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

Sharing is Caring: Ideas, Tools, and Charts

Teachers are an amazing group of people. They are not only creative, conscientious, and curious, they are also incredibly generous and sharing. We have heard from many of you and want to share a few here.

Amy Newman is a teacher who has quite the way with words. She has created a wonderful assortment of headings for each of her charts that are designed to engage her students and draw them in to what each chart is teaching. She uses rhyme and rhythm to help make the headings stick in her students’ heads just like an advertising jingle stays in our heads forever. The headings make what she is teaching memorable and the students can often be heard chanting them as they head off to work each day. Thanks Amy for sharing your clever ideas with us.

Reading Chart Headings:
Your reading can go far when you get to know who the characters are! (monitoring for meaning)
Read your book for a little bit, then jot what you noticed on a post-it! (monitoring for meaning)
Keep forgetting what the book is about? Stopping and thinking will help you out! (monitoring for meaning)
Found a part that’s tricky for you? Here are some things that you can do… (word attack strategies)
Our reading can go far when we think about what type of reader we are. (self-reflection)
Writing Chart Headings:
Want to make your writing great? Try these tips to elaborate… (elaboration)
Writers use what they know to help their writing really grow! (self-reflection)
Done, finished, think you’re through? Editing is the thing to do! (editing)
Use what you know to solve writing problems as you go! (revision)
Need some help figuring out what to do? Your writing partner is the one to go to! (partnerships)

Nancy Burrill, a teacher from Seattle, Washington who has been teaching for 34 years, sent us a note letting us know how helpful the book has been in her first grade classroom and how well the ideas work with The Daily 5/Cafe. She also sent along a couple of samples of her favorite chart making pens. They are the Sharpie Flip Chart Markers. The colors are rich and they flow easily and without a stink across any kind of chart paper. Thanks Nancy for sharing.

Sharpie Flip chart markers

Nancy’s favorite chart markers.

Lisa Ockerman, a literacy coach from the Pinecrest School, was planning for a small group and remembered a chart she had used last year with a class of first graders. But when she looked at it she questioned whether or not it would support the young readers she would be using it with this time around. There was lots of print, very little visuals, and not very clear as a result. So she decided to revise the chart, making the text simpler, the graphics bolder, and with clear pictures as examples. She shared with us the two charts, one she labeled “Before Smarter Charts” and the other, “After Smarter Charts.” She said the new version of the chart was not only more effective, it actually took less time to make. Thank you Lisa for sharing the before and after photos.

Before and After

Before and after versions of a first grade chart.

So in the spirit of sharing is caring, if you have some charts, tools, or ideas you have found to be super effective you can email photos to

Upcoming events: We will be presenting two chart workshops at the Teachers College Reading & Writing Project’s Saturday Reunion on Saturday, October 27, 2012. We will also be signing books at the book sale. Stop by and say hi!

Until then, happy charting!

Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine Mraz