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The Best-Kept Teaching Secret

The Best-Kept Teaching Secret
How Written Conversations Engage Kids, Activate Learning, Grow Fluent Writers . . . K-12

November 2013 | 248 pages | Corwin
Your fast-track to student engagement

Everywhere Smokey Daniels speaks, there's one teaching strategy that teachers embrace above all others. That single method for transforming students from passive spectators into active learners . . . for evoking curiosity, inspiring critical thinking, and building powerful writers along the way. Now, that best-kept teaching secret is revealed: Written Conversations. Smokey and coauthor Elaine Daniels describe how to leverage these "silent writing-to-learn discussions" structure by structure

- Mini-memos

- Dialogue journals

- Write-arounds

- Digital discussions

. . . with detailed descriptions, lessons, and annotated student samples—making this the most practical teaching book in recent memory.

Chapter 1. Letters Leverage Learning
A New Old Idea

Those Letters Are Cute, But . . .

Kid-to-Kid Letters About the Curriculum

Meeting the Common Core State Standards With Letters

Engagement, Best Practice, and Written Conversations

How the Book Is Organized

Let the Student Samples Teach You

Chapter 2. A Community of Correspondents
We've Got Mail

Back-to-School Letters

Parent and Kid Letters

Message Boards

Classroom Stationery


Topic Journals

Classroom and School Mail Systems

Teacher-Student Friendly Letters

Student-Student Friendly Letters

Kid-to-Kid Friendly Letters

Multi-Age Friendly Letters

INTERCHAPTER: Prompts and Stems for Written Conversations
Chapter 3. Mini Memos



Quick Look: Exit Notes

Launching Lesson: Admit Notes

Morning Message

General Instructions for Mini Memos

Start-Up Notes

Admit Notes

Writing Breaks

Exit Notes

INTERCHAPTER: Is There Time for This?
Chapter 4. Dialogue Journals



Quick Look

Launching Lesson

General Instructions for "Live" Dialogue Journals

Adjustments for "Takeaway" Dialogue Journals

Teacher-Student Dialogues

Student-Student Dialogues

Dialogue Journals Across the Curriculum

Feedback Loops

Teacher Response to Student Writing

Multi-Age Dialogue Journals

Management Tips for Dialogue Journals

INTERCHAPTER: The Assessment of Written Conversations
Chapter 5. Write-Arounds



Quick Look

Launching Lesson

Drawn Conversations

General Instructions for a Write-Around

Silent Literature Circles

Content-Area Write-Arounds

Text on Text

Management Tips for Write-Arounds

Chapter 6. Digital Discussions



Quick Look: Texted Discussions

Launching Lesson: Photo Journals

General Instructions for Digital Discussions

Lab Letters


Online Partnerships

Email and Farewell

Management Tips for Digital Discussions

Works Cited

“Engaging, enchanting, elegant, and totally practical. This little book is a gift to any teacher or school who wants students to write and think and communicate more--instantly. The tweaks to the written conversation strategies are fresh, stimulating, and easy to implement. Open it and start the conversation.”

Jeff Anderson, Author of Ten Things Every Author Needs to Know and Mechanically Inclined

“Smokey and Elaine pave the way to increasingly sophisticated communication and thinking by cracking open their secrets for successful written conversations. This book is loaded with fabulous student writing samples, tips for instructional success, and so many great ideas that you won’t be able to resist making written conversations an integral component of every learning day.”

Linda Hoyt, Author of Revisit, Reflect, Retell and Coauthor of Nonfiction Writing

“Smokey and Elaine Daniels let the secret out: when students participate in written conversations, they generate new and deeper thinking. The easy-to-implement strategies found in this book place writing where it belongs— in the forefront of the classroom— and in doing so ensure your students will be involved in active, engaged learning. Better yet, your students will actually look forward to writing. And reading, too! I recommend this book for all teachers looking for ways to deepen their students' thinking through writing."

Kelly Gallagher, Author of Write Like This and Deeper Reading

“Simple and brilliant! Smokey and Elaine invite us to capitalize on kids’ natural urge to write to each other.  The tactics they describe in this book are easy to implement and will have a huge impact the minute you deploy them. The book is brimming with examples from preschoolers to college English classes. You will laugh out loud when Marco writes ‘Am I a plant?’ and covet comments like ‘I would be excited if we did more things like this’ from a high schooler!”

Ellin Keene, Author of To Understand and Coauthor of Mosaic of Thought

"Written in a light conversational style, The Best-Kept Teaching Secret brims with jottings written by children and with an armful of ways you can use letter writing to revitalize your teaching. Readers who have come to trust Smokey's grounding in classrooms will find that once again, he draws upon a rich repertoire of stories and methods drawn from the hurly burl of classrooms."

Lucy Calkins, Author of Units of Study for Teaching Writing and Coauthor of Pathways to the Common Core

The Best-Kept Teaching Secret is brimming with the energy and heart of good teaching. . . . Smokey and Elaine anticipate your questions and answer every one. There are connections to the Common Core State Standards and student samples that range from handwritten notes to collaborative online conversations. There is vision here and plenty of smart thinking. Such a useful book. I can't wait to share it.”

Penny Kittle, Author of Write Beside Them and Book Love

"Written Conversations stand the test of time, and Smokey and Elaine prove it here. So bring on the new standards and ever-changing technology! The more things change, the more best teaching practices stay the same."

Tanny McGregor, Author of Comprehension Connections and Genre Connections

“The real gift of The Best-Kept Teaching Secret is it offers teachers a principled and powerful teaching tool adaptable in myriad different ways across all content areas. With the tool of written conversation in hand, teachers at any grade level are ready to engage students with increasingly rigorous content standards. All this, and the book itself is such a pleasure to read with its conversational tone and beautiful design and layout.”

Katie Wood Ray, Author of Wondrous Words and About the Authors

For instructors

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ISBN: 9781452268637

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