Bust a (Writing) Move — An NCTE17 Recap

Says she wants to dance to a different groove

Now you know what to do G bust a move

– – Young MC


Among my all-time NCTE highlights came this year as members of the Moving Writing crew gathered in real life to share some of our favorite writing moves to support writers throughout the writing process.


THANK YOU to all of you who hung around St. Louis until the bitter end with us. For those who couldn’t be with us in person, we thought we’d share a little bit about our favorite moves — along with our slides and resources — to energize your writing instruction as we head into the winter!

Sit back, crank up some ‘90s dance jams, and bust a writing move.

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So many of us spend the first few weeks of the school year using heart maps and writing territory lists to help students identify their interests, their questions, their passions, in the hopes that this will provide a year’s worth of material for writing that matters. However, when analytical writing peeks it’s head into our classrooms, we scurry to put the passion away. And this might be one of the reasons our students hate writing it. And we hate reading it.

 In our new book Beyond Literary Analysis (coming out in January!!!), Allison and I propose putting passion back at the forefront of writing. Especially analytical writing. Asking students to spend time identifying passion for analytical writing (not just analysis of literature) invites students to write about things they know and love like the back of their hands … and invites us to simply teach writing — the tools of analytical writing that can be applied whether you’re analyzing The Scarlet Letter or Daveed Diggs’ guest starring arc on Blackish or Steph Curry’s basketball season or the causes of the American Revolution.

Here are a couple of ideas:

Pre-Writing- Gathering Passion for Analytical Writing

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God bless Katie Wood Ray for gifting teachers with the concept of reading like a writer — the idea that we can shift our focus from understanding what a texts says to how it is composed. When we make this shift, we can not only read and understand the text more deeply, but we can also borrow craft moves from professional writers and use them as invitations into writing of our own.

In Karla’s part of the presentation, she shared ideas for helping students make this leap — from reading like readers to reading like writers. She gives us mentor texts, student samples, and tips galore!

Karla: Reading Like a Writer

Karla’s Mini-Mentor Texts for Reading Like a Writer

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Once students can read like writers (and have had plenty of low-stakes mini-practice sessions to firm up their thinking), they are ready to take their newfound craft moves in to a bigger piece of processed, publishable writing.  Megan uses mini-mentor text stations to help students consider and establish their own tone and voice in a piece of writing.

But what’s interesting is that Megan doesn’t stick this onto the end of the unit like so many of us do. She reminds us that tone and voice have everything to do with audience … and a writer has to know his or her audience before they even begin a piece of writing. Audience is everything to a writer. So, Megan frontloads tone and voice work so that her student writers have a sense from the get-go of who they are writing to, why, and how their voice will be used to communicate with them.  Here’s a look at Megan’s playful, smart presentation.

Megan’s Analyzing & Establishing Tone and Voice with Mini-Mentor Stations

Megan’s Mini-Mentor Texts

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For my money, building a logical structure is absolutely the hardest part of writing. And if it’s hard for all of us, it’s infinitely more challenging for young writers who lack decades of reading and writing experience.

Hattie pairs physical movement and talk to help her students literally walk through their arguments, using arrows to map the flow of ideas on the floor and connector words  and chunks of texts to think about transitions and relationships between ideas.

Y’all — this is brilliant.

Hattie–Physical movement

Hattie Mentor Texts

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I loved that Stefanie connected developing a student’s identity as a writer to the act of revision — arguably the part of the writing process they avoid the most.

Stefanie makes a great point, though. Mentor writers can provide models for revision. In her bit of the session, Stefanie shared ideas for gathering quotes about the writing process, examples of writers in the revision process, and revision annotations from professional writers to help students think critically about how they can do more than just edit — how they can truly take their writing to the next level.

Stefanie- Revising with the Stars

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As students move into the revision process, even writing workshop can feel a bit mechanical — did you edit the punctuation? Did you follow the STAR guidelines for revising? Have you checked the boxes? Fulfilled the requirements of the rubric?

In his presentation, Mike encouraged us to instead think about revision as a story, as a narrative. As teachers, we need to tell students our story of being a reader in their piece — not just the fragments comment boxes we use to leave feedback, which provides a fractured picture of the experience. Likewise, student writers deserve the time to tell the story of their revision process. Mike uses FlipGrid to accomplish this.

This is brilliant, and gives time and value to something that many of us rush through as an afterthought in the writing process.

Copy of Narrating Revisions

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Tricia wrapped up our NCTE session by showing us her students’ Swipe Folders, a system for collecting and organizing mentor texts developed from Austin Kleon’s work.

No matter how many helpful tips I give my students for mentor text organization, there are still frequently scraps of mentor texts hanging out of their notebooks, their binders, crumbled in their backpacks, stuck in the cracks of their lockers. A swipe folder simply and elegantly streamlines this conundrum — mini-mentor texts that are studied together in class go in the folder.

Tricia also reminded us to be conscious and critical of the voices we set forth as mentors in our classroom. So many teachers are — wonderfully! — becoming sensitive to adding books from diverse authors into classroom libraries. But the writers we elevate and glorify through our study of mentor texts deserve the same scrutiny. We made an effort to feature diverse voices in the mentor texts we used in this session; we hope that you will consider doing the same.

Tricia – Swipe Folder


NCTE has an uncanny way of making me weepy. I’m not sure why; I’m sure it’s all the English teacher love. As I wrap up this post, I’m feeling the NCTE tears coming on because, before we move on from this glorious first time we were together in real life, I have to tell you how much Allison and I admire, respect, and value our Moving Writers contributors. They do this for nothing but the love of sharing their art — they make us all better teachers. Tricia, Karla, Hattie, Megan, Mike, and Jay — thank you for all your bring to this little community. We are so grateful.


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