Just saw this Skippy Peanut Butter commercial and thought, “I can use that digital text to teach idioms! Yesssss!” I’m going to add it to my figurative language digital bin. Perfect! Thought I’d share it quickly here. Enjoy!


Flipped Learning and Small Group Work

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Are you like me? Do you sometimes struggle to form and manage small groups of writers in the writing workshop? I feel confident conferring one-on-one with my students and teaching the minilesson, however, when it comes to small group work, I can struggle. This is an area that I’ve worked on a lot in the past three years, and I’ve found that flipped learning has helped a lot.

Why do I continue to try to teach small groups during writing workshop when I find it challenging to manage? I believe that learning is a social process and that students learn best when they talk about a strategy together and bounce ideas off each other. Small group work can be less structured than the formal class minilesson, and 2 or 3 students can work together to talk through their writing plans. Above all, small group learning switches the focus from the teacher to the students. The teacher takes a coaching role during small group sessions and students work together to tackle writing challenges. Flipped learning is perfect for small group work because it empowers students to take what they’ve learned and try it out and ask questions. Catlin Tucker, author of Blended Learning in Grades 4-12, wrote a blog post of using flipped learning in small group work and work stations ( She says:

“Then students can watch that video in a station where they can still pace their learning by pausing or rewinding the video. Once they’ve seen the video, they can engage in a collaborative task attempting to apply the information from the video as a group.This is a great way to take the benefits of the flipped classroom and embed them into the station rotation model.”

~Catlin Tucker

Here are 2 scenarios in the writing workshop that illustrate the benefits of using flipped learning in your small groups.

Example #1: I’ve just taught a minilesson about a new strategy for elaboration in a persuasive essay. My goals for the remainder of the workshop time are to confer with 3 students and run two small group lessons. The first small group of learners need to learn strategies for writing the opposing viewpoints and rebuttals. The second group of learners need to review a previously-taught lesson about paragraph structure. Prior to using flipped learning in the writing workshop, I might have mismanaged my time by trying to juggle these two small groups of learners, and I would not have had time to confer individually with students.

However, with two flipped lessons ready to go, I am able to form the two small groups and help them access flipped lessons about the topics. This way I can confer with one student while the small groups are accessing the flipped lessons. Then I can meet with the small groups to answer any questions they might have and see how they are applying what they learned. After meeting with both small groups, I still have plenty of time to meet with 2 or 3 more students one-on-one.

Example #2: I’ve learned from Kate Roberts, co-author of DIY Literacy and Falling in Love with Close Reading, that a great strategy for managing small groups of writers in upper elementary and middle school grades is to write 2 to 3 small group topics on the white board and encourage students to sign up for one of those topics. For instance, I might write “Making your thesis statement stronger and arguable,” “3 Strategies for Elaborating,” and “Transitional Sentence Starters” on the board. Students can choose which topic to sign up for during class that day, or they can choose not to participate in a small group.

Flipped learning helped me manage these small group sessions. In the past, I would have struggled to provide enough small group options for all of my learners. I know myself, and I know that trying to run 3 small group sessions is challenging in a writing workshop period. Instead of trying to teach all of the sessions, I write FL next to a session title or titles that have flipped lessons online. This way my students can access the flipped lessons on their own, at a time of their convenience, or with a small group of students in the workshop.

Flip Your Writing Workshop


We are so proud to announce that our new book, Flip Your Writing Workshop, comes out today! In this new book, we teach you how you can successfully flip your writing workshop.

No matter where you are in the process of flipping, we’ll teach you the strategies and techniques you need for creating a flipped writing workshop lesson. If you’re new to flipped learning, no problem. If you’ve been flipping lessons for a while, no problem. We provide examples of flipped lessons that use simple technology and lessons that use more sophisticated technology.

Also, we walk you through how you might use flipped lessons throughout a writing workshop unit. From generating ideas to celebrating your students’ final drafts, our book can help you envision how you might use flipped learning in your writing workshop.

Our book offers advice on:

  • How to use flipped learning to enhance your writing workshop
  • Differentiating your instruction for individuals and small groups
  • Creating engaging flipped lessons
  • Assessing flipped learning
  • Answering administrators’ and parents’ questions about flipped learning
  • And a lot more!


Flipping Without Flipping Out

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When Sonja and I first began writing our new book, Flip Your Writing Workshop: A Blended Learning Approach, we kept referring to it as our “Flipping Without Flipping Out” project. We believe in fostering a balanced blended learning approach in our classrooms, but when we first began flipping lessons, we had some moments of panic. However, instead of flipping out, we supported each other and embarked on this journey together.

This Thursday our new book will be released. Many of you, who know us and have read our blog before, know that we love talking about our passion for digital texts and teaching our students to think critically and interpret texts through multiple lenses. We also love talking about our favorite ways to inspire our students to read and write and the challenges we’ve faced in our classrooms. This week, we will chronicle our journey with flipped learning in our writing workshops. We will take you through the good, the bad, and the ugly so that you can see what we’ve been working on and what it’s really like.

Today, we will begin with one of the reasons we began flipping lessons in writing workshop: REASON #1: INDIVIDUALIZED LEARNING

Sonja and I get together on Saturday or Sunday morning at our favorite Panera Bread Restaurant in New York. We sit at our favorite table (the one near the electrical outlets) and begin typing away. We also chat about our classrooms and what we’re working on. Oftentimes, our conversations turn to the strategies we’re using in our rooms to help our students grow as readers and writers. “I’ve found this great digital text,” I might say to Sonja. And she might respond, “That’s perfect for a chart I’ve been thinking about.” We love our discussions about the ebb and flow in our workshops. We also talk about how we’re constantly trying to meet the needs of all our learners. How can we best differentiate our lessons?

A few years ago, we began talking about the different ways we could use the technology in our classrooms to help differentiate our curriculum. Flipping lessons seemed like a great way to help our students review material as well as move forward at their own pace. We never set out to create flipped lessons for homework. We wanted to flip lessons in order to differentiate. We wanted to create lessons that our students could access at home and at school that would move them forward at their own pace.

Example #1:It can be hard to learn a new writing strategy as quickly as everyone else sometimes. Occasionally, students need more time to let concepts sink in. We all wish we could hit rewind sometimes! Students who need more time developing an important skill will love flipped lessons. With a few flipped lessons at the ready, students can learn from them as many times as they need. They can work at their own pace.

Example #2: Say you have a student who is new to your school and is already familiar with persuasive essay writing. This happens each year in our classrooms. With a few flipped lessons about some advanced strategies for writing a persuasive essay, this student can move forward independently.

Individualized learning is just one way that we’ve used flipped learning inside and outside the writing workshop. Tomorrow we’ll talk about the second reason we turned to flipped learning in our blended learning writing workshops.

Make Read Alouds Electrifying Experiences

A classroom read aloud can be an electrifying experience for students… or utter torture.

The ear, eye and the arm

For my daughter, it was the later when she was in 6th grade. The Ear, Eye, and Arm by Nancy Farmer was the read aloud in her Language Arts classroom that dragged across three months, essentially strangling the life out of any pleasure to be gained from the experience.

Lately, I’ve been reflecting about class read alouds, particularly novels. It started when over the course of one week, two of my colleagues came to my classroom to borrow books: Out Of My Mind by Sharon Draper and The Giver by Lois Lowry. Of course, I was thrilled to loan them these fantastic reads. But I was puzzled. One of my colleagues is an 8th grade science teacher, and the other teaches 8th grade algebra. They explained that these books were not for their classes, but instead for their own children. Both teachers had the same problem: Their child’s classroom teacher was stretching a class read aloud across several months and their children were dying to keep reading! Their children were so frustrated by how long it was taking to finish the class read aloud that they begged their mothers to get them their own copy!

I have to admit. When I first started teaching, I was THAT teacher. The one who maybe read “a chapter a day” which meant a class read aloud could take multiple weeks. The one who thought reading instruction was about “teaching books.” “I teach The Watson’s Go To Birmingham, 1963,” I might have said to a colleague.

I’m happy to report that I am a reformed read-alouder who understands that stretching a book out across a lengthy amount of time sucks the joy out of reading for students. We may have the best intentions in mind: to share a wonderful story with our students. But let’s just think about it. We select a fantastic book. We’ve got our students right where we want them: on the edges of their seats ready to devour this great story. And then, we rob them from the excitement of the story by dragging it out across weeks or months????

Here are a few things to consider about a read aloud:

  • Teach reading, not “a book.” There are so many wonderful books to introduce to and share with our students. But we are teachers of reading and our students need to develop strategies and skills that go far beyond any one book or story. One of the most important strategies we want to teach our students is how to fall deeply in love with reading. Shouldn’t this be our number one priority with a read aloud?
  • Select one or two strategies to teach and one or two skills to practice. Perhaps it’s a genre specific strategy so that students understand the unique elements of a genre and can apply this to their independent reading. Or maybe you want to help students strengthen their predicting skills. Think about which strategies and skills can be spotlighted with a particular read aloud.
  • Finish the read aloud in a week…two at the most! Yes, this will require setting aside time to accomplish this, but it’s worth it! Our students need to know that reading too slowly, not just reading too quickly, can compromise comprehension. When so much time passes, the specific details can slip away from our memories. Read alouds should happen frequently across the year in the classroom. Therefore, we don’t need to put all of our “eggs” into any one book as if it will be the only opportunity for a shared reading experience. Multiple read alouds, whether they are chapter books, picture books, digital texts, articles, or poems means multiple opportunities to teach reading strategies and to bolster the skills students need to become accomplished readers.

The excitement students have during a read aloud they love is precious and powerful; it’s like catching lightning in a bottle. When teachers capture this it can be used to demonstrate the electrifying experience of reading.

Sonja Cherry-Paul loves reading aloud to her 6th graders. Nothing is better than hearing the chorus of “No! Please read more! Don’t stop! she gets when she tells her class it’s time to go. Sonja is a member of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Committee. She has been immersed in reading wonderful books created by authors and illustrators who address themes related to social justice. The best part of this process is sharing these incredible books with her 6th graders and the insightful conversations they spark.  She is co-author of Teaching Interpretation: Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning and Flip Your Writing Workshop: A Blended Learning Approach. 

Amulet Series is a Must-Have

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When I began teaching 5th grade language arts, I searched websites like Goodreads for books recommendations. Having taught 4th grade for 8 years, I already had a sense of what the age range 8-10 liked to read, but I was interested in finding more titles that appealed to the 10-12 range. I was particularly interested in acquiring high-interest books such as graphic novels, fanfiction books (Minecraft, Lego, Disney), and fly-off-the-shelves chapter books (The Swap, Spy School, The Unwanteds, Mother-Daughter Book Club.)

By chance, I found a recommendation for the Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi (Twitter @Boltcity), and I bought Book 1: The Stone Keeper. This was a purchase that would forever change my classroom library. I lent the copy to a student in my classroom, and I asked her if she would do a review of the book. “Will you read it and let me know your thoughts?” I said. She agreed.

She sat down with the book and three minutes later I heard a scream. Not a scared scream, but a scream of delight. Although all heads turned toward her, she kept on reading, eyes glued to the pages. It must have an exciting beginning, I thought. I was right. It has an awesome beginning. One that takes students on a page-turning adventure.

The next morning my student asked me for Book 2. “How was it?” I asked. “Amazing,” she answered. This simple one-word review was all I needed. I purchased all of the books in the series, and she read each one.

A book recommendation from a classmate goes far. Very far. Within 24 hours I had multiple students asking to borrow the book. Within a week, every student wanted a chance. Word spread like lightning. All of my readers wanted to read this series. My voracious readers, my two-books-a-month readers, and my reluctant readers. This series ignites interest in all readers. It is like magic.

As teachers, librarians, and parents, we know that it is difficult to find perfect matches for readers. But this series is one that I bet on every time. It is a winner.

Today the new Amulet Book 7 is released. My class has a sign-up sheet of people waiting in line to read it. We also have a sign on the door celebrating the arrival of Book 7 that says, “Coming Out this Week! Amulet Book 7! Sign Up!”

Thank you, Kazu Kibuishi, for writing such an engaging series. You have many fans- students and teachers!

To read reviews, see the Goodreads write-up, Amazon, and Common Sense Media. For ages 8+.

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Dana Johansen teaches fifth grade in Connecticut. She enjoys reading on the couch with her yellow lab, and she is getting excited for the new season of House of Cards to return. Dana is the co-author of the new book, Flip Your Writing Workshop, due out in April. She believes in balanced blended learning and uses digital texts, flipped lessons, and all things Google to differentiate, be time efficient, and increase her students’ autonomy in the workshop. She has taught elementary and middle school for fourteen years. Dana is a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University where she studies blended learning in reading and writing workshop. 


Legos for Writing, Reading, Building

IMG_5909Our students are writers and readers. They are also builders, makers, engineers, scientists, historians, musicians, actors and artists. The list goes on and on. I teach students, not reading and writing. And I always want to encourage my students to bring their many talents and affinities into the reading and writing workshop. Building with Legos is one way I can do this.

A few years ago, I spotted an image on Pinterest that caught my eye and made me think about ways to bring Legos into my reading and writing workshops. The image that made me pause was a picture of a child’s room that had walls made of Lego flats. I thought to myself, “How cool would it be to have a wall in my classroom devoted to Lego building? We could build our class stories and characters!”

I teach fifth grade, and just like students of all ages, they love building and making! So I went to Toys R Us and purchased 9 green Lego flats. I used push pins and a small hammer to secure the flats to a portion of a bulletin board. It was surprisingly easy to make and didn’t leave any permanent damage on my bulletin board. I really liked that the board was vertical and not horizontal flat on a table. I liked that because it saved space in my classroom and everyone could see it while seated on the meeting rug.


I have used the Lego board in many ways in my writing and reading workshops. Here are few ways that I have loved using it: 

1) Story Setting! In the first image at the top of this post you can see how my class built the setting for our whole-class fantasy fiction story. We mapped out the kingdom and the creatures who lived in our made-up land. We referred to this map throughout the writing process and it helped keep us on track.

2) Story Mapping! Teaching story mapping? This is a great wall to build the beginning, middle, and end. Make a linear BME storyboard or a rollercoaster map out of Legos. It is a great visual in the classroom, and your students will love building it and referring to it.


3) Story Characters! Students can create the characters in their story, a class story, or a read aloud. This is especially great for practicing visualization strategies in reading.

4) The Ending! We’ve all taught students who have story endings that fizzle. Students have spent all their energy writing their stories that when they get to the end, they fizzle. This Lego board revives writers. Have students create their characters with Legos and act out their endings with their writing buddies. This brings much needed energy back to the writing process.

5) Celebrations! Need a new way to celebrate? Have students create an object, symbol, character etc., from their story or from their reading that was meaningful to them. Everyone can share their Lego creation at the celebration and then they can all be displayed on the wall.


Originally from Pennsylvania, Dana Johansen is hoping that Punxsutawney Phil will not see his shadow on Feb. 2 and there will be an early spring. In the meantime, she spends her time teaching fifth grade in wintery Connecticut, sitting with her yellow lab on the couch reading YA Lit, and watching the tv show, The Curse of Oak Island on the History Channel. They’re going to get to the bottom of 10x this week! So exciting! Dana has taught elementary and middle school for fourteen years. Dana is a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University where she studies blended learning in reading and writing workshop. She is the co-author of the books Teaching Interpretation and Flip Your Writing Workshop.