To Beeville and Back

Posted June 12, 2018 & filed under Classroom Reflections, Event, News, Notebook, WITS People.

I was in Beeville for a five-day stay in May to cast the WITS magic in the sleepy south Texas town. Driving down the main drag, you become familiar with the population count (approximately 13,000), clearly marked as you enter then leave the city limits.

Along with writers Autumn Hayes, Matty Glasgow, and Dinorah Pérez-Rementería, I was assigned a micro-residency for the last week of school. I was placed in the fourth-grade classrooms of RA Hall Elementary, one of six schools in the school district, while my fellow writers were assigned to lower elementary and middle schools. The week before, two other writers brought WITS to the high school. In a minute way, we had magnificently spellbound the district.

Most schools are mayhem during the last week of school, but not RA Hall. Upon entering the classroom, I found the students quickly harnessed the energy inherent in the final weeks of school into creativity. Fresh off the constraints of state testing, they were keen to push the boundaries of the expected and dive into the playfulness of poetics. They constructed persona poems, authored odes and wandered among campus greenspace to create nature poems.


One classroom, filled with forty-five students, listened intently to the mini-lesson, then silently took pen to paper to let their imaginations soar. A student whose sleepy head initially rested on his desk sprang into action to praise the ordinary yet awesome nail. Others found the voices of baseballs and bananas, iPhones and fans, tapping into their objects’ innermost desires and greatest fears. They were unstoppable and inspiring. They were writers on fire.

Thanks to the Joe Barnhart Foundation for bringing WITS to Beeville!


Gretchen Cion holds a B.A. from Washington University in St. Louis and a M.A. in Education from Hunter College in New York City. While teaching in NYC, she was involved with the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, which ignited her love of creative writing. Thanks to her profession as an educator and literacy specialist, she has written countless stories to help teach the craft of writing. Currently, she is working on a collection of essays and an umpteenth revision of her screenplay, Good Liar. When she is not writing, she can be found compiling the perfect mix for her rise-and-shine dance parties. She lives in Houston with her artist husband Ian and their two wildly cool boys.

Texas Studio: Elizabeth Keel

Posted January 16, 2018 & filed under Classroom Reflections, Notebook, WITS People.



Elizabeth Keel. Photo by Natasha Nivan.

Congratulations to Writers in the Schools writer, Elizabeth Keel, for her feature in Arts & Culture Magazine. She talks acting, directing, grad school and why she loves teaching with WITS!


“Nobody’s worried about grades. Instead, we give the kids the time they need to interact with language and build their confidence. It is so important to me that my students see that it is safe and feasible to make changes.”

Check out the full article here >>



Creative Writing Camp: Celebrating Our Uniqueness, Together

Posted July 19, 2016 & filed under Classroom Reflections.

by WITS Intern, Danielle Resh


“What are you doing?” I ask a fourth grade student splayed across the floor, eyebrows furrowed in concentration as she studies her paper. The classroom hums with the sound of scratching pencils. Children buzz around writing stations, focused on their work.

“These are haiku blocks,” she says, opening her hand to reveal a collection of cubes. “Each side has a different word. You roll them and make a haiku out of the words they land on. Can you help me find ‘is’?”

As I bend down to search through the cubes, I sneak a peek at the first line that she has already placed down in front of her: Storm blows through the house.

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Creative Writing Camp : A Space to Grow

Posted July 13, 2016 & filed under Classroom Reflections.

by WITS Intern, Danielle Resh
Two second graders bounce their handmade puppets around, transforming the slick hall of the cafeteria where students gather for pickup into their own little stage. To my left, a girl bends over her journal, furiously scribbling as she is called to head home. In front of me, a camper gestures animatedly to his camp intern, explaining the story he just wrote.

Carpool at Creative Writing Camp is unexpected yet wonderful proof of the magic of camp. It is a bustling time when all of the ideas that have been cooking in campers’ heads throughout the day bubble over in a kettle of chatter and excitement— so much excitement that campers barely hear their names being called when their parents arrive.

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Hearing-Impaired Students Embrace Poetry With a Flare

Posted February 4, 2016 & filed under Classroom Reflections, Notebook.



Can you believe we are more than halfway through the 2015-2016 school year? It’s been a great year filled with many new developments for our programs, including an exciting WITS Performance project with one of our favorite school partners.

On January 26th, we were thrilled to celebrate Ms. Blackmon’s 6th grade students at T.H. Rogers’ Regional Day School Program for the Deaf (RDSPD). With the support of an interpreter and their WITS writer, Sharon Ferranti, the students signed original stories and poems in front of a rapt audience of peers, parents, and teachers. We are grateful to T.H. Rogers for opening the door for WITS Performance to serve more deaf and hard of hearing students in the years to come!


1“Nizhuria’s Song” by Nizhuria
I’m thankful for stars, so bright.
I’m thankful for rainbows, so colorful.
I’m thankful for flowers that smell so good.
I’m thankful for the galaxy, so huge!

I don’t like swimming, so dangerous.
I don’t like lunch detention, so boring!
I don’t like floods, so bad.
I don’t like people in front of my face when they speak, it embarrasses me.

2“Friends” by Victor
Someone to eat delicious tacos with
Someone to talk with about Christmas
Someone to go trick or treating with on Halloween
Someone to play outside with me
Someone to watch movies with me and my dad


Guest Post by WITS Writer Gloria Alvarez

Posted March 5, 2015 & filed under Classroom Reflections, Lesson Plan, Notebook, Student Writing, WITS People.

Mischievians Invade Meadow Wood Elementary!

By Gloria Alvarez

Meadow Wood ElemMy cooperating teachers at Meadow Wood Elementary, Tabitha Peña and Hali House, are the best a WITS writer could ask for:  enthusiastic, supportive, and eager to extend WITS lessons to their own teaching.  We exchange book suggestions, ideas for revision, and strategies for reaching underperforming students.  They open their classrooms to me and work alongside the kids during WITS.

One recent effort so inspired Ms. House that she made it her own.  I’d brought in William Joyce’s The Mischievians, a book about those mysterious creatures swipe TV remotes and cell phones, mislay or devour homework, and generally cause embarrassment and trouble.

We both love Joyce’s work, including Rolie Polie Olie and the Christmas tale Santa Calls.  I’d chosen The Mischievians because it’s so funny: everyone relates to the misplaced iPad or mismatched socks. The illustrations are just as clever.

The story follows a Q & A format: the questions in a child’s voice and the answer like a formal encyclopedia entry.  We read sections of the book, the students brainstormed new Mischievians, and finally they wrote their own questions and answers.

The students completed their drafts and read some aloud.  We will revisit the stories in several weeks to select and revise pieces for our class anthology.  For now, for me, the lesson was over.

But not for Ms. House.  She promptly purchased her own copy of The Mischievians for the classroom and displayed it on an easel at her desk.  Ms. House read their pieces, providing feedback and editing advice.  After allotting class time to revise and recopy their work with illustrations, she created a bulletin board to display all the finished pieces.

“They turned out great,” House said.  “Everyone had fun with it.”

I think so, too.  I was beyond thrilled that a lesson—a new, untested lesson at that—had struck such a chord with both students and teacher.  Here are some samples.

Boy at Meadow WoodThe TalkeyMer TalkyPants Mischievian

By Jonathan

Q: Whenever I’m supposed to be quiet, I whisper to my neighbor.  Then my voice gets louder until I get into trouble.  Why does this happen?

A:  There is a Mischievian on the loose called TalkeyMer, TalkeyPants.

Q: Where are they?

A: There are four of them in your mouth: Down, Up, Right and Left.

Q: How do they make you talk?

A: They jump up and down and make your mouth talk.  Once your mouth is moving, your voice wants to talk.  They jump harder and harder until your voice gets louder.

Student-Teacher Spotlight

Posted May 5, 2014 & filed under Classroom Reflections, WITS People.

Teacher Student PhotoWriters in the Schools (WITS) depends on the enthusiasm and energy of many wonderful partners.

Today we recognize one teacher and one student in our Student-Teacher Spotlight.

Mrs. Borrego and 2nd grade student Livni Hernandez both participate in the Writers in the Schools (WITS) program at Eugene Field Elementary.

Below they answer a few questions about their WITS experience:

Why is writing important for 2nd graders?

Mrs. Borrego: Writing is an important skill for 2nd graders because it helps them to develop their critical thinking skills, creativity, and communication. I always say, “Writing says a lot about my students,” meaning that I can see the growth they have made throughout the year just by looking at their beginning, middle, and end-of-year writing.

What are you most proud of about your student writers this year?

Mrs. Borrego: I am proud of the imagination that my students have put into their writing and the usage of words. They have made tremendous growth, from not being able to write a complete sentence to writing whole passages.

How has WITS helped you to accomplish your writing goals?

Mrs. Borrego: WITS has taught me how to bring creativity into the classroom by bringing in prompts, reading books, and providing students with a word bank.

What do you like best about creative writing?

Livni: What I like best is thinking about everything you like and writing about it. The hardest part is that sometimes you have so many ideas that they can’t fit onto one page.

If you could publish a book about any topic you wanted, what would the title be?

Livni: The title of my book would be “The Broken Heart” because it will tell you a sad story and make your heart break.

What was your favorite WITS lesson this year?

Livni: My favorite lesson was writing about a pair of high-heeled shoes because I got to imagine being those sparkly shoes for a day.

My Life as a Pair of High-Heeled Shoes

     I am a pair of high-heeled shoes that are as glittery as diamonds on a pretty costume. I am as beautiful as a mother’s face and as smooth as dolphin’s skin. I shine like silver on a shield.

One day a girl wore me to a party with lots of beautiful lights. Then she wore me to a wedding with love. I looked perfect on her.

Then, on the way home, it was so late. My owner fell. One of my tall heels broke off into the street. Oh, no! The girl didn’t fix me. She just put me in the dumpster, and I never saw the world again.

Even Better than Giant Bugs 1!

Posted December 19, 2007 & filed under Classroom Reflections, Fiction, Lesson Plan, Notebook.

Above: a performance of Giant Bugs 2 by Chicago 4th grader Michael Breen

The Striking Viking Story Pirates of New York City celebrate children’s writing by turning their stories and poems into live musical performances with costumes, puppets and professional actors. What a great way to show appreciation for the creative genius of young writers! You don’t have to be a New Yorker to be part of the show, though. Any young writer can submit a story.

I love that these performers are so committed to preserving the spirit of the works through their acting. While some of what they do is quite funny, at the same time they are completely sincere in their interpretations of the children’s work, celebrating its intentional silliness while reveling in its earnestness. The result is utterly charming.

An easy way to bring performance into a writing class is to ask one writer read her or his story aloud while other students act it out. With young writers, dramatizing original stories is not only entertaining; it can also be a wonderful tool for learning writing skills such as pacing, dialogue, and revision. By noticing at which point in the story the actors get confused, a young writer can figure out what spots of the story may need elaboration. This can also become an opportunity to develop class cooperation and communication, as documented in the work of Vivian Gussin Paley and Patsy Cooper, whose books are well worth reading for anyone interested in children and their stories.

There’s an amazing triasense of accomplishment that a young writer feels when seeing her or his work on “stage.” Performance can become a fabulous aspect to add to almost any writing environment!

posted by Tria Wood, Writers in the Schools