Tools of the [Chart] Trade

Yes, it’s that time of year again when the Sunday papers are twice as thick due to all the Back to School advertisements and circulars to excite and entice students, teachers, and parents alike. There’s nothing more satisfying than a shiny new binder, a brand new pencil case, and never before used pens, pencils and markers, especially for teachers. These are the tools of our trade. So as you are clipping coupons, marking your calendars with Teacher Appreciation events, and calling everyone you know to pick up a dozen one cent pocket folders (because that’s the limit per person), we thought we would share with you a few of our thoughts about the tools you will need to make the best charts ever this year.

One of the most important tools is the invaluable felt-tip marker. When shopping for markers there are a few things to consider:

A chart for teachers on choosing markers.

A chart for teachers on choosing markers.

The type of tip you choose will depend on some personal preferences, like how it fits in your hand. After all you will be holding these markers all day, every day.  Marker tips also come in several different shapes. For example, if you like your printing to have a calligraphy-type look, then a chisel point or a brush tip might work best. If you worry about how your handwriting looks, try a bullet tip marker because this kind of tip has a more consistent line and the thickness makes the writing stand out. If you tend to press down really hard as you write then a pointed hard tip might work best. Also, markers that have intense, rich, ‘juicy’ color that does not bleed through are always desirable, as are ones that last a long time. Another suggestion is to stock up on black and blue markers because these are the ones we recommend using for the bulk of the writing on any chart, which means they will tend to run out more often. The other colors are used more for accents or highlights, so last longer. As for price, shop the sales and clip those coupons.

The other tool chart makers will need is paper. For those of you who have been following us for awhile, you know that in addition to the classic chart paper pads (both lined and unlined, white and colored, full-size and half-size), we often use large florescent colored sticky notes which allow us more flexibility in how we build charts with students. Ready made 6” x 8” post-its come in neon green, orange, yellow, pink, blue, and red and are available in many office supply stores, retailers and on the internet. But, we also love being able to turn any piece of paper into a sticky note with the use of a repositionable or restickable glue stick. What’s nice about this favorite tool is we can purchase multi-colored 8-1/2 x 11 copy paper and use this to make our charts. Besides being able to be used over and over again, there is no sticky residue left behind. Below is an example of a chart that used both the ready-made post-its and the self-made sticky notes.

On the left are 6x8 Post-its and on the right the sticky notes are made from 8-1/2 x 11 copy paper using a repositionable glue stick.

On the left are 6×8 Post-its and on the right the sticky notes are made from 8-1/2 x 11 copy paper using a repositionable glue stick.

Lastly, children love seeing themselves on the charts hanging around the room, so plan on having some kind of digital camera, smart phone, or tablet that will allow you to take snapshots of your students in action as they follow the strategies and steps you have taught. Together you and the children can choose which photos are the clearest examples and add them to the chart to remind and reinforce the problem-solving stance that will help everyone become more independent and resourceful as learners. If you adhere these photos to the charts using a repositionable glue stick it will make it easier to change and update the photos as needed. Remember, the more you touch a chart and revise it, the more likely the children will pay attention to it and actually use it!

Kristi used photos of some of her students and added speech bubbles to show what they said about their theories.

Kristi used photos of some of her students and added speech bubbles to show what they said about their theories.

Have fun shopping and let us know if you have any other must-have tools in your chart-making toolkit.

Happy Charting!

Marjorie and Kristi

Chart Q & A

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

1.    Where do you buy those repositionable glue sticks?

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

Turning copy paper into sticky notes

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

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

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

color charts

The pink paper is what links these math charts together.

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

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

sketchbook chart pad

This sketchbook makes a portable container for charts.

4.    What do I do with old charts? 

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

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

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

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

Shared reading folder with pointer.

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

Until next time,

Happy Charting!

Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine Mraz

Shopping the Specials

Essential Charting Tools

We could not survive without these 6 x 8 Post-it Notes. The other shapes and sizes are just fun to have. This Restickable Glue Stick is by Scotch brand.

The Sketchbook and Markers

The Spiral Sketchbook is a favorite tool of the Staff Developers at the Reading and Writing Project.

Nothing gets me (Marjorie) more excited about the school year ahead than seeing the Sunday paper circulars advertising “Back-to-School Specials.” The bargains can be found from all types of stores. From office supply stores to toy stores. From craft stores to drug stores. They are everywhere! I love the phrase, “buy one, get one free.” I get giddy at the thought of 50% off the sale price or the offer of a $10 coupon off the total price. And I start hyperventilating at the term, “Dollar Days!”

Now, I realize that teachers spend way too much of their own money on supplies for their classrooms. David Nagel in The Journal ( recently reported that public school teachers in the United States spent more than a billion dollars last year of their own money on school supplies and instructional materials. 92% of teachers have reported spending their own money on classroom supplies, $350 on average. Due to the recession, this amount is actually down from previous years, as parents and teachers alike are dealing with tightened budgets. Organizations like,, can help with funds for supplies or local businesses sometimes will donate discontinued or overstocked items for the the teacher who asks.

All that being said, the joy of new supplies often outways the pain of passing over more out-of-pocket dollars. I have thought about the chart tools and materials I use and need most during the school year to help the discriminating shopper. Here are some of my “must haves” that usually need replenishing at the start of each school year.

–Chart Markers like Mr. Sketch, Crayola, or Sharpie Flip Chart Markers

–6 x 8 inch Post-it Notes in all four florescent colors: neon pink, neon yellow, neon orange, and neon green. Other shapes and sizes can also be fun to have on hand when making charts memorable.

–Repositionable Glue Sticks so you can turn any piece of paper into a sticky note.

–A Spiral Sketch book, especially for the itinerate teacher, is an excellent container for your charts. You may want two, one for reading and one for writing. I use the 11 x 14 inch size as it fits perfectly in my backpack.

These tools will lead you to smooth charting ahead. Let us know if you have any “must have” materials on your supply list.