Back to School with Teachers And Writers Magazine!

My email newsletter came today from Teachers & Writers Magazine–the online zine of Teachers & Writers Collaborative. It is loaded with wonderful and imaginative ideas for teaching your writers. You can subscribe to this wonderful magazine (I think I have mentioned it somewhere before on this blog) for free–however, T&W Collaborative is sustained by donations.

T&W publishes Teachers & Writers Magazine as a resource for teaching the art of writing in kindergarten through college and also in non-classroom settings. The online magazine presents a wide range of ideas and approaches, as well as lively explorations of T&W’s mission: “educating the imagination.”

Here’s a taste of what they offer you in the Back to School edition. Visit to sign up for this great magazine, and share with your colleagues!

From the Aug 2016 edition (but also check out the archives for great ideas and lesson plans):
Travel Poetry
Just Write—a daily ritual in a middle school classroom…Also loaded with good writing tip starters.




No Words? No Problem!


Wordless picture books, believe me, are for ALL ages! In class, the preservice teachers shared wordless picture pictures in small groups. While it would seem a picture book without words would target early childhood or elementary, my students saw (and suggested!) the possibilities for middle grades and high school students. Here’s a short list of their thoughts:

Reading comprehension:

-Even without words, students sequence a story line…Great way to develop what is often referred to as a Story Mountain, where the plot is developed from problem through climax to solution…Inferencing possibilities-no limit!…the strategy of Synthesis!…Summary!…Monitoring Comprehension!  We worked all semester with Ellin Oliver Keene’s Mosaic of Thought, 2nd ED Unknown where seven reading comprehension strategies are presented. I like to save the Wordless Picture Books day for the end of the semester, after students have worked separately with each of the seven strategies (monitoring comprehension, activating schema, inference, questioning, visualizing, determining importance, synthesizing), so they see how each strategy is at work in comprehending the story line of a book with no words.


-Students could work together to sketch out a story sequence…to sketch a character map…to add words to each page…the possibilities are endless–

What I enjoy best about this day in class is the conversations in the small groups. The swapping of thoughts, the AHA moments, the laughter, the questioning…IF you teach middle or high school, wordless picture books are a wonderful resource!

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We all navigate paths to intended life goals. Feet often clearly embedded in the first steps, and often seeing a bit of fog down the road ahead. Sometimes the road bends and we reel from the turn. Other times, Frost’s fork in the road appears and we contemplate. Other times, the road is straight, though perhaps narrow. No matter the age, we all take journeys. The “journey” is a great invitation to a writing piece for middle graders (or you!).  A major journey for me was the decision to undertake the grueling PhD program. What began as hope ended as a greater understanding of Self. The journey made me a better person. Journeys that challenge us tend to do this. Here are some quick thoughts on my journey to the PhD. I encourage you to take on the concept of “journey” writing with your students!
So many memories stirred as I think back on starting (and continuing along) the path to the  PhD. Initial feelings of panic [what am I doing here with all these smart folks?] slowly morphing into mentally “joining the club,” knowing you belong on your chosen path, and feelings of actually enjoying the workload.  Am I qualified to do this? Can I balance it with the rest of my crazy life? I was a classroom teacher for 21 years when I began my doctoral studies. 50 years young. My sixteen year old granddaughter was two years old when I began writing my dissertation. I hesitated (reflected might be the better word) for several years before I took the plunge and applied to the doctoral program. Perhaps because I was “old,”  I relished in the coursework. Having worked as a middle school teacher for two decades, along with active memberships in professional teacher organizations, I felt comfortably informed and knew my focus. My activity in the National Writing Project naturally led me to know that my dissertation would focus on writing instruction. My kids were out of the house, and my husband my strongest supporter. I thrived on the challenges. The timing, as it turned out, could not have been more perfect. When coursework ended I experienced withdrawal. I missed the intensity of banter and discussion with fellow doctoral students. Withdrawal soon faded with the writing of my dissertation. My dissertation defense was much more of a thrill than actually being hooded. I knew, loved, and had a passion for my topic, and this was possible due to my years spent in the field, more journeys!,  gathering experiences that would play a huge part in my doctoral work. My capacities, unknown to me at the start of my journey, astounded me. My journey was a maze of possibilities, all of which led me on a path to self-discovery that continues today. No matter the journey, or the traveler, we share common experiences along our individual paths.

Quickwrite strategy

…to get writing juices flowing in class

Materials: Student writer’s notebooks; Happy Campers :0)

Quick: One sentence about yourself you think is true of everyone in this room

Quick: One sentence about yourself you strongly suspect is true for only you

QuickRead ReadAround: Around the room students read their first Quickwrite; around the room again, students read their second. (Following rules of ReadAround–just read, no response comments)


Lesson Ideas–Using Guest Journals to encourage

There are many interesting ways to use Journal Writing to encourage the voices of all students, as well as spark interest in writing. The Journal strategy presented in this post reminds me of the Shared Journal strategy for the youngest writers (K-2), wherein students share their daily journal entries then vote on which entry they will all write.

This post from is exciting to me.

Lesson Ideas.

The Shepherd’s Journal

The Shepherd’s Journal is truly the marriage of writing of the natural world and prose/poetry writing. My writing group created a Shepherd’s Journal a couple of times during winter writing retreats, so many years ago now. Here is an example from one year. Our little group emerged in part from Sunbelt Writing Project fellows; others, invited writing pals. Some of us teachers, others not. The journal is easy enough to do: students in your classroom would choose a month of the year and compose thoughts about the natural world and create a poem or passage. The shepherd, historically, and yet today in many countries, followed the natural signs of each month; lives depended upon watching closely.

To make this a lower risk writing task, have student groups work together!

To make it lower risk–have students “find” poems or passages in prose that reflect the months. Not necessarily to find a poem titled, “January,” but to find a poem or passage that creates images of that cold month that launches a new year.

Here is ours—-(Except for mine, all last names of the contributors have been removed…all rights reserved–please do not copy text; please do use the idea!)

Our Shepherds’ Journal

22 February 2003


Cold-cold-cold this month does bluster and blow

With wintry gleaming sun sharp crystal

As the icicles adorning the houses’ eaves

With snow and ice outlining each forest limb

And lonely tombstones’ epitaphs as if

To recall the Winter’s tale that January weaves.


It is the stories of the Dead we read …

The solitary voice of our hinterlands

Whose echo and countenance haunts and stalks

Under cover of dark-hearted Winter’s cloak

Our buried longings and distant dormant lives

Are revisited in the evening embers then reborn with icy morning walks.



Some February days in Alabama the soft wind’s a caress, whispering “spring, spring” on hurried, pale winter faces. Strong rains strike on tornado-dark days.   Outside my bedroom window the trees are brown tracery against gray sky, the same as January, the same as December—not a green edge of dogwood or sycamore leaf, still. Each time I take my wool winter dress coat out of the closet, I wonder: The last time? . . . before spring cleaning and the sultry months that even now—Suddenly, a 70o day!–are building steam.

Pines sing, the sun’s hot. Bright-white clouds, only their undersides gray, sail across sky deepened by just a tinge of cold, a graver blue than the skies of summer.   The surface of Lake Martin, the trees on its opposite edge, and that sky dance in a palette of silver grays and gray blues, shifting, transmuting in the now-warm, now-cold wind. Where I sit, on a rough wooden picnic table just dry enough to let us write outside, Andy’s fingers dance on the keys of his laptop. We’re sharing the picnic table top, the multiple-personality wind, the caws and honks of occasional birds and rush of passing cars woven into the sssshssshsssh of the pines. Andy speaks lines to himself, a quiet sound as writing-companionable as the waves of pinesong. Kim’s at the next table over, legs stretched out, soaking in the winter sun, the page of her writing tablet brilliant-white, Vanna White’s teeth white—in the midday winter sun. We’re alone together, in our clean-skied Lake Martin winter-into-spring.



Magical March brings warmth for which our souls long…like medicine to cure the colds of winter. March winds whip away frost, sweep away leaves, and blow in the beginning of spring, reassuring all creatures of a new season. Birds come home and begin singing us awake before the alarm clock. Lovers come together and begin kissing before breakfast. Parents prepare picnics, plant flowers, and begin working on spring projects. Kids fly kites, sail toy paper boats, and begin planning for a week out of school. Lonely souls awaken to the idea that life is about living!, and the lucky ones find a way to start.



Oh glorious days of constancy!

The fickle winds of winter

Are truly gone as April

Spreads its warmth.

The birds sing rejoicing


Songs to celebrate spring.

Reds, yellows, greens, and

Browns swoop down to

Alight on fence posts and

Preen in the warming

Glow of the sun.


The beauty of a world

Reawakening to growth—

Flowers bursting with color,

Children chattering as they

Shake off their winter’s blanket

And emerge, open and alive.


The throaty neigh of a galloping

Horse as she kicks up

Grass seeds all

Over the field.

Life, reborn and free,

Celebrating every day

With unabashed glee.



The sun shines down in streaks of gold between the castled clouds of gray.

The wind at first comes blustering, then like a mood it softly fades.

The greening of the earth begins and flowers bloom and children play,

A melody that’s soft at first bursts forth in joyful song.


Animals move into the light to warm the winter chill away

And ducks come sailing down to rest upon the glassy lake.

The forest strummed by gentle winds plays songs of celebration then

Like the skilled musician, it pauses and it plays again.


I came upon a meadow filled with lavender and white,

A delicate gown of buttercups dancing in the light

The sun shines down in streaks of gold and breezes gently sigh,

Then one good puff turned the buttercups into a million butterflies.


It’s May and all across the land the earth bursts forth in green,

And sings in celebration at the coming of the spring.



If you love the outdoors, you find reasons to be out there.

June is good enough reason.

In June, you feel new and rich and important.

And, if you have the habit of keeping a daybook, it will fill with wonders in June.


Your pen forgives and forgets the impetuous temper of spring and journeys boldly

and confidently into June—who stands as a sentinel, guarding the promise of summer.


You find words for June mornings. You say the morning sun shakes you gently and whispers you awake—

you also tell of it shouting your name, impatiently calling you into the day.

And, you take a brush and capture June’s sunlight with soft, proud, yellows in broad, lingering strokes.


Storm clouds of spring give way to fat chubby cumulus clouds

And you notice that the words in your daybook hide your cares and free fall through blue skies.

As June’s days wane, your words ride mare’s tales across the horizon.

New landscapes emerge in June, in the planned structure of gardens and in surprise-filled fields of


The words in your daybook dot the landscape of June.


You welcome, no, you need, the promise of birds in June.

You build and you fill feeders and delight that feathered friends choose your habitat to visit.

In your daybook, you write: “June 15th –a pair of cardinals seem to be warming up to me.

Still skittish, they abide my presence today…” In June, the songbirds balance your busy life.


Your June daybook memories recall moonless nights on a northern lake where lights from thousands of stars

illuminate the tree-line across the lake, and you, in a small boat, are enveloped in a warm summer night.

In your daybook you note how once in a while on these moonless nights, a shooting star would stream across

the sky, adding some movement to what seemed like a magnificent painting of the night sky.

Your only hint, you write, of the world we live in, is a few slow-moving satellites sneaking through the stars.


And, you marvel that you are not sure how it is that you are so fortunate to be out in this small boat listening

to the water gently slap its sides, and gazing up at a night sky so beautiful that it reaffirms your belief that

the best of this life cannot be earned, but is given freely to those who watch closely.


Yes, you write, if you love the outdoors, you find reasons to be out there.

And June is a good enough reason.

Pam Stockinger


July is sluggish in summer’s heat

Sun takes over the land

Grass withers and browns beneath our feet

Cats and dogs lie limp on the porch

And children toasted and tired

From long hours of play

Reluctantly wave goodbye

And run toward Mamma’s cooling treats

Flags wave across the sky

Banners of our freedom

Moon looks down upon us all

Smiles and closes another day

With a satisfied sigh.



Strong, full of fire,

August roars in.

The sun mercilessly beats down

On the sun-baked people,

Whose souls are truly touched

By the burning warmth.


The heat’s only reprieve is

the afternoon rumbling

Of thunder and rain.

The blue quickly covers the sky

Again when lazy, puffy

Clouds float toward the evening.


The parched grasses steam in

Relief as the afternoon rain passes.

The dewy moisture evaporates

Quickly as the sun takes back

Its reign.


Dogs dig in the dirt scrounging

For the cooling moisture the

Earth offers.

A somnolent twitch of

the ears or flick of the tail

Urges nosy flies on

Their way.


The only creatures truly

Active in this month are

the insects: flies, mosquitoes,

Moths, dragonflies, ants

Immune to the heat, they

Go about their business of




The stillness of a summer day gives way to season’s change,

When once again the wind returns to chase the summer heat.

The ducks come by again and pause to rest along their way,

Following the sun to where the land is still at play.


Grassy fields of golden hay dance the winter in.

The sun grows cool and chills the air as evening comes too soon.

And when the air begins to move, the forest sings again

And animals fuss about their nests beneath a sanguine moon.


New flowers bloom, their colors bright, but overnight they fade,

Like stars against the darkened sky give way to light of day.

The forest fills with orange and gold, the air is filled with leaves.

That plant their seeds within the earth until the rains of spring.


It’s fall and all across the land the earth lies down to spend

A winter waiting for the spring to bring it life again.



Once I heard one wizened say “nothing…nothing gold can stay”

Another described what’s best – Time, Friendship, or Emotion-

By sighing wistfully “Ahhhh! It was golden

Which only goes to verify the all-too-truly-true

Nothing-gold-can-stay Frostian and philosophic notion.


But then we have October turning…returning…

Revisiting earth with rolling gold a’golden…

A thousand gilded gourds and glistening maple leaves

Pilgrim geese V o’er grateful farmers -gathering ripened ears and sweetened bales

As once they harvested in ancient Autumns olden .


Samhain in mystic smoke billows up the sky from ritual

While Nature’s flames burst harvest homeward

Amid green leaf and scarlet berry whilst wanton elements

Fire and Earth and Air and Water shift shapes and

Crisp footed old Jack frost sweeps o’er morning meadows

Call All Souls for October’s closing to come forth to make our mischief merry!



Signals the year is tired and old

Tree stand bear, with no protection

Tiny rabbits scurry and cuddle

Ashes from last night’s fire grow cold

We need a spark to perk us up!

From winter’s dark depression

Inter family gathered ‘round

Table bearing tradition

Our stories fill the evening hours

And send us off to happy dreams

And restful sleep

Under Mamma’s loving quilt.



December delights in delivering closure on another year of life’s blessings. It invites the cold of winter to nestle just outside the warm circle around the fireplace. The cold teases our toes and tickles our nose—like the gentle kiss of an Eskimo. We begin getting used to layered clothing, wool socks, and warm scarves when we leave our abodes. Birds have said their goodbyes. Forest animals are moving, busy, busy, busy before harsh weather moves in. Pets are allowed inside to make a bed for cozy nights, tucking themselves beside the ones they love. Eyes of young and old begin to dance as the season’s sparkles tantalize. God sends gifts of time with family, memories of those not with us, and promises that our hope is not in vain.









Finding poetry in text..

I have previously posted about found poems. Found poetry can be a “safe” way to inspire confidence and motivation in student writers, for they need not compose original text, but use their interest and imaginative bent to “find” text. When visually presented with “found” or original images, the newly crafted found poem can be powerful. While searching for something else yesterday I came across a found poem that I wrote as a model for a group of my graduate students in Virginia. If any of you treasured Virginians read this blog, you may actually recall my poem.

I am a voracious reader and collector of the journals and diaries of pioneer women. Fascinated and buoyed by their strengths, their faith, their amazing abilities. The poem below originates from sentences, phrases and passages from assorted pioneer women journals and diaries. While the original words are not mine, the final product is original in its compilation and meaning.

Text can be found anywhere and everywhere! One of the latest trends in teaching comprehension is the idea of close reading. Students DO closely read when they search for words, phrases and passages to “lift” to create a found poem.


I am going with him…

I am going with him, as there is no other alternative

I was possessed with a spirit of adventure and a desire to see what was new and strange

I make sunshine out of shadows,

so are the long, unpredictable days that grip me but do not claim me

Sometimes I get away from hearing distance and fall onto the unfriendly desert and sob like a child

Wishing myself back home with friends

I have cooked so much out in the sun and the smoke

I hardly know who I am,

When I look into the little looking glass, I ask “Can this be me?”

Lips blistered and split in dry air, axle grease the only remedy

My hair dry, snarled, dirty and lifeless

The camp work done…

Evening time to school children, sing and dance and to tell stories around the campfire

Sleep is a gift

Perils along the way

We passed a lonely nameless grave on the prairie on the afternoon

Headboard at least it had

It called up a sad train of thoughts, to be buried and left alone

In so wild a country

No one to plant a flower or time to shed a tear

Over one’s grave

Deaths and graves, commonplace

Families move on, vanishing in the mists of history

Leaving behind the dead

Up at dawn, on the road by seven,

Breakfast of coffee, bacon, dry bread

Noon stop for a cold meal, coffee, beans, if lucky bacon or buffalo prepared of a morning

Fifteen miles a day, walk nearly all the way

Weather can be deadly-

Thunderstorms, lethally large hailstones, lightning, tornadoes, high winds

Intense desert heat causes wood to shrink and wagon wheels have to be soaked in rivers at night

Dust on trail two or three inches deep, fine as flour

River crossings dangerous, unseen rocks, muddy bottoms, unseen holes

Unforgiving mountains

Slow but steady progress

I have dreamed of being attacked by wolves and bears

The heart has a thousand misgivings

The mind is tortured with anxiety

I pass fresh made graves and glance at the sideboard of the wagon,

Not knowing how soon it might serve as a coffin for some one of us….

Weeping skies, and me, also weeping

I pick wildflowers on the prairie

Nature calms where the mind cannot…

I am going with him….there is no other alternative

………………pstockinger 2010

     slat-bonnet                                                                 51Cx5ttOhEL

Lessons learned….

Lessons learned from Momma….
My mom is 89, spirited, and a joy in our lives. She’s had recent heart issues, but is tough and so far has overcome each. We hang onto her days like treasures. Here are some life lessons learned from her–lessons picked up along the days and ways. Any one of them could be the start of a memoir piece. All of them guided me in raising my own kids. Writing ideas can and should begin with what we know best. This one may be useful to you. If not a momma..a daddy. a friend…..IMG_0034

No means No: no need in even trying to finagle a mind-change out of this woman.

Be happy with what you have. Not everyone is as fortunate as you: As a kid, especially a teen kid, I wanted all of the latest fads…clothes, makeup, etc. Sometimes, if my want equalled a need, I got it. I learned the difference between wants and needs. We always had what we needed and more. Didn’t always get what we wanted.  She would say–be happy with what you have. Not everyone is as fortunate as you. At the time, of course, I didn’t get that. Now, of course I do. Totally. I was exceptionally fortunate in having a solid, loving family.

Logic: she taught me logic in these words: Because I said so–that’s why. Enough said!

Choose your friends wisely: Don’t try to be on the inside what you see in others on the outside. Follow your own moral compass. Friends should never make you compromise what you know to be right. A hard sell for a teen–but I did follow those words and had good, nice friends.

Don’t be boastful: A few years back, she and I were going through some of her old papers and photos. She came across a letter that my sixth grade teacher wrote to her praising me. I asked her–“Why didn’t you ever show me this letter?” Her response: Because I wanted you to continue to be the person in that note. Wise words. In all of these years, I’ve never heard my mom brag or boast over any of the amazing things she has done. Enough to have just done them.

Be the same person Monday through Saturday that you are in church on Sunday: another be true to yourself adage that we heard a lot. More wisdom.

Bite your tongue: Think before you release sharp words that you may have difficulty taking back. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Another tough one, but she was a great model for it.

Don’t Gossip: Don’t think for a minute that those you are talking about aren’t also talking about you. To this day I’m uncomfortable around gossipers and do my best to avoid.

Just a few—thinking so much of my mom today as she underwent a heart procedure and came out smilingly am happy to say. Fabulous role model! Love you. Momma!

Using a Short Text to engage readers and writers…

LOVE Alice Walker--her life of addressing problems associated with injustice, inequality and more. I have used her short story, The Flowers, to teach reading and writing comprehension strategies to my preservice teachers. The strategies described below can be used with any short text that offers some complexity.

Activity One:
Thinking Aloud: Thinking aloud–saying what is going on in your mind as you read, is not as easy as it sounds, and preservice teachers benefit from practice, so they will use this strategy often as they model their own thinking for their students. In class, I have them pair up and alternate reading aloud paragraphs of The Flowers, pausing to describe their thinking as they go. With the Think Aloud activity, they generally touch on the seven comprehension strategies we focus on in our Language Arts methods course: Monitoring Comprehension, Activating Schema, Inferring, Visualizing, Determining Importance, Summarizing, and Synthesizing. This text is powerful for a Think Aloud.

Activity Two:
Using a short text to discover Grammar and how the choice of author words impacts meaning in text. I divide students into four groups. Using The Flowers, each group has an “assignment.” The four assignments are:

Group One: ACTION!!
Find those action words and phrases. What words, phrases, sentences help you to know what’s going on?

Group Two: MMMmmm
Find those words, phrases, sentences that make you wonder–that arouse your curiosity.

Group Three: I See/IFeel
Find words, phrases and images that create images in your mind—OR, that evoke emotional reactions.

Group Four: Because I Already Knew…
Find the words, phrases, sentences and images that depended on your prior knowledge or understanding.

In jigsaw-type fashion, the groups then report out to all. A variation would be to assign each member in a group of four a role.

Observing the day…thank you (again) Georgia

Teachers, All…
I posted this as a writer’s notebook suggestion awhile back (under wnb page), but can’t resist the urge to post here, as well. So many years ago when I attended my summer institute of the National Writing Project at Sunbelt Writing Project, Auburn University, I was introduced to the essays of Georgia Heard. One essay…Ten Observations a Day–has literally changed my daily and writing life. Such a simple concept–notice the world you are walking around in. Since that summer of ’99, I have become more wide awake as I go along through my days. Often my noticings end up in my sketchbooks (as in my bird on a limb haiku post yesterday morning)–other times they end up in writer’s notebook pages–sometimes they end up here on this blog; other times they do nothing more than tune me in to me and my reactions to what I see, hear, think, and feel about my day. I love photography, so my HaikuNorth blog is devoted to observations that result in snapshots and tiny words.

If you teach—I encourage you to suggest this to your students, especially if they keep writer’s notebooks and/or sketchbooks. Notice ten things today–intentionally, and see what comes of it–a poem, a narrative, a visual sketch, a musical sketch? A camera shot?

My visual and written notebook observations, and my HaikuNorth blog, are breadcrumbs into past paths and days, whether remarkable or mundane–they shaped and continue to shape me. Learning to look, notice, wonder simply makes life richer.

(“Ten Observations a Day”–an essay by Georgia Heard, from Writing toward home: Tales and lessons to find your way)