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!


  • 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?