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, 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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By Lois E. Huffman, Ph.D.

The travel bug bit when I studied in Switzerland as a college sophomore. Long weekends and breaks allowed me to take in the sights of western Europe. Since then I have traveled to many states and more countries.

I love learning about world cultures. Even if time, money, or safety concerns preclude actually going to faraway places, it’s possible to visit via reading. That’s why I was excited to see Book Riot’s Around the World in 80 Books: A Global Reading List. (The featured nations are the most populated ones on the planet.)

Like me, you’re probably familiar with a number of the recommendations—either the book or the movie version:

So many of the titles on the global reading list sound intriguing. Below are some I plan to check out (The descriptions are from Kate Scott who compiled the list.):

Germany – The Quest for Christa T. by Christa Wolf 

One of David Bowie’s top 100 books, The Quest for Christa T. follows two childhood friends from World War II to the Eastern Bloc in the 1960s.”

Japan – Woman on the Other Shore by Mitsuyo Kakuta

A friendship develops between a stay-at-home mother and a single, free-spirited career woman.”

Romania – The Land of Green Plums by Herta Müller  

During Ceaușescu’s dictatorship, a group of young people set out from their province for the city in hopes of a better future.”

South Sudan – God Grew Tired of Us by John Bul Dau

The memoir of a ‘lost boy’ of Sudan who walked one thousand miles from his home country to Ethiopia and back again before making the journey to Kenya and finally emigrating to the United States.”

United Kingdom – White Teeth by Zadie Smith

A suicidal World War II veteran gets a second lease on life when he marries a beautiful but toothless Jamaican woman half his age while his friend and fellow vet, a Muslim Bengali, enters into an arranged marriage with a feisty woman.”

All of these books are from countries where I know people through work with international graduate students, teaching English overseas, or my own travels. Which of the books on the list have you read? Which ones interest you? What books from other nations would you recommend to colleagues? (In my opinion, a must-read book that’s not on the list is A Man Called Ove: A Novel by Fredrik Backman. It’s set in Sweden, which happens not to be among the world’s 80 most populated countries.)

While the Book Riot compilation is for adults, there are also armchair travel lists for young people. I especially like the New York Public Library’s listing, Around The World in 80+ Children’s Books. Which of those books have you used in your teaching? Which are available in your school or classroom library?

Are there any books that should be added to that list? One that immediately comes to mind is Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian. I learned about it when I was in Oxford, England. My American colleagues and I were told that the book is typically read by Year 7 (Grade 6) students in Britain. (The story is about a young boy who escapes an abusive situation in London when he is evacuated to the English countryside during World War II. There is also a movie based on the book.)

Enjoy your travels! You might even decide to write about them like Ann Morgan did in The World Between Two Covers: Reading the Globe. Morgan realized she was a “literary xenophobe” so she read the English translation of books from almost 200 countries.

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By Lois E. Huffman, Ph.D.

I often listen to podcasts while working around the house. Among my favorites are Grammar Girl, Happier with Gretchen Rubin, The People’s Pharmacy, Stuff You Should Know, and This American Life. For me, the various episodes are sources of information, insight, and inspiration.

A podcast is “a digital audio file made available on the Internet for downloading to a computer or portable media player, typically available as a series, new installments of which can be received by subscribers automatically.” (google.com) Podcasts can be music, news, or talk. Most are free to listeners because programming costs are covered by business sponsorships or audience donations.

In literacy education, podcasts can help develop receptive oral language skills, build background knowledge for comprehension and writing, and keep students and teachers informed (Huffman, 2016). Podcasts that convey real-people’s stories can increase students’ empathy (ww2.kqed.org/mindshift). One high-school English teacher has found that displaying the episode transcript while students listen to the Serial podcast encourages their reading.

Here are podcasts that may be useful to K-12 educators:

Best Education Podcasts

Edutopia blogger Betty Ray suggests seven “sanity-saving” podcasts by and for educators. She compiled the list in 2015. What series would you add?

Listenwise (formerly Listen Current)

This site’s tagline is “Listening that sparks learning.” Teachers can access public radio stories along with lesson plans for ELA, science, and social studies. Many stories are appropriate for English learners.

36 Podcasts to Energize Your Teaching

I was pleased to see that many of my professional “must-listens” made the list, including Conversation Currents from the National Council of Teachers of English and The Cult of Pedagogy with Jennifer Gonzalez. Which of your favorites are listed?

60 Podcasts You Should Check Out

This is a follow up to an earlier post on 50 educational podcasts to check out. In the introduction to that list, Julie DeNeen points out that podcasts don’t force busy teachers to find more time to read professional materials or education blogs. Instead, podcasts give you “the opportunity to capitalize on any dead time that already exists in your day.”

How Audiobooks Can Help Kids Who Struggle With Reading

earbudsAlthough this piece discusses audiobooks, it suggests that in bringing stories to children, podcasts have the advantage of being shorter. The recommended podcasts are organized by grade levels—PreK-3, Grades 4-8, and Grades 9-12.

11 Podcasts the Whole Family Can Enjoy 

Here is a compilation to share with parents. (Students might even enjoy some of the podcasts during indoor recess or while waiting at school.) All of the series are family friendly, but there may be content that does not suit your community norms or is inappropriate for younger children. As with any media, teachers and parents must preview podcasts before use.

Teachers can also create informative podcasts or employ existing ones for flipped instruction. More and more schools are promoting student movement and learning via listening through The Walking Classroom. In a recent School Library Journal article, librarian Robin Brenner offers questions to guide podcast selection:

  • Are [the students] already listeners?
  • How much time do they have?
  • Are they restless listeners?
  • Do they want to start with something with a definite finish, or dive into an ongoing podcast?
  • Do they want to keep up with new episodes?
  • What kind of content are they (and their parents) comfortable with?

Many educators are likewise involving students in podcasting. According to PodcastMe, this technology can serve as assessment in the same way as brief reports or journal entries. In writer’s workshop, student teams can produce podcasts that are in essence a research paper in an audio story form.

If you aren’t already taking advantage of podcasts, I hope you’ll investigate resources included in this post or the linked lists. 

*This post was inspired by my colleagues in the Raleigh-Wake Reading Council. During a recent Saturday morning professional development workshop, podcasts were mentioned as a type of nonfiction text to use with the Idea Circles discussion strategy.

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