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Make and Write: Challenge Cards

April was a swirl of preparation as my husband and I moved the WNY Young Writers’ Studio into its brand new home. There were boxes to unpack, furniture to rearrange, and fun things to hack together.

Look at what he made for all of us:

It’s a mobile makerspace!

This is what I love most about it: It wasn’t anything we planned to do. After unpacking and rearranging, and finally deciding on a layout that we liked, we were left with that huge shelf, a bunch of scrap pegboard, and a ton of leftover supplies from past projects that just didn’t have a place. I mumbled something about dragging all of it home or giving it away, and the next thing I knew, this was happening:


Now, our writers can wheel the makerspace around our little studio, working where they need to on what they need to whenever they need to. They can even roll it into the hall if that becomes necessary. It doesn’t dominate the space, it allows me to maintain the writing workshop aesthetic I hoped to, and it allows writers to use up all of the materials in the space, rather than tucking them away at the end of projects, where they often easily forgotten and ultimately, wasted.

The shelves are a bit thematic. The first shelf houses art supplies (think paint, clay, Play Doh, chalk, pipe cleaners). The second houses scrap cardboard, boxes, magnets, and textiles. The bottom shelf is filled with blocks, Lincoln Logs, LEGOs, and something I’m calling a “Break It Box”: This is a small bin full of donated devices that kids can break apart and tinker with. As we venture into electronics and engineering projects, the contents of the cart will evolve, I’m sure.

Once it was finished and filled, I began wondering if some of our kids might find it a bit daunting. I know that some will dive in and just beginning making and writing, as it’s in their DNA to do so. The cards below are only for those who might need them. I ran them on colored paper and added them to the side of the cart:


I thought I’d share here, too. We’re taking them for a test drive in a few weeks, and I’ll be revising, based on what I learn from the kids. Go ahead and use them, and if you do, please let me know. I’ll be wondering if your students liked them and if you did anything to improve them. Feedback welcome, friends!

Please download the cards right here:

Make Writing Challenge Cards



Elevating Writers’ Craft in the Middle School Writing Workshop

This month, I began sharing posters intended to support primary and intermediate writers in the development of craft. Here’s my latest set, especially for kids in the middle. You can find it on Canva as well. Enjoy!


Gaming the Writing Process

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the abundance of incoherent writing ideas taking up space in your brain? When I conference with writers, they often let me know that they’re experiencing this by sharing statements like…..

“This is hard.”

“I’m not even sure where to start.”

“I don’t know how to get what’s in my head down on paper.”

“I can’t organize my thoughts.”

“I can’t pick one idea.”

“I’m not sure which ideas are the best ideas.”

“I’m not sure which order I should use.”

“I have too many things to say.”

“I can’t get my ideas to connect.”

I find that placing graphic organizers in front of writers at moments like these can often do far more harm than good. Graphic organizers are flat and static.They also command immediate coherence, stifling the idea generation process or at the very least, forcing boundaries around it.

Gamestorming helps writers map and connect their thoughts in the same way that graphic organizers intend to, without rigid frames.

Consider this: What if you asked me to help you map out a story, and I handed you a graphic organizer and asked you to brainstorm each element of the plot? How would this effect the way you generated and organized your ideas? What would that process look like? How would it feel?

Now consider this: What if, instead of handing you a graphic organizer, I inspired you to think about real people, fantastical characters, profound dilemmas, and important messages that you want to share with the world, and what if I encouraged you to brainstorm many great possibilities for your story? How would that effect the number and quality of the ideas that you generated?

Rather than expecting you to tame those ideas and make them sit nicely inside the squares of a graphic organizer, what if I invited you to simply spill all of those beautiful but still incoherent ideas onto the table in front of you, like this:


What if you started clustering those ideas and learning more about the shape of your story from the content of each cluster?


How would this effect the number and quality of the ideas that you generate?

What would this process look like?

How would it feel?

Something else: See all of that white space in the photos above? It invites experimentation. Writers can mix and remix those sticky notes, and when they do, new ideas emerge. There is plenty of room for new ideas, too.

Here are a few other ways to game the writing process.

And this is one of our favorite games. You can grab the original from Canva. 



Elevating Craft with Intermediate Level Writers

Last week, I had the opportunity to work with K-2 teachers from Erie 2 BOCES school districts. Part of our first session included the exploration of strategies for supporting our littlest writers as they attempted craft. I shared the posters that served as catalysts for this conversation here

These posters build upon that beginning for writers in grades 3-5. You can also find them here.

Maker Moves in the Writing Workshop

I spent yesterday working with a group of fabulous writing teachers from all over southern Erie County, and since the bulk of our time was spent examining the development of process and craft in young writers, we did a bit of making ourselves, and we also considered how maker moves enrich a writer’s work and help to resolve certain tensions that plague resistant writers.

The posters below make the best of that thinking, which began at Roy B. Kelley School in Lockport, transparent. The teachers I work with directly use them to inspire the way they coach young writers through their varied processes.

You can access it directly on Canva as well. 

Helping Our Littlest Writers Elevate Craft

When we define the elements of craft and deepen our awareness of how they develop in young writers, we’re better able to assess and provide just-right feedback that moves them forward. I created these posters for teachers who are just beginning to define these elements and provide criteria-specific feedback to writers. I hope they’re of use to you, too. How could you use them? What would you change?

You can find full sized versions on Canva as well. 

Coaching Writers and Makers to Commit Creative Theft

Beginners often need to steal. That said, I know that stealing isn’t simple. This is why I find it so important to explicitly coach creative theft. The page below, taken from my sketchbook, shows how I try to make this process more concrete for writers and makers. The poster that follows defines it even further.


Here’s a way to game the process.

And this tool helps writers tinker with it.

Rather than expecting students to master plans, coaching creative theft helps them plan to become masters.

How do you do this?


Psst…..You can make your own posters for little to no cost at all on Canva, too!


Iteration in Makerspaces and Writing Workshops

The more time I spend investigating making and makerspaces, the more I wonder: do we make enough time for iteration in writing workshop? Do we even talk about what this means and how we might distinguish it from revision?

When we iterate at the WNY Young Writers’ Studio, we use diverse approaches to generate abundant ideas, solutions we hadn’t even considered before, and entirely new forms. Writers might brainstorm a handful of potential plot lines. Then, they might weave specific elements of each of them together to form something entirely unexpected. Makers might begin building one thing only to produce something totally different.

Revision often feels like an effort to improve ideas and products that we’ve already committed to.

Iteration is about uncertainty, discovery, invention and transformation.

It seems a little different than revision, in my opinion.

What do you think?

Iteration (2).png


What is tinkering?


Tinkering is messy but highly productive work. When we tinker, we fiddle around with things. Rather than following a series of steps in a process, task directions, or a teacher’s directives, we play with things in order to improve them or uncover solutions we didn’t even know we needed in the first place.

Tinkering enables us to know things deeply–well enough to reinvent them.

Tinkering helps us know ourselves better as well. When we tinker, we slow down, wonder, practice patience, and become more mindful.

Feel free to share this poster with the makers you know. You can grab a copy on Canva, too.


Coaching Problem Solving

They say that dilemmas are often a powerful kind of fuel for makers and writers. As uncomfortable as they can be, problems inspire us to rethink, revise, and recreate. Our struggles sharpen our skills, strengthen our stamina, and teach us tremendous patience.

Or, they provide a great reason for us to make yet another trip to the supply center to scoop up a whole pile of fascinating stuff that looks cool but may very well be completely useless.

Relying on the resources we have on hand rather than wasting those that may not serve us well is critical maker move, and experience is teaching me that inexperienced makers sometimes struggle to put it into practice. It’s fun to shop makerspaces for materials, and they can certainly serve as catalysts: New ideas and solutions emerge when we mess around with new stuff. It’s important that we take no more than what we need, though. Otherwise, we often end up wasting more than making and our problems remain unsolved.

Coaching makers to problem solve is fun stuff. The poster below reflects some of the thinking that came out of the Roy B. Kelley makerspace in Lockport, New York this month. You can find it on Canva too.

Coaching problem solving in the makerspace or studio (1)




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