2013 Conference

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Author Andrea Davis Pinckney was a keynote speaker at the 2013 NC Reading Conference.

Over 1000 educators attended the NC Reading conference, March 10-12, 2013. Keynote speakers, Steven Layne made recommendations that would add “fire” or passion to reading. Newbery winner Jack Gantos discussed his approach to writing, the structure of his stories. Andrea Davis Pinckney ended the conference, singing and speaking about her advocacy for literacy and equal opportunity.

Sunday institutes took attendees to two area museums and included twelve two and three hour sessions, including sessions on publishing student writing, problem-based learning, technology, graphic organizers and other issues related to implementation of the Common Core State Standards. A panel focused on conducting research, and another, on how writers work together to improve their writing. Teachers as Readers, led by Renee Cameron and Rosemary Enos, featured Sheila Turnage and her 2013 Newbery Honor Book, Three Times Lucky, and Allan Wolf, and his N.C. Book Award-winning, Zane’s Trace.

In a ballroom set up for the 2013 Conference, NCRA served 43 exhibitors at 63 booths. Exhibits showcased programs and projects designed for educators across North Carolina.

Young Authors

Statewide Young Authors published a book that featured over 300 writers. The celebration attracted young authors, parents, teachers and adult, Forever Young, writers. Poet Allan Wolf spoke and signed the student publication, after the celebration. Next year’s Young Author theme selected by incoming president Treana Bowling is Happily Ever After: What’s Your Story?

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By Lois E. Huffman and Mia N. Small

In Part One, we told you about the Scribendi infographic “34 Compelling First Lines of Famous Books”? Many books written for younger readers also have memorable opening lines. Below are examples that pulled us into the pages of children’s books and (YA) literature.*

Can you identify the stories? (There is a key at the end of this post, but please don’t peek!)

  1. “Brrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinng! An alarm clock clanged in the dark and silent room.”
  2. “Claudia knew that she could never pull off the old-fashioned kind of running away.”
  3. “I am Ivan.”
  4. “Once there was a tree…and she loved a little boy.”
  5. “Sophie couldn’t sleep.”
  6. “There was a new student in Water Tower Elementary School.”
  7. “There was once a boy named Milo who didn’t know what to do with himself―not just sometimes, but always.”

You can find lists of “best” first lines in children’s and YA fiction at:

Opening lines can also be used to develop students’ literacy and language. Here are several ideas:

Guess the Text.   Give students strips of paper and invite them to write down their favorite first sentences from literature. Then have class members randomly select a strip, read the sentence, and guess the book or short story in which it appears. The person who contributed the opener might then try to convince classmates who haven’t already read the book to give it a go.

Off to a Great Start.   Share information from the Writer’s Digest article “7 Ways to Create a Killer Opening Line for Your Novel” or some of the strategies for writing great opening lines from Daily Writing Tips. (The exemplars from literature at the latter site might be useful with high school students.)  Then invite your learners to implement one of the techniques. Use author’s chair or peer sharing to get reactions to the lines that students pen. Work together as a class or in small groups to rewrite sentences if needed.

From Beginning to End.   Check out the first line generator at writingexercises.co.uk/ children/first-line-for-a-story.php. Here are several opening sentences created via the site:

She felt the door handle in the dark.

The car stopped. The tinted window opened and…

The fire was getting closer.

Invite students to write an original short story using a starter they generate at the site. Guide the writing process and help students revise and edit their pieces for sharing or publishing.

In what other ways will you take advantage of compelling first lines from literature to promote your students’ reading and writing?


1) Native Son by Richard Wright 2) From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankwiler by E. L. Konigsburg                  3) The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate 4) The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein 5) The BFG by Roald Dahl 6) Gooney Bird Greene by Lois Lowry 7) The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Jester

*This short list of opening lines is not intended to be representative of the diverse reading material available for PK-12 students. It simply includes some memorable books from our reading lives.

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By Lois E. Huffman, Ph.D.

At the 2017 NCRA Conference, I facilitated a professional development institute titled “Get a Move On to Learn More Vocabulary.” During the workshop, we briefly explored the growing body of research that supports experiential learning and movement in core subjects. We then delved into specific action strategies for developing language and vocabulary.

To conclude the session, we addressed the importance of school and classroom cultures that build in opportunities for physical activity. Here are additional resources for why and how to develop movement-friendly learning spaces:

How to Support Wiggly Students

This article provides practical ideas for kinesthetically scaffolding students who will benefit from moving more in the classroom. (Please be aware that sensory tools and fidgets do not include spinners and other toys that are likely to distract students and interfere with learning.)

No Grade is Too Early for Flexible Seating

The elementary teacher who wrote this blog post recommends having different work spaces and clear guidelines for behavior. He also offers strategies to support the transition to a flexible classroom.

Flexible Seating in Middle School

As summarized in the one-sentience subtitle, this piece offers “tips on giving students a choice about where and on what to sit – including ideas about seating charts and classroom management.”

School Program Encourages Students to Hit the Gym When Struggling to Concentrate

Many teachers have instituted brain breaks to reenergize students and improve focus and cognitive processing. Another option is to set up a workout circuit in the gymnasium that allows students to devise their own fitness regimen.

Time to Play: Recognizing the Benefits of Recess

This recent American Educator article focuses on the importance of recess for children’s intellectual development, health, and wellness.

I hope this information is useful in your efforts to incorporate more tactile learning, one of the “5 Trends in Literacy Education for 2017.” “Coupling physical activities with literacy instruction boosts muscle memory and better helps students to retain the concepts being taught.”

Happy reading, moving, and learning!

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By Lois E. Huffman, Ph.D.

No, that’s not a typo in the title. A “POWM” is a short poem that packs a punch! One example is “Helen Keller” by Langston Hughes.

Helen Keller

In the dark,
Found light
Brighter than many ever see.

Within herself,
Found loveliness,

Through the soul’s own mastery.

And now the world receives
From her dower:
The message of the strength
Of inner power. 

                Langston Hughes

Hughes “pow”erfully reminds us that, like Helen Keller, we have the capacity to persevere amidst less-than-ideal life circumstances. In pushing onward despite our fears, we inspire others to do the same.

Do you or your students have a favorite POWM? Why does the poem impact you so? How do you share your POWMs with others?

April is National Poetry Month―an opportune time for promoting the beauty and power of poetry. Here are some articles and resources on poetry that may be useful:

PreK-Grade 2

Playing With Poetry in the Primary Grades


Grades 3-5

Poetry Lesson: How to Notice (Words, Structures, and Conventions)


Grades 6-8

Making Room for Poetry in the Common Core Era


Taking Poetry Writing Into Digital Spaces


Grades 9-12

Poetry Across the Curriculum (Poetry Pairings)


The Cure for Senioritis? Poetry!

https://www.choiceliteracy.com/articles-detail-view.php?id=1623  (RIP, Maya Angelou.)

All Grades

Five Poetry Tips


More sites and ideas are in Karyn Gloden’s 2015 NCRA Reading Corps post “April―National Poetry Month.”

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By Lois E. Huffman, Ph.D. and Mia N. Small

Have you seen the Scribendi infographic, “34 Compelling First Lines of Famous Books”?  In her commentary for Daily Infographic, Anaya Lage writes,

“I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,’ but did you know the entire first line for A Tale of Two Cities is much longer? The first sentence in the book is a whopping 119 words.

On the other hand, Fahrenheit 451 opens with an easy to remember one-liner: ‘It was a pleasure to burn.’”

Which of the famous books with compelling first lines have you read? Did all of them live up to the promise of their opening sentence? In case your favorite opener didn’t make the Scribendi infographic, check out the American Book Review’s 100 Best First Lines From Novels and The 50 Best First Sentences in Fiction from Gawker Review of Books.

Depending on the work, “a great first line can be funny or meaningful or sad or somehow all of the above. Some great lines are flowery and beautiful, while others are direct and to the point.”  (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/teen/15-of-the-best-opening-lines-in-ya/)

Master horror writer Stephen King, who has spent months or even years crafting an opening sentence, believes it “should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.” (https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/07/why-stephen-king-spends-months-and-even-years-writing-opening-sentences/278043/)

Below are the opening lines from books that have stuck in our minds.* Can you identify the source of each quotation? (We’ve included a key at the end of this post. No peeking!)

  1. “At dusk, they pour from the sky.”
  2. “At night, I would lie in bed and watch the show, how bees squeezed through the cracks of my bedroom wall and flew circles around the room, making that propeller sound, a high-pitched zzzzzz that hummed along my skin.”
  3. “First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried letters from a girl named Martha, a junior at Mount Sebastian College in New Jersey.”
  4. “First the colors.”
  5. “In that place, where they tore the nightshade and blackberry patches from their roots to make room for the Medallion City Golf Course, there was once a neighborhood.”
  6. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  
  7. “There was a time, not very long ago, in the desperately poor New York City neighborhoods of Brownsville and East New York, when the streets would turn into ghost towns at dusk.” 

How might you use memorable first lines to promote students’ reading, writing, listening, and speaking? We will explore some teaching ideas for this in Part Two.


1) All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr   2) The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd   3) The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien   4) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak   5) Sula by Toni Morrison   6) Book of John in The Bible (New American Standard) 7) The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

*These openers are not intended to be representative of the diversity of fiction and nonfiction books in our country today. This short list just includes books that popped into our heads after seeing the infographic mentioned at the outset of this post.

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