Archive for Educators

Six Word Memoirs

Legend has it that the famous writer Ernest Hemingway was once challenged to write a story in six words. He wrote: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” The power of this story lies in the questions and possible meanings that the words could have. Why are the shoes being sold? What happened to the baby? Why haven’t the shoes been worn?

Years later, in 2006, a magazine publisher revised the challenge for his readers. He asked them to write about their lives in six words. The readers responded, and since then he has published more than a million of their stories.

What about you? What’s your story? I invite you to create your own six-word memoir. Write about your life, what you are doing, thinking, or dreaming. You can use sentences. Or not. Use punctuation to help guide readers to your message.

But remember, only six words. Feel free to share them using the Comments tab.

I’ll start with a couple:

Eat, write, exercise, sleep, dream. Repeat.

I am not what I do.

I’m Cheerios, cheese, and chewing gum.

Your turn…

Witnesses to History

We are all witnesses to history. Few of us have ever experienced the things we are going through now, and hopefully we’ll never have to again. Masks, social distancing, sheltering-in-place, closed stores, restaurants, parks, playgrounds, and schools. Lots of people getting sick. Many dying. Quarantine. Every person is affected in some way.

I’ve met with many students around the country and spoken about the power of writing, how it can help you in school, get jobs, and right wrongs. I shared how writing can help you figure things out (“How do I know what I think until I see what I say.”). But there’s even more. Writing can help us stay connected with other people, and it also can help us heal.

I’m offering this forum for you to share your thoughts, your hopes, fears, and dreams. What is your life like during this time? What’s the hardest part? What’s going well? What do you hate? What do you wish?

No requirements here. I invite you to share a word, a sentence, paragraph or more. Just press the Comment button and add your words. As always, I encourage you to read over your words before pressing Post Comment. Make sure they are what you want to say and how you want to communicate. You can add your age and/or your location if you’d like. You can also make comments about what others have written. Just press the Reply button.

**Note to adults: While this post is primarily targeted to kids, I invite you to add your words as well. What a great opportunity to model writing to the kids in your life!

Return to Ridgeview

My, how time flies! It seems like yesterday that I was making my first author visit ever to Ridgeview Elementary School in Springfield, Oregon. My first title, The Chewing Gum Book, had recently been published and the school librarian asked me to come and talk with students about getting ideas and developing them. That was 30 years ago!

This week, 27 books and hundreds of author visits later, I had a chance to return to Ridgeview to speak with students about writing. While the students’ faces were unfamiliar, the building had an old-home feel to it, and I paused to take in the library, where I had done my presentations so long ago. Technology used: slide projector and overhead projector.

The kids I spoke with this week could easily be the children of the kids I presented to back in 1990. Imagine that.

A lot has changed over 30 years, but a few things have not: the enthusiasm and engagement of the kids I get to work with, and the satisfaction I get in sharing my curiosity and passion for writing.

Ridgeview 5th graders

Thanks for the Thank Yous

You know what’s cool about thank you notes? They’re beneficial to all. They’re good for the young writer in that they encourage reflection (How was the experience? What did I learn?), enhance social skills, and provide a real-world opportunity to organize and communicate their thoughts.

Thank you notes are also good for the receiver. They let me know the time I spent with a class of kids was worthwhile. That’s a good feeling. I also learn a lot from reading the notes. I find out what sticks with the kids from my visit. What did they remember? What excited them? This feedback is very helpful as I plan future visits.

Thank you Bethlehem Township (NJ) fourth-graders.

Thank you notes = a win/win!

Wild About Wolves!

What a great pleasure meeting with the fourth graders at the Thomas Conley School in Asbury, New Jersey! These kids were enthusiastic learning and sharing information about one of our most amazing, and misunderstood, creatures: wolves. I can’t help but wonder what sticks with the students the most about our time together. For me, it was their curiosity and excitement.

Friends of the Wolf

Friends with a wolf? Who would dare?

Plenty of people would, and for good reasons: wolves are fascinating animals and they are important to our environment. For years, they were hunted to near extinction. Today, with the help of friends, their numbers are growing.

My latest book, Friends of the Wolf introduces young readers (ages 7-10) to the wonderful world of wolves. Readers discover wolves’ amazing physical characteristics, their long history of being one of the most maligned animals on the planet, and their road to recovery. A real-life sanctuary is spotlighted, and its everyday workings to preserve and protect wolves.

The journey of creating this book took longer than most I’ve done: seven years. It began with a visit to a wolf sanctuary in southern Oregon, where my interest in wolves was piqued and where I had my first experience closely observing people who work with these amazing animals. Their passion was contagious. And that was just the beginning for me.

Research followed, of course. Reading, reading, reading, and interviewing biologists and other experts. An essential part of the process was traveling to other sanctuaries, which took me to four other states: California, Washington, Idaho, and New Jersey. At those places I got to see firsthand the efforts people are making to assist wolves.

There are many children’s books written about wolves. Most of them cover the same basic information: where wolves live, what they eat, their family life. What the world does not need is another such book. So, I tried something different. I took a step beyond mere information and made a call to action, encouraging readers to be advocates for wolves and providing suggestions doing that.

Over centuries, humans have done a great disservice to the natural food chain as well as the environment by our global assaults on wolves. It will take the continued efforts of dedicated friends now, and especially in the future, to ensure that these amazing animals will survive.

To order:

See Books tab on this website


Barnes and Noble





Start the School Year the Write Way

It’s coming to that time again, the closing of summer and the starting of school. Hurrah for new beginnings!

Start the school year on the right foot by having kids write the first day. Nothing complicated or onerous, but something that can be very helpful in providing feedback and informing your instruction. Here are two simple activities:

Writing Sample – Finding out your students’ writing proficiency levels is essential for your planning. An easy way to do this is with a writing sample. Invite students to write about something they did (or would have like to have done) over the summer. Other prompts could be, “What is important for me to know about you,” or “What (or who) do you really care about?” These samples will give you information about your student’s writing abilities as well as insights into who they are. Date and keep these samples to measure progress during the year.

Writing Survey – Besides assessing students’ writing abilities, find out how they view writing and themselves as writers. You can use the survey I developed below. In addition to the beginning of the year, give it in the middle and end of the year too. What changes take place, and what do they tell you about what you are doling?

For more writing ideas and activities, click on the Resources tab on the homepage.

Have a fantastic year!


Writing Survey – Yes No

Lewis and Clark book reissued!

When is a book’s run done? That can be a very tough question, especially if the topic is classic and the information is not outdated. So it is with my book about the Lewis and Clark expedition.

I first published this book several years back. It was very popular and went through two printings. After all the books were sold, a small publisher picked it up and we upgraded it and reprinted. This past spring, after the last books of that printing were gone, I thought that would be end of the book’s life. And I was okay with that. It had been good run.

But then, something happened. I met with a university professor, who was running a summer institute on the L&C expedition, and shared the resources I had, including the book I had written. The professor was excited about the book and asked where it was available so she could share that information with her institute participants.

Uhhh. Ummm. The book was no longer available. Which got me thinking. Why couldn’t I reissue the book. The story is classic and the information was not outdated. So, I contacted a publisher that produces on-demand books and we made a deal. A week ago I got my first printed copy and it looks great!

Passage: A dog’s journey west with Lewis and Clark is an interactive activity book for young readers (aimed at 8-10 year-olds). This historically accurate book tells the story of the most famous expedition in American history through the eyes of Seaman, the 150-pound Newfoundland that accompanied the Corps of Discovery every step of the way. The format is a series of journal entries, and readers are encouraged to interact with the text by making predictions, asking questions, finding answers, and connecting the text to their own lives. Incomplete line illustrations allow readers to enhance their artistic skills.


Tell A Teacher

I met up with a former student the other day. She had traveled from one coast to the other to attend her son’s college graduation. I live nearby.

Tara was a bright kid. Curious. An enthusiastic learner. She was in my reading class 42 years ago. The fact that she even remembered me is amazing.

Back then I was in the early stages of my teaching life, trying hard to navigate an educational system that I wasn’t sure had a place for me. My memory of that time mainly focuses on my struggles.

When Tara shared her memories —novels that we read, engaging activities, outdoor adventures—I suddenly recalled them as well. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as I thought. Maybe I had made some kind of difference.

That’s what we all want, isn’t it? To make a difference in another person’s life. And it’s very gratifying to know you have. Thank you to Tara, and to the others who have shared their experiences with me over the years. It really means a lot.

Several years ago, on a trip to the east coast, I visited my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Domovich. I shouldn’t have been surprised at how old she looked given the number of years since I had been her student. She appeared to be having some serious physical challenges as well. Despite it all, she remembered me. I sat in her living room and shared memories of her class, and of her as my teacher. She beamed, and I floated. Within a year, she died.

If you ever had a teacher who made a difference for you, I encourage you to share that with them. It will mean a lot to them. And to you, too. I know from both sides.

Tara and I


Mrs. Domovich and I


Stop the Summer Writing Slide!

Greetings Teachers!

Hope your year has been rich with discovery and learning. As summer approaches, here’s something to consider:

“Use it or lose it” the old saying goes. And we know it’s true. That’s one of the reasons we develop summer reading programs: to reduce the “summer slide” that takes place when kids don’t read. It works, too. (

Why can’t we stop the “summer slide” in writing as well by developing summer writing programs? We can. The program you create can be as simple or complex as you want. I prefer simple.

In a simple summer writing program, kids will need three things:

  1. Something in which to write (writing logs)
  2. Something to write
  3. An opportunity to celebrate their writing

Do you have your students bring in notebooks at the start of the year? If so, have you used them all? If not, there’s your summer writing logs. If notebooks are not available, you can create writing logs by simply stapling lined paper together and adding covers of construction paper. Or, of course, you can use any other bookmaking method you know about.

Provide students with options of things to write. What areas did you cover? You can make a list of them in the front of the logs, and add directions and/or samples. Some examples of writing areas include:

  • Poetry (include specific types, e.g. acrostic, free verse, haiku, etc.)
  • Letters (create a class sample to show format)
  • Slice of Life stories (personal narratives)
  • How-Tos (directions for doing something)
  • Curiosities (questions about the world)
  • Research (answering questions, providing information)
  • Fiction (stories, plays, scripts)
  • Journaling (day-to-day happenings)

Celebrate the efforts your young writers make. Invite them to bring their writing logs to school when it starts in the fall. At that time, provide them with class opportunities to share what they have done.

But wait, more than likely, you won’t have the same students again. That’s why it’s important to collaborate with your colleagues. Do it together with the colleagues who teach a grade level above and a grade level below you. Better yet, make it a school-wide program. Create a writing culture that extends beyond your classroom and the walls of your school.

Imagine this: It’s the first day of school and your new students, in addition to their class supplies, bring their summer writing logs. Over the next week or so, students share some of their work—a story, some poems, questions they had and the answers they found, letters they wrote (and the responses received)—with the class.

Communication is important for this to work: communication with colleagues, with the kids, and with their parents. Send a note home at the end of the year explaining what you’re doing. Encourage parents to write with their kids, and to make sure the writing logs are returned in the fall.

Will all the kids participate? Hardly. But if you can get a few, or even one, then you can show by sharing the value and the fun of writing. The next year there will be more, and the next year even more. You will be creating a true writing community.

Good luck!