12/21/16 Free Discussion Questions for JUST ONE THING!

If you're looking for last-minute gifts for a middle schooler, you might want to check out Just One Thing! by Nancy Viau. And...you can get discussion questions for FREE here!

From the back cover:
Anthony Pantaloni needs to figure out one thing he does well--one thing that will replace the Antsy Pants nickname he got tagged with on the first day of fifth grade, and something he can "own" before moving up to middle school next year. It seems that every kid in Carpenter Elementary has some claim to fame: Marcus is Mr. Athletic, Alexis is Smart Aleck, Bethany has her horse obsession, and even Cory is known as the toughest kid in the school. Ant tries lots of things, but nothing sticks! IT doesn't help that there are obstacles along the way--a baton-twirling teacher, an annoying cousin, and Dad's new girlfriend, to name a few. Just One Thing! is chock full of hilarious adventures that will keep young readers cheering for Ant until the very end. For ages 8-12.

Take a look! Nancy and I had so much fun creating the discussion questions for you, too! We hope you enjoy them.

12/19/16 KidLit for Aleppo

I'm participating in #kidlitforAleppo on Twitter through Wed. 12/21. If you make a donation to an organization helping in Aleppo, post an image of your receipt (mark out the identifying details or take a screenshot of any part of the e-receipt that doesn't show your personal information) to my Tweet here. I will randomly choose a winner on 12/22.
For a background on #kidlitforAleppo, or to see what organizations qualify, click on Dana Alison Levy's post, "The Stories We Don't Want to Tell: Aleppo." (Note: Dana Alison Levy and Rachel Allen came up with the idea)
By Bernard Gagnon (Own work) [GDFL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

FREE Teacher Guide for THE BFF BUCKET LIST by Dee Romito

The newest teacher's guide is available now! 
Click below to get a FREE teacher's guide and/or discussion questions for Dee Romito's The BFF Bucket List.


Ella and Skyler have been best friends since kindergarten--so close that people smoosh their names together like they're the same person: EllaandSkyler. SkylerandElla.

But Ella notices the little ways she and Skyler have been slowly drifting apart. And she’s determined to fix things with a fun project she’s sure will bring them closer together—The BFF Bucket List. Skyler is totally on board.

The girls must complete each task on the list together: things like facing their fears, hosting a fancy dinner party, and the biggest of them all—speaking actual words to their respective crushes before the end of summer. But as new friends, epic opportunities, and super-cute boys enter the picture, the challenges on the list aren’t the only ones they face

And with each girl hiding a big secret that could threaten their entire friendship, will the list--and their BFF status--go bust?

Themes of friendship, challenges, and growing up are woven throughout the book. 

Sticky-Note Conversations

A friend passed along this post about engaging students with sticky-note conversations. It's a clever and quick idea to try in the classroom; it builds trust and writing into the routine in an authentic and meaningful way. Take a look!
For authors, I can envision using this technique for school visits or ways to engage in conversation about your books within classroom instruction.
A burning question I seem to repeat year after year is “How do I talk to more of my students one-on-one beginning on the first day of school?” I know the value of making eye contact with the adolescents who enter my room. I know the importance of making them feel like they belong here —…

Last Stop on Market Street Teacher Guide Now Available!

I created a comprehensive teacher's guide for Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson

You'll find background information and teaching resources for comprehension and how to use the book as a mentor text for strong verbs, personification, character traits, and dialogue. Assessments and evaluation materials are included!

You can purchase the guide from my Teachers Pay Teachers store here.

Should you use the guide, please let me know how you liked it. I'm always looking to improve my resources to best suit the needs of the classroom, so if there's something that worked well, I'd like to know that. And, if I could tweak the resource in any way, that's good to know, too! All comments and questions can be emailed to me at AuthorsandEducators at gmail dot com.

Writing Next: Research on Writing Instruction Strategies (Beyond Mentor Texts)

image from Nationaal Archief via Flickr
A friend and mentor suggested I read "Writing Next: Effective Strategies to Improve Writing of Adolescents in Middle and High Schools." It's a 2007 report by Drs. Steve Graham and Dolores Perin and funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Alliance for Excellent Education. In it, Drs. Graham and Perin identify eleven effective elements found in current writing instruction. I summarized these elements below in black (in order of decreasing effectiveness), along with my reactions in blue:
  1. Writing Strategies--explicitly teaching students specifics for planning, revising, and editing
    • This seems pretty obvious, and it's not surprising that it's the most effective. In order for students to write well, they need to go through phases all writers go through, and they need to be shown what each of these phases look like. The authors provided a few example strategies in the report such as Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) and Pay attention to the prompt, List the main idea, Add supporting details, Number your ideas (PLAN). Given that good writing takes time, I continue to wonder why standardized tests require timed essays that are fully formed.
  2. Summarization--teaching students how to summarize texts
    • Practice makes perfect, or at least proficient. Giving students a specific focus like a summary and practice will enable them to produce an adequate summary. (This ties in nicely with #4.)
  3. Collaborative Writing--students work together in writing 
    • I view this as the benefits of a critique group at all stages during the writing process and fits with Gardner's interpersonal intelligence as well as Vygotsky's argument for socialization in learning.
  4. Specific Product Goals--assign students specific, reachable goals. 
    • If you're specific in directions and ask for something students are capable of giving, you're more likely to get quality work in response. Specific objectives and rubrics can help with this.
  5. Word Processing--using computers and word processors
    • I was a little surprised that using computers appears to be an effective instructional support. While students can spell check and easily add, delete, and move text, I keep hearing from professional writers how they write their stories by hand. I wonder what students will miss by not putting an actual pen to paper; maybe a powerful surge flowing through them, but maybe nothing.
  6. Sentence Combining--teaching students to construct more complex, sophisticated sentences
    • This reminds me of sentence fluency in the 6+1 traits. I wonder why the authors focused just on this trait. While effective, without ideas, organization, voice, word choice, conventions, and presentation, it's only one element.
  7. Prewriting--Activities designed to help students organize ideas for composition
    • aka the first step in the writing process. Perhaps the most rushed through step in writing, and one that shouldn't be! It allows for more fully fleshed out ideas, and students are more invested in their work when they plan ahead of time.
  8. Inquiry Activities--students analyze data to help them develop ideas and content for a writing task
    • Anytime you can get students to discover knowledge on their own is a good thing. :)
  9. Process Writing Approach--a workshop approach that stresses extended writing opportunities, writing for authentic audiences, personalized instruction, and cycles of writing
    • Unsurprisingly, the effectiveness of this depended upon the training teachers received in the process writing approach since there is a lot to it.
  10. Study of Models--students read, analyze, and emulate models of good writing.
    • This is equivalent to studying mentor texts for gathering ideas on how to shape one's own writing
  11. Writing for Content Learning--using writing as a tool to learn content material
    • Unsurprisingly, writing can be effective for learning about various content in different subjects.
While the most effective element was explicitly teaching students writing strategies, it is important to note that all of these elements proved effective, and can be combined to strengthen adolescent literacy development. It is also important to note that many of the effect sizes differed only minimally, so we need to be cautious in interpreting the differences in effect.

What surprised me most was the rank of the study of models (#10). I keep reading about mentor texts. In fact, I contributed two blog entries about their benefits here and here. And, it's true that they're helpful in teaching students to write well. But, mentor texts are only helpful if students have the basic writing skills beforehand in order to learn from masters and extrapolate that information into their own work, and when we use them in conjunction within a larger literacy and writing framework.


The report repeatedly mentioned that these elements do not make up a complete writing curriculum on their own. This made me wonder: what does constitute a solid writing curriculum for fourth grade and up? And, what are some additional practices in writing instruction? I'm familiar with the writing process, Writer's Workshop, 6 +1 traits, and others. But, what else is there? And how do they all tie together with reading, listening, speaking, viewing, and visually representing? And, why is reading still receiving more attention than writing? Obviously, I have some more reading and thinking to do!

A good study should shed light on questions while at the same time inciting more. I've only summarized a portion of this report--I did not mention the history of writing instruction, the necessity of writing or the consequences of poor writing, additional methodologies to consider, and more. To read the full report, click here.

In the meantime, do you have a reaction to the findings or my questions? If so, please share your thoughts!

"If students are to make knowledge their own, they must struggle with the details, wrestle with the facts, and reword raw information and dimly understood concepts into language they can communicate to someone else. In short, if students are to learn, they must write." 
--the National Commission on Writing, as cited in Writing Next

Free Teacher Guide for Tricky Vic

A FREE teacher guide is now available for Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli!

Click on the image to download the guide!

The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower

In the early 1900s, Robert Miller, aka “Tricky Vic,” conned his way through
Europe to America and back again. He swindled unsuspecting marks into giving
him thousands of dollars for a money-printing box that did not actually print
counterfeit money, stole from wealthy passengers on transatlantic steamships, and
conned scrap metal dealers into bidding for the rights to dismantle the Eiffel Tower
before being arrested in New York for a real counterfeiting scheme. These thrilling
and daring exploits provide insights into one of the world’s greatest con artists, and
show readers how a con man lives and operates. Informational sidebars and back
matter provide background for the time period and help kids understand this
narrative picture book biography.

Click here to download the guide for Tricky Vic, which I created in conjunction with the author. There's plenty to think about and discuss with this excellent book. We hope you enjoy it. 

As with all my resources, if you notice any errors, please contact me at AuthorsAndEducators@gmail.com to correct them.

Thank you.

New Teacher Guide: No Sleep for the Sheep!

The newest teacher's guide is now available!

No Sleep for the Sheep! is a fun, rollicking romp about a sheep who just wants to sleep. But, animal after animal keeps interrupting 'til morning. 

Click here to preview or order your guide for this adorable picture book by Karen Beaumont and Jackie Urbanovic.

NJ SCBWI Conference 6/4-6/5 2016

I am so honored to join the faculty for the NJ SCBWI conference on Saturday June 4th and Sunday June 5th, 2016. I'll be presenting on Marketing for Schools: How to Develop Engaging, Standards-Based Resources for Your Book.

Please join me and other fabulous writers, editors, and agents at this event.

Interested? You can register here. Early bird pricing in effect until 4/4. Registration closes 5/7.

This conference is one of my favorites in the kid lit writing world. And, the keynote speaker will be David Wiesner!!!!!

Previous Blog Posts

Below are some of the blog posts I've written: