Working Smarter Not Harder

Hello Everyone!

Hopefully wherever you are in the world, you are staying cool and relaxed this summer! If you are like us, and we think you are, now is the time when seed possibilities for next year are blossoming and growing into actual ideas. In the interest of self preservation and having a life, all the ideas we are growing are bound by one rule: does it take the same amount of energy (or less) but create something better? We would love to share what we are thinking with you, in the hopes that you will share yours with our community, and provide feedback and variations in the vein that many heads are always better than one. Below you will find some of the grumbles of the year in bold, and our thoughts of revision below that.

Morning meeting always takes so looooooooong, but I believe in the community building it provides!

Kristi tried a morning meeting and an end of day meeting when they revised the daily news, but always ran out of time. This year she is going to try two meetings: morning meeting- conquering some of the necessary (but time eating) routines: greeting each other, counting the days, reviewing the schedule, then segue into shared reading. Then the class will have an afternoon meeting right after lunch, the focus of this meeting will be TALK: whole class conversations about “news”, a chance to work on oral storytelling, and a review of the afternoon schedule. Daily whole class conversations helped Kristi’s class tremendously with language and listening skills, but it was often cut short – an afternoon meeting protects this time, and also allows for some social skills work since much of the news after recess will be drama filled!

Daily news revised at the end of the day, then edited the next day during shared reading.

Daily news revised at the end of the day, then edited the next day during shared reading.

I love sharing with parents but compiling the letter takes a long time, and gets exhausting!

Twitter offers restricted accounts, which means you approve who can join and who can see your tweets. This year I am opening a classroom twitter account for families. It takes two seconds to tweet a photo, and Kristi’s goal is to tweet a daily picture. Less work for her, but more consistent interaction for the parents. A picture is worth a thousand words, so the 140 character limit is a little misleading.

Tentatively, Kristi is also thinking of a monthly twitter chat for families. Topics like: reading at home, helping with spelling, math games…These chats are becoming more and more mainstream, and all a parent needs is a smart phone (which is sometimes more prevalent in homes than a computer).

She is also planning on  a shared google calendar.  She keeps one for herself, why not share it with families? It can have publishing parties, birthdays, trips, and parents visits in a place that everyone has access to. Not only that – it sends alerts!


That incomplete mental thought is typical of many primary teachers’ feelings about grammar work. We know workbooks don’t work, but when are we working on these important skills? Here are a few low key thoughts that integrate grammar into daily routines:

  • Revise the morning message written in the beginning of the day at the end of the day. (We will go to gym becomes We went to gym)
  • Play with grammar in shared reading: which animals are male and which are female in Mrs. Wishy Washy? The only way you know is by the he or she used in the line “Oh lovely mud” said the _____ and he/she rolled in it.
  • Read aloud more books that deal with grammar, like the excellent Exclamation Mark by Amy Rosenthal (available here)
This chart uses some very familiar characters to help remember pronouns.

This chart uses some very familiar characters to help remember pronouns.

What are you puzzling through this summer? What lightening bolts have struck you? We would love to hear it! You can tell us in the comments, @chartchums (twitter), @MrazKristine (twitter) or

Happy (thinking about) charting!
Warmly (figuratively and quite literally),

Kristi and Marjorie

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