Saturday, February 27, 2021

Text Set: Thinking about Main Idea Across Genres

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

This week, I'll share some books that support beginning conversations around main idea as readers. The concept of main idea is often tricky for young readers and they latch on to one idea instead of reading across an entire text. Hopefully this set of books will help. 

I think the book Me and the World is a great one to introduce the idea of main idea to readers. This is a book filled with incredible infographics about the world. It is one of those books that readers will spend hours with. One challenge for readers is sometimes that main idea is a big idea that spans the ENTIRE text and is an idea that weaves through lots of a book. So, to start with a book with a more obvious main idea will make the idea accessible. Readers can discuss the title as well as detailed patterns they notice in the ways the information works together under a big idea.

Woke: A Young Poet's Call to Justice is a poetry anthology and is another great book for exploring main idea. The book begins with a message from Jason Reynolds and then an introduction by author Mahogany Browne. Discussing these, and the idea of woke is a great way to start this conversation.  Then exploring the ways each poem fits the bigger idea--how does each fit under the main ideas shared in the introduction--will help build understanding that every single piece in an anthology fits the bigger idea of the entire text.

Following Woke, Cast Away by Naomi Shihab Nye is a book that will expand the conversation. In this book the author begins by asking us "How much have you thrown away in your lifetime already? Do you ever think about it? " Each poem fits under the big idea of things we "cast away" and the author looks at this literally and sometimes metaphorically which will add to the conversation and understanding of main idea a bit more.

We Are Kind weaves together two ideas--ways to be kind and how we feel when we are kind.  Discussing the main idea and what the author is telling us about kindness will be a great entry way into the specifics of main idea-- a main idea that goes beyond the single word of kindness. This simple text gives readers so much to explore and discuss.

Our Favorite Day of the Year is a perfect book to use to discuss main idea (after enjoying it and discussing the book on its own of course!).  Often, young readers choose one idea to focus on and decide that is what the book is about. So, this book is a great one to discuss that. In this story, a classroom full of children spend the year celebrating various holidays. Discussing each snippet against the title will help young readers see that each of the holidays fit under a bigger main idea --that the individual holidays were details that helped the author share the main message.

You can get a downloadable pdf of this list at

Friday, February 26, 2021

Poetry Friday -- Remote Teaching

photo via Unsplash

Each day
I thread the needle of my heart
and stitch together
my quilt-square students
into a tapestry
of joy
and learning.

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2021

The WORK of teaching online does not relent. It's brutal. But I never could have imagined how deeply connected I would be to my students (and they to each other) without ever being together in person. There is joy every day. The joy of a student who has finally mastered the steps for long division, the joy of their creativity in creating websites, the joy of our little inside jokes (for example, the "Loading Loading Loading" song we sing). 

I'm joining the Poetry Sisters' metaphor challenge today, and I look forward to tomorrow, when I'll read through the Poetry Friday roundup at Karen Edmisten* before I go and get my second COVID shot.  

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)