire simply because a new school year is upon us. We hope you find this helpful and use it as a reminder of things past that worked and an inspiration for your charting as you begin another school year.

Chartchums 2013-2014 School Year Table of Contents

July/August 2013

September 2013

A writing sample that has been annotated with the students' noticings.

October 2013

photo 1

 December 2013

How can we read together forever?

January 2014

photo 3

February 2014

photo 2-3 

March 2014

photo 2 

May 2014

This exemplar chart provides clear expectations and suggestions for including procedural writing.

 June 2014

This chart was revised by adding examples from a nonfiction text, "Lizards" by Nic Bishop.

And along with our new book, Smarter Charts for Math, Science and Social Studies (#SmarterCharts), we’ll have some new posts coming soon. Until then, Happy Charting!

Marjorie & Kristi

The 3 R’s of Charting

June always comes as a surprise each and every school year. In the beginning days of Fall, the year ahead seems endless. How can it suddenly come so rapidly to an end? For some of you school has come to an end, but for others, like in New York, there are still three more weeks of school. No matter where you are at this point of the year, it is always good to reflect and learn from your experiences. This week’s post considers some of the questions about charts we hear most often and hope our suggestions help not only now, but in the years ahead.

The end of the school year is a great time to try out some new ideas and to find some new ways to deal with old problems. There are two problems we are asked about most often. One is what to do when the charts we have made are not being used by the children. Charts are excellent tools that teachers use in every subject to reinforce every teaching moment each and every day and it can be discouraging to not have them used. The second problem is what to do with all these charts? To answer these two questions we suggest three simple ways to deal with the charts in your classroom—what we call the 3 R’s of charting: reposition, revise, retire.


This is often the simplest and quickest way to deal with bringing a chart back to life or finding space amid the chart clutter that can build up in a classroom. It is like rearranging the living room furniture— simply move a few things around and suddenly the entire room feels new again and you re-see things that had become invisible. Start by looking around at the charts in your classroom and choose a couple you really wish your kids would use more often. Is there a process chart that lays out the steps for accomplishing a strategy that kids keep asking you about instead of using the chart to remind them? Try moving it lower or closer. But don’t simply do this after school, have a discussion with your children. Start by explaining the problem. You might say, “Lately a lot of you have been asking for my help with how to punctuate dialogue when we have a chart that lays out the steps. This makes me think that maybe the chart is not in a good place and that maybe we need to move it to make it easier to find and use.” Then ask the children to look around and come up with possible places to move the chart that would make it more accessible. You might even try out a few of the kids’ suggestions and get a consensus of where the chart works best. The benefit of this process is that you hand over responsibility to the kids and invite them to find solutions to a class problem.

These charts were hung on  skirt hangers so they could be moved to positions more accessible in the classroom.

These charts were hung on skirt hangers so they could be moved to positions more accessible in the classroom.


Another way to make sure a chart stays new and used is to update the chart. There are several ways you can revise a chart to make it seem new and relevant again. One way is to revise the visuals. Perhaps the photos of the kids on the chart were taken a while ago and they have grown and changed since then. If this is a chart that is still needed, ask for volunteers to model the hoped for behaviors and photograph them in the act. Then make a big deal about how much they have grown—a kind of “look at us now” moment. Or replace a clip art or drawn picture with a photograph of a child doing each step or strategy.

Another powerful way to revise a chart is to remove strategies no longer needed. Again make a big deal about how hard everyone worked on this strategy, but now everyone is doing it without needing a reminder. You can also add new strategies to the chart that are more sophisticated so the chart grows with your children’s abilities. Another way to revise a chart is to change something like the wording or the mentor text examples. Perhaps the heading needs to be tweaked to match your current unit of study, so that instead of saying, “Ways to Elaborate Our Nonfiction Books” you revise it to say, “Ways to Elaborate Our Reviews.” Or change the mentor text examples to provide more relevant examples. Or maybe your class has come up with a new rally cry that is more catchy and says exactly what they are studying or hoping to accomplish. Again it is through discussion and debate that makes revising charts so powerful. The goal of revision is to reread and reflect on how to make something better and that is the goal when it comes to revising your charts—to make them even better. And what makes a chart the best is when your kids are using it again.

This chart was revised by adding examples from a nonfiction text, "Lizards" by Nic Bishop.

This chart was revised by adding examples from a nonfiction text, “Lizards” by Nic Bishop.


The third “R” is for retirement. A chart that has served its purpose well, but no longer matches your kids’ needs should be retired. Some telltale signs that a chart needs to be retired is it is faded or yellowing or you don’t even recognize the photos of your kids it is so old. But don’t just take it down after school and throw it into the back of your closet. Any retirement requires a celebration. Celebrate all the chart did to help everyone learn how to do something and how it helped them to grow. Have children prepare testimonials where they share out, “I used to use this chart to…, but now I….” Then bid the chart a fond farewell and put it in the closet, add it to a big book of chart, or send it down to a lower grade that might need it now. Ask anyone if they still feel they could still use the help of the chart and make small versions by photographing the chart so they can put it in their folder and refer to it as needed. Of course, you always have the option to bring a chart back out of retirement if it is ever needed again.

A basic routine once mastered can be retired with a celebration.

A basic routine once mastered can be retired with a celebration.

So take a moment and look around your classroom with your students at the charts that surround you all. Which charts are still important but seem to be forgotten? Reposition them. Which charts are still important, but just need some tweaking to fit a current unit of study? Revise them. Which charts are not longer needed? Have a retirement party. Every chart deserves its time in the sun, but you only have so much room, so always consider the need for the chart and the usefulness of the chart—the 3 R’s of charting will help you and your children make some important decisions about the charts in your room.

Happy Charting!

Marjorie & Kristi

PS: We have been busy putting the final touches on our new book, Smarter Charts for Math, Science, & Social Studies which will be out the end of August. We didn’t think it possible to top Smarter Charts, but the new book takes charting even further and makes charting even better. Stay tuned!


Charting Science Writing (Encore)

We continue to get requests about ways to use charts in the content areas and our new book, Smarter Charts for Math, Science, and Social Studies: Making Learning Visible in the Content Areas will address those questions in very specific ways. In the meantime, we thought we would bring back the wonderful post on charting science from the amazing teachers at Kiel Elementary School. Enjoy and please share with us some ways you are using charts to help support your children across the day!

We have received many requests from teachers looking for ways to use charts that reinforce their teaching of information writing, so when Katie Wears, a staff developer at the Reading and Writing Project, shared with us some photos of science writing charts her teachers at Kiel Elementary School in Kinnelon, New Jersey had made during their “Writing Like Scientists” unit, we immediately asked if they would share their process with all of us here at Chartchums. They generously agreed and the following guest blog post is the result. Our thanks to Liz Mason, first grade teacher, Jenna McMahon and Nicole Gillette, second grade co-teachers, and to Katie Wears for bringing us all together! 

We are honored to be contributing to Chartchums; a place where educators from all over come to collaborate and be inspired by Marjorie, Kristi, teachers, and the students they work with. Thank you for letting us share some of the things we have been working on.

When spring arrived, the teachers at Kiel Elementary School were excited to think more about science and science writing. We planned with each other and brainstormed many possibilities for the science units and how to inspire science writing and thinking. Currently, First Grade is finishing up their study of Properties of Matter and Second Grade is studying Forces and Motion.

One goal was to help students better understand the scientific process and be able to feel successful with this “new” kind of writing. We created these two charts to provide a scaffold for the students and to support independence with the scientific process and writing about science.

"The Scientific Writing Method" chart with a couple of close-ups to show the tips.

Introducing the scientific process with some prompts to use when talking and writing.

Exemplars were created to give the young scientists a vision of how their writing could go. This chart was created to support students with the procedure part of the lab report. It was exciting to see the children discuss the things they noticed in the exemplars and put those things into their own lab reports. The children were eager to use the exemplars as models for their own writing, to set goals, and to become independent. Young scientists looked at their own writing alongside the exemplars and used the exemplars to give their partners “stars” and “wishes” or compliments and tips.

This exemplar chart provides clear expectations and suggestions for including procedural writing.

Here are some other exemplars that were created during the first part of our units.

This exemplar has been annotated with the class' observations.

Close-up of the annotations written on post-it notes.

This shows how technical drawings are labeled.

Another goal of this unit was to increase academic vocabulary. These charts and tools give students the vocabulary they need to share their learning and thinking during discussions and through their writing. The vocabulary was introduced and reinforced through real alouds, shared reading, video clips, experiments and writing. The young scientists use these charts to show everything they know.

Two different ways to highlight  science vocabulary.

Descriptive vocabulary to use when observing like a scientist.

We also wanted the young scientists to be able to use writing and the scientific process to be able to deepen their understanding and thinking. Scientists analyzed their results to draw conclusions and share their thinking. The writing on this chart was done with Jenna’s second grade class during shared writing. The chart was then created during writing minilessons when Jenna and Nicole were teaching students how to develop their conclusions and revise their thinking. They give students a model of how to share their learning through their writing.

Annotating the shared writing helps reinforce the teaching.

Small versions of the charts were made and are available for the young scientists to use.

Another fun way to create table charts.

The young scientists are now using these charts and tools to support each other and work collaboratively in science clubs. In their clubs they make decisions, have different roles, formulate questions, and go through the process of gathering the materials to conduct experiments.

Science reading clubs came up with their own group names.

The prompts on the charts guide the students and help them have more meaningful scientific conversations about their learning and discoveries. As a result, each student has developed an identity as a scientist who is curious about the world and knows how to search for answers and share scientific results and thinking with others.

Best of luck,

Liz, Jenna, Nicole, and Katie

And Happy Charting!

Marjorie & Kristi

Want Kids to Walk the Walk? Then Chart the Talk!

Today we are delighted to welcome guest blogger, Valerie Geschwind. Valerie is currently a teacher in the NYC public schools. Valerie creates magical things in her classroom, one of which is rich and inspired talk. In the post below, she shares some of her secrets to building great talk. You can follow Valerie on twitter at @valgeschwind and learn more at her blog,


With the CCSS placing such a strong emphasis on speaking and listening, teachers have been asking an important question:  How can we support students in building academic talk and conversations?

Just like we support readers, writers, mathematicians, and scientists with charts and visuals, we can support our talkers with charts too!

Getting Started with Talk Behaviors

If your classroom is anything like mine, the fall months are spent with a lot of wiggly worms on the rug.  Before diving into building conversations, we spend time practicing the behaviors of talk.  During daily shares that happen within morning meeting, kids get to practice being respectful listeners and talkers.  These morning shares were not academically based, but instead were student chosen.  In order for students to hone in on the behaviors of talk, it is important for them to be free from worrying about new content.

To start, we brainstormed what it looks like to be listening.  I charted what my kids came up with in simple language, as it was fall of kindergarten.

photo 1

Before each share, we choose one behavior to practice as a class.  When students were finished sharing, we would reflect.  We would ask questions like:

  • How did it feel to (insert goal here)?
  • What was easy?
  • What felt hard?
  • How can we do an even better job tomorrow?

After we became expert listeners, we worked on becoming expert speakers!  In many ways, this is a lot more difficult for children.   They need to be able to come up with ideas and share them with all of their peers.  When we were practicing becoming expert speakers, we followed a similar procedure as when we became expert listeners.  We brainstormed what expert speakers sounded like and then practiced during shares.

photo 2

As the weeks went on and our class had practiced the  listening and speaking behaviors, kids began setting their own personal goals.  They would jot a behavior on an index card and bring it with them to the rug as a reminder.

Students holding their goal index cards during a share on the rug.

Students holding their goal index cards during a share on the rug.

Kids were in charge of this goal-setting. If they felt that they needed to work on the same goal over a few days, they would keep their index card. When they felt ready for a new goal, they made a new index card.  As kids made their goals, they took ownership of listening and speaking behaviors that would act as the base for future conversations.

Behaviors Help Build Conversations

Talk behaviors act as the foundation for conversations.  We started to practice using what we know about being a listener and speaker and combining these skills around debate topics as opposed to practicing these skills in isolation during a share where a few children speak, the rest listen, and there is not growth or development.  Again, to start, these were not academic talks, but debates around topics my kids were interested in.  For example, we debated which is more fun, indoor or outdoor recess?  We debated what flavor is better, vanilla or chocolate?

We began practicing these new conversational strategies to support deeper talk and conversation around one topic.

photo 3

This chart grew over a few weeks.  Strategies were added as they came up in our debate conversations and kids were ready to push their talk deeper.

Content Drives Conversation

I am a firm believer that content is what will ultimately drive conversation.  Kids (people of all ages) like to talk.  When kids are interested in a topic or a book, they will be eager and excited to talk about it.  When moving into academic talks and grand conversations, I keep this fact in mind, choosing topics and books that are meaty, interesting, and engaging.  In my personal experience, I have found that kids love to talk around non-fiction topics, so this is where I often begin when transitioning kids into academic talk.  To get kids talking, I chose some strategies that are also supportive when reading non-fiction and charted them.


We also remembered to take everything we learned previously about conversation behaviors and strategies and brought it to these new conversations.

During read-aloud, kids could write their ideas and then use these non-fiction strategies as a guide for talk.  Students would ask questions and many would respond with their theories.

photo 5

Having the chart as a visual supported the types of thinking and talking they could do around non-fiction topics.  It is also a supportive visual to have the book projected so that students can use it as evidence for their theories or to clarify each other’s thinking.

Similar content charts can be made for fiction.

photo 2

It is easy to get kids excited about talk.  Creating charts and visuals of talk behaviors, strategies, and interactions with content only further supports  their ability to build meaningful conversations.

What are some talk visuals you have created to support your talkers?

Happy Charting and Talking,

Valerie Geschwind




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