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

From Mine to Ours

Hello Friends! If you are anything like Kristi, you are in the middle of labels, emergency cards, photographs of your new wonderful class, and you haven’t cooked dinner in a week. This is one of the best and busiest times of the year! It is the time when you meet your class and discover their unique personalities, begin teaching, and revel in the small successes. This is also the time when you realize that your writing center is too close to table 1, the routine you were going to use for getting clipboards needs to be revised, and the sand table is just going to make things sandy and there is not much you can do about it. In short, this is the time when what was mine becomes ours and you realize the classroom you set up so carefully was built with no input from the little people that now inhabit it.

A quick story. When Kristi’s husband (Geoff) first moved in to the apartment she had lived in for years, she marched him into the least used room and said, “You can put your stuff here.” When Kristi expressed concern that she never saw Geoff because he was always in that same room, Geoff said, “This isn’t our apartment, this is your apartment and I have a room. Nothing feels like mine outside of this space.” So slowly, Kristi relinquished her control and her artfully displayed books were scooted over to make room for Geoff’s vinyl records, and the pictures on the wall were replaced with pictures of the two of them, until the line was blurred and the apartment became a place where a family lives.

We tell this story because teachers are masters of control, you have to be to move 25 little bodies out safely during a fire drill, but in order for children to truly feel safe, at home, and have agency, the space you share must truly be shared. Shanna Frazin, a colleague of ours at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, once drove this point home by inviting teachers to measure the square footage of their classrooms and divide that number by the number of students plus one (the teacher). The resulting square footage was a teacher’s equal share of the classroom. Yes we need space, but our students need it more! This creation of a classroom family extends to the charts that you make during this critical time of year. Your routines my not be the same as last year, because this class is not the same as last year. Your charts will change because your children have changed.

Charts Reflect the Current Needs of the Current Class

Katie Lee, one the gentlest, smartest, calmest kindergarten teachers you will ever meet created this chart for her students. The beauty is Katie didn’t save this chart from last year and show it this year, she created it with her students just a day or two ago. The bin they put their folder in really is red, and the bin for lunch really is green. That really is the table the children sit at in the morning. Katie has a beautiful chart with its simplicity and its visuals, but more importantly, she created it with her students, and with her students in mind.

Creating Charts Together

When Kristi wanted to teach the signs and symbols to calm children on the rug, she first used post-its as visuals for the steps. Then as children practiced the routine over a few days, she began snapping pictures so her drawings became replaced by photos of students in the classroom. Additionally, the writing charts that initially showcased her created examples, now have authentic student examples for children to look back to for support. Just like Katie Lee’s chart, these charts reflect all the members of classroom, not just the teacher.

Using Student Interest to Guide Routines and Charting

Kristi’s class is train crazy. When the “book fairy” brought a train book, the class just about died with happiness. When the lines in the hall were more like knots in the hall, Kristi named the two lines after New York City subway lines (the E train and 6 train) and reworked a line chant to reflect the theme. This chant was written on a chart and serves double duty as a routine chart and a beloved shared reading.

Line Chant (Call and Response)

It’s line up time

It’s line up time

Trains on track (photo of a straight line)

Trains on track

Mind the gaps (photo of children close together)

Mind the gaps

Watch for signs (photo of Kristi making a stop hand)

Watch for signs

What time is it?

It’s line up time!

(Thank you to Sarah Carolan, another brilliant, thoughtful, and gentle teacher at PS 59 who passed on the original line up chant)

Kat Cazes (one more smart, dedicated, and insightful teacher at 59) suggested that children bring home these charts to read as shared reading and reinforce routines. Parents have expressed delight at not only knowing the routines their children are learning, but seeing pictures of their children doing them! Kat snaps a photo of the chart and prints it out to go in the shared reading folders and/or notebooks.

Lucy Calkins emphasizes this indisputable fact: the better you know your children, the better you can teach your children. When you use what you know and what you see to guide your teaching and form your charts you create a community. There are so few photos in this blog post because all of Kristi’s charts have photos of children and examples of children work (parent permission is needed and forthcoming, so soon you will see all these beautiful faces).

Until next time, happy charting!

Kristine Mraz and Marjorie Martinelli


Getting Back in the Groove

Chartchums is back after a bit of a rest, and we are excited to once again be sharing classroom stories, charts, and ideas with you. Now, if you are like us (quick check: Have you already started lingering over school supplies at Target? Then, yes, you are like us.), you probably never stopped thinking about teaching and are already imagining the myriad of possibilities for the upcoming year.

This year will be a slightly different one for Chartchums. Our book comes out September 1 (click on the picture to purchase it), and we are already thinking about the next one. Kristi is heading back into the classroom to be a kindergarten teacher and Marjorie will continue to work in schools across the country and world as a seasoned staff developer at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. As we both prepare for the year ahead, we find ourselves talking constantly about plans and systems and routines for the upcoming year to keep ourselves (and the teachers and students we work with) successful.

Routine is an essential component to any teacher’s classroom. Think about your own life and the routines that sustain and comfort you on a daily basis. For us, it is turning the coffee pot on BEFORE stepping into the shower so it is ready to greet us once we emerge. It is laying clothes out the night before to avoid the “I have nothing to wear” conundrum in the early morning hours, and finally it is finishing up emails before dinner, so we can truly be present with our partners and families for the rest of the evening.

Principles of Management and Routines

The same is true for the students in your classroom. Routine is calming, comforting, and sustaining, especially for students who may have less consistent routines at home. Our brilliant colleague at TCRWP, Shanna Schwartz, has some words of wisdom when it comes to teaching management and routines to students. Shanna speaks of five principles of management:

  • Be consistent: Once children learn a routine it becomes automatic and takes none of their mental power to execute it. Each time you change a routine, it requires learning and brain power from students. Choose one way to do things and stick with it, so children can attend to the important parts of your teaching.
  • Have reasonable expectations: Seventeen-step routines might be a bit complicated for first grade. Create routines with 3-5 steps and children will be more successful in learning (and remembering) them.
  • Teach the routine, don’t just tell it: Give children the opportunity to practice the routine again and again until it becomes automatic. As with all things, the learning is in the doing.
  • Practice what you preach: If one routine involves walking quietly from one space to another, keep your own voice quiet as well. Students are learning far more about the rules of the classroom from what you do, than what you say.
  • Put yourself out of a job, foster independence: Sometimes it feels like it will be faster and easier to do things yourself: hand out the paper, collect the markers, pass out the books, but part of what every teacher is teaching is how to be a citizen in the world. Children learn responsibility and active problem solving when they are given responsibility and chances to solve problems independently. This can be supported with the work you capture on charts.

Sample Routine Charts

A chart on the Smart Board to support routines and behaviors during independent reading time

A chart that captures for children the routine of goal setting in readers workshop

A chart that captures for children the routine for meeting with partners in reading

A chart capturing the set up routine for writers workshop

Charting Routines

Routine charts are likely the most common chart teachers make in the first few weeks of school. There are a few basic principles that will help you tackle these charts in ways that will support student learning and develop independence.

1. Make them with the students.

2. Use student photographs to make them stick.

3. Write them in steps, like a how-to.

4. Reread them daily as a part of shared reading.

With all things charted, once the majority of students know the routine – retire the chart. You will certainly need that space for charting the next bits of your powerful teaching.

Other “Starting the Year Strong” Supports

Want more beginning of the year charts and ideas? Then check out these posts from earlier in our history:


Classroom Set Up

Starting the year off in Reading

Setting the Stage

Last, but Not Least

Chartchums is available to do work in your school to support you and your colleagues in creating powerful charts, independent students, and memorable teaching. Contact us directly at: or through the Heinemann website.

As always, happy charting!

Kristine Mraz and Marjorie Martinelli