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A Dozen Book Recommendations for New Writing Teachers

Ruth and I posed for a couple of pics last night after dinner.
Ruth and I posed for a couple of pics last night after dinner.

Somewhere between the main course and dessert, Ruth and I got to talking about writing last night.  (Shocker, right?!!?) We began talking about book recommendations for teachers who are new to writing workshop.  What would we recommend if we could only choose ten books?  We threw out a few titles, but didn’t make it all the way to ten.  Probably because a two year-old with curly hair needed our attention.  🙂

What would be ten books that I’d recommend to someone who was getting ready to teach writing workshop for the first time?  What would get them ready to teach writing well if they wanted to read ten titles over the summer?  How could I choose?

My professional library is brimming with incredible texts about all aspects of the teaching of writing.  Most are focused on upper elementary writing, though there are a few primary and secondary titles mixed-in.  Many are content-specific (e.g., memoir, poetry, persuasive writing).  Quite a few are for teachers who’ve been teaching writing workshop for awhile.  It’s hard to pick just ten titles from all of the professional books out there since there is so much smart thinking in the literacy world!

I couldn’t choose ten because I wanted to include a book on the Common Core and a book that will help teachers become better writers.  Therefore, since it was a self-imposed challenge, I went ahead and selected a dozen books I would hand to someone who was new to teaching writing.  Some of these are books that have been around awhile that I used to require my student teachers to read excerpts of before I’d allow them to take over teaching writing workshop.  All of the books I put on my list are part of the canon of great writing workshop literature without being too focused on particular content.  While it is unrealistic that someone would read and internalize the contents of all of these books in one summer, I think  this list is a starting point for new teachers.

That said, the list that follows is just my recommendations.  I’d love to know which books from my list you’d recommend to new teachers and/or what books you might suggest that aren’t on my list.  Please leave a comment with your recommendations.  Or, better yet, if you have a blog, write a post about your own recommendations and  link it to this one!

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  • How’s It Going? A Practical Guide to Conferring with Student Writers by Carl Anderson (2000) — Whenever I consult with teachers about conferring, I’m always quoting the “Conferring Guy.”  New teachers need to know the work of Carl Anderson who I’ve been lucky enough to learn from twice during the TCRWP Writing Institutes. How’s It Going? is the starting point for teachers who want to learn how to confer with their students in a meaningful way.
  • Mentor Author, Mentor Texts: Short Texts, Craft Notes, and Practical Classroom Uses by Ralph Fletcher (2011) — Ralph’s book was required reading for my graduate students when I taught a course on using children’s literature to teach writing. He provides teachers with a flexible structure for examining texts critically so they can teach students how to adopt texts and authors as mentors.  (Learn more about this book by clicking here to read a blog post I wrote about it.)
  • Notebook Know-How: Strategies for the Writer’s Notebook by Aimee Buckner (2005) — This book changed the way I used writer’s notebooks in my classroom, which thereby transformed the way I taught writing workshop! It is the go-to book for learning how to get kids writing regularly in their writer’s notebook through all stages of the writing process. Buckner even provides readers with rubrics they can adapt to grade notebooks (which is a hard thing to put a grade on!).
  • Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement by Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth, and Christopher Lehman (2012) — This book helped me better understand the argument, informational, and narrative writing standards.  The authors teach readers  how to read and interpret the CCSS so teachers can help students meet the standards.  Furthermore, the book continually reminds teachers to draw upon their own and their colleagues’ expertise to create curriculum rather than using someone else’s prescribed curriculum as a way to help students meet the standards. (Click here to read a full review I wrote about this book.)
  • Practical Punctuation: Lessons on Rule Making and Rule Breaking in Elementary Writing by Dan Feigelson  (2008) — A few years ago, the school I taught at needed to transform the way students learned conventions. There are lots of books about this topic out there, but Practical Punctuation was the one that resonated most with me. This book helped us create meaningful lessons (READ: no worksheets!) about punctuation so the rules would stick with students. Furthermore, it taught me that punctuation is not an editing tool, it’s a crafting tool, which in turn helped me revise the way I thought about punctuation.
  • Smarter Charts: Optimizing an Instructional Staple to Create Independent Readers and Writers by Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine Mraz (2012) — This book is supposed to be for K-2 teachers, but quite frankly, I think it’s a useful resource for all elementary school teachers. Charts are not classroom decorations, they’re teaching tools. The authors help teachers learn how to create charts that are learning tools in writing and reading.  Plus, they have a great blog dedicated to the same mission.  (Click here to read my review of Smarter Charts.)
  • Talking, Drawing, Writing: Lessons for Our Youngest Writers by Martha Horn and Mary Ellen Giacobbe (2007) — When I return to the classroom in a few years, I intend to go back as a 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade teacher.  But, if for some reason I end up teaching little ones, I will reread this book like it’s the Bible.  Reading Talking, Drawing, Writing helped me gain a better understanding of the very important work Kindergarten teachers do to lay the foundations of writing.  Also, this book gave me insight into the ways I can foster oral storytelling and drawing at home so my daughter can make a smooth transition to writing when she’s ready.
  • The Art of Teaching Writing: New Edition by Lucy McCormick Calkins (1994) — This book is a classic.  It provides teachers with the fundamentals for teaching writing well.  If you want to learn from Lucy Calkins, then read this book because reading her words will make you feel as though you’re studying with her one-to-one.
  • The No-Nonsense Guide to Teaching Writing: Strategies, Structures, and Solutions by Judy Davis and Sharon Hill (2003) — This book allows readers to get an overview for how to run writing workshop. The text is informative and easy to read.  The appendix is a goldmine of forms teachers can adapt to meet their students’ needs.  When I was new to workshop, this was a book I referenced again and again.
  • The Revision Toolbox: Teaching Techniques That Work by Georgia Heard (2002) — Kids won’t dread revision if you teach them the strategies in this book. Georgia Heard makes revision fun (Yes, FUN!) in this book I dipped in and out of many times in my teaching career.  (In fact, I borrowed it from my school’s PD room so many times, I finally went out and bought it since I didn’t want to be a hog.)
  • Word Nerds: Teaching All Students to Learn and Love Vocabulary by Brenda J. Overturf, Leslie H. Montgomery, and Margot Holmes Smith (2013) — Teaching vocabulary well takes a lot of thoughtful work on a teacher’s part. That said, when vocabulary is taught in a fun way, it holds meaning and value to students. Plus, building students’ vocabularies positively impacts their writing. (I reviewed this book last week. Click here to read more about it now.)
  • Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark (2006) — Teachers of writing must be writers themselves! In order to become a stronger writer, you, too, need a writing teacher.  Let Roy Peter Clark be your teacher!  With 50 strategies, you can implement one a week (or every two weeks) in order to improve as a writer.

So, that’s my list of books that I would give to someone who was getting ready to teach writing workshop to elementary school kids for the first time. What do you think?

Stacey Shubitz View All

Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.

29 thoughts on “A Dozen Book Recommendations for New Writing Teachers Leave a comment

  1. I really liked Word Nerds, great to see it on this list. I found it practical and energetic. Also agree with the comment to add “Children Want to Write,” Don Graves words are as true today as always. LOVE this post! Thanks!

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  2. This is great to read everyone’s recommendations — it’s like being at SBUX talking books. Love it! I’d add Shanna Schwartz’s “A Quick Guide to Making Your Teaching Stick” which is part of the TCRWP Workshop Help Desk K-5 series. It’s a quick, easy read with many practical suggestions to strengthen writers’ repertoire of strategies they’ll remember from your engaging minilesson forward… I’d also add “The Writing Workshop: Working Through the Hard Parts (And They’re All Hard Parts)” coauthored by Katie Wood Ray and Lester Laminack. Chapters highlight each part of workshop, as well as how to set up, plan for, and teach in a WW. Two must-haves for anyone growing a writing workshop!

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  3. I love In Pictures and In Words by Katie Wood Ray…it’s a nice companion to Talking, Drawing, Writing that you have on the list, but the 50 illustration techniques apply to upper grades as well. I also love Already Ready by Katie Wood Ray as well. Janet Angelillo’s book about punctuation is great, too!

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  4. I agree with Marie. For teaching HS students, you can’t go wrong with Kittle and Gallagher. I redesigned my creative writing class using their ideas. Fabulous stuff.

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  5. For those who teach secondary students, I LOVE Penny Kittle’s Write Beside Them and also Kelly Gallagher’s new book on mentor texts. 🙂

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  6. I’d recommend Study Driven, by Katie Wood Ray. It’s great for developing units of study and helping mentor teachers as writers.

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  7. “Guiding Readers and Writers” is a great resource by Fountas & Pinnell for teachers of grades 3-6. It includes lots of practical ideas for getting started with Writing Workshop (along with Reading Workshop and Language & Word Study).

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  8. I purchase a copy of Mentor Texts: Teaching Writing Through Children’s Literature, K-6 by Lynne Dorfman and Rose Cappelli for every student teacher as they leave my classroom to begin a journey through writing workshop in their own clasroom. Now I would add their Nonfiction and Poetry books to the collection too! I also like I Can Write Like That!: A Guide to Mentor Texts and Craft Studies for Writers’ Workshop, K-6 by Susan Ehmann and Kellyann Gayer for beginning teachers. Although I realize the benefit in finding my own mentor text examples that supplement my instruction, as a beginning teacher it would have been nice to have a little help saving me endless hours on the library floor reading book after book!

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  9. After listening to both of you yesterday (A joy for anyone who hasn’t listened to these two brilliant writing coaches) I came home and started reading Lucy Calkin’s Art of Teaching Writing. I figured it would be one to read since my district will be using her Units of Study this coming school year. Thanks to both of you for inspiring me to start writing NOW.

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  10. Anything by Jeff Anderson is wonderfully practical, and I’d add Donald Murray, The Craft of Revision, and Peter Elbow’s Writing as Power, more for the teachers as a way to explore their own writing and revising and challenge preconceptions about what writing is and how it is taught.

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  11. I would have to recommend guru, Lucy Calkin’s book, The Art of Teaching Writing, first. Work from there after getting your feet wet in this very readable gem!

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  12. This is a wonderful list!
    I would add:
    WRITING TO PERSUADE by Karen Caine
    ABOUT THE AUTHORS by Katie Wood Ray and Lisa Cleaveland
    WONDROUS WORDS by Katie Wood Ray
    EVERYDAY EDITING by Jeff Anderson
    and of course
    AWAKENING THE HEART by Georgia Heard – it is important to include a poetry book!
    Thank you for this – a very pinnable post yet again!
    xo,
    a.

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  13. Stacey,
    I think this is a fun activity. Every time I try it, I have different books on the list! It’s hard to narrow it down. You have some I would include, but I’d have a few different ones too.
    Ruth

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  14. I love this list! Some are on my shelf now, waiting to be read and some are well-worn out. As a middle school teacher, I love Kelly Gallagher’s Write Like This and Teaching Adolescent Writers. I would be lost without them! Also Jeff Anderson’s work with craft in Mechanically Inclined and Everyday Editing. My go-tos! Thanks for sharing your list!

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  15. What a list . . . .It’s so hard to choose isn’t it. I might also want to include What You Know By Heart by Katie Wood Ray(I almost prefer this book a bit more to Roy Peter Clark because it speaks directly to mining your writing life to fuel your teaching) Although, Clark’s book is great, I think it would be a better fit for someone with a bit more experience teaching writing. Hidden Gems by Katherine Bomer would also be on my list because I think we need to unlearn what we learned early on – silence the critic (but I could be wrong about this as I get older and more and more students will have gone through writing workshops versus how I was taught writing) All the same, I think we need to develop the “eyes to see” what’s beautiful in our kids writing and there is no better mentor for that than Katherine Bomer.

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    • It was SO hard to choose, Ryan! I almost turned the list into top 20, but I had to stop myself. No matter what, everyone is going to have different views based on their professional experiences, as well as their beginnings. As someone who was trained at Teachers College, there are a lot of TCRWP staff members whose books appear on here. (Though as someone who attends institutes, I assume you already noticed that.)

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    • If she’s been teaching writing workshop for awhile, she might want some more topical books that focus on specific content. (Perhaps I’ll write another post with more professional book recommendations soon.)

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