Revision Strategy #3: Rubber Banding

Posted July 18, 2017 & filed under Lesson Plan, Notebook, Student Writing, WITS People.


With younger children, this concrete activity called “Rubber Band Stretching” works well.  Demonstrate how a rubber band starts out small and can be stretched much larger.  Read a simple sentence out loud, and ask for suggestions about how to expand it.  After a student successfully stretches a sentence by adding new words, hand her a rubber band ball.  When a second student stretches the sentence further, the first student passes the ball to the second.  The game continues until it is impossible to stretch the sentence anymore!  Students then apply the lesson to a piece of their own writing.

With older students, the rubber band can be used to discuss sentence length in more complexity. Bring in a strong piece of writing that includes short, medium, and long sentences.  Discuss the various effects.  If you have a geo board, you can actually record or map out the sentences using rubber bands.  Show how the rhythm of a piece changes depending on sentence lengths.

As a spinoff activity, ask students to map out sentence lengths in advance.  Then, try to write a paragraph that fits, and notice how the paragraph sounds.  For older students, it is empowering to see how they can control the rhythm of their piece just through sentence length.

-Marcia Chamberlain, WITS Houston

Farewell National Poetry Month

Posted May 1, 2015 & filed under Poem of the Day.


This April, Writers in the Schools celebrated National Poetry Month and the power of the imagination, reaching 2.3 million people in Houston and beyond! Student words were spread through H-E-B markets, read each day on KPFT 90.1, and showcased during readings, workshops, and poetry slams around town. At the Space City Grand Slam, we selected the Meta-Four Houston team and announced the launch of Houston’s first-ever Youth Poet Laureate program in partnership with the City of Houston and the Houston Public Library. Poetry is alive, well, and making a real difference.

We would like to give a special thanks to our amazing partners and all of the people who support National Poetry Month. Thank you H-E-B Tournament of Champions,, The City of Houston through the Houston Arts Alliance, Texas Commission on the Arts, KPFT 90.1, Susan Phillips for producing all of the wonderful audio for each Poem of the Day, London-based composer, Ketsa, for providing spectacular tracks to accompany the student poetry, and thank YOU, our readers, for enjoying and spreading poetry in our community.


Have a wonderful May!


Posted April 21, 2015 & filed under Poem of the Day.


Photo by: Darryl Neeley


The ocean writes notes to those

who seek its majestic treasure of beauty.

My future is swallowed by those

who disturb its tranquility.

Belief cries and sounds like a person’s heart

being double crossed and tossed away.

Monday is defeated by all the other days

like the weakest god on Mt. Olympus

being beaten by Zeus.

Determination cartwheels over

the lost hope of the living.

My heart explodes after being

broken by my first true love.

Knowledge tumbles after it has been

put to the test and failed

with a relentless fate ahead.

Hope dances as it goes down the meadow.


By Eti-Ini, 4th grade


Click the link above to listen to the poem read on KPFT radio by Kyla Mays, a 6th grader at Johnston Middle School For the Performing and Visual Arts in Houston. Faculty is Diana Grosscope, Piano Teacher. The background music is “Our Tape” by Jurrivh Produced by Susan Phillips.


Poem a Day is made possible in part by H-E-B Tournament of Champions,, The City of Houston through the Houston Arts Alliance, Texas Commission on the Arts, and KPFT 90.1.

WITS at TEDx Houston on Saturday

Posted October 10, 2013 & filed under Notebook.

423717_10150734727980763_1061110835_nWITS students from the 2013 Meta-Four team and WITS writer Outspoken Bean will be presenters at TEDx Houston 2013 at Rice University on Saturday. Former WITS writers Rick Brennan, Sarah Cortez, and Sehba Sarwar will also be speaking at this event to be held at Rice University. For more information, visit TEDx Houston on Facebook.

Drop into the Rabbit Hole

Posted October 7, 2013 & filed under Notebook.

9195524.91.pngDon’t miss the production of Rabbit Hole, directed by WITS writer Rob Kimbro, 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through October 12th at Rice University, 6100 Main. For information, call 713-348-7529 or visit

Rob Kimbro, a WITS writer, is a graduate of Rice University.  Rob has worked with young writers in the Alley Theatre’s Houston Young Playwrights Exchange (HYPE) and McCarter Theatre’s YouthInk! Program.  He was also one of the founders of the Madison Young Playwrights Festival in Madison, Wisconsin.  Rob’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Odd and the Frost Giants premiered at Stages Repertory Theatre in 2011. Currently, he is directing the Rice Players production of Rabbit Hole by playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize.

Sign up for the WITS Fall Writing Festival 2013

Posted September 10, 2013 & filed under Notebook.


WITS Fall Writing Festival for Educators: Teaching Writing from Experience
This conference is presented by Writers in the Schools (WITS). The keynote speaker will be Andrea White. The conference is specifically:

For educators, grades 3-12 who want to:
  • Improve their own writing skills
  • Explore creative brainstorming methods
  • Support their students’ writing
  • Experience the WITS method of teaching
Participants will:
  • Attend two workshops
  • Work with professional writers
  • Gain hands-on writing experiences
  • Discuss classroom applications
  • Receive 6 hours of TAGT-approved G/T credit

Please join us!

Saturday, October 5, 2013
Houston Baptist University
8:30 AM-2:30 PM
Cost: $125 {Lunch is included}

5 Writers Tell Us How WITS Teaching Transformed Them: Susan Bernstein

Posted March 25, 2013 & filed under Notebook.

susanSusan Naomi Bernstein’s most recent book is Teaching Developmental Writing, Fourth Edition. Her articles on basic writing, social justice, and learning differences have been published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Journal of Basic Writing, Modern Language Studies, and elsewhere. She is a past co-chair of the Council on Basic Writing and a past co-editor of BWe: Basic Writing e-Journal. Susan has worked with students for more than two decades in urban and rural settings in New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Her essay is the second in a series of five installments where former WITS teachers tell how their WITS teaching taught them valuable life lessons.

4th Grade Goes to College: Writing in the World a Decade after WITS

By Susan Naomi Bernstein

In 2004, the fourth grade students I wrote with in WITS visited the introductory college writing class I taught at a local university. The purpose of the visit was for these two groups of students to write together across the differences that usually divide people from one another, including race, ethnicity, language, social class, and age.  I wrote more about that experience,“4th Grade Goes to College,” in the WITS publication A New Leaf.  Based on a lesson from the book We Dream of a World, the students documented their dream: “We dream of a world where everyone is treated equally and fairly because everyone deserves it.”

Nearly a decade later, three of us who gathered together on that day continue to enact that dream in our everyday lives. A, one of the college students at the university where I once taught, now teaches multilingual students at an urban elementary school. During the holidays, A and I visited in person for the first time in many years and discussed our shared interest in compassionate pedagogy.

Desireé Mina Baktiar, one of the 4th grade students in my WITS class, keeps in touch on Facebook. Desireé studies musical theatre and writes poetry and spoken word. Last year she published one of her villanelles on

Ciao World of Old By Desireé Mina Baktiar

Ciao world of old, hello world of new.

I’ll hold your hand as we jump frame to frame.

Take what you’ve learned but not what taught you.

Oh! Glistening looking-glass to step through!

Even reflections are not the same.

Ciao world of old, hello world of new.

Heavy on my shoulders are anchors I rue.

On our journey we’ll sweat off all shame.

Take what you’ve learned but not what taught you. 

Through old world’s scorns, wings I grew;

Now I fly, though as an outcast I came. 

Ciao world of old hello world of new. 

The looking-glass shatters, that is my cue!

Still a victim, but now of wonder’s fame.

Take what you’ve learned but not what taught you. 

Past failures, heartbreaks, and happiness too

Transform into paint to fill the next frame.

Ciao world of old, hello world of new!

Take what you’ve learned but not what taught you.

Currently, I write a blog for Bedford/St. Martin’s called “Beyond the Basics,” which focuses on the writing process and social equity in higher education. Writing remains for me a conduit, a river moving toward an awakening of conscious. We pay attention. We take action. As local disruptions produce global transformations, writing carries us through the moment, and leaves a record of our strivings. Nearly a decade after teaching with WITS, I am dreaming still.

Elephant March I

Posted February 26, 2013 & filed under Notebook.

WITS Intern Eriel

WITS Intern Eriel

From WITS Intern Eriel:

A little under a month ago I started working with WITS Writer MaryScott at Travis Elementary as an assistant teacher. In the past I’ve worked as an “In-home Tutor” for my siblings, cousins, second cousins, the younger siblings of friends, my neighbors’ kids, and so on. However, I’ve never taught within an actual classroom, especially with kids I’ve never met or even seen before. My biggest worries the night before were whether jeans  were too casual for my first day, if Hannah Montana was still relevant, and if the fourth graders would be taller than me (sadly, most of them are!).

One of our first lessons together focused on using concrete words and abstractions in poetry. MaryScott had each student draw two cards from two separate envelopes; one envelope had cards with abstract words on them and the other had cards with names for various locations. From there, the students would combine the two words to create a poem. Be it “The Gas Station of Awkwardness” to “The Cafeteria of Freedom,” “The Ice Cream Truck of Sadness” to “The Broom Closet of Success” – these kids produced some of the most imaginative and comedic pieces I have ever seen young minds compose.
The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka, Lane Smith (Illustrator)

The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka, Lane Smith (Illustrator)

Born and raised in Houston, I was home schooled for six years by my parents before attending a private school for my final years of high school. You could say homeschooling permitted me some free time. I was able to split my time between class by day and theater by night, singing lessons once a week, and, of course, writing every single day. Currently, I am more than halfway through my second year as an honors student at the University of Houston, where I am pursuing a double major in Creative Writing (fiction concentration) and Journalism (print sequence), and a minor in Creative Work, through which I received my internship with Writers in the Schools. I started at WITS back in October, and after the first day, on which I was shown to their library and asked to organize it, I was in love. From skimming through “Harold & The Purple Crayon” to admiring the artwork in “The Stinky Cheese Man,” I could almost smell my first day of Kindergarten right there.

DSC_1586I will be writing a series of blog posts that peer into a WITS classroom and my experience. I know, it’s an odd title. Why “Elephant March”? A) My abnormal fascination with the creatures, B) “Elephant” was my nickname in elementary school and since my time at Travis marks my “return to elementary” school, I thought it was appropriate, and C) Elementary school kids “march” everywhere they go, I’ve noticed, whether it’s to the bathroom or across the room, they march – one foot after the other, almost militantly. I remember being ‘taught’ by my first grade teacher to walk that way – her way of taking the ‘one foot after the other, hands behind our backs’ rule to the extreme.

Creative Writing Camp

Posted February 7, 2013 & filed under Notebook.

Registration is filling up quickly!

Within the first 20 minutes of open registration, over 100 students enrolled in Creative Writing Camp, a WITS record! Though it comes as no surprise – with our 8 campuses, 70 classrooms, and now 23 years of camp – that parents and kids look to Creative Writing Camp as a staple of their summer plans. Enroll now and find out why Houston Press described the workshops as the “best effort to inject culture into Houston” and AOL City’s Best listed it among Houston’s 6 Best Summer Camps for Kids.

About Creative Writing Camp

Creative Writing Camp offers a supportive environment where children engage in writing stories, poetry, essays, and plays, as well as simply reading for pleasure. Through these activities even the most hesitant child discovers the joy in writing, the intrigue of language, and the confidence of authorship. Students will work with teachers and writers, and the low teacher-student ratios ensure individual attention. Workshops end with a culminating performance and/or reading, and each child will receive an anthology with their published work.

A Collaboration

The Summer Creative Writing Workshops are offered by Writers in the Schools in collaboration with Rice University’s School Literacy and Culture Project (SLC).

Check out the 2012 Camp Highlights:

2012 Creative Writing Camp Highlights from Writers in the Schools on Vimeo.

An Evening of Literary Placemaking

Posted February 5, 2013 & filed under Notebook.


Join Writing & C/Siting Houston for an event featuring WITS founder Philip Lopate, WITS Writer Miah Arnold, and great friend of WITS, Bill Monroe, as they share stories about the special places that make the Bayou City unique.

When: Wednesday, February 6th at 7:00 pm

Where: University of Houston Honors Commons (212 MD Anderson Library)

More about the readers:

Phillip Lopate has written three personal essay collections – Bachelorhood (Little, Brown, 1981), Against Joie de Vivre (Poseidon-Simon & Schuster, 1989) and Portrait of My Body (Doubleday-Anchor, 1996); two novels, Confessions of Summer (Doubleday, 1979) and The Rug Merchant (Viking, 1987); a pair of novellas; three poetry collections, The Eyes Don’t Always Want to Stay Open (Sun Press, 1972), The Daily Round (Sun Press, 1976) and At the End of the Day (Marsh Hawk Press, 2010); and a memoir of his teaching experiences, Being With Children (Doubleday, 1975).

Miah Arnold is the author of Sweet Land of Bigamy, and a number of short pieces of literature. Her essay “You Owe Me” will appear in Best American Essays 2012. She earned a Ph.D. in writing and literature at the University of Houston. She teaches adults and children throughout Houston in University and nonprofit settings. She has served as a fiction editor at Gulf Coast and a poetry editor at Lyric Poetry Review. Her work has appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review, Nanofiction, Confrontation, Painted Bride Quarterly, and the South Dakota Review. She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband and two children.

William Monroe is professor of English and Dean of the Honors College at the University of Houston. His book Power to Hurt: The Virtues of Alienation was selected as an outstanding academic book of the year by Choice magazine and nominated for the Phi Beta Kappa/Christian Gauss Award. His other publications include the play Primary Care, which deals with personhood issues related to Alzheimer’s Disease, and articles on T.S. Eliot, Vladimir Nabokov, and Willa Cather. He is currently at work on The Vocation of Affliction: Flannery O’Connor and American Mastery.

About Writing & C/Siting Houston: Writing & C/Siting Houston is a collaboration among Houston Arts Alliance Folklife + Traditional Arts Program, the Cultural Enrichment Center at the University of Houston-Downtown, and Houston Folklore Archive of the University of Houston and has been funded in part with support from the Texas Commission on the Arts, Humanities Texas, National Endowment for the Arts, and Houston Endowment Inc.

Click here for more information

Dates Announced for Second Saturday Series for Teachers

Posted December 4, 2012 & filed under Notebook.

Following a successful Fall Series, Second Saturdays are back in the Spring with four exciting new workshops for teachers:

Teachers, Words, and Art (January 12 at the Menil Collection)

Civil “Writes” (February 9 at the African American Library at the Gregory School)

Music and Poetry (April 13 location TBD)

Teachers as Writers: How to Get Published (May 11 at Bright Sky Press)

For more information, read a description of the workshops here or contact Tina Angelo

Gulf Coast Reads Celebration this Saturday

Posted October 24, 2012 & filed under Notebook.

Jonathan Safran Foer, whose novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is the 2012 pick for Gulf Coast Reads ( will be at the Houston Public Library this Saturday, October 27, at 2 PM. Mr. Foer will go on at 2 PM, but the event kicks off at 12:30 (Doors open at noon) with the Main Street Theater interpreting a scene from the book. Refreshments will be served and special guests, such as Mayor Parker, and last year’s Gulf Coast Reads author, Chitra Divakaruni, will be joining us.  The event is entirely free and open to the public.

WITS Student Writer Gets Published!

Posted October 15, 2012 & filed under Notebook.

Exciting news! A student from our Discovery Green workshops, Amaris S. Bobbio-Tarco’s (6th grade), short story has been published in the 2012 I Write Short Stories by Kids for Kids Anthology.
WITS Writer Weezie Mackey has worked after hours to help Amaris revise this short story.  Congratulations to Amaris and Weezie for such excellent work. We’re very proud!

Program Director Jack McBride and Weezie Mackey at Discovery Green

Former WITS Writer Dr. Matt Boyleston Reading at HBU

Posted October 9, 2012 & filed under Notebook.


Dr. J. Matthew Boyleston, Interim Dean, School of Fine Arts at Houston Baptist University, will read selections from his collection of poetry Viewed from the Keel of the Canoe at 7:00 on Thursday, October 11th at 7pm in the Fine Arts Museum at HBU.

Matt is a former WITS writer and a big supporter of Writers in the Schools.

Other publications:

Poems and essays in The City, Confrontation, Religion and the Arts, Transgressive Culture, The Madison Review, Yemassee, Time of Singing, Tipton Poetry Journal, The Roanoke Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, The Portland Review, Sierra Nevada Review, The Spoon River Poetry Review, Harpur Palate, The New Orleans Review, The Flint Hills Review, Puerto del Sol, The GSU Review, The GW Review, The South Carolina Review, The Powhatan Review, Poetryfish, Writers at Carolina, Aspects, The Echo, Carolina Writes and The July Review. 

Meet Acclaimed Children’s Author Lois Lowry

Posted October 8, 2012 & filed under Notebook.

Meet acclaimed children’s author Lois Lowry at Cool Brains! Inprint Readings for Young People

Lois Lowry at her home in Cambridge, MA

Lois Lowry is the celebrated young adult author of over 40 books, including Number the Stars and The Giver. Nearly 15 years after the release of The Giver, Lois Lowry has published Son, the fourth and final book of The Giver series. Son brings together characters from the previous three stories – The Giver, Gathering Blue, and Messenger – to tell a story about the significance of human connection. Kirkus Review calls Son a book “written with powerful, moving simplicity…. As the final volume in this iconic quartet, it holistically reunites characters, reprises provocative sociopolitical themes, and offers a transcending message of tolerance and hope. Bravo!”

The event will take place on Sunday, October 14, 2012, at Johnston Middle School, 10410 Manhattan Drive (77096), at 3 p.m. (doors open at 2:30). Admission is free and open to the public. Lowry will make a presentation about her new book Son and will take questions from the audience. A book sale and signing will follow, giving families a chance to visit with the author. For information about this and other readings in the Cool Brains! Series, check out or call 713-521-2026.

Meet New WITS Writer Chris Cander!

Posted October 5, 2012 & filed under Notebook.

New WITS Writer Chris Cander

Chris Cander is a novelist, children’s book author and freelance writer whose work has appeared in a wide variety of national publications. Since entering a writing contest in fifth grade, she’s suffered from an insatiable urge to write. Hardly a day passes that she isn’t at her desk, trying to capture the hearts and souls of imaginary people on paper.

Chris graduated from the Honors Program at the University of Houston in 1990 with a BA in French and a minor in Political Science. In 1994, she attended the Ploughshares International Fiction Writer’s Seminar at Kasteel Well, Netherlands. The following year, she attended the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, where she was able to work alongside some of her favorite authors.

As passionate as Chris is about writing, she is even more so about reading. She can still remember certain passages from Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O’Dell, which is the book that first taught her that literature was the most powerful form of transportation. “I was gripped by Karana’s brave plight, her desires and her determination,” Chris says. “As I read, I can remember being simultaneously drawn into Karana’s story—and inspired to write my own. Listen:”

“Would the four winds blow in from the four directions of the world and smother me as I made the weapons? Or, would the earth tremble, as many said, and bury me beneath its falling rocks? Or, as others said, would the sea rise over the island in a terrible flood? Would the weapons break in my hands in the moment when my life was in danger, which is what my father had said?”

“The power of story is within all of us,” Chris says. “Being able to tell it—to write it—lends a fluency to the rest of life. As a WITS teacher, is my great hope to help others discover, tell and share their stories via the written word. Chris is a member of of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the Author’s Guild, and MENSA. Her children’s picture book, The Word Burgler (Bright Sky Press) is now available for pre-order!

We Need Your Vote for SXSWedu!

Posted October 4, 2012 & filed under Notebook.

Vote for Writers in the Schools (WITS) and Aurora Picture Show to present our Moving Story Project program at the 2013 SXSWedu conference-the deadline is tomorrow! VOTE and SHARE here.

Moving Story Project was created to give students the opportunity to combine the arts of creative writing and film making (stop motion animation). Students leave the program with ways to talk and think about both art forms – creative writing and film making – analytically and deeply. Here is a past project:

Questions Answered

  1. How can arts education raise the level of learning and prepare students for the 21st Century?
  2. How does media literacy improve writing skills, and how do improved writing skills influence the creation of the moving image?
  3. How can the integration of arts education into a language arts curriculum operating in a standards-based world improve student performance on standardized tests, efficacy in other disciplines, and student attendance/retention?

Meet New Writer Mark Williams

Posted October 1, 2012 & filed under Notebook.

WITS Writer Mark Williams

Mark Williams grew up outside Chicago, IL. He taught junior high and high school English there for three years before moving south—first to Boone, NC; then Louisville, KY; and now Houston. Currently, Mark is finishing a PhD in Rhetoric and Composition from the University of Louisville, where he has also studied creative writing.

Here are Mark’s thoughts on working with WITS:

I think creative work—doing our own, seeing others’—is how we all find out we have more in common (and more we can say) than we realized. But finding that out takes trust, and a lot of scaffolding. I can’t wait to join teachers and students in building both.

My favorite book as a child was Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton. Here’s a favorite section:

Credit: BetterWorldBooks

And it was Mike Mulligan

and Mary Anne

and some others

who dug the deep holes

for the cellars

of the tall skyscrapers

in the big cities.

When people used to stop

and watch them,

Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne

used to dig a little faster

and a little better.

Meet New WITS Writer Patrick James

Posted September 19, 2012 & filed under Notebook.

New WITS Writer Patrick James

Patrick Clement James is a poet, essayist, and musician. A graduate of the Manhattan School of
Music, he is currently a Master of Fine Arts candidate at the University of Houston. Having taught in
Montessori and public schools, he is excited to engage educationally with the community of Houston. In this capacity, he hopes to help students discover the power of their experiences, voices, and imaginations. One of his first resonating encounters with literature was when he read, for the first time, the final paragraph of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland:

“Lastly, she pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a
grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood: and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long-ago: and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days.”

Welcome to the WITS team Patrick!

Meet New WITS Writer Terry Portillo

Posted September 17, 2012 & filed under Notebook.

New WITS Writer Terry Portillo

Terry Portillo lives at the southern tip of Tornado Alley, with her husband, her horse, a donkey, two cats, a motley crew of rescue dogs, some chickens, and whatever else the wind blows in. When Terry isn’t teaching ESL classes for Lone Star College, she likes to read, write, walk her dogs, and prepare lavish dinner parties for friends.  Terry has had numerous poems published in literary and mainstream magazines, was a juried poet at the 2003 Houston Poetry Festival and is a five time Pushcart Prize nominee. She has also had three short stories published in Ellery Queen.

Terry looks forward to sharing her passion for literature and writing with her WITS students. She hopes to increase their sense of self-worth as she offers them a safe venue in which to unleash their creative energy and express their thoughts and feelings.

One of the books which inspired Terry as a child was J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit:

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort. It had a perfectly round door like a porthole… The door opened onto a hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with paneled walls, and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats — the hobbit was fond of visitors. The tunnel wound on and on, going fairly but not quite straight into the side of the hill.”

Now that she thinks about it, the house Terry lives in today is very much like the hobbit’s!