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

A New Year, A New Start

Hello Everyone!

Happy New Year! It’s been a while, we know, but we are back and so appreciate your sticking with us through our absence! As happens, life happened, and the hiatus gave us a chance to get some things in order. Actually, it was because of life that Kristi had to miss a few days with her kindergarten class which got her really thinking about how important independence, routine, and expectations are for children. No one loves the day after a substitute, and that feeling forced Kristi to ask: “What do I ‘own’ in the classroom and what do the children ‘own’?” This lead her to explore this question with her colleagues and we are all the fortunate recipients of all they tried.

Charts and tools are one way we look to transfer ownership over to children, as well as to provide opportunities for self-reflection and goal setting. The teacher can not be the regulator, corrector, and director at all times. Children learn to become responsible when given responsibility. With this in mind, Kristi and her colleagues dove in using that idea as a guiding principle. Below are some of the things that resulted from this inquiry.

Helping Reading Workshop Become More Independent

Self-assessment is a tricky thing – for adults too! – and so creating a rubric that would help kindergarten children assess their reading time seemed like a daunting challenge. Kristi first tried this:

IMG_0505(For all the inquiring minds – the hamburger in the speech bubble represents talking about lunch during reading workshop!)

Almost every child immediately selected “Superhero,” with a few exceptions who labeled themselves as strong. Kristi realized that self-assessment without some practice was going to be hard, so then she created this chart with her class:


To make it even more concrete, the class decided that more than 3 reminders from the teacher to read books would make it an “okay” day. Between 1 and 3 teacher reminders would make it “strong” and no reminders would make it a “superhero” kind of day.  Alongside this chart was a chart that listed ways to stick with reading even when you felt tired or hungry. After a week or two of group assessment, children were ready to self-assess with more honest, reflective results.

This time of year is also the time when many teachers are working on partnerships. The always wise team of kindergarten teachers that Kristi works alongside at PS 59 in Manhattan developed some playful tools to help partners be productive and stay engaged.

Front cover with pictures of the partners. The partners are either apples or bananas to help with turn taking.

Front cover with pictures of the partners. The partners are either apples or bananas to help with turn taking.

Inside of folder with options for partners. One side says: to do, the other says: "done"

Inside of folder with options for partners. One side says: to do, the other says: “done”

The folder made partnerships feel a bit like a game and the partner activities inside were taught a few at a time, then the process of working with a partner was revisited throughout the unit.


Helping Writing Workshop Become More Independent 

Kristi’s mom, who was a teacher for many years, always advised her to “teach yourself out of a job”. It is a beautiful concept, but one that can feel frustrating when you have 24 five year olds clamoring for your care and attention. Kristi used her all about unit in writing (a genre many of her children had been dabbling with since September) to teach towards independence. This happened in several ways. First, Kristi stopped teaching children how to write, and started teaching them how to teach each other. Children who had experimented with something that would be great for the whole class to know were invited to teach alongside Kristi during some minilessons. Then the class reflected on who they learned from, what the apprentice teachers did to teach them, and how they did it. The chart below shows how Kristi made this public with her students.


After that, Kristi started getting children ready to lead small groups. She selected a few children who had something they could teach and met with them in a small group. The first step was to identify HOW to teach. The children thought through WHEN writers should do what they did and HOW to do what they did. Then the other students signed up for these student led seminars (keep in mind that these are Kindergarten students).


The “teachers” showed their own work and taught the others how to do it. Kristi coached in to the seminar teachers with prompts like, “Ask her to try it” and “Say your steps again.” It was incredible to see how the children rose to the occasion of being teachers, and how much more likely children were to use what they were taught when it was presented by a peer. Was it perfect? Absolutely not, but it was a start. Kristi is planning to do student-led seminar workshops every Friday, starting with writing and extending to reading and choice time over the next month. She’ll keep you posted on how it goes!

Making Choice Time Matter

Kristi’s brilliant assistant principal, Alison Porcelli, wrote the book on choice time – literally – with Cheryl Tyler. It’s called Language Acquisition in the Choice Time Workshop and everyone should buy it and read it RIGHT NOW. One BIG idea in the book is that children should be setting goals and reflecting on them within choice time. Since Kristi’s kindergarteners are staying in the same centers for 3-5 days, they were ready to take this on. First planning a project was modeled, and then the children took it on. Goals ranged from building on to a city in the block center to throwing a wedding in the drama center. Art center caught wedding fever and decided to spend the week making decorations, cakes, and clothes for the event.


This hung in their center while they worked. At the end of the week they told Kristi what to take a picture of to show how they had met their project goal.



Kristi’s next step is to hand the camera to the children so they can capture the work they did that meets their project goals.

A Final Word

This has all been messy and, at times, terrifying – but it has always, always been fun. Kristi’s colleagues at PS 59 have put their brains together to develop ideas, put themselves out there to try it, and laughed when the results were a disaster (most of the disasters were happening in Kristi’s room). Kristi cannot say enough about the brilliant team she works with: Kathryn Cazes, Valerie Geschwind, Mollie Gaffney, Katie Lee and Andrea Mackoff who are incredible teachers and incredible people. Anything you see here that catches your eye was always the result of a team effort, and Kristi wishes to thank them for letting her share them all with the world. Thanks guys!

Grab your team close and dive in! Until next time, Happy Charting!

Kristine Mraz and Marjorie Martinelli

Guest Post: A Special Educator Weighs in on the Writing Workshop

Kathryn Cazes is the type of teacher that you read about in articles and say, “There is no human teacher who can possibly know that much and do that much for her students.” Well, Kathryn Cazes can and does. Kathryn’s kindergarten inclusion classroom nearly gave Kristi a heart attack of joy when she first walked in. There was an independent happy buzz among the students, and all children, regardless of skill level or special need, were engaged in writing workshop aided with well thought out and personalized tools.  Kathryn is here at Chartchums to teach us how to achieve the same for our classrooms, or perhaps give us some tools to help out that one student you worry about in the wee hours of the morning.

Kathryn Cazes has been a special education teacher in kindergarten for the past three years. She spent her first year at PS 59 in a general education kindergarten classroom. Prior to that, she worked for 2 years in a self contained preschool classroom at YAI/NYL Gramercy School. Welcome Kathryn!

Part of what makes the workshop model so successful is it’s strong allowance of differentiation.  It’s during independent work times when the real teaching happens. We regularly confer with children and pull small groups based on needs; often leaving behind small copies of charts or goal sheets for our students to reference while they work. Independent work time should never look the same for each student.  In reading workshop, children have personalized book baggies filled with Just Right Books.  It’s a very easy time of day to differentiate. But, what about Writing Workshop? How can we make it “Just Right” for everyone?

Sometimes we under estimate the sheer amount of executive functioning, aka mental organization, required to be a successful member of a writing workshop.  A child needs to be able to organize their materials, pick and plan a topic, visualize and draw pictures, spell to their best phonemic ability, neatly form letters, spell sight words accurately, stretch their pieces across several pages, remember to put spaces in between their words, decipher when to use upper or lower case letters and use punctuation.  We also ask them to do this confidently and joyfully.  Sometimes the execution of these many components can overwhelm a child, or for a child who already has executive functioning and processing delays, it may simply be too much.

Visual cues and personal schedules are one of my favorite ways provide access to an otherwise overwhelming situation.  Sometimes, children just need to have a finish line in site with clear road markers along the way.

Schedule1The key below explains what each icon means.  The icons used on the schedule were already familiar to my student and the class.  They are the same pictures we used as visual cues on charts and during lessons.


The above schedule was created for a child who became so fixated on perfect pictures that she completely neglected words. She also had difficulty stretching her work across several pages.  She would pick her topic and then cram everything she possibly could onto her first page.  I made her a schedule that would involve sequencing photos of her engaged in whatever activity she was writing about.  Then, over the next 2 days, she would read her pictures, act out each page, write her words, and reread.  When introducing the schedule, I would meet with her at the beginning of writing and review what the objectives were for the day. Because the symbols were already familiar to her, she was fairly independent with her schedule from the start.  She kept track of her progress by moving a chip with Velcro along the schedule.

The schedule was later modified for another child who needed more support during the planning and preparation process and again for a child who just needed to know that it was okay to do one page a day.


Schedules can also be made into book format for children who are overwhelmed by seeing the tasks of the upcoming days across one sheet of paper.  The book provides the opportunity to focus on the expectation of one particular day of writing while keeping the other days’ tasks hidden from view.


But sometimes, a child needs greater support.  I once had a bright, verbal, and enthusiastic boy in my class who presented with significant fine motor delays, impulsivity, distractibility, a low frustration tolerance, and sensory processing delays. Due to these many challenges he was not able to represent his depth of knowledge on paper.

His picture schedule involved him finding his just right paper from the “yellow dot” tray in the writing center.  It provided him the opportunity to set up like any other member of writing workshop while practicing his ability to safely walk from Point A to Point B.  Once he set up, he would complete one page of writing, engage in a word study activity, and then do handwriting practice using the program Handwriting Without Tears developed by occupational therapist Jan Olsen.  In the beginning, his one page of writing consisted of scribbles.  It then evolved into a semi-representational drawing with letter like shapes.  As his letter formation and phonemic awareness improved he began to add labels to pictures. On occasion he would build his pictures using legos, playdough, or clay and we would insert a photograph of his creation to his writing.


Writing schedules are versatile and can cater to many different skill levels and needs.   Before creating a writing schedule, ask yourself, “Why does this child need a schedule?” “What is my goal for this student?” “What steps need to be scaffolded in order for him or her to achieve this goal?” Writing schedules will provide your struggling writers with successful access to the curriculum and increase their confidence.

Thank you Kathryn! Leave comments and questions for Kathryn in the comments below, and until next time,

Happy Charting!

Kristi Mraz and Marjorie Martinelli

Life Imitates Chart

Hello Again!
This week chartchums has been all over the map, metaphorically and literally. Marjorie attended the annual NCTE conference held in Las Vegas, and chartchums guest posted on the amazing blog: Two Writing Teachers. You can check it out here. We posted some charting thoughts on Non-Fiction writing, which many teachers will be beginning soon. Two Writing Teachers also has a review of Smarter Charts and a Smarter Charts Book giveaway! Check out the blog for tons of useful information about the teaching of writing.

Since we touched base on some of the upcoming literacy work in that guest blog, we decided to dedicate the post this week to other types of classroom charts, and ways they can be used to create an independent, active, and inspiring classroom.

Community Building and Classroom Management

A few weeks ago Kristi posted some charts from her classroom to help with classroom management, most notably the “Glitch-Bummer-Disaster” chart (which was so thoughtfully created and shared by Kat Cazes, another kindergarten teacher at PS 59 in Manhattan). Many teachers asked to see a better picture, so here it is again:

Children come to the area where this chart is posted and decide which kind of problem they have, then select which solution they will try. Underneath the “bummer” ask a teacher is listed as an option of last resort, and one that has not been used lately. There were many class discussions around what constituted a disaster, and there has yet to be (knock on wood) any classroom disasters. In a case of “life imitating chart” a parent told Kristi that when her son and another child from the class were playing over the weekend, they encountered a “glitch” and created a solution center in the corner to talk it out.

In the weeks since the creation and usage of the “Glitch-Bummer-Disaster” chart, one issue has arisen, which is that children are having a hard time communicating how someone’s actions have affected them. Often the talk in the solution center  was a list of what happened and the recurring prompt was, “and how did that make you feel?” To help children gain more language and comfort with expressing their feelings, some of the read alouds in the intervening weeks have been about feelings, and the ways to talk about them. The Pigeon Series and The Elephant and Piggie Series (both by Mo Willems) are classroom favorites, and clear examples of feelings that become too big to handle. The class began to create scales of feelings (for more on this see the post on vocabulary). This was the resulting chart:

The pictures come from the above-mentioned series and go in order of least intense to most intense from left to right. The class started by first trying to use this chart to talk about feelings that resulted from particular actions. Next the class is working on ways to change feelings. On this blog we talk a great deal about helping children feel like active participants in their academic life; the same is also true of their emotional life. It is important to Kristi that her students see that one can change how they feel and name what they need to make that happen. This is the beginning of that chart:

This chart is in the beginning stages. Children are co-creating  signs of things they may need to feel okay. Among the ideas generated by the students are: a hug, you to stop, and a drink of water (the miracle cure!). Currently these two charts are hanging by the rug, where they can be used for role playing and during class community meanings, but soon they will head to the area by the solution center, where they can be used in the context of problem solving. The big idea here, the one we want to stick, is that everyone will have problems, but you have the power to solve them and to make your life and the classroom community a better, happier place.


For the past five years, Kristi has eaten, drank, and dreamed literacy, so it was a bit of shock to be teaching math once again. She was helped along a great deal by the wise folks at Math in The City (a math professional development organization based at the City College of New York) Math in the City adheres to many of the principles of workshop teaching, and focuses on building number sense and problem solving, not just the memorization of algorithms. One way to do this is through meaningful daily routines, especially attendance. This is Kristi’s attendance chart:

It is a laminated piece of posterboard with thirty squares. The squares are in rows of ten, with five red and five white making up the row. This is based on a tool called the rekenrek, which was designed to help children understand the relationship between numbers. Every day children come in and put their first initial in one of the boxes (it is partially erased in this picture) and Kristi asks, “How many friends are here today?” In the beginning children said things like, “64!” But in the last few weeks, these kindergarten children have begun to develop different strategies to help them answer this question more efficiently.

In an attempt to help other children sample these alternate strategies, Kristi charted them. The strategies are named for the children who used them (the chart now has photos of the children next to their names). The first strategy, named by the child who tried it, has a speech bubble saying, “Count by 1’s” and then an illustration of what that looks like. When children use this strategy they say they are using ____’s strategy. The strategies then become more sophisticated, with the next strategy involving jumps of ten, and the final one counting back from 30 (since there are ALWAYS thirty squares, according to the student). Just like literacy strategy charts, we have one big skill: counting the number of students, and several strategies to do it. Just like in writing or reading, children select the one they understand and are ready for, and there is room to add new ones as they develop.

Writing… Because We Could Not Resist

Last, but not least, lets look at a few writing charts. Right now in Kristi’s kindergarten classroom, children are writing for many purposes. The most exciting part of this unit has been the increased independence and reliance on the charts and tools in the classroom.

First up: types of writing. The class went on a walk and took photos of different kinds of writing in the school. Children use this as a constant resource for what they will write.

Types of writing in the school.

A child using the samples to think about what type of writing he will make next

Symbols to make sign making more effective

The most popular of all the types of writing has been signs and charts, so to support students, a chart was created of popular symbols that students could use to help their signs and charts become more effective and readable to the public. This teaching resulted in signs that overran the classroom, home and school:

  • No smoking (now hanging on the school gates)
  • No Moms Allowed (hanging on a child’s bedroom door)
  • No running (hanging in the hallways outside the classroom)

And the ever useful:

  • No kicking in the penis (to hang up during wrestling matches at home)

Since signs have become so very popular, it has been a great opportunity to work on adding letters and sounds into writing, since most signs have pictures AND words. To help children do this, a variety of strategies have been taught and charted:

Just like the math chart above, there is a big skill and a variety of options for children to select from to create powerful writing. As children turn to charts across disciplines, times of the day, and for a variety of purposes, they learn that help is often just a glance away. Now granted, there are always hard days and easy days in any classroom, but bit by bit when we create and use tools that empower children, we help them learn to help themselves. Across reading and writing, across the day, and hopefully in life. And that is one way we want life to imitate charts.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday, safe travels, and of course: Happy Charting!
Kristi Mraz and Marjorie Martinelli

Vocabulary Visuals – Using Charts to Help Make Words Stick

On Friday, Marjorie presented a workshop at Teachers College on vocabulary acquisition with Ken Pransky. Ken is the author of Beneath the Surface: The Hidden Realities of Teaching Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Young Learners K-6 ( ) and My Fantastic Word Book: Young Student Thesaurus. The student thesaurus is a wonderful resource for vocabulary acquisition that uses graphics, font size and pictures (the key elements of any good chart) to illustrate useful vocabulary. The words are clustered by meaning or placed on a continuum to show gradations of intensity. The book is currently only available through the Collaborative for Educational Services (, but will also be available from Amazon soon.

Teaching academic vocabulary, or the vocabulary of school, is something every teacher pays attention to, but is often an area of concern, and even frustration, when students don’t seem to internalize and use the words taught each and every week. While immersion is important, it is not enough because the teacher is doing most of the work. Ken Pransky advises teachers, “Never work harder than your students!” and this could not be more true than when it comes to teaching vocabulary. Just think about how much time you spend choosing words, making worksheets, designing crossword puzzles, and grading spelling tests. What are the kids doing? Often they are the passive receivers of all this information, not active participants or creators.

In Smarter Charts we talk about the power of visuals, or the picture superiority effect, for enhancing recall beyond that of words alone, especially when exposure time is limited (and in schools, time is always limited!). Using limited, but strong graphic elements like bolding, font size, and symbols can also make information compelling and memorable. This is why we are so excited by Ken’s My Fantastic Word Book. It makes use of all of these elements to show children how to expand upon overly used adjectives and verbs.

An example of words that describe from My Fantastic Words Book by Ken Pransky.

We have also talked about making things memorable by using music, chanting, and rhyme (Smarter Charts, p. 47-51) just like advertisers do to make their products stick in your brain. Ken refers to the stuff that makes things stick in your brain as “goop” or the myelin sheath. And it is repetition and practice that helps make things stick. Teaching through songs and jingles is one way to do this, and then pair it up with gestures and hand signals to really reinforce the concept or word. During the vocabulary workshop Ken asked teachers to come up with songs using familiar tunes to teach some key academic vocabulary that we often assume kids understand, when in reality they often do not. Here is a song Kat Yanez shared to the tune of “The Bear Went Over the Mountain.”

Infer, so we can make meaning (repeat x3)

We read between the lines.

 What can we figure out?

What are these words about?

Infer so we can make meaning

We read between the lines.

Charts can support the teaching of vocabulary by making a visual record of what is being taught and learned. Reading aloud picture books and chapter books is a great way to highlight the power of vocabulary to impact readers, whether narrative or informational, and to anticipate what will be needed to strengthen children’s reading and writing. For example, we often find young writers using very passive verbs in their writing, like “I went to the park” or “I was eating pizza.” So teaching vivid verbs might become one possible vocabulary focus when reading aloud. The chart below is the start of a chart showing three verbs the teacher and the students noticed upon a second reading of Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts. They talked about how the words were used and what the words meant. Then the students were asked to be on the lookout for these words across the day – when they saw them or used them when reading, writing, or talking. One thing that ended up being discussed was how certain words showed up more often or were used more often than others. Using the words when talking is extremely important as a precursor to using the words in writing.

This chart captures some verbs the author, Maribeth Boelts, used to make her writing more “vivacious.”

Shared reading is another component of balanced literacy that can be used to highlight vocabulary and show ways to develop word meanings. One thing that Ken Pransky pointed out was that when teaching children to use context clues to figure out a word, the text should be at a just right level. In other words, children should know 18-19 out of 20 words before having them guess meaning from context. Below are some examples from big books where this has been done during shared reading.  The teacher, Kelly Holt, returned to some words that her children did not seem to understand clearly. For example, on the page that said, “You can clean a car.” the children kept saying “wash” instead of “clean.” In this case, it was the syntax, more than the meaning, that seemed to cause some confusion.  The teacher used a wikki stix to highlight the word and point to the clue in the picture to show how to figure out what the author meant.

Using the picture to help understand the use of the word ‘clean’ in this sentence.

On another page, it was the meaning of the word that was unfamiliar.  Most children had never gone snorkeling or if they had ever seen a snorkel, did not know what it was called. In this case, the teacher was teaching the name of something, but it is not a vocabulary word that is high on the list of important nouns to learn.

The red line connects the word ‘snorkel’ with the picture of a snorkel.

In a second grade classroom, shared reading was used to show children how to use a glossary to figure out word meanings, but to add to it using their own words. In the case of the word extinguish, the glossary defined the word as “to put out.” The children used the picture to add to that definition, saying “to blow out.” Using their own words and understandings helps them to take more ownership of the word.

Placing the glossary definition in context with the text, Fire by Luana K. Mitten and Mary M. Wagner

Interactive writing is another component that can help children become more confident vocabulary users. We often find that children may use certain vocabulary in their spoken language, but don’t use the words in their writing. This is often because they are insecure about the spelling and afraid to take risks. Interactive writing provides a nice scaffold and a safe place to try things out in a risk-free environment. Returning to a familiar big book is a nice way to revisit word choice and consider alternatives. In the book, Fire, illustrated above, the class thought about how information book writers often use very specific vocabulary words when teaching about a subject. With this in mind the students decided to revise the heading of the first chapter, changing the word ‘light’ to the word ‘ignite’ which they had come across in other texts about fire. They also changed the word in the text as well, immediately lifting the level of text complexity. The kids also felt rather superior as a result.

Interactive writing was used to capture the vocabulary revisions made by the students.

Lastly, charts can be used to remind children of the many strategies they can call upon when trying to figure out the meaning of unknown words. Remember, these strategies will be most effective when the children are reading books that are within their zone of proximal development.

The chart above was used often as the children came across words they did not know and were asked to share ways they figured out the meaning. Jamie Mendelsohn at PS 59 M came up with the idea of having a “Sticky Note Day” every Friday with her group of second graders. Each child was given a sticky note and told to be on the lookout for a word they thought was particularly important to understanding the book they were reading. Towards the end of reading workshop they would get together with a partner and talk about why they thought the word was important and what they tried to figure it out. Then the whole class would get together and talk more about one or two of these words.

This is the beginning of a chart that shows an example of how an unknown word was chosen and figured out.

Once again, it is the children who are actively figuring out possible meanings of the words, not the teacher or a dictionary. Kids love being word detectives and feeling smarter as they come to own an increasingly larger amount of academic vocabulary.

We hope to see many of you at the upcoming NCTE convention in Las Vegas. We will be signing copies of Smarter Charts at the Heinemann booth at 2 pm on Friday, November 16th.

Until then, happy charting!

Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine Mraz