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I AM A READER!! Creating Self-Efficacy in Young Readers

They show up in our classrooms every new school year.  You know the ones....they drag their feet to their reading spot, stopping to chat with four or five friends.  When they finally make it to their spot, they s-l-o-w-l-y start browsing through their selection of books, pausing frequently to look up at the ceiling, at the door, at their shoe.  When they finally choose a book, they randomly flip around, pretending to look at the pictures.  This is what DISENGAGEMENT looks like.  Some students are better at faking it than others.  Some quit faking it a year or two ago, and now just proclaim, "I hate reading!"

Nothing is quite as frustrating, or heartbreaking, as the student who does not yet see themselves as a reader, and has not yet experienced the life-changing magic of reading a really, really, really great book.  Our most important job as teachers (of any subject) is to ignite in our students a passion for reading that begins in our classroom and lasts a lifetime.  Before we can tackle strategy groups, conferring, close-reading, etc., we have to ENGAGE and MOTIVATE our students to read.  They have to WANT to do it, or we face an uphill a snow the dark....without a lot of hope for success.

Essential Practice #1:  Deliberate, research-informed efforts to foster literacy motivation and engagement within and across lessons.

Today I will begin digging into Practice #1 by discussing the importance of self-efficacy in reading.  Success breeds success. If we want our students to become successful readers, they need to SEE THEMSELVES as successful readers.  Perceived self-efficacy, or students’ personal beliefs about their capabilities to learn or perform behaviors at designated levels, plays an important role in their motivation and learning (Schunk and Zimmerman, 2007).  In other words, if your students have experienced multiple reading "failures", they will think that reading is not within their capabilities and therefore, will not WANT to read.  That is a no-brainer.  Think about something you have failed at...multiple times (for me...keeping plants alive) and how you feel about doing that particular thing.  You probably are not motivated to continue doing it.  Same with our reluctant readers!

"Teachers create opportunities for children to see themselves as successful readers and writers." (Essential Practices for Early and Elementary Literacy; Practice #1; Bullet #1)

It is really, super important to curate successful reading experiences for your students so that they see themselves as READERS!  Following are some great tips for fostering self-efficacy in your students.


Stephanie Harvey & Annie Ward, in their book From Striving to Thriving:  How to Grow Confident, Capable Readers suggest to TABLE THE LABELS.  Just stop it!  When we label our readers (strugglers, Level Ls, ELLs, "The Sparrows", etc), we feed into their already-low self-confidence as readers.  They suggest replacing "struggling reader" with "striving reader", which is a great suggestion, I think!


Focus on reading behaviors instead of reading levels.  When you confer with your students, provide feedback on the specific reading behaviors they are using consistently, and suggest strategies they can use to move them forward in their reading.  Help students to set goals that they can attain in a short period of time, helping them to see that they are continuing to grow as a reader and that it is a process.


Provide students with access to a wide range of engaging and age-appropriate text that is within their independent reading range.  Don't restrict students to text that is at their so-called reading level.  Levels are for teachers, not for labeling students.  Matching students with books is an important part of any reading teacher's role and it involves more than just assigning reading levels.  You really need to know your students as readers and as human beings in order to provide students with books that are going to knock their socks off and lure them into the wonderful world of reading.  Teachers I have known that are truly gifted at doing this always have the most successful readers in their class! (My next post is all about matching books to readers).

It is also critical that your classroom library is bias-free and includes books that represent each culture, race, and gender in your classroom.   Having one or two bins of books labeled "Black History Month" or "Multicultural Books" does not make your classroom library culturally responsive.  We need to think critically about how these books reflect the diversity of our students, their backgrounds, and the communities in which we live while exposing them to new ideas and concepts.  This article offers some great tips on how to ensure that your classroom library is truly anti-bias.

Also, I highly recommend this article On the Level by Donalyn Miller to give you some insight into rethinking how you use levels with your students.


Foster a growth mindset in your classroom.  If you have students coming to your class saying "I'm not a good reader," then you have a student with a fixed mindset.  Reading is no different than math, science or any other skill that needs to be learned.  Teaching students about the benefits of having a growth mindset, and the power of the word "yet" is crucial and impactful.  It is worth spending at least one day each week of the school year, doing a lesson or activity that helps your students to develop their growth mindset.  Also, be mindful of the extrinsic reading rewards that you offer to your students...these can go a long way to turn off your striving readers.  Focus your rewards on effort and make them intrinsic, or at least, reading-related rewards (i.e., extra time in the library, a new book, etc.)


Prioritize reading in your classroom by providing students with multiple opportunities to read throughout the day and build in time for students to share their reading successes with their peers.  The more time your students spend reading, the more successful they will be and they will begin to really see themselves as a part of your classroom reading community.

Following are some suggested resources for further reading:

If your classroom library is currently organized by level, you may want to consider re-organizing by topic.  Students LOVE's so much more fun shopping for a book you are actually interested in!!  I have a large collection of classroom library labels, in a variety of designs to help get you started!

You might also be interested in Launching Reader's Workshop, which includes several lessons that will help your students to see themselves as readers and encourage reading engagement!

I hope you enjoyed this post, the first in a series about the Essential Practices in Early and Elementary Literacy (Grades K-3).  My next post will be about matching books to readers:  How to Suck Them In!  Relentlessly Matching Books to Readers.

I'd love for you to share your comments about this post below....collaboration is key!

Love and peace,

Ten Essential Practices in Early and Elementary Literacy - A New Blog Series


I have been a teacher in Michigan since 1992.  Over the past several years, to my chagrin, reading achievement in our state (according the NAEP test) has plummeted, making our students some of the worst readers in the nation....and it has been getting worse and worse since 2003!  I absolutely hate admitting this, but it is one of the reasons that I took a position as an early literacy coach last fall.  I can't stand by and just watch this happen...I feel strongly about doing something to make things right here in Michigan!

As part of an initiative to improve reading achievement here, a group of folks (including U of M researcher, Dr. Nell Duke) created a set of Essential Practices in Early and Elementary Literacy.  This document outlines the 10 best research-supported literacy practices for K-3. THEY ARE GOOD!  This document has become sort-of a "bible" for me as I work side-by-side with teachers in planning and implementing high-quality literacy instruction. You can download your own free copy of the K-3 practices by clicking on the image below.  (Keep in mind there is a different practice guide for grades 4-5, that you can download for free HERE).

This school year my blogging goal is to "unpack" these practices by sharing the research behind each one and offering some simple and practical ways that you can apply the research to your classroom.  I also hope to inspire some collaboration and discussion among those of you that read and follow my blog.  So, please do not hesitate to ask questions and share your thoughts and ideas in the comments!


Let me start by listing the 10 Essential Practices in Early and Elementary Literacy:

  1. Deliberate/Research-supported Efforts to Foster Literacy Engagement and Motivation
  2. Read Alouds of Age-appropriate Text
  3. Small Group & Individual Instruction
  4. Phonological Awareness Activities
  5. Explicit Phonics Instruction
  6. Research-Supported and Standards-aligned Writing Instruction
  7. Intentional Efforts to Build Vocabulary and Content Knowledge
  8. Abundant Reading Materials and Opportunities
  9. Ongoing Observation and Assessment that Informs Instruction
  10. Collaboration with Families in Promoting Literacy

Don't be fooled friends, there is A LOT packed into that list of 10 practices!!  Holy Shamoley!  I want to break each one down into much smaller, more actionable components so that you can begin to slowly integrate these practices into your current classroom practices.

I want to begin by digging into ESSENTIAL PRACTICE #1, which is all about reading engagement and motivation.  If your students aren't engaged in reading....really, truly engaged, then the remaining 9 practices aren't going to do you much good.

Some of the things I hope to tackle in this first part of the series include:

In the meantime, I hope you find some time to browse the Essential Practices in Early and Elementary Literacy (K-3), and jot down some of your thoughts and questions.

If you are interested in learning more about how these practices were developed, and access some additional resources, please visit The Literacy Essentials website.

Thank you for joining the conversation.
Love and peace,

Author's Craft: Leads, Endings and Details...OH MY!

Do you sometimes tell your students that they need a better start to their story or opinion letter, or that they need an ending with more pizzazz?  Do you tell them to add more details when they hand you their sparse informational piece?   Of course you do!!  Then why do your students have such a difficult time following through on this seemingly simple directive?  It is likely that they need a little more modeling and instruction on the SPECIFIC WAYS to write leads, endings and details.

Just as a woodworker uses many tools and techniques to CRAFT a piece of furniture, a skilled author uses tools and techniques of language and storytelling to CRAFT a piece of writing.  We, as teachers of writing, need to directly teach our students some of these tools and techniques.  Since we may not consider ourselves to be expert writers, this seems like an overwhelming task...but it need not be.  If we give our students some direct instruction on only a few different types of leads, endings and details, they will have the tools to drastically improve their writing in all three text types:  narrative, informational and opinion writing!

In this post I have created a quick and dirty reference for the different types of LEADS, ENDINGS AND DETAILS (listed by text type) that you can and SHOULD teach your students to use in their writing!


Narrative Leads:

  • Setting - A very simple lead that introduces the character and describes the setting in the story.  The setting description can be quick and dirty or very descriptive.
  • Action - The story starts with character actions!
  • Dialogue - The story starts with dialogue between the characters.
  • Character Description - Starts with a detailed description of the main character in the story.

Informational Leads

  • Name the topic and hook the reader - all informational leads should start with some type of hook.
  • Fact - Start with some interesting or surprising facts about the topic.
  • Question - Ask a thought-provoking question to intrigue the reader to continue reading.
  • Tour Guide - Give the reader a brief overview of what they will learn from the book, article, etc.

Opinion Leads:

  • Name the topic and the opinion - all opinion pieces should start by stating the writer's opinion (claim) and hooking the reader.
  • Quote - Start with an interesting quote by an expert or famous person.
  • Question - Ask a thought-provoking question to get the reader interested in their opinion.
  • Writer credibility - start with the credentials of the writer and why their opinion matters.
  • Feeling - start by sharing a feeling or getting the reader to feel a certain way (angry, sad, etc.)
  • Shocking Fact - share a surprising/shocking fact that will lead into the writer's opinion.
  • Plea for help - Share a plea to the reader to help persuade them to agree with your opinion.
  • Why it's important - state the opinion and why it is important.


Narrative Endings:

  • Thoughts or Feelings - Wrap the story up by sharing character thoughts or feelings connected to the heart of the story (author's message).
  • Hope or Wish - End with a hope or a wish of a character or the narrator of the story.
  • Action - End with action by the character(s).
  • Make a connection to the beginning or middle of the story - tie the beginning and ending together by connecting what happened at the beginning to the ending.
  • Character change - end the story by writing about something the character has learned.
  • Dialogue - End with the characters talking.
  • Repeat a line - connect to the heart of the story by repeating an important line or quote.

Informational Endings:

  • Why its important - end by telling the reader why their topic is important or why they should care.
  • Question - end with a question for the reader to think about.
  • Summary - summarize what the report, article, book was about.
  • Persuade the reader to take action or make them think about the topic in a different or deeper way.

Opinion Endings:

  • Repeat the opinion of the writer - all opinion pieces should end by restating the opinion.
  • Rating - if the piece is a review...give a rating (5/10, 3 stars, etc.)
  • Talk directly to the reader - Now that YOU....YOU should....Now YOU know...
  • Ask the reader to take action - end by stating what you want the reader to do now.


Narrative Details:

  • Descriptions - describe the setting or the characters with vivid details.
  • Talk - add dialogue (what are the characters saying?).
  • Action - use specific verbs describe in specific detail action from the story
  • Thoughts and feelings - add details about what the characters are doing AND what they are thinking and feeling.
  • Show don't tell - instead of naming feelings, describe what a character is doing that SHOWS how they are feeling.
  • Add more to the heart of the story - add more details and more descriptive details to the place in the story that illustrates the author's message.   

Informational Details

  • Facts - All informational pieces should include lots of facts about the topic.
  • Definitions - the writer should give definitions of key words and include them in a glossary.
  • Details and Descriptions - include descriptive nouns, verbs and adjectives to help the reader to understand and visualize the information about the topic.
  • Steps - write directions in steps.
  • Tips - Give special tips when sharing how to do something.
  • Numbers - add number-related facts such as statistics, sizes, speeds, ages, years, etc.
  • Names - give specific and proper names for things (animal breeds, countries, states, etc.)
  • Examples - support the facts and ideas with examples. 
  • Text Features (charts, photos, headings, etc.)
  • Text Structures (Compare/contrast, cause/effect, pro/con, etc.)

Opinion Details

  • Reasons - all opinion pieces should state reasons that support the opinion.
  • Examples - share examples that support the reasons.
  • Quotes - quotes from experts that support the opinion and reasons.
  • Micro-story - a short story that is slanted to illustrate the opinion of the writer.
  • Survey Results - share survey results that support the opinion.
  • Interview - share information from an interview of an expert that supports the opinion.
  • Facts - Share facts that support the opinion of the writer.


Print this post so that you can reference the different types of leads, endings and details for each text type as you are ready to teach them.  Make sure you have examples to show students.  You can use mentor texts, student exemplars or teacher-created examples.  I collect these year after year, and file them away so they are ready to pull out when I need them!  Create anchor charts and keep them up all year so that students can refer to them as they are drafting and revising their writing.


If you want to learn a whole lot more about author's craft, I strongly recommend the following books:


You might also like the following from my TPT store:



I hope you have found this post helpful!  What reading or writing topics are you interested in reading more about?  I'd love your feedback on ideas for future blog posts!

Thanks for visiting!
Love and peace,

Guided Reading or Strategy Groups? - What to Know!

There is a lot of discussion in my school district around small group instruction.  We keep hearing that best practice includes "a variety of grouping strategies".   As a teacher, I would sometimes get confused about the different types of "reading groups" and when to use each type, so I thought I'd post about it today, and hopefully clear up some of the confusion!


So, what types of small groups would one expect to see in an elementary classroom?  Here are some great ways to group students:

  • Guided Reading Groups
  • Reading Strategy Groups
  • Writing Strategy Groups
  • Interest-based Groups
  • Book Clubs
  • Partnerships
You have probably used all of these types of groups in your classroom and they each have their own benefit.  Interest-based groups, book clubs and partnerships are fairly self-explanatory and should be used regularly in your classroom to inspire great conversations around books and other classroom learning.


So what about guided reading....and what the heck are strategy groups??  Aren't they the SAME THING?  Well...not really.  Let me explain.

Guided reading is just that...reading that is done with a small group of students under the watchful eye of the teacher.  Students in the group are at roughly the same reading level, and will be reading the SAME leveled book, that was carefully chosen by the teacher based upon her planned teaching points.  The teacher often prompts students as they read, helping them to use the three cuing systems (meaning, syntax & visual cues).  But over the years guided reading has grown in to a very strategic way to teach a variety of skills to emergent and early readers, and is not only a way of guiding readers but also a way to differentiate reading instruction so all students can be successful.  Guided reading often includes reading with prompting AND direct teaching of reading skills including decoding, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.  Most teachers find that guided reading lessons usually take about 20 minutes.  Jan Richardson wrote a whole book about how to rock out guided reading with your students:

I highly recommend this book if you want to get really, really good at guided reading!  If you have the book and would like some reference cards to simplify your life, I created these:

You can get the whole set at my TPT store!  

So what about strategy groups?  Why do I need strategy groups if I am already doing guided reading with my students every day?

The first time I heard about strategy groups, it was from the Two Sisters (you know Gail Boushey and Joan Moser).  I read their book The Cafe Book:  Engaging All Students in Daily Literacy Assessment & Instruction, and was blown away by the idea of reading strategy groups.

A strategy group is basically a reading conference...but with a small group of students instead of just one.  Mind-blowing, I know!!  It is different from guided reading because your students will all have a different book (one of the just-right books from their book box), and you will be teaching them one very specific strategy.  You teach and model, then students practice the strategy with you in their own book, one at a time.  A good strategy group lesson should only take about 5-10 minutes.  You can see the amazing Jennifer Serravallo teach a strategy group here:

She's got some great books to help you get started:




So the conversation we have been having in our district is when to use guided reading and when to use strategy groups!  The answer is not really simple, but let's take a stab at it!

Guided reading is an way of packing the direct instruction of many skills into one compact, 20 minute lesson.  Emergent (Levels A-C, and Early Readers (Levels D-I) HAVE A LOT TO LEARN ABOUT READING!!  They especially need to learn decoding skills.....phonemic awareness, phonics, spelling patterns, etc.  Guided reading is THE BEST way to differentiate this learning for these readers.

Transitional readers (Level J-P) are much better at decoding and need a strong focus on comprehension strategy instruction.  But.....they are still learning to decode longer unfamiliar words.  So, they may still need guided reading, but the lessons will be much more focused on comprehension than decoding.  Strategy groups could also be a great way to address the needs of transitional readers, because they will focus on one, very specific, strategy that the students need at that moment to move forward with their independent reading.  It might be a decoding strategy, a fluency strategy or a comprehension strategy.  Since strategy groups are shorter, you can do them more often, which is AWESOME!  So, they are at a tricky level, where you might have to decide which type of group is best for them based upon what they need most.

If you have fluent readers (Levels Q and beyond), you should really be using strategy groups and not guided reading.  They are really beginning to spread their reading wings and need comprehension and vocabulary strategies to help them to comprehend the much more complex texts they are reading.  This is best addressed through short, very focused, strategy groups.

Here is a quick chart to see the difference between Guided Reading and Strategy Groups:

I wrote a whole blog post about guided reading:  Guided Reading Made Simple.  

Also, here are some resources I created to help you with guided reading.  I hope you find them helpful:

Hope you found this post helpful...thanks for stopping by.  Please feel free to start a conversation in the comments below!

Love and peace,

Writing Time is NOT Over! How to Increase Writing Stamina During Writer's Workshop

"I'm done!"  During the early weeks of Writer's Workshop, these cringe-worthy words echo through my classroom.  "Really?" you think to yourself.  "We're only about five minutes into our workshop!"  Then I remember that every fall it's the same students have not yet built up a healthy stamina for writing.  I take a deep breath and relax, because I know that in a few short weeks, they will be utilizing every moment of their writing time, and begging for more!  How do I accomplish it?  Here are some tips that have worked with even the most resistant writers...

1.  Set a class goal and work daily to achieve it.

Decide how long you want your students to be able to write in the long-term.  I usually expect my third graders to be able to write independently for 30 minutes (or longer) by the time workshop is in full swing.   But I build up to that amount the same way I do for independent reading.  I might start with five or ten minutes, but that usually depends upon the needs of my group.  It is fun to celebrate each day by coloring in a chart that shows their progress, and looking forward to their goal for the next day.  It is such a simple idea...but it really works!

2.  Create an atmosphere for writing

When you walk into my classroom during writer's workshop, you will notice that soft music is playing (usually the non-lyrical kind...research shows that is best) and you will hear the soft chatter of students working.  Supplies are readily available including sharpened pencils, loose-leaf paper ready on shelves, writing folders loaded with student tools and strategies, a writing board that has topic ideas and other resources.  The classroom becomes a cozy space that is safe for writers to put their thoughts into words.  I like to give students the choice of where to sit as well.  This may not work for all students or teachers, but I found that when students can choose their writing spot....their writing stamina is much better.  I know that as an adult writer...I am quite picky about my writing space.  If I'm not stamina suffers.

3.  Allow for collaboration

I love a nice quiet classroom...I think most teachers do.  But it's time to face the facts...the BEST learning happens when students collaborate.   They need to TALK about their reading, their math thinking, and yes, their writing!   When students share and talk about their writing with peers, magical things happen.  They get topic ideas from one another, they offer friendly suggestions, they help with editing, they give compliments, and they lend a listening ear when the adults are too busy.  There really is no end to the benefits when writers collaborate.  I'll share a little secret too...when you allow students to talk during writing makes it go by faster.  Nothing will kill your students' writing stamina quicker than demanding that the classroom be silent.

4.  Chunk your writing time

If many of your students are struggling to write independently for 30 minutes or more, you might try building in short breaks.  For example, Lucy Calkins has "mid-workshop teaching points", which are a great way to have students stop for a breather, while you offer them a tip to keep them going for another few minutes.  Another idea is to stop and have a few students share what they are working on, which can help students who are stalled out to get their juices flowing again.  I will often have students do their partner work in the middle of workshop instead of waiting until the end.  This bit of collaboration is often just the little brain break that is needed to keep students writing for another 15 minutes or more.

5.  Warm up with quick-writes

A quick write is a set amount of time (5-15 minutes) that students will write without stopping.  The idea is for students to write as much as they can without planning first.  It is generally done to build writing fluency, but also helps with stamina.  Once or twice per week I like to start writer's workshop with a quick write as a warm up.  It is a great strategy for extra-squirrelly students (after a day of recess drama for example).  I will give them a very general topic (winter fun, a scary time, my hero, etc.), set a timer and zip my lips while they write.  You will be surprised at how much students love this...and they always want to share what they wrote, so choose a few volunteers to share or have them share with their partners.  This quick writing warm-up will get your students focused on writing very quickly and really helps to extend their writing stamina throughout the rest of workshop time.  (You can find some great Quick Write topics in my TPT store).

6.  Model strategies that writers use

All writers struggle with stamina....we have all spent time staring at the blank page or screen, wishing we were doing something else.  As a writing teacher, I like to share with my students strategies that I have used to get back to the task at hand when I am distracted and just can't seem to write.  If I find that my students are struggling with stamina, I will model these strategies as mini-lessons, within the context of whatever unit I am teaching.  Some examples of these include:
  • Revisit a mentor text to get an idea for something I want to try in my writing
  • Stretch - Fingers, arms, neck, etc.
  • Focus on one tiny part of my writing piece and working to add descriptive words and details
  • Take a break from a certain piece of writing to work on something different
  • Sketch - a new writing idea, a part of a piece I'm struggling with, a character, etc.
  • Share my story with my partner to get feedback, or read my partner's story stamina is starting to dwindle...time for a coffee!  I hope you find success with these strategies and hear your students singing, "What?  Writing time is over already?!!  I'm not done yet!!"  Be sure to check out the other posts in this series:  {Frustrating}Student Writing Problems and How to Solve Them.  

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Love and peace,

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