Another Helpful Reading Resource: Smithsonian TweenTribune

LITERACY AND THE COMMON COREIf you are looking for more resources to support nonfiction reading, The Smithsonian TweenTribune is a FREE online educational service offered by the Smithsonian for use by K-12 grade teachers and students. TTribune consists of daily news sites for kids, tweens, and teens, and includes text (with a Lexile-leveling feature!), photos, graphics, and audio and/or video materials prepared by the Smithsonian and others about current events, history, art, culture and science.

TTribune also includes lessons, instructional and assessment tools, and opportunities for the registered users to communicate with other participants.

I have already added this link to the TLC “PARCC Prep” page! (PS, thanks to Adina Medina at HoLa CS for this lead!)

Posted in Comprehension, Curriculum, DBQ Approach, ELA Common Core Standards, Independent Reading, Inference, Lesson-planning, Main Idea, Media Literacy, Nonfiction, Paraphrasing, PARCC, Reading, Reading Informational Text, Recommended Reading, Research, Resources, Test Prep, Text Selection, TLC Website Resources, Vocabulary, Vocabulary in Context | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Socratic Seminars REVISITED

LITERACY AND THE COMMON COREOne terrific method for training students in how to conduct intelligent conversations is Socratic Seminars.  Students learn how to use effective habits of discussion, explain their ideas, and support them with evidence (Take THAT, Common Core Standards!).  Different educators have different ways of conducting Socratic Seminars. In fact, since I first posted this information in 2013, a colleague suggested an improvement that I want to share here today, along with video clips of his students engaged in an actual seminar and debrief session.  Special thanks to Jamison Fort for sharing these ideas and resources!

Click HERE to see the rest of this post, which originally appeared on MiddleWeb on June 23, 2015.

Note: All of this information also appears on the TLC “Socratic Seminars” page.

Posted in ELA Common Core Standards, MiddleWeb, Resources, Rubrics, Socratic Seminars, The Literacy Cookbook BOOK, TLC Website Resources | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

GOOD NEWS About PARCC Testing in 2015-16!!!

LITERACY AND THE COMMON COREThe PARCC Governing Board just issued a press release stating some sensible, good news:

“On May 20, 2015 the PARCC governing board voted to:

  • Reduce the testing time for students by about 90 minutes overall (60 minutes in mathematics; 30 minutes in English language arts) and create more uniformity of test unit times.
  • Consolidate the two testing windows in mathematics and English language arts/literacy (which includes reading and writing) into one.
    • The single testing window will simplify administration of the test for states and schools that experienced challenges with scheduling two testing windows.
    • The testing window will be up to 30 days and will extend from roughly the 75% mark to the 90% mark of the school year. Most schools will complete testing in one to two weeks during that window.
  • Reduce the number of test unitsfor all students by two or three units.”

For more information, go here.

Posted in Assessment(s), PARCC, Test Prep | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Professional Development Ideas to Support Literacy Instruction

LITERACY AND THE COMMON COREThis has been a particularly challenging year in our field. As teachers and school leaders continue to wrestle with how best to prepare students to meet and exceed the Common Core Standards, I would like to humbly submit some professional development ideas for the spring, summer, and coming school year.

  • Follow the TLC Blog. If you already do (Thanks!), please tell your friends. It’s free, and it offers updated information on resources and ideas that work.
  • Subscribe to The Literacy Cookbook Website. It’s practically free ($25/year if you use the 50%-off discount code TLCBOOK50), and it includes hundreds and hundreds of field-tested tools to support literacy instruction across the curriculum.
  • Run book study groups to discuss ideas in The Literacy Cookbook (Jossey-Bass, 2012) and/or Literacy and the Common Core (Jossey-Bass, 2014). You can order these books from the publisher, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your local bookseller.
  • Consider bringing me in for workshops/coaching/curriculum development support. Below is a sampling of what I offer. For a more extensive list of workshops, click here. For a list of previous clients, click here. For my bio, click here. To see an interview with me, click here. If you are interested in learning more, please contact me via Email ( ASAP. My schedule tends to fill up quickly, so the sooner you reach out, the more likely it is that I will be available when you need me.


Using Backwards Design to Write Curriculum Units
This workshop trains participants in how to design unit plans and curriculum overview maps using the Understanding by Design (Wiggins and McTighe) approach. Typical follow-up work includes the following:

  • Participants collaborate to identify appropriate texts from grade to grade and discuss interdisciplinary instructional opportunities.
  • Participants design curriculum overview maps for their grade/subject.
  • Participants design the Unit 1 Plan for their grade/subject, with close supervision and support from the facilitator.
  • Participants continue to draft unit plans and receive feedback and support from the facilitator.

The Comprehension Process and 4 Key Critical Reading Skills
Participants review the comprehension process and apply it; review the four key critical reading skills and practice them; and practice strategies that connect reading, writing, and testing in order to improve literacy instruction.

Designing RPM (Rigorous, Purposeful, Measurable) Objectives
Daily lessons are only as good as their objectives. This workshop trains participants in how to design RPM (Rigorous, Purposeful, Measurable) Objectives, no matter what grade or subject they teach.

From Argument vs. Evidence to Effective Writing
This workshop addresses the following objectives:

  • Review why the terms “argument” and “evidence” are essential to the Common Core Standards in order to establish the rationale for this workshop.
  • Review the difference between “argument” and “evidence” in order to launch activities related to effective writing instruction.
  • Identify and practice the six specific skills that effective writers use in order to teach students how to master them.

Close Reading and Questioning, Parts I and II
Participants participate in a demo lesson using the Question-Inference-Evidence & Explanation Organizer and practice implementing it (script your roll-out & practice in small group mini-demo). Participants then engage in another approach to close reading and questioning the text.

Transforming Common Core Standards into RPM Objectives and Lessons
How can we write objectives and lessons that help our students meet and exceed the Common Core Standards? In this workshop, participants analyze the Reading Standards for Informational Text and learn a process for unpacking the Common Core Standards that enables teachers to design RPM (Rigorous, Purposeful, Measurable) objectives and lessons. Participants practice this approach and take away practical ideas, handouts, and strategies that they can use immediately to accelerate student learning.

Using Tools to Build Effective Assessments: PARCC Reading and Writing Tasks
This workshop walks participants through the process for using PARCC Sample Tests to create Common Core reading and writing assessments for students.

Effective Lesson Techniques: Quadrant Analysis Demo Lesson
By using Quadrant Analysis to analyze images—an important skill to build comprehension—participants review and practice techniques from Teach Like a Champion (Lemov) in order to strengthen overall instruction.

Building Robust Vocabulary
Based on Bringing Words to Life (Beck, McKeown, and Kucan), this workshop trains participants in how to teach vocabulary effectively.

Writing Across the Curriculum: The Document-Based Question (DBQ) Approach
Participants review, analyze, and practice the steps of reading, research, and writing in order to design a reading/research-based writing assignment. This workshop answers the following questions:

  • What is “The DBQ Approach”?
  • How does reading relate to writing?
  • What skills do students need in order to read and write effectively?
  • What should students write about, and why?
  • What do students need to know and be able to do in order to write a compelling research paper?

How to Teach with Novels/Narratives
Using resources from The Literacy Cookbook Website, this workshop provides strategies and resources for how to teach novels (across the curriculum).

Again, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me at


Posted in Analyzing the Common Core Standards, Argument, Assessment(s), Close Reading, Comprehension, Curriculum, DBQ Approach, ELA Common Core Standards, Essential Questions, Events, Evidence, Explanation, Grant Wiggins, Inference, Lesson-planning, Literacy and the Common Core BOOK, Literacy Manipulatives, Literary Analysis Writing, Main Idea, Narrative Writing, Nonfiction, Novels, Paraphrasing, PARCC, Presentations, Professional Development, Quadrant Analysis, Reading, Reading Informational Text, Reading Literature, Research Writing, Resources, RPM Objectives, Socratic Seminars, Test Prep, Text Selection, The Literacy Cookbook BOOK, TLC Website Resources, Trajectory Analysis, Unit-planning, Using Data, Vocabulary, Vocabulary in Context, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


LITERACY AND THE COMMON CORE(Note: The original version of this post appeared on the TLC Blog in 2013, and an updated version appeared on MiddleWeb on April 1, 2015. This version is slightly different from both.)

If you want your students to engage in summer reading, now is a good time to plan something meaningful and manageable for them.

Whether assigning particular books or giving students a range of choices (or some combination of the two), you will undoubtedly want students to demonstrate that they have completed the reading in a way that doesn’t torture them or you.

In far too many schools, I’ve seen assignments that are boring for students and time-consuming for teachers to grade. You don’t want to come back in the fall and start out frustrated and annoyed with your new students, right?

Instead of plot summaries (which invite plagiarism) or numerous journal entries (which, in bulk, can undermine the fun of reading) or any number of other options that result in superficial responses (or no responses at all), consider this Character Analysis approach, which is actually useful for follow-up work in the fall.

You will ask students to do four things:

  • Read the book.
  • Complete TWO character analysis organizers, one for the protagonist (main character) and one for the antagonist (character in opposition to the main character). In my example, I’ve filled out the organizer using the Dr. Seuss character The Grinch as the example.
  • For each character they analyze, students will write a well-developed paragraph (8-10 sentences) in response to this question: “How does the writer use this character to convey a message or lesson?”  and give evidence to support their argument.
  • They will also be asked to take notes on several teacher-devised questions as they read so that they can be prepared for a TIMED WRITING activity when they return to school.

The character analysis questions are answered by the student in four topic boxes (see my model), labeled this way:

  • Family background/Upbringing
  • How s/he is treated vs. how s/he wants to be treated
  • Work
  • Philosophies/Values

Students will also answer two summative questions about each character.

In this FREE download, SUMMER READING PACKET-rev 2015, you’ll also see grading suggestions.

Posted in Assessment(s), Character Analysis, Curriculum, Novels, Reading, Reading Literature, Resources, Summer Reading, TLC Website Resources, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Preparing for End-of-Year Writing Reflections

LITERACY AND THE COMMON COREAs we approach spring (OK, technically it’s here, but really?), it’s a good time to start thinking about how our students will reflect on their writing progress since the beginning of the school year.

Assuming you have used a consistent rubric all year, such as the one shown in this TLC blog, students will have ample feedback on what they’ve written from month to month.

Now—or soon—it’s time to give them time to look over their major writing assignments, make notes on the feedback, and set goals for next year. If your school does not already use some form of writing portfolios, I recommend giving every student a manila file folder in ELA class, where they can store these major writing assignments (with accumulated drafts and the rubrics stapled on top, of course), then the ELA teacher can pass the folders up to the teacher(s) in the next grade.

Following is a simple template that students can use to record their reflections (The boxes are small, just for illustration; click on End-of-year Writing Reflections Sheet to download the Word version):

DIRECTIONS: Look at the writing in your folder and list your strengths and areas in need of improvement from EARLY and LATER in the year. Then set your writing goals for next year.

EARLY (Sept/Oct)
LATER (May/June)


For more information on writing rubrics, check out the TLC “Writing Rubrics” page.

Posted in ELA Common Core Standards, Rubrics, TLC Website Resources, Writing | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

FREE WORKSHOP: “Our Students Are Struggling: Now What?”

LITERACY AND THE COMMON COREI will present “Our Students Are Struggling: Now What?at the Eatontown Barnes & Noble in the Monmouth Mall on Tuesday, April 14, from 6:00-7:30pm. There is no charge, and participants will earn professional development hours. To sign up, please click here.

Many students are not on grade-level when it comes to literacy. This interactive session demonstrates how to use data, the Common Core Standards, PARCC practice test items, and other helpful resources to bridge these gaps.   Participants will walk away with a systematic approach that they can implement immediately.

OBJECTIVES: We will answer the following key questions in order to strengthen instruction and improve student achievement:

  1. What data do you have? What should you do if the data is not aligned with the CCS?
  2. Once you have CCS proficiency data, what should you do?
  3. How and why should we unpack the CCS?
  4. Once we’ve unpacked the CCS, what should we do?
  5. What will this process probably cause us to do?

This workshop is based upon my latest book, Literacy and the Common Core: Recipes for Action. Copies of that and my first book, The Literacy Cookbook: A Practical Guide to Effective Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening Instruction, will be available for sale that evening.

If you are unable to attend this workshop and would like to see it at your school, please feel free to contact me at

Posted in Analyzing the Common Core Standards, Assessment(s), ELA Common Core Standards, Literacy and the Common Core BOOK, Presentations, Professional Development, Reading, Reading Informational Text, Reading Literature, Resources, The Literacy Cookbook BOOK, Using Data | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

PARCC Prep: Preparing for the May ELA Assessments

LITERACY AND THE COMMON COREEven though some of us are still in the throes of March PARCC assessments, it’s not too soon to start thinking about how to prepare students for the May assessments, and the good news is that it looks like they will actually be easier.

Based on the PARCC EOY (End-of-Year) Online Practice Tests, the May assessments will focus on reading comprehension. There are no writing tasks on the EOY practice tests.

Therefore, I would recommend focusing on the rigorous Common Core-aligned reading comprehension questions you normally ask your students in the course of effective teaching.

One way to ensure that your students are prepared for these questions is to identify again the PARCC verbiage in the practice tests and weave that verbiage into your Do Nows, classwork, homework, and class discussions (I previously blogged about this approach here). For example: “What is the meaning of ‘_____’ as it is used in paragraph ___ in the passage?” Most of the follow-up questions (“Part B” questions) ask some variation on “Which sentence from the passage best supports the answer to Part A?” In other words: “What is the evidence that supports your response/argument?” In class discussions, we must be vigilant about pushing students to provide evidence to support their responses. NOTE: This is not just a “test prep” thing. This level of rigor is fundamental to meeting and exceeding the Common Core Standards.

Here are the resources you will need to create a PARCC Prep Reading Questions Table:

NOTE: Make sure you scroll down to the proper form of the practice tests—i.e., online “EOY” (End-of-Year) versions.

Type the appropriate information in this table:

Question # Question Stem Standard(s)
6th grade example: 1 A: What does the word ___ mean as it is used in the sentence?

B: Which sentence from the passage best supports the answer from Part A?

RL1, RL4, L6

To download a file containing this table, click PARCC Prep Analysis of Reading Questions TABLE.

Check out the TLC “PARCC Prep” page for additional resources, including links to Websites with useful passages and questions.

Posted in Analyzing the Common Core Standards, Assessment(s), ELA Common Core Standards, Evidence, Explanation, PARCC, Questioning, Reading, Reading Informational Text, Reading Literature, Resources, Test Prep, Text Selection, TLC Website Resources, Vocabulary in Context | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

PARCC Administration Logistical Tips

LITERACY AND THE COMMON COREAs we approach the PARCC Assessment starting line, many schools are conducting dry runs with practice tests to troubleshoot in advance. Based on research and discussions in the field, here are some tips that may be helpful when you administer the real thing.

Per my earlier post which warned about the dysfunctional highlighting feature (i.e., the problem of highlighting not carrying forward from one page to another), the PARCC “customer service” folks claim that they “hope to have this problem solved in time for the actual tests.” In case they don’t, it might be a good idea to direct your students to read and HIGHLIGHT THE FIRST TEXT ONLY ON THE FIRST PAGE, then answer the questions on that page, then click forward to the next page and answer those questions, etc., until they get to the next text, at which point they should do all of the highlighting for that text again ON ONE PAGE. Students can click backwards to the highlighted text to pull out their key ideas for their T-chart (or in the case of Research Writing, “three-chart”) after answering the questions.


  • Students should absolutely be given blank scrap paper on which to take notes and do pre-writing. For field-tested suggestions about how to pre-write for Narrative Writing, Literary Analysis, or Research Writing, check out the TLC “PARCC Prep” page and additional PARCC-related posts on this TLC Blog.
  • Teach students to jot only the first few words of quotes they might use as evidence/explanation instead of wasting time writing full sentences. They can refer back to those first few words and decide if they want to use the whole quote or paraphrase it.
  • For future data analysis, I would also recommend that you direct students to put their name on the scrap paper, collect it, and save it in a file for posterity. When the PARCC results come back, you can compare the results with how effectively students pre-wrote.

Students are not supposed to talk at all while taking the PARCC Assessments. However, they may encounter legitimate technical difficulties and need to alert an adult. I recommend giving them Post-its to use as a signal that they have a technical problem.

If you have any other suggestions to share, please chime in. We are all in this together!


Posted in Assessment(s), Compare and Contrast, Literary Analysis Writing, Narrative Writing, PARCC, Research Writing, Resources, Test Prep, TLC Website Resources, Using Data | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Another Helpful Resource for Finding Appropriate Texts!

LITERACY AND THE COMMON COREThere’s a new Website in town to help teachers identify texts: Founder and CEO Michelle S. Brown explains in a MiddleWeb post today that she and 15 other Harvard Ed grad students teamed up to solve a common problem that teachers face: how to find free news articles, poems, or short stories that could be appropriately paired with novels.

Although still in its infancy, this Website offers a promising approach: organizing texts by theme and sorting them further with essential questions and Lexile levels. Teachers developing PARCC prep materials or writing curriculum with essential questions will undoubtedly appreciate the logic of this approach.

Check it out!

PS–if you do not already follow MiddleWeb Smartbrief, now would be a good time to sign up. Though it targets teachers of grades 4-8, many of its resources are relevant to other grades.

Posted in Assessment(s), Curriculum, ELA Common Core Standards, Essential Questions, Grant Wiggins, Lesson-planning, Literary Analysis Writing, MiddleWeb, Nonfiction, Novels, PARCC, Professional Development, Reading, Reading Informational Text, Reading Literature, Research Writing, Resources, Test Prep, Text Selection, Themes, Unit-planning, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment