Category Archives: Reflections on teaching

March 23 The Books

I’m writing every day of March for the Slice of Life Challenge at Two Writing Teachers

In the first book I ever read, Ernie and Bert cleaned their room
I remember the pictures of the room getting tidier and tidier
a preschool Home Edit!
There was also Harold
and his purple crayon
and his imagination
all those pies
the way the moon was always in his window
Every time I go to the beach, I think about this book I had
about going to the ocean for the day
and the kids’ adventure of shells and a tidepool
Oh, and Sam!
He collected donuts and then used them to save a woman from a coffee flood
Who needs donuts? They asked
When you’ve got love?
Dooley battled that snortsnoot
once he was tall enough.
My shelf was full
I can picture the books, the stories
part of me
and I find myself hoping today
that as the pendulum swings and teachers hold on for dear life,
kids will still find themselves in the pages

March 22 Today Was A Day

I’m writing every day of March for the Slice of Life Challenge at Two Writing Teachers

Today was a learning day
a long day
a listening day

Today was a win-a-raffle day
a wonder-what-the-doctor-will-say day
a wait, what? day

Today was a travel day
a talk-to-college-daughter day
a tell-me-more-about-it day

Today was a a sit-all-day-long day
a surprise dinner with my boys day
a special-day-we-don’t-celebrate-any-more day

Today was a hump day Wednesday
a heavy day
a hello-glass-of-wine day

Today was
as they say,
a day

March 20 Juicy Markers

I’m writing every day of March for the Slice of Life Challenge at Two Writing Teachers

We were preparing for our poetry garden in Writers’ Club today, by painting some rocks with pictures. Soon we will write our poetry words on rocks, but today was about decorating a few to leave our mark.

There were just a couple paint markers that still needed to be shaken and pressed, so I did that as I monitored the painting and talked with the kids. Then I started to realize I should be writing down what they were saying. There always seems to be a story or poem hiding in the things kids say.

Rock Painting with Elementary Kids:

I need to go over all of this-the colors are very dull
My marker is too juicy
OOPS! I didn’t mean to do that.
I think I’m done
Do you have anything to add? Because this is an amazing blue.

This is one day only!
I should have done a sugar cookie
There’s interference in the universe causing problems
My dad would say “Where’s the coral?” He’s a coral scientist

What are you doing?
I’m writing things everyone says – a found poem story!
…Ugh! Teachers!

It’s a portal to another universe
A new dimension

I’m serious
This is so juicy

I want the markers so bad
I’m not saying I’m asking for one. . . but I am.

March 15 It’s Not That Easy

I’m writing every day of March for the Slice of Life Challenge at Two Writing Teachers

When I walked into a classroom today to meet with a teacher, her kids were finishing cleaning up, heading to lunch and the lyrics to “It’s not easy being Green” were projected. Years ago I shared a bunch of different Slice of Life prompts and lessons with teachers. The prompts float around now, and I always get a kick out of seeing kids writing from them.

This one transported me back to my sixth-grade classroom. Somehow that song had come up in conversation, not so unusual in sixth-grade, actually. I decided we needed to use it as a mentor text to slice. We closely read the lyrics, and then decided what we would need to keep if we wanted to have our slices sound like Kermit.

My sixth graders wrote and wrote. They wrote beautifully. There are a lot of things that aren’t easy about being in middle school.

One of the third graders was still in the room and I asked her, “Are you doing It’s not that easy being slice of life?”

She nodded her head and said “Yea. It’s…It’s…” and I wasn’t sure if she was upset about the writing or not.

She tried to say, “Nevermind,” but I said,

“Do you like it?”

“Yea,” she told me, “It really helps to get a lot of stuff out.

I guess third graders have a lot of things that aren’t easy too.

The teacher said I had to read some of her kids’ slices of life, and showed me a few.

I had to tell her that I remember making that prompt, and she smiled.

“One of the kids said to me today when we did this, ‘I know where you got this idea from! You must have gotten this from Ms. Gabriel!’”

March 13 A Few Reasons I love Teaching

I’m writing every day of March for the Slice of Life Challenge at Two Writing Teachers

A third grader was walking into school this morning, and she noticed a poster had fallen on the floor.

She picked it up, tried to hang it back up and then I heard her say, like a miniature thirty-year-old, “And…that’s done.” She walked the poster to her classroom, presumably to find it’s next resting place.

I heard her call out to a classmate, “You were in this group, weren’t you?” But when he didn’t respond she just said “No? That’s right, you weren’t.”

I asked fourth graders to think about what was exciting and unique about the natural wonders they were reading about this morning. When I walked over to one of the desk-sets, a boy shrugged his shoulders.

“I don’t find any of this unique and exciting.”

I told him I understood, and was about to ask him what he thinks the author found exciting and unique. But, he interrupted me.

“But, I guess since they are called natural ‘wonders,’ they are unique because there’s only so many of them.” He decided.

After I was done modeling that lesson, I had to run across town to a meeting. I happened to go to the parking lot right as the fourth-graders were headed to recess.

One of them walked over to me and said “Hug?” As he leaned in for one of those side hugs fourth graders give.

He asked me, “Are we going to do that same lesson in Writing Society after school?”

I told him we were actually going to be doing something other than informational reading in our after school writing club and he looked kinda sad about it honestly.

“Why?” I asked. “Did you like that lesson?”

“Oh yes!” He said and he went off to play with his friends.

In Writing Society, I sat down next to a young third grader.

“Want to write a poem with me?” He asked and of course I agreed.

“Actually, I already wrote one.” He said as I opened up the google presentation he had sent me.

He asked me how I spell my name, and then how to spell Ms. I explained “M-S-period,” but noticed that he wrote “Ms Gabriel.” next to his name.

He said his poem, I typed it and we added a line or two.

Outside the sky is grey
But in (school) we see it as blue
Everybody is kind and nice and follows PAWS (expectations)
Well, everybody should…
At least try to.

March 1 A Teacher Like You

I’m writing every day of March for the Slice of Life Challenge at Two Writing Teachers.

I’ve been spending time in third grade lately. We’ve been writing up a storm in our notebooks. They are filled with our thinking work: words and sentences, claims and reasons, taped in pieces of evidence, to-do lists… They are a beautiful mess!

Today, the teacher started by reading Abdul’s Story by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow and the kids were rapt with attention. So was I.

In this story, Abdul loves to write, but struggles too. (So do I.)

But then a published author comes to his classroom, sees how upset Abdul is about his messy work and says, “I want to show you my notebook.”

This is one of those picture books that cause watering eyes and a tingling nose.

Of course, the author’s notebook is messy. Writing is messy. Abdul is a writer!

The story is sad before it’s uplifting, and when Abdul was having a particularly hard time with his writing, the boy sitting in front of me couldn’t hold in his comment.

“That’s where he needs YOU as a teacher!” He shouted out to his teacher.

That might have been when my eyes started to water and my nose started to tingle. It was just so sweet, so perfect. I must have made a sound like, “Awe.”

He turned around, eyes big. I think for some reason he felt bad that he didn’t include me. It wasn’t necessary but it was nice when he added with a smile, “Or you!”

Building Stories

Part of Slice of Life at Two Writing Teachers

We were building a story. I say we, but the second graders were doing the heavy lifting. I will never tire of building stories with kids. Did you know they have the best ideas?

Our character was an ice cream cone, and he was having trouble. He kept melting in the summer! What he wanted most in the world was to be an Olympic swimmer, and he knew he had to find a vacation place somewhere on an iceberg so he could practice swimming without melting.

So good, right?

Things weren’t going very well for sprinkles — that was his name — sprinkles. First he forgot his plane ticket and luggage, then his flight was delayed. On the plane he ran into his arch -nemesis, Hot Chocolate and while he was running away, part of his cone broke off.

I’m telling you these details, not so you can steal this idea from the 2nd-graders and make millions of dollars in the picture book industry, but so you can understand why I was so excited about the kids’ ideas.

For each element of the story, kids turned and talked, and then we took a few ideas, and I picked one to go in the story. Or sometimes the ideas were all so good so we combined them all together. (Now the part where Sprinkles needs a vacation to an iceberg to practice swimming might make a little more sense to you.)

Each time I took ideas from the class, I would exclaim how it was, “so good!”

And it wasn’t a lie, or even a stretch. These ideas were so very good.

Maybe I should take the idea and make millions of dollars in the picture book industry. (No joke, I would love to publish an anthology of all the books classes have written. They are so good. So. Good.)

One second-grader was thrilled that his idea was picked for the class story. He was so excited, he interrupted my next sentence to point at himself, and raise his eyebrows very high.

“That great idea was from the birthday boy. Me.” He said.

“Well, that’s great!” I said, “Thank you.”

I started to go to the next part of our story.

“Well, aren’t you going to wish me a happy birthday?” He asked me, incredulous that I missed that part of the exchange. Of course I did, right away!

Finally we continued building our Sprinkles story, and I sent the kids off to make their own ending. But I was left thinking about that boy and his unabashed plea for celebration.

What would happen if we took a little of that energy and took it out for ourselves whenever we need to be celebrated?

Seems like a pretty good way to build your own story.

A Slice of Inspiration

Part of Slice of Life Challenge at Two Writing Teachers. Join us!

A second grader took a break from working on his Top Ten Memories in writing the other day. He walked over to me to tell me about the time his dog ate chocolate with raisins. His eyes like saucers as he was telling me this important story. I shook my head with concern – scrunching my face with worry.

“She’s still alive though,” he reassured me.


I asked him how his writing was going – seeing he only had a handful of memories written so far.

He smiled wide.

“I have a few written down. Now, all I gotta do, is —finish!” He said, walking back to his notebook that was waiting for him on the rug.

I’ve decided that is my new writing slogan: Now, all I gotta do, is —finish!

The slice I hadn’t started? Now, all I gotta do is finish.
The sample writing I have almost ready to send out? Now, all I gotta do is finish.
My book, started in small pieces? Now, all I gotta do is finish.

Actually, this slogan can work for all of life, I think.

The present wrapping that I haven’t started? Now, all I gotta do is finish.
My laundry sitting in the washer for the past couple hours? Now, all I gotta do is finish.
In the beginning stages of healing from betrayal? Now, all I gotta do is finish.

Thanks for the inspiration, kid.

Now, all I gotta do is finish.

Snow Poem

Part of Slice of Life on Two Writing Teachers

Snow falls
outside of classroom windows
Kids yell,
Teachers say, “Yep. It’s snowing.”
“Does snow have anything to do with math?”

My classroom didn’t have windows
Can you believe it?
Somehow we always knew when there was snow
Somehow kids still yelled, “Snow!”
Did they sense it through the tiny window in our door?
Did they hear the snow silence outside?

Now it must be that soft blanketing (definitely not just the forecasted dusting)
Or the sound of boots squeaking down the hall
That transports me to
All my classroom winters
The snows of classrooms’ past. . .
The good old days

For a minute I wonder
If I wander the halls
Could I find a class to interrupt?
We could write snow poems on paper snowflakes
as the snow falls
outside of classroom windows