Teach Well Tomorrow

As I began posting, I realized that  title of my blog was too narrow.

I remembered a tweet that Jim Burke sent out last year.

I immediately copied it into my plan book and this now has become my mantra.


The Best-Kept Teaching Secret?

The Best-Kept Teaching Secret.

The authors, Harvey ‘Smokey” Daniels and Elaine Daniels are experienced educators who have published many books.  I have read four of them: Mini – Lessons for Literature Circles, Inquiry Circles in Action, Texts and Lessons for Content-Area Reading and Texts and Lessons for Teaching Literature.  These books are rich in reading and inquiry-based activities  for the ELA as well as ELL classrooms.


Intrigued, I promptly ordered the Best Kept Secret and as soon as it arrived, rushed to read it before we got too far into the school year.

The secret?  Written conversations but in the form of letters.

The book is easy to navigate with a summary of each conversation;  goals  and clear directions for the teacher on how to plan the activity. I  came away with a few interesting ideas.

Daniels suggests we take a break in the middle of our lessons for students to exchange brief notes with a partner expressing understanding, or asking for clarification. (81, Daniels).

The writers call the entry note-card an ‘admit ticket.’ I used this as a homework assignment (Daniel’s idea) and all the students came to class prepared to discuss the prompt I gave them.  I asked them to draw a concept map of what/who influences their identity and used the note-cards as a hook for our unit on Civil Rights.


And here is what influences their decisions, values etc.


The Daniels have upgraded the old ‘quick writes’ with a silent, visible think-aloud called ‘write-arounds’.  (168, Daniels).  I used this activity to pique the students’ interest in the main ideas of a short story  ‘The Fan Club’.

I divided the class into 4 groups and put a different question on each table. Each student received a piece of paper and responded to the prompts.

When I rang my Bhutan bell

IMG_0194after 2 minutes, the students passed the papers on. When the paper reached the original writer, the group chose 3 big ideas and one student reported out to the class.

Daniels claims that these written, silent conversations “push kids’ thinking” (3, Daniels) and the students concur.

“I saw the clear opinion of every person in the group”.

“People who have a louder voice didn’t eclipse the ones with quiet voice”.

“I had to expose myself to new ideas and opinions”.

“It was silent, so I was able to be more focused”.

“My sentences are better structured”.

“It’s fun to work in groups”.

However, some students found they did not have enough time to think and write.

“I usually take a super long time to produce ides out of my brain”.

They also enjoyed working in groups and sharing ideas.

Do you have a teaching secret?



I don’t think so.  I will still continue to scribble ideas and words of wisdom that I read.  I cannot imagine abandoning my pens and highlighters in their vibrant colors.


I enjoy collecting notebooks.  By the way, I am not the only one. I discovered that there are several blogs and podcasts about pens and notebooks.

These are the ones I use to copy the original, practical ideas of creative educators.

I keep a French looking, made in China, notebook that I call ‘Odds and Sods to Share with students.’


Tomorrow I will tell my ELLs that Harvard is right.  When interacting and annotating text, students should give the ubiquitous highlighter a rest and use pencil to underline and circle.

Research into retrieval strategies that best help students include the flash card.  The highlighter effect on revising is similar to coloring in with a puce-clored Crayola marker.

Got to love Quizlet.

So What?

This is one of the first questions I learnt from reading most of the books Jim Burke published.  Even my ELL students learn this very early on in my courses.

Why have I decided to write a blog about books that I order and push carefully onto my shelf until I can get around to reading them?

Well, it’s all about my professional growth plan for this year.  I now have the chance to read through my unread list of books.

This is where I will comment on the books and lift ideas, strategies etc. that I can use in my class.

Who knows where this will take me.

One thing I know for sure, students will be at the center.

My wonderful ELLs
My wonderful ELLs

To paraphrase J.B. yet again (you’re going to hear a lot about him):

How will these books/blog posts/teaching videos/articles and conversations  help me teach well tomorrow?

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