Writer’s Block and Physical Movement

writer-605764_960_720I often present and write about using physical movement in classes that teach reading and writing.  The reading process is often viewed as an easier link for teachers to make between teaching reading strategies and incorporating physical movement activities.  A harder connection for teachers is linking writing and physical movement. I recently wrote an article published by AMLE Magazine about how to help adolescent learners overcome writer’s block with some simple movement activities.  The following link accesses the article.

Addressing Writer’s Block Through Physical Movement


Building Reading Comprehension with Legos


My son loves legos. If given the option to do anything, he would spend all day building, creating, and diving into the imaginary world associated with all things legos.

A pile of legos will make many kids happy. Manipulating various shapes, colors, and textures of blocks excites students from kindergarten to middle school to adulthood. Providing students with the time to use their imagination and creativity to build something and associate it with learning allows them to engage multiple senses and areas of the brain sparking synaptic connections increasing the cognitive experience of students in the classroom.

There are several ways to motivate students to read and to perform necessary tasks associated with reading comprehension and analysis. Giving students opportunities to work with legos before, during, and after reading adds a kinesthetic and visual component to the process.

One activity that can be used during reading is to provide each student, or table groups of students, with a bag of legos. During the before reading process, students should chunk the text.  Preferably, teachers would choose a text that is already set up with heading and subheadings to make the sections of the text visible to students. After students read a section of the text, time would be given to the students to pause and create a lego representation of what was read. The skills involved may range from focusing on simple details to analyzing arguments through inferences and tone. The lego representation could be completed individually or as a team.  When all teams have completed the task, a table group gallery walk could take place for each team to see the work of other teams. The hands-on approach to visualization offers time for mind-body connections to be made associated with a text or reading skill.

A variation of this activity could emphasize lego colors. In this variation, students are provided with specific lego colors. Each color could represent a specific reading skill or concept. For example, groups could be charged with creating a visual representation of a particular section.  Green legos could represent main details of the passage and red legos could represent inferences based on the details.  The overall visual would symbolize the text.  Another example could be based on colors and numbers. Blue legos could form the base of the visual and represent the topic sentence. Yellow legos could be added to represent details, and black legos could represent descriptive words used throughout the paragraph. The activity can be extended to include lego people and objects. The options are endless.

While legos may be intimidating to some teachers, the novelty students experience makes the activity worthwhile.  The levels of cognitive engagement are various as are the levels of high-level thinking opportunities.


Costco, Play-Doh, and Reading


October is one of my favorite months of the year.  Halloween with my kids is one of the reasons despite the loads of candy they receive.  This is why I love Costco and the small containers of Play-Doh they offer so parents have an alternative to candy and what they offer to trick-or-treaters.  There is another reason I love those small containers of Play-Doh….

Reading  nonfiction texts may not be the most exciting task for middle school students.  Add to this task long periods of silently seated work and repetitive highlighting and annotating, and teachers will find students at all levels of reading fleeing away from reading engagement.  Of course, there are times when reading silently is necessary.  And, there are times when highlighting and annotations are important.  In fact, I have led several workshops on close reading and effective highlighting reading strategies.  However, if the process becomes stagnant, readers, especially reluctant readers, will become complacent and reading gains may be limited.

I recently shared a reading strategy that involves tactile movement performed during reading of a nonfiction text.  Adding movement activities to lessons does not always entail having students get out of their seats.  Some teachers shy away from having students stand and move due to time constraints or interruptions to the flow of a lesson.

For this activity, I chose a nonfiction text that could be easily chunked.  Since this text was meant to involve close reading strategies, the text was limited to two pages.  The text features included subheadings, which were clearly marked and placed for a natural stopping point for students.  I handed out Play-Doh to each participant and gave them specific instructions as to what to do and what not to do with it.  Since this was the first time using Play-Doh, class routines had to be set and taught.  The amount of emphasis needed for routine instruction depends on the needs of the students .

Participants listened to the first chunk of reading.  At the end of the first section, participants were informed to sculpt anything that could represent what they read.  They then discussed with their partner pairs their connections.  After the second section, they sculpted something connected to inferences that could be made.  After the third section, they sculpted something connected to the author’s tone.  The goal was to increased the level of thinking of each section and to prepare students for a writing response.

When students connect visually and tactilely with a text, the levels of understanding deepen. Rather than have students highlight and annotate, students are creating, visualizing, and discussing the text.  The basic strategies of close reading are present, but the approach is novel.

Raising Literacy Levels Through Mixed-Ability and Mixed-Grade Activites


Next week I will be presenting at AMLE in Austin, Texas.  I love this conference, and I am thrilled to be able to present and network with colleagues.  My presentation is titled, “Raising Literacy Levels Through Mixed-Ability and Mixed-Grade Activities.” Literacy is vital to the success of students at all levels of learning.  The love for reading can propel students to higher levels of intellect; however, if the love of reading is not captured as students approach middle schools, it is difficult for teachers to successfully encourage adolescent readers to make reading a habit. This results in the absence of reading outside of school and the reluctance of reading in the classroom. Of course, there are several reasons for a reluctant reader, and there are multiple ways teachers can successfully get students to read as well as instill the love of reading in those who may have felt reading was at a loss for them.


When teachers begin to explore outside of their classroom walls and enlist the minds of colleagues, innovative teaching can erupt and something magical can occur. Literature circles have been used in classrooms across the country for years. Teachers who use literature circles can testify to the deeper levels of conversation that students engage in during well-led literature circle activities and discussions. Taking this concept beyond a single-class, single-grade experience sheds light on how impactful literature circles can be for a school.  


In one school, teachers in different grade levels explored ways to mix 7th, 8th, and 9th grade ELA classes in efforts to boost comprehension levels of nonfiction texts. Each grade level had some experience with literature circles in their own classrooms, so some routines were in place.  8th and 9th-grade teachers explained to their students how they would become the leaders when conducting literature circles with grades below them. To begin the process, each group studied video and written articles about growth mindset. The discussions led to community building throughout the school as students grasped growth mindset ideals.  As the literature circles discussions continued, the divide between grade levels subsided and authentic learning inspired students to want to read more and explore texts.  Teachers also were excited about how to proceed with purposeful groups according to student needs, readiness, personalities, and learning growth.


The ideas becomes endless.  Taking a risk is key to innovation. There are different levels of risks teachers are willing to take, but when a group of teachers are supported in trying something new, teaching becomes exhilarating and student success expands. The overview of ideas in this post will be expanded in the AMLE presentation and future posts.




Literature Circles Resource Center  http://www.litcircles.org/Overview/overview.html


Teaching Channel  https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos/literature-circles-in-action


Harvey Daniels  http://www.csun.edu/~krowlands/Content/Academic_Resources/Literature/Instructional%20Strategies/Daniels-lit%20circles.pdf