Archive for the ‘Teachers Write’ Category

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write and share.

Every summer I look forward to Kate Messner’s Teachers Write virtual writing camp. The first week is this week. Kate invites us to go outside and reflect on a time when we felt fully whole. I went outside and ended up weeding a flower bed. It wasn’t too hot, and for a minute, it wasn’t raining. I had a “clunker” line from Linda Mitchell to work with. “August was long of light.” There was a time when we didn’t start school in August, and it felt like summer would go on and on.

Mississippi Heat Wave

August was long of light
in a Mississippi heat wave that summer of ‘72.
On the path to Purple Creek,
my flip-flops kept the stickers away
and mosquitos preferred Missy’s freckle-juice.
Covered in Off and Coppertone, we’d hold hands
to cross the waterfall, tip-toe trickle over a concrete slab.
On the other side was an endless pine forest. We’d walk
the path of dirt bikes, side-stepping ruts in the muddy red clay.
Avoiding under-the-bridge where the smoking kids hung out,
we’d wander to the stables, pick out a favorite horse, pretend they were ours.
Endless summer days
stretched out like a Gulf Coast beach
burned our tender noses,
streaked our blonde hair,
became a backdrop to childhood memories.

Margaret Simon, draft
Pine forest in Mississippi, photo by Margaret Simon

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See more posts at Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life .

At NCTE 2018, I was excited to attend a session, Why Notebooks?, that some of my favorite people were leading: Jen Cherry, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Michelle Haseltine, and Linda Urban.  I’ve been a notebooker for some time now, and I always have my students decorate a marbleized journal at the beginning of the year, so I was drawn to finding more ways to use notebooks in my classroom.

As someone who loves little notebooks, I was delighted that there were handmade notebooks for us to keep (folded unlined paper with a colored cardstock cover).  They passed around puffy stickers for us to choose from.  I felt the thrill of creating something new.

Jen Cherry gave us reasons behind using notebooks with your students:

  1. Personalizes learning by providing choice.
  2. Encourages mindfulness.
  3. Builds stamina.
  4. Encourages risk.
  5. Students live like writers.

Michelle Haseltine prompted us to write an invitation to our notebooks.  On the first clean white page of the little green notebook, I wrote this poem.


I made a commitment to myself to be more intentional about notebook writing with my students.  On our first day back after Thanksgiving break, I asked my students to get out their notebooks.  In order to provide a structure that honors choice, I thought back to a workshop I attended with our Louisiana Poet Laureate Jack Bedell who told us about William Staffords’ daily writing discipline.

  1. date
  2. description of something that happened recently
  3. aphorism (cliche’)
  4. meditation (a poem-like thing)

After a few days of using this structure, I was hooked.  It was working for me, so why not share it with my students?  This is what I wrote on the board:

  1. Date
  2. Something that happened…
  3. Quote of the day
  4. Poem-ish writing

I set the timer for ten minutes and we wrote.  Some shared.  And some found their next blog post.  “I’m going to use this for my Slice of Life.”  We were doing the work of real writers.

We’ve been using the 365 Days of Wonder for quotes of the day, but I wasn’t doing anything more with it than having a student choose one and write it on a frame of glass.  They were enjoying the process of choosing and would often naturally start a conversation around the chosen quote.  Adding it to our daily notebook page gives more attention to the quote as well as possibly inspiring more writing.

This was our quote yesterday: “Happiness is a perfume you can not pour on others without getting a few drops on yourself.”  My poem-like meditation:

Happiness is the scent of flowers
in a bouquet
you give
just because
you’re happy.
Then the drops of perfume
fill your senses
and transfer
to whomever you hug.
Spread some happiness today!

As we get more and more adept at writing in our notebooks every day, my students and I will reap the benefits of sharing in a writing community.  Why Notebooks? So many reasons.  Pull them out of the desks, booksacks, or cubbies and just do it! You’ll be glad you did.



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See more posts at Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life


Last night was the #TeachWrite Twitter chat on “Facing our writing fears.” Turns out, we all have them.   I’ve heard Kate Dicamillo say multiple times (I’m not a groupie, really!) that she faces the fear of writing every day.  Every. Day.

Writing fear is a real thing.  It creeps into our lives at the worst of times and the best of times.  And publishing a book is no shield from it.  In fact, it may increase it.  Self talk, “Oh, this publication was a fluke.  No one will ever want to read another poem I’ve written ever again.”

Do you get messages from the universe?  I do. And if you pay attention, you’ll understand that everyone lives with fear every day.  What separates us is the way we deal with it.  I am trying hard to get better at holding myself up and away from the fear.  I love what Eleanor Roosevelt had to say about fear. “Do something every day that scares you.”  We must do this because, otherwise, fear is the winner.  But I also believe that if you are not writing in fear, then you are not writing.  The act itself is brave!


Here are two of my favorite Tweets from the chat.


I told my students today, truthfully, that writing is hard work, and if it’s not hard, you are not doing it right.  It’s important for us to keep writing (facing the writing fears) so that we can tell our students the truth.  That nothing worth doing well is easy.  Not even the greatest of authors have had it easy.  Take heart, though, because once you have written something good, you know how that feels, so you are more willing and ready to do it again.


What are your writing fears?  How do you overcome them?


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Find more celebration posts at Ruth’s blog.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Do the thing that scares you.”  Armed with years of experience and a strong conviction that writing teachers should write, I did the thing that most scares me…teaching teachers.

I led a weeklong teachers writing institute.  In March I set up a meeting with the curriculum coordinator for elementary schools in our district.  I pitched my idea.  While she was enthusiastic, I never heard back from her.  So I got the guts to send an email inquiry.  Yes, she was still interested, but I needed to meet with the middle school coordinator.  Nearing the end of the school year, I had approval and sent out the flyer.  Surprising to me, the workshop filled quickly.

Since today is about celebrating, I will not go into my disappointments.  I just want to capture the shining stars and bask a bit in their glow.

  • A new teacher, second career, only man in the class said his 17 year old daughter waited each day to read what he wrote.  His father told him to submit his essay to Reader’s Digest.  He is entering his first year of teaching confident that he is a writer.
  • A colleague from the gifted program told me I was a natural.  She said, “You seem so relaxed.  You make us feel comfortable.”  She could not see or feel the nerves churning inside.
  • Following Katherine Bomer’s book, The Journey is Everything, became a guidebook to writing a final essay.  Most teachers wrote an essay they were proud of.  We read and celebrated the writers we had found together.
  • Catherine Flynn joined us by Skype to teach us about visual literacy. (The idea to connect with her came from this post.)  Teachers took notes and talked about ways they could use art with their students.  Thanks, Catherine.
  • On the last day, tears were shed as we got into the deep trenches that writing can take us.  Sharing your own words is an act of faith.  We had become a community of writers.

Writing and sharing on our writing marathon in downtown New Iberia.

I gathered words and phrases from our writing marathon into a collaborative poem.


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My favorite writing teacher, Tara is rounding up today at A Teaching Life.

My favorite writing teacher, Tara is rounding up today at A Teaching Life.

Last Saturday I celebrated that my Teachers Write reflection was published in Kate Messner’s new book for writers, 59 Reasons to Write. On Tuesday, I showed the book with my name in the index to my students. Matthew exclaimed, “Mrs. Simon, you are in the index of a book that is written about your passion! I can only dream about being in the index of a book about magic.”

After I glowed in their attention and admiration, we thumbed through to find an activity to do. We tried Kate’s Three-Column Brainstorming activity. I was amazed that all of us, myself included, got good ideas for new fiction stories.

So here it is the eve of Poetry Friday, and I need an idea to write about. Kate to the rescue once again. She suggests using a poem she wrote, Sometimes on a Mountain in April, as a mentor text. So here is my attempt.

Sometimes on the bayou in January,
rain falls all day
soaking the dry leaves,
softening the hard earth
while softly whispering promises
of resurrection.

Sometimes on the bayou in January,
temperatures drop twenty degrees
reminding the cats’ coat to thicken,
the cardinals to find nests,
and mothers to pull on fleece.

Sometimes on the bayou in January,
bare cypress trees scarcely sway
reminding me to slow down,
take shelter,
drink warm tea.

Sometimes on the bayou in January
light hides behind grey,
the owl hoots before sunset,
shadows disappear
and I watch
for a poem hiding there.

–Margaret Simon

Through the screen door

Through the screen door

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Discover. Play. Build.

Ruth Ayres invites us the celebrate each week. Click over to her site Discover. Play. Build. to read more celebrations.

Tweet from Michelle Haseltine

Tweet from Michelle Haseltine

I love Twitter Love. Nothing better than having colleagues/blogging friends recognize, honor, and celebrate you. And without you even knowing it! I was traveling yesterday. Presently, I’m in Atlanta for a friend’s son’s wedding. At the end of the long day, I checked my Twitter alerts. Were they really talking about me? I had to read the Tweets again.
Twitter love

Then this morning I received an email from Stenhouse offering a free preview of Kate Messner’s new book, 59 Reasons to Write. It took a while to thumb to page 198, but there I was. I had written a mock letter to myself as a reflection of Teachers Write camp. I must have sent it to Kate, but I have no recollection of that.

So today, I celebrate Kate Messner, Teachers Write, and Twitter Love. If you haven’t done it yet, order 50 Reasons today. You don’t need any more reasons.

59 reasons

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Discover. Play. Build.

Ruth Ayres invites us the celebrate each week. Click over to her site Discover. Play. Build. to read more celebrations.

Reach copy

I chose Reach as my OLW for 2015. The recent gift of an Amaryllis bulb reminds me daily to reach. It has quickly grown about 2 inches in 2 days, reaching up to be a blossom.

Amaryllis 2

I am reaching out to other writers, sharing my work and encouraging theirs. A recent writing partner was introduced to me by Gae Polisner of Teachers Write and the author of two YA books, The Pull of Gravity and The Summer of Letting Go. Linda Mitchell and I have been exchanging poems for a few months. She is not blogging yet, so when she told me she had chosen her OLW, I asked her to write a poem about it. Here is her poem about the word Nourish. Love this word because you can nourish yourself as well as others. Her writing and advice nourish me.

New Year Resolution 1.1.2015
The women residing in me– but not limited to:
Daughter, sister, wife, mother, friend,
teacher, student, poet.

Whereas limited time is granted daily
by our creator and selfish choices;

Whereas desire to express meaning
is hindered by our ability to grasp
the essence of the language;

Whereas our attention and focus
is worn away and eroded
by frivolous pursuits;

Whereas our hope is to achieve
peaceful and mutual understanding
with our world;

RESOLVE, THAT the verb and action nourish
fortify all work, play and spiritual activity
January 1 through December 31, 2015.

And as such,

Be it resolved that we commit to:

Promote growth

Provide sustenance

Train, build and raise up

Ourselves, our loved ones
and our communities
beginning with prayer,
contemplation, word,
silence and
meaningful action
whenever and wherever

–Linda Mitchell, all rights reserved.

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  Join the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge.

Join the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge.

I have been thinking a lot about images and writing lately. An image helps me focus and informs my writing. When working with an image, I can be more specific in sensory details.

Over at Teachers Write camp, the focus has been on character and dialogue and how the setting can be used to guide the dialogue rather than using tags. Megan Frazer Blakemore has a number of tips for writing dialogue.

I am using setting to inform my characters’ actions. In the sequel to Blessen that I am working on, I wanted to put in this tree. It is located on the grounds of a former Catholic girls’ school, and my husband tells me it is called “The Boob Tree.” Can you see why?
boob tree

My former student/ middle school Beta reader advised that I change it. She said if my book was going to be read aloud in 3rd-4th grade classrooms, Boob Tree was way too embarrassing. So I took her advice and changed the tree to The Angel Tree. The tree becomes an important character and gets intricately involved in the plot.

I want the setting of South Louisiana to come through strongly. This morning while I was walking in the park, I came upon a nutria. Nutria are aquatic rodents. They are not too fearful of people (perhaps not too smart), so I got a good close up shot. A nutria makes an appearance in Sunshine (the working title of Blessen’s sequel.)


Something jumps beside the boat. A fish? A snake? An alligator? I paddle faster. It doesn’t help. The boat spins around. I try paddling on the other side. I spin back. I just stop, put the paddle inside the boat, and wait. Breathe.

Then I see it. A baby nutria with its tiny head sticking out above the water. He skims the surface, joining his family in a grove of cypress knees. I am mesmerized. They chatter together. Nutria language, foreign to me. Mother and baby look my way. I whisper hello. Mother nudges baby back into the water and they skim off together into the dark spaces between the trees.

Nutria are large rodents, a glorified rat. But I think they are cute, especially the curious babies. They are as big as a beaver, but their tails are long and skinny. My uncle, who we call Big Brother, used to hunt them for fun. He made me a string necklace once with two shiny orange teeth. He told me they were a nuisance, imported to Louisiana for their fur, but no one really wants a rat for a coat. They have multiplied and taken over.

A few years ago, Momma thought it’d be funny to feed us nutria spaghetti. She didn’t tell us what it was until we all had eaten. You should have seen my Pawpee’s face. He laughed so hard and said, “Cher, Deanie, you make the best nutria spaghetti around.”
–Margaret Simon, all rights reserved

How are you using setting to inform your writing?

Kim Douillard invites us to take a Photo-a-Day in August, trying to capture the unexpected. Both of the above images qualify as unexpected in nature. I am piggybacking on her challenge and asking you to write a scene, description, poem to accompany your image. The list is as follows:

So August’s challenge is to look for the unexpected as you enjoy the last of the long light and warm days (at least in the northern hemisphere). And to help you look, here are some prompts—one per day—to focus your attention and spur your thinking.

1. People

2. Place

3. Nature

4. Plants

5. Animals

6. Horizon

7. Food

8. Transportation

9. Light

10. Home

11. Smell

12. Sound

13. Garden

14. Inside

15. Thing

16. Drink

17. Sky

18. Outside

19. Neighborhood

20. Weather

21. Early

22. Texture

23. Words

24. Interaction

25. Walk

26. Arrangement

27. Trash (#Litterati)

28. Architecture

29. Close up (Macro)

30. Landscape

31. Pleasure

Once you find the unexpected and capture a photo of it, post a photo each day with the hashtag #sdawpphotovoices to Twitter, Instagram, Flicker, Google+ and/or Facebook (the more the better!), so that we can all enjoy the posts.”

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Discover. Play. Build.

Ruth Ayres invites us the celebrate each week. Click over to her site Discover. Play. Build. to read more celebrations.

Today I am celebrating comments. I am admitting how important comments are to me. They drive me to write more. They give me confidence. Comments are like attention from a close friend; they wrap me up in warmth.

Every Friday of Kate Messner’s Teachers Write Camp, Gae Polisner hosts a Friday Feedback on her site with a guest author each week. A week ago, the guest was Avi. Yes, the one and only. If you are steeped into the kidlit world of middle grade books, you know Avi well for books like Crispin and The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle and many more. I was a bit star struck when I saw this and hesitated to post anything, but I got my courage up and posted this little piece of Sunshine, the sequel to Blessen.

On the porch hidden by the screen door, I think I see a child. All I can see are eyes, big and round like white marbles, staring out at me. Still, I am startled by the voice.

“Hi, there! Whatcha’ doin? Swinging?”

A little black girl swirls off the porch and flies like a raven to my side. She wears a tattered pink dress that’s too short for her long skinny legs. Her hair is plaited in braids close to her scalp. Her skin is as dark as a moonless night. She runs around me and pushes me forward on the rope.

I swing higher and squeal. Holding tighter to the rope, I ask the girl, “Who are you? Where did you come from?”

“My name is Harmony, Harmony, Harmony.” Harmony sings her name higher and higher on the scale. “Who are you, you, you?”

Holding tightly to the thick rope, I unwrap my legs and stand.

“I’m Blessen. I live right there in that double-wide with my momma, Miss Gardenia LaFleur. Are you living here now?”

“Oh, well, it’s all just temporary. We’ll see, we’ll see. Will you swing me high?”

And from Avi, “Dear Margaret,
Not much to add, because this seems to work as is. Good job!. I assume there is more, and would like to read.”

And this week from Gae herself, “Margaret, I’d offer constructive criticism if I had it. But your writing is really stellar and compelling. Just beautiful. Keep going!”

How can I not keep going with support like this from successful authors like Avi and Gae. A huge THANKS to Kate Messner and Gae Polisner and all the other amazing authors who are devoting their time and energy to nurturing struggling teacher-writers like me.

Rami_Quote_Posters2 copy

I am trying to trust my authentic voice. Comments strengthen this voice and make me feel worthy! Totally selfish and totally true!

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  Join the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge.

Join the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge.

Kate Messner leads teacher writers in a writing camp this month.

Kate Messner leads teacher writers in a writing camp this month.

For the third year, I signed up to participate in Kate Messner’s Teachers Write Camp. Kate gathers a wealth of children’s writers to coach a growing group of teachers in writing. I believe that a teacher of writing must be a writer.

I will not be able to write for every prompt, but I am trying to start strong. My method for starting strong is to read the prompt for the day. Then get out my journal and write. I do not read anyone else’s writing until I write first. This works for me for two reasons; I don’t get caught up in reading and avoid writing, and I don’t prejudge myself by comparing my writing to others.

So today I am going to share my draft response on my blog. The prompt can be found here.

Playground Danger

The playground merry-go-round was a big round wooden platform. Jutting out of the center were four sets of painted metal bars. Standing or sitting, this was my second-to-last least favorite playground equipment. The worst was the see-saw. (Once my brother let me drop from the highest position, and my butt was sore for days.) On the merry-go-round, I always got dizzy and disoriented, especially when Dave would spin me real fast.

On this day, the merry-go-round was the gathering place for the Girl Scouts as we waiting for our moms to pick us up after the meeting. Jacy was the leader. She was always the leader. I could not avoid her condescending look.

“Come on, Valerie, don’t be such a baby. Come play Catch me, if you can! I get first spin.”

Jacy’s chest puffed out a little higher as she grabbed the edge of the platform to begin spinning us. Around, around, faster, faster. My stomach spun with every turn. I closed my eyes. Then a sudden stop.

“Gotcha!” yelled Jacy. She had both hands on Francis’s dangling legs. Francis was it.

I took a moment to breathe and gather my senses. Jacy jumped on right next to me, sitting with her legs stretched out straight, daring Francis to catch her. I scooted toward the center.

“No fair, Valerie!” Jacy’s voice whined. She grabbed my arm. “You have to stick your feet out.”

Maybe if I stuck my feet out and down, I could slow the spinning, get caught, and get this over with.

Spin, spin! Caught!

Francis grabbed my feet, and I slid off the merry-go-round to the dusty dirt below. Bam! I could feel the bruise forming. The bottom of my jeans shorts were brown with dust. I stood up, dusted off, and didn’t let on that both my bottom and my pride throbbed in shame.

My turn to spin. Like my brother would do to get us going faster and faster, I grabbed a metal bar and took off in a trot, then a run. Letting go, I watched legs blur past me. I grabbed the longest ones and held on tight. Snap! A snap of bone.

Jacy let out a scream to break cathedral glass. Everyone stared. Then a flurry of mothers.

Jacy’s mother picked her up while my mom held her dangling leg. Her leg was in an awkward position. I looked away. Jacy passed out. What had I done?

Our Teachers Write hostess for today, Nora Raleigh Baskin says that to write for children, we have to get into the mind of a child. This was a true incident that I fictionalized. I actually don’t think I was the one who broke her leg. But the incident has stuck with me all these years.

Thanks, Nora, for inspiring my writing today.

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