Saturday, February 20, 2021

Text Set: Studying Intentional Layout in Informational Text

 Texts for this Text Set have been posted daily on Instagram. Follow @TextSets there to get daily updates!

One more week of Informational Text Mentors--This week we'll look at the intentional ways authors and designers set up a page in order to support reader's understanding. With more and more visuals in our world, looking at layout as a reader and learning to make intentional decisions about layout as a writer is key. 

We'll start this week's Text Set with a non-book example to study.  If you don't know Nicholas St. Fleur (, you'll want to check him out! (Thanks to author Melissa Stewart for introducing me to his work!)  Nicholas St. Fleur has created several increidble infographics for The NY Times for Kids print publication. He ha a few samples on his website. These are perfect for exploring the idea of intentional design and layout.  Thinking about decisions the creators made, what is most important, how the images and words work together and how size and font changes are all important ideas to bring up to begin this study. And while you are at it, explore the rest of this author's site. His dinosaur book is another worth exploring! 

When How We Got to the Moon arrived in the mail, I screamed, "Every page in this book is a mini lesson!"  And it's true. The visuals in this book are incredible and every single page can be studied for layout decisions. Many of the pages are stand-alone and make sense without reading the rest of the book. And each page is PACKED with so much information. Choosing a few pages to explore together, comparing the different decisions John Rocco makes on different pages based on the purpose/big idea of what he wants readers to understand is key.  

Who Got Game? Baseball Amazing But True Stories by Derrick Barnes (author of I Am Every Good Thing and Crown!) is filled with  short information pieces about baseball. There is more text to this than in the other examples so it will give readers and writers something different to explore.  There are a variety of text sizes, text boxes and visuals set up in ways that the text and visuals work together to share information.  The fonts are something else to take a look at --change of font and color is done with purpose. 

I like Whooo Knew? The Truth About Owls because the pages have similar layouts with some differences based on needs of the reader. The left side of the page poses a question about owls. Then there is a main paragraph answering the questions. Several visuals connect to the answer and the layout of these is different depending on what is being communicated by the visuals. A smaller detail is often included in a talking bubble near the edges of the page.  (And if you do get this book, make sure to take off the book jacket and look at the reverse side of the cover for a fun surprise!).

Firefighters' Handbook and Astronaut Handbook (both by Meghan McCarthy) are engaging for readers as they give so much information in different ways. There are detailed diagrams, how-to pages with important vocabulary. Q and A and more. This book is designed to flow together even though there are so many different layouts.  There are similarities and differences in the two books too that are worth exploring.

You can find a downloadable pdf of this list at frankisibberson,com. 

Friday, February 19, 2021

Poetry Friday -- Prioritizing


image via Unsplash

It's good to be back. I got overwhelmed by online teaching and a couple of other projects that landed on my plate. I felt like something had to give, and that something was Poetry Friday. All of my writing energy needed to be directed to the other projects. The time I spent on Saturday mornings with a cup of tea and the Poetry Friday roundup would be better spent on those projects or on school work.

Thank goodness for snow days. We've had the Gift of Time three Tuesdays in a row, and my pressure valve is back to a more livable level. (The house is also just a wee bit cleaner, too.)

And thank goodness for Lent. Although neither of us is particularly religious, a friend from college and I have been using Lent as a time to set goals and cheer each other on. My goal for this year is to write a small poem every day. One haiku, one acrostic, one Golden Shovel. Just a few words. But I want to -- I NEED to -- recover my writing life...and my connection to this Poetry Friday community. Hopefully, this Lenten recharge will give me the boost I need to do a Poetry Month project in April.

Yesterday, Audre Lorde was featured in the Google Doodle, and coincidentally, was featured in my daily ancestor acknowledgement. I explained "intersectionality" to my students for the first time in my career. Then we went on to watch the episode of QED With Dr. B "What is Race?" to provide common language and baseline information for next week when we tackle our social studies standards about culture, cultural diversity, and mainstream culture. I have to get past my fear of making mistakes in these conversations, because the conversations are too important NOT to have.

Your silence will not protect you. -- Audre Lorde

Talking openly with your
students about race is necessary. Silence
is fear, and fear will
keep you frozen. You will not
grow without risk, and neither will they. You can't protect
them from hard truths, so invite them to explore and learn along with you.

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2021 (draft)

Ruth has this week's Poetry Friday roundup at There is no such thing as a God-forsaken town.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

The Power of Subtitles for Readers and Writers

Texts for this Text Set have been posted daily on Instagram. Follow @TextSets there to get daily updates!

I must be in my usual school year cycle as I can't seem to get through January/February without thinking about informational readers and writers--a perfect winter genre study. This week's Text Set focuses on the Power of Subtitles for Readers and Writers! Subtitles can help readers in so many ways. And when writers create thoughtful titles and subtitles, they have to think deeply about their text's message.  Let's look at different ways authors use subtitles, how those can help readers understand big ideas and how writers can use subtitles to think more deeply about they big idea. 

Bionic Beasts: Saving Animal Lives with Artificial Flippers, Legs and Beaks and The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read are great to introduce the idea of subtitles to reader and writers. If I were to name what these writers do, they use their subtitle to further explain the main title of the book. The title gives a HINT about the book and the subtitle goes on to give you more detailed information.  Young writers can try this with titles for their own writing.

Some titles don't really tell the reader wha the topic of the book is. Instead, they set the stage for letting the reader know of some important idea in the book without revealing the topic. (This subtitle is so small on the cover, that you don't even notice it at first, so that you focus on the main title.) That's what Not My Idea:A Book About Whiteness does. Then the title goes on to reveal the topic in very straightforward language. Readers have a topic and and an important idea to think about before they begin to read. Writers might try this by writing the subtitle first and then thinking about an actual title that captures a message without giving away the text's topic.

This text is actually the home page of a favorite website. The Kids Should See This is a site with incredible videos, as you can tell by the subtitle.  In this example, the title gives a hint into the topic but the subtitle gives more specifics. Including texts other than books is critical in text sets so that young readers and writers see how these same craft moves are used in multimedia texts.

Hello, Crochet Friends!: Making Art, Being Mindful, Giving Back: Do What Makes You Happy is a book with a VERY long subtitle but every word is important. Jonah Larson is a world-famous crochet expert and the topic of the book is crocheting.  But the book is more than that as the subtitle(s) explains. Crocheting is about so much more for Jonah. This book's  subtitle sets the stage for readers and the double colon can give writers something to play with. As writers, giving a title like this a try could help writers expand their thinking around their topic.

These two books (Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice and Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks) pair well when talking about titles and subtitles. Because they are both biographies and they both use a strong word/phrase to capture what is important about the person in the book. One uses the word/phrase as a title. The other uses it as a subtitle.  Playing with a single word or phrase that sums up a big topic is a great way to push thinking as writers. As readers, finding evidence of this characteristic through the book will help them read more deeply. And as an author, the decision about which to make the title and which to make the subtitle would also make for interesting conversation!

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Poetry Friday -- Rita Dove via NCTE


From the NCTE Inbox Newsletter, a poetry event that is free and open to the public:

Join NCTE and the Library of Congress for A Conversation with Rita Dove
Join NCTE and the Library of Congress on Wednesday, February 24, at 4:00 p.m. ET for a conversation with former US Poet Laureate Rita Dove and NCTE member Melissa Alter Smith. Dove will discuss her own approach to writing, share and discuss specific poems, and dedicate ample time for Q&A. This event is free and open to the public.

Rita Dove won the Pulitzer Prize in 1987 for her third book of poetry, Thomas and Beulah, and was US Poet Laureate from 1993 to 1995. She received the National Humanities Medal from President Clinton and the National Medal of Arts from President Obama—the only poet ever to receive both. Her many honors include a 2017 NAACP Image Award (for Collected Poems: 1974–2004), the Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities, and the Academy of American Poets’ Wallace Stevens Award. She is the Henry Hoyns Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Virginia. Her eleventh collection of poetry, Playlist for the Apocalypse, is forthcoming from W. W. Norton in the summer of 2021.

Melissa Alter Smith is the creator of the #TeachLivingPoets hashtag and She is a National Board Certified high school English teacher in Charlotte, NC. She is the 2017 District Teacher of the Year, an AP Reader, and an NCETA Executive Board member. Smith is also the coauthor, with Lindsay Illich, of Teach Living Poets. This text opens up the flourishing world of contemporary poetry to secondary teachers, giving advice on discovering new poets and reading contemporary poetry, as well as sharing sample lessons, writing prompts, and ways to become an engaged member of a professional learning community.

Saturday, February 06, 2021

Franki's Weekly Text Set--Informational Writing: Strong Introductions

 This week, I started a new Instagram account (@TextSets). Each week, I'll share a set of 5 books (one each day) that go together in some way and can be used for literacy learning.  This week, I shared 5 informational books that had strong introductions that young writers could learn from.

I think it's important that young writers study strong text, name what they see and give things a try. These five books can help writers pay closer attention to strong introductions and invite them to try something new when drafting or revising.

If you'd like a downloadable version of this list, you can find it here

The books in this list are either nonfiction or based on a true story--so they share information in some way.  They are on a variety of topics and use a variety of strategies to engage readers right away. Each book brings some unique craft to the conversation but there are also things that several writers in the text set do (set of 3, strong word choice, etc.).  This text set is designed to give young writers five or more new things to notice and try when studying introductions.

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys' Soccer Team is an award-winning nonfiction book that has so much to teach young writers. Author, Christina Soontornvat sets the scene on the first page of this book in a way that puts readers right on the soccer field as she introduces us to the story and to Thailand simultaneously.

Young writers will love trying out an introduction like the one in Swish: the Slam-Dunking, Alley-Ooping, High-Flying Harlem Globetrotters by Suzanne Slade. The "It all started with..." is something everyone can have fun with. Listing in threes is a strategy this writer uses effectively twice in this short introduction. Writers may also use this introduction to learn to play with the rhythm of their words or onomatopoeia as part of their writing.

Sound: Shhh...Bang...POP...BOOM! by Romana Romanyshyn is a fun book that shares a great deal of information.  The contrast the first sentence of this book sets up is brilliant. The white space on the page can help writers actually see the contrast and how it works to engage readers. This sentence sets the stage for what is to come in the book in an engaging way. This book can invite writers to play with a strong one sentence introduction in which a contrasting idea engages readers with the topic. 

The Cat Man of Aleppo by Irene Latham and Karim-Shamsi-Basha is based on a true story and writers can learn so much from it.  Even though it isn't a nonfiction text, writers of nonfiction can learn so much from this lead. In the first few sentences of this book, the author shares all of the things to love about Aleppo. By using this repeated language, the reader is able to get to know the setting quickly Writers may want to try to set the scenes for their informational writing.

Adelita: A Sea Turtle's Journey by Jenny Goebel is another well crafted informational book. This book gives writers a perfect mentor for using strong adjectives and adverbs effectively.  The author chooses words carefully to give readers a powerful image while sharing important information.  

Friday, February 05, 2021

Poetry Friday -- An Egg for Breakfast


image via Unsplash

What I'm pondering as I eat my humble breakfast:

A Quiet Life
by Baron Wormser

What a person desires in life
is a properly boiled egg.
This isn’t as easy as it seems.

(read the rest here)

Friday, January 29, 2021

Poetry Friday -- Time Traveler


For the Poetry Sisters' monthly challenge, I searched up my birth year on Merriam Webster's Time Traveler site.

From the list of words that appeared in print for the first time that year, I chose a handful that all relate to food: tzatziki, arugula, crudités, chicken of the woods, cordon bleu, and soul food.

There is no poem yet, but there is a scribbly draft in my notebook, jotted while waiting on camera between small group reading conferences yesterday afternoon.

This morning I'm thinking about the phrase, "Time Traveler." It was fun to be whisked back all those decades in just a few clicks and poke around leisurely in the linguistic past. 

The time I'm traveling through right now, though, feels like a river in spate and I'm barely clinging to the edges of a raft I'm constructing even as I plummet through the rapids, between the boulders, and under the overhanging branches that appear without warning. I'm struggling, but still afloat. Barely. 

Friday, January 22, 2021

Poetry Friday -- Just This One Thing


Amanda Gorman

That is all, because she is all that.

Laura Shovan has this week's Poetry Friday roundup at her blog, Laura Shovan.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Poetry Friday -- A Poem for The Week After


A List of Things That Will Set You Free

– Joyce Sidman







A voice.

A touch.


Not caring.

Saying to yourself:

I am too old to do this.

I am too young to do this.

I am too smart to do this.

It’s not my fault.

It is my fault, and I will fix it.

I can do this.

(poem used in its entirety with Joyce Sidman's permission)

This is the poem I chose for our weekly poem this week. It was a poem that I needed in The Week After (which turned out to be another Week Of), and I was curious to see what my students would take from it.

On the first day, we dug into reactions and noticings, and they were stumped initially by the two halves of the poem. They noticed that the pairs in the first half seem to go together (except for caring/not caring), while the second half tells how to react to things. 

On the next day, when we read for meaning and craft, one student argued that the pairs of words in the first half in fact don't go together. I suggested that perhaps we could let the title of the poem help us think about the pairs, and that unlocked their thinking. Feet/wheels set us free by letting us go places; wind/sun set us free with happiness; words/music set us free with the ability to create; voice/touch set us free by making us feel better; caring/not caring set us free by giving us the choice to help. In the second half, each of the statements also set us free to choose, and that last one..."accepting that it's your fault frees you from guilt, and when you fix it, you are truly free."

As for Joyce Sidman's craft moves, they noticed the uniqueness of the spacing and the pairs of single words ("there are no unnecessary words"), and "the way it looks forces you to read it in a certain way."

For myself, I keep going back to those last three lines. Everything that's happened in our country a white liberal woman, what is my fault (or complicity)? How will I help to fix this rift in our country? And oh that last line, which exudes the confidence I don't really have, but into which I must lean.

Margaret has this week's Poetry Friday roundup at Reflections on the Teche.

Monday, January 11, 2021

The Reality of Living in Historic Moments

Last Thursday, my students weren't ready to talk about the takeover of the Capitol. So we got on with our day.

Truth be told, I wasn't ready either. I had too many big emotions and I wasn't sure how to keep myself objective. I didn't want to cause more harm. (Plus lots of other head-in-the-sand excuses. I won't list them all.)

But, as a trusted and valued colleague pointed out to me, I hadn't explored exactly WHY my students were reluctant to talk. So on Friday, I asked them, and between their answers and the information I've been gathering, I'm ready. 

It's my responsibility to help my students develop the skills to understand and process whatever Historic Moments come their way in the next weeks or years, and I'm ready.

Here's my plan for now:

I made time for these conversations. I found 15 minutes each day I could label "Reading the World." Now that there's a small chunk of time ready, we can take on these Big Ideas a little at a time. I don't feel pressured to do everything all at once.

Using a three-column chart, we'll explore the variety of Historic Moments in which we've been living (BLM, police brutality, the election, the take-over of the Capitol, pandemic, online learning, etc.), what makes it easier/safe to talk/think about these moments (based on their comments last Friday, a strong classroom community), and what makes it harder/scarier to talk/think about these moments (my family supports the other candidate, personal connections to the moments).

Dig into fact vs. opinion, objective vs. biased.

Look at kid-appropriate sources for current events: 
DOGO news
Time for Kids

Consider this question deeply: Why is history important? (Understanding the response of white police to white rioters vs. white police to peaceful Black protesters, understanding the implications behind the Confederate flag in the halls of the U.S. Capitol, etc.)

Think about: What can we do?

Here are a couple of helpful resources I've found:

Educator's Playbook from University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education

What is your plan moving forward in discussing the reality of living in historic moments?

Saturday, January 09, 2021

Poetry Saturday -- The Week in Poetry

What a week. But also -- what a week in poetry.

On Tuesday, as I drove towards the beginning of the second half of the grand experiment known as Remote Learning Academy, I listened to Pádraig Ó Tuama on Poetry Unbound. I had finished listening to King and the Dragonflies that morning while I exercised and I hadn't chosen my next audiobook. Podcast time! I was a little behind on Poetry Unbound episodes. I chose Ellen Bass -- Bone of My Bones and Flesh of My Flesh. I'll wait while you go listen, if you haven't already.

At the end of his commentary, Ó Tuama says,
"I think this poem invites us to think about the power of language and how language can serve to silence or to eradicate or to erase or deny, or to elevate and acknowledge. And even within those denials, people survive with defiance, and they can raise language to an even better level of acknowledgement and public celebration about what love looks like, especially when that love and that dignity has been denied."
The words in bold/italics are what lifted me up on that drive to school, and as I wrote my welcome back message on Google Classroom, I referred to my students as "my lovelies."

In the comments to that post, AP expressed delight at being referred to as "my lovelies." So on Wednesday, I addressed them as an "Amazing Rainbow of Awesomeness." AP was nearly giddy. Would I do it again on Thursday? she asked. How could I not? On Thursday, they were "my sweet babboos" and on Friday, "Dear Ones." 

Thank you, Pádraig Ó Tuama, for inspiring me to find and create terms of endearment that infuse more expressions of love into my classroom. This is another one of those seeds that I plant, having no way of knowing if/how it will later sprout in these children's lives. But it's a seed worth planting.

Also this week, I started my Poem-A-Week project. After realizing that there are 20 weeks left in the school year, and therefore the opportunity for the close study of (just!) 20 poems, I asked the world (via Twitter) for suggestions of poems I might include. I made my choices, but then promptly chose something for the first week that wasn't part of the original plan. And it turned out perfectly. As we began a new routine of choosing reading goals and logging reading and evidence for our goals in a new and simplified digital reader's notebook (aka BOB, which stands for Book of Books, hat tip to Monica Edinger for the original idea of BOB and Maria Caplin for the digital BOB), and as I reminded myself to START SLOWLY, I chose Lee Bennett Hopkins' "Good Books, Good Times!" 

Each day we read the poem (I encourage them to read along behind their muted microphones) and then do just a little bit of unpacking together (hat tip to Tara Smith for the idea of unpacking poems). I have created a slide show for the poems and for documentation of the unpacking work. Here's the plan: on the first day, I just read the poem (projected so they can read along); day two, after reading the poem, I invite reactions/noticing; day three is meaning/craft; day four is respond/connect; day five (I haven't had one yet) might be a guest reader who will also give their thoughts about the poem. I'm making this a routine, but keeping the poem choice flexible on my end so I can be responsive to my learners and the events of the world. 

In light of 1/6/21, my choice for next week's poem might be " 'Hope' is the thing with feathers" by Emily Dickinson, or "The Peace of Wild Things" by Wendell Berry. (I think "Let America Be America Again" by Langston Hughes is too much for fifth grade, but it's the poem in MY heart right now.) Whatever I choose, it will be a way in for us to talk about the events of 1/6/21. My students weren't ready to talk on Thursday, and yesterday I invited them to give me feedback on why they were hesitant to talk about the news. I got some valuable insight. But that's another post for another day...or week. Stay tuned.

Poetry. Another seed worth planting.

Sorry to be a day late for Poetry Friday. This may be my new normal moving forward. Sylvia has the Poetry Friday Roundup at Poetry for Children

(If you've had trouble with your comments disappearing from our blog, I think it's because the site takes a LONG time to load. That's what happens when you have 15 years worth of content (happy belated blog anniversary to A Year of Reading)! Here's the hack: stop the page from loading before you type/submit your comment.)

Friday, January 01, 2021

Poetry Friday -- Inspired By

The poem of the day today from is Day 29 (2020) by Jamila Woods. Her poem was inspired by Things I Didn't Know I Loved by Nazim Hikmet.

My poem-draft is inspired by both of them.

image via Unsplash

Things I Didn't Know I Loved

it's January 1st 2021
i'm sitting at the kitchen table
my hands are cold
but the space heater warms my feet
i never knew i liked
being warm and cold at the same time
it's like
winter lap swimming
the steamy heat of the natatorium
the shocking cold of the water
the satisfaction of having swum

it's also like sweet and salty
i've always known i liked
sweet and salty
pancakes with bacon
chocolate pretzels
icing on crackers

it's nothing like clutter and order
or is it
i used to hate the clutter in my mother's house
my apartment was clean and empty
i was young
now i'm sitting at the kitchen table
my hands are cold
i'm crowded by books lists mugs 
pencil case glasses case stacks of mail
pens in a cup headphones cat toys and
only the words on this page
have any semblance of order

at least my feet are warm

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2021 (draft)

Ruth has the first Poetry Friday Roundup of 2021 at There is no such thing as a God-forsaken town.