Teachers for Teachers | Slice of Life: A Win-Win Idea for Emergent Readers
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Slice of Life: A Win-Win Idea for Emergent Readers


Where did you write that?

On your conferring note.

No, no – show me. Show me where the words are on the note.

The words are right here.

Those are too messy for me to read – can you write it so I can read the words?

Students are always curious about the notes we take. We believe that is it is important to note our formative observations while we teach. We need to take the time to capture what we are noticing and wondering about our students while we are teaching. We believe the payoff of formative data is worth the time we spend collecting it as we teach. When students ask what we are writing, we typically tell them what we are writing as they watch us. They ask questions, add ideas and encourage us to “write that down.” We love how it involves them in the process of learning. It never dawned on us to use this process to teach students how to read until this emergent reader demanded it.  An idea was born! We reworked our conferring note and designed it so we could write in a print size that the students could read (and we worked on our neatness!).

We end each conference co-writing the day’s “note” with the student. We decide what to say together, plan out the sentence and then “share the pen” to write the sentence. We teach and scaffold the concepts of print we are focusing on with each student. We also begin each lesson with the student re-reading the previous day’s note. We use this time to observe, prompt, and teach the student. We have even chose some to write up on sentence strips to cut up and rebuild the sentence.

We have noticed three big impacts from doing this with early readers:

  • The text we are using is meaningful and it is about what they are doing and experiencing. The students are constructing both the meaning and print that represents it as we are writing. The purpose and connections to literacy is so clear.
  • Students are more engaged in the lessons because they are excited to write about what they are learning and how the process of learning is going from them. They like talking and thinking about themselves as learners so they are more invested.
  • Students are invested in the assessment process. They know their goals and are providing feedback on their next steps as learners. We are also getting to know them better as readers so our instruction is becoming more responsive to their needs.

Marie Clay taught us that it is essential that readers truly understand the foundation of literacy, “What I say I can write and what I can write I can read.” This concept seems so simple but it is the essence of being literate. When readers struggle to understand this concept we find it is critical to make their experiences with literacy purposeful and meaningful. If we want them to make connections to print, we need to connect the print to what is meaningful to them. We love when we find a “win-win” practice that saves us time and engages our students!


Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnnaBeth, Kathleen, and Deb for this space for us to share our stories each day in March.  Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts and consider joining this community.




  • Avatar
    Posted at 11:52h, 08 March Reply

    What a brilliant idea, Clare! I can see how this practice would help kids better form their reading (or writing) identity. They are so curious about notes. They may even start keeping them on us!
    And I just have to say – you raise my level of anxiety just a little every day when I have to figure out a math problem to post my comment. So funny! I’m usually here in the morning so it really wakes me up.

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    Lynne Dorfman
    Posted at 12:09h, 08 March Reply

    Oh, Clare, I loved reading this! It is incredible, really, and makes such good sense. I have always thought that getting students to write throughout the day and share their thoughts by first rereading to themselves and then to others was helpful in reading abilities – fluency, confidence, building word power, making meaning. For younger students, I do write my thoughts on sticky notes to give to them (al so copy them into my notebook) – usually one praise and one suggestion. But I have been doing it because the younger students often forget what they might do next before they get back to their seat. Although I encourage the student to “own” the conference and take my lead from their thoughts, we are not planning what to write on the note together or sharing the pen to create the note. Love planning and writing what will be on that note together – ownership, yes!

    So great how you pull out your noticings for your reader and the quote from Marie Clay! I am definitely going to return to this post later this evening and reread it. Great post! Thank you!

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    Melanie Meehan
    Posted at 12:10h, 08 March Reply

    I am so sharing this with my kindergarten teachers. I keep conference cards and leave them with students with a teaching point we write in their words, and I love co-constructing the notes. So smart! Thank you.

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    Posted at 13:34h, 08 March Reply

    “If we want them to make connections to print, we need to connect the print to what is meaningful to them.”
    And you found a brilliant way to do just that, well done!

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    Jennifer Laffin
    Posted at 13:47h, 08 March Reply

    Love how you bring the student into the conferring process. It gives them great ownership. Any chance you would share your conferring note? I’d love to see it!

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    Karen Szymusiak
    Posted at 14:20h, 08 March Reply

    What a great strategy! Love it.

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    Linda Baie
    Posted at 16:24h, 08 March Reply

    I love those beginnings words, words that you took for a need, and adjusted for young students. Listening to what our students are telling us is truly best practice. (I may use some of this with a granddaughter when we read together.)

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    Karen Terlecky
    Posted at 01:16h, 09 March Reply

    What a wonderful strategy! I love the idea of having an interactive writing/reading opportunity with a student AND setting goals. Brilliant. I will be sharing this with fellow coaches, especially those in primary grades.

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    Christine Baldiga
    Posted at 14:12h, 09 March Reply

    I meant to comment on this post yesterday, telling you how inspired I was by this idea. I will be sharing this with my staff today! And hope to try it out later this week in a classroom. Thank you again!

  • Avatar
    Carrie Gelson
    Posted at 14:48h, 11 March Reply

    How I love this! This is meaningful work – communicating with students and having them be part of the process moving forward!

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