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Back in November of 2014 Tara shared a tool to connect reading and writing workshop using Notice and Note signposts from her writing toolkit. She shares the many tools and ideas she used to push her students’ thinking. The moments she shares here with her students are a wonderful example of how lights can go on in the minds of our students and her response to this thinking is articulated beautifully as she takes us through this lesson. Enjoy Tara’s post below.

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 We were in the midst of a lively mentor text analysis of James Howe’s “Everything Will Be Okay” for our just-launched memoir unit.  I was thrilled to see my sixth graders making note of the way in which Howe had woven in various characteristics of memoir (the mini-lesson of the day!), but less than thrilled to see that one of them was twirling around his bookmark and gazing at it in what appeared to be a distracted sort of way.  Just as I was about to say something, Colin looked up at me  thoughtfully, waved his bookmark, and said: “That was an ‘Ah-ha Moment’, right? At the end there, when Howe said, ‘I will decide for myself?’”

The bookmark in question was this one:

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which I had created to anchor our Notice & Note (Kylene Beers and Bob Probst, Heinemann) thinking during our class read aloud of Priscilla Cumming’s Red Kayak.  The room grew quiet as Colin explained his thinking.  And then pandemonium broke broke out.  It was as though the proverbial lightbulb had been suddenly switched on, and suddenly there was light…and clarity about what exactly constituted memoir and differentiated it as a genre from personal narrative.

Among their excited chatter, I could hear many of the now- familiar- to- us signposts.  So, we opened up a Google doc and charted this thinking in order to see if some of what we had learned in Reading Workshop  could now be put to use in Writing Workshop. This is what we noted:

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Then we compared “Everything Will Be Okay” with our first mentor text, Mario Cuomo’s “The Blue Spruce” , to see if our theory about Notice & Note signposts (i.e. that some of the signposts were, actually, characteristic of memoir) held true. We decided that:

  • Memory Moments give you a bit of the writer’s history so that you “get” the problems and conflicts he/she faced.
  • Contrasts & Contradictions showed up when the narrator was beginning to realize something important, this is where the “turn” in the memoir takes place
  • Again & Again words or phrases definitely point to the “big idea” or the lesson learned.  In the Cuomo memoir, it was the word “dream”, and in Howe’s it was the phrase “everything will be okay”.
  • Ah-ha Moments tend to show up at the end of the memoir, sometimes right after the Contrasts & Contradictions Moment.  This is the reflective part – the writer has figured out something.

My students had theories about how other signposts could show up, too:

  • The writer may need a Words of the Wiser to help him/her come to a realization or have insight about something.
  • Or, the character might gain insight through Tough Questions that he poses to himself.  For example, James Howe could have asked himself “Is this the kind of man I want to be?” and through the process of coming to terms with this question he may have arrived at his realization: “I will decide for myself what kind of boy I am, what kind of man I will become”.

This was exciting work for us.  There are, of course, so many connections between the work we do as readers and the work that writing demands.  Still, it is rather wonderful to come to the realization that we have added  the Notice &  Note signposts to our writing toolkit.  I imagine that we will be reaching in for these as we begin our flash drafts next week and continue on to revising and publishing our memoirs.

When reading workshop meets writing workshop, it is a very good thing!

Have you used the Notice &  Note signposts in your memoir units? If so, please share what you have learned with us!


Betsy Hubbard View All

Daughter, sister, wife, mother, teacher, and writer.


  1. I’m so glad you included this in the Throwback posts! Tara illustrated how the Notice and Note signposts can be used as a tool to dig deeper into the meaning of text both when reading and writing it. This example is also a great model of using technological tools like Google Docs as more than word processing replacements. Tara was able to use language that was familiar from reading instruction to provide feedback on student writing. This is what teachers are striving for. Thank you for this example!


    • I was thinking the exact same thing! The use of technology in a more authentic way is refreshing and the blend of the work done in reading and writing is ideal. Notice and Note signposts give teachers a lens for what to do during reading workshop to support the memoir (or personal narrative or fiction- since I really think it could work for all three) writing done during writing workshop This will be an extremely helpful post for the middle school teachers that I coach.


  2. This was a beautiful post to read! I’m not familiar with Howe’s book, but the sample text shown, with the notes beside it of what the author was doing and what readers could be on the lookout for, was brilliant. (I want to read Everything Will Be Ok now! ) Connecting what readers are seeing with the possibilities for their writing so truly matches what “published” authors always say- that being a voracious reader made them a better writer. Katie Wood Ray’s work in this area always really resonated with me- that you could name strategies that you see authors using and note it across genres and then make it your own. It’s like letting kids become insiders in this writing club. She describes it as “reading like a writer” which I guess is another close reading lens you can wear. Right now, my third graders are learning about social issues in their books and their writing unit is on persuasive speech writing. There are many natural connections here between seeing problems in our books and the world and then being writers who can work to change that. Now I will be on the lookout for ways to show them how to read like a writer for craft as well as ideas for persuasive speeches. Thanks fora great post!


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