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

April is National Poetry Month!

Posted March 31, 2014 & filed under Notebook.


Tomorrow is the start of A Poem a Day, a month-long celebration of poetry by Houston children. Each weekday we will send out a poem by one of our talented students through email. You can also enjoy these poems here on our blog and on radio station KPFT weekdays at 4:28 PM.

Get in on the fun by writing to our weekly prompt featured Saturdays on the blog, and snap a picture of it! WITS will be re-gramming our favorite poems throughout the month @witshouston #wherewordsfly.

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!

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!

Exciting Year Ahead

Posted August 30, 2012 & filed under Notebook.

New Writers at Orientation

With 80 writers on our roster, we are excited about the new school year and community projects and partnerships that have been developed. We continue to engage children in the pleasure and power of reading and writing, and our vision is to continue to revolutionize the way reading and writing are taught, nurturing the growth of the imagination and awakening students to the adventures of language.

Writers with Guest Merna Hecht

With the addition of 23 writers this year, we hope to expand our reach and continue to fulfill our mission:

-Every child deserves a holistic education that encourages critical thinking, creativity, and personal responsibility.

-Writing is an art that must be practiced and developed over time.

-Low-income students can thrive and grow through high-quality art education programs.

-The relationship between the WITS writer and the classroom teacher is a partnership.

-WITS supports classroom teachers as they adopt new approaches to teaching creative writing.

-WITS writers reflect Houston’s diversity to meet the needs of the community.

-Everyone has a personal story to tell. WITS provides opportunities for storytelling and the skills needed to do it well.

Creative Writing Camp Connects to Houston Arts and Culture

Posted July 9, 2012 & filed under Notebook.

In an ongoing effort to enrich creative writing through an integration of literacy and art, students at our Creative Writing Camp took field trips to iconic Houston art and cultural centers including The Menil Collection, Rice University, and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. On these tours, they experienced and wrote about public art pieces, including James Turrell’s “Twilight Epiphany” and Jaume Plensa’s popular “Mirror.” Younger writers in grades K-2 were visited in the classroom by artists, including contemporary dancers and drummers, who help students find beauty and unexpected inspiration in art and culture. “Children are most stimulated by the things and activities that surround them,” said Robin Reagler, Writers in the Schools Executive Director. “Through the experience of seeing, touching and hearing art firsthand, our camp shows students that their writing is art and their words are powerful.”

Jameelah Lang, a second-year WITS writer goes on to say: “I continue to be fervently involved in WITS Creative Writing Camp because it teaches children that what they have to say is important. They learn writing skills dictated not by someone else, but by their own strengths and points of view.” This year’s summer Creative Writing Camp served more than 1,000 students, the largest turnout Writers in the Schools has ever seen. Stay tuned this month for poetry and writing from these field trips and camp.

As a Matter of Fact

Posted June 20, 2012 & filed under Notebook.

(Inspired by Dr. Seuss)

As a matter of fact

I usually have tact

But today’s not the day

to pretend or to play

I’ll yell like a bell

I’ll shout and I’ll pout

I have to be me

as free as can be

So don’t hold me down

And don’t make me frown

Just let me be me

And we’ll all be happy!

By Jamalique, 9th grade

WITS Writers Head Back to School

Posted August 22, 2011 & filed under Notebook.

WITS  welcomes new and returning writers to the 2011-2012 school year with two exciting afternoons of training on Friday, August 26th, and Saturday, August 27th. Renee Watson, author, actress, and teaching artist for Community Word Project, will kick off orientation with a workshop on Talking Back to the World: Empowering Students to Define Themselves through Writing and Visual Art. The WITS orientation is designed to inspire and prepare writers with new ideas for developing their teaching skills. To get a WITS writer in your class today, email Long Chu at [email protected] or call 713-523-3877.

More about Renee

Renée Watson is the author of two children’s picture books, A Place Where Hurricanes Happen and What Momma Left Me, which were both selected for the 2011 Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s (CCBC) Choices list. Her poetry and articles have been published in Rethinking Schools, Theatre of the Mind and With Hearts Ablaze.

When Renée is not writing and performing, she is teaching. Renée has worked in public schools and community organizations as an artist in residence for several years, teaching poetry, fiction, and theater in Oregon, Louisiana, and in New York City, where she currently resides. Visit Renee’s website here.

I Have a Voice

Posted November 9, 2010 & filed under Notebook.

Harriet Riley, a free-lance writer focusing on nonfiction and grant writing, is teaching her third year at WITS

As WITS writers, we all use weekly rituals with our students – Author’s Chairs, Power Writing, Writers Toolboxes and more. This year I’ve started a new and powerful ritual to end each class. The credit for this tool goes completely to Michele Kotler and Community Word Project who participated our August orientation workshop.

At the close of each session with my students, after I foreshadow the next week’s activities, we chant together: “I have a voice. My voice is powerful. My voice can change the world.”

This has become an important ritual with my sixth graders at Briarmeadow Charter School. It started as a call and response. I said a line and the students repeated it. But last week, my sixth visit to the school, I noticed that the students chanted the words along with me, ending with a rousing “MY VOICE CAN CHANGE THE WORLD.” They say it, and they believe it. I see it in their writing as they relate their belief in their own power. Their words are strong and fearless.

We recently completed a poem based on George Ella Lyons’ “Where I’m From.” Like most teachers, I learn the names of the “louder” students first. There was one particular student that I hadn’t really taken the time to get to know – she was quiet and well behaved and hadn’t done anything to stand out in class. Also she was one of four girls in my two classes with the same first name. She had wire-rimmed glasses that hid her face, always wore her hair straight back in a tight ponytail and didn’t smile too much. She had written a very rough draft of her “Where I’m From” poem the previous week that needed a lot of revision. As I was walking among the students during our re-write time, I stood shock still when I saw her work. I read it to myself.

This is Where I’m From

By Mariam, 7th grade

I am from an endless path that runs into sunset.

I am from the jasmines blooming.

I am from the buzz of a busy bee.

I am from the bustling, bizarre crowds of a city.

I am from the sweet taste of sugarcane.

I am from the sound of the wolf howling at the moon.

I am from the sound of the guitar’s gentle strum.

I am from the laughter of children playing outside in the blazing hot sun.

I am from the waves crashing against each other at the sandy beach.

I am from the silent scent of goodness in the cool air.

I am from the enchantment of love.

I am from the creak of a stable door being opened from above.

I am nothing less then a kick of dust.

I am nothing more than a big blizzard.

I am a child who races the dark night.

Who was the girl who wrote these strong and powerful words and what lay beneath her polite surface? She had some deep, world-changing things to say and I almost missed her. I will definitely be getting to know her in the year ahead and much more about my students because they WILL change the world. Sometimes taking the time to state the obvious – “I have a voice” – and turning it into a cheer can make a difference and actually empower students to use earth-shaking, world-changing words.

by Harriet Riley, Writers in the Schools

WITS Writer Harriet Riley is a free-lance writer focusing on nonfiction articles and grant writing. She has taught undergraduate writing classes at the University of West Florida in Pensacola, where she lived for 11 years before moving to Houston in 2007. She has also worked as a non-profit director, hospital marketing director, and newspaper reporter. She has her M.A. in print journalism from the University of Texas at Austin and her B.A. in English and journalism from the University of Mississippi. She enjoys reading, running, and traveling with her family. This is her third year with WITS.

How to be a Pen

Posted February 15, 2010 & filed under Notebook.


Write faster than the other pens
Write in black ink
Be a good writer
Hide in a backpack, or stay in drawers.

By Diego, Kindergarten
[photo by carlos guerrera via flickr]

Publishing Op: Nature Writers

Posted February 22, 2008 & filed under Notebook.

Save the Whales is sponsoring a poetry writing contest for kids (ages 13 and under). If you want to enter this contest, please keep these things in mind:

  • The poem must be about whales.
  • The poem must be your own original work.
  • Remember to give your poem a title.
  • The winning poems will be published in a book.
  • The deadline is April 30, 2008.

You can enter the competition by emailing your poem to m1sid  [at], or you can mail it to Save The Whales – Poem Entry, 1192 Waring Street, Seaside, CA 93955. Be sure to put your name and age, address, phone number and email address on the entry. For more information, click here.

On Meaning

Posted January 21, 2008 & filed under Notebook.

A few years ago I saw an author speak an Houston. During her talk, she spoke about a friend of hers who had passed away. Her concern was moving; she didn’t need to memorialize her friend, yet she freely chose to honor her with her speech. However, her execution wasn’t perfect. If her testimonial had been a service, complete with instruments, then a couple of the musicians sounded jarringly out of tune. There was an edge to her stories; some of them portrayed her friend in an unflattering light. At first I thought it might just be me, but a friend who had also been in attendance that night later confirmed my impression. We agreed that the author’s words had a double meaning, in which the edges of her speech cut against the grain.

It’s true of the literature we read, too. Our writing has unintended effects; it can reveal more about us than we meant to show, or speak in tones we would’ve preferred to hide. Sometimes, it can even make our work better.

I often begin the school year with an exercise where I ask the children to write about themselves. When children are asked to tell their personal history, they will often adopt a clipped, deadpan, almost clinical tone. They are recounting events that to them seem mundane, even boring; they have long since merged with the wallpaper of their lives. When we teachers read them, however, the details often leap out and grab us by the throat. Some children have experienced losses that are truly tragic; after reading their stories, their ordinary difficulties in the classroom seem trivial by comparpic.jpgison.

Even when we, as authors, think we can predict the effect of our writing, the example of those children shows us that readers will often glean meaning we didn’t know was there.

posted by Julian Martinez, Writers in the Schools

2 Ops for High School Writers

Posted January 17, 2008 & filed under Notebook.


Here’s some information about two writing contests for high school students. Both offer prizes and are sponsored by universities.

1) The University at Buffalo invites current high school students to showcase their writing talents in a free poetry contest. Cash prizes will be awarded to the winners. Read all the rules on the Humanities Institute website. The entries must be postmarked on or before. Monday, February 4, 2008.

2) The University of Indiana – Purdue University Indianapolis has a similar poetry contest with the same deadline. Read all the rules and requirements here.

(photo by Zeinunes via flickr)

Untitled Poem by Richard

Posted November 29, 2007 & filed under Notebook.


What are you? I heard them say.

I am a twist

Though the lynx may play

In Neptune’s garden

With a jade mystery

The lilacs will stay

With an awful beauty

A tunnel to the outskirts

Filled with dragonflies

An arguing headache

With a colorless zero

Or a color blind fire

Sleepwalking down the skyscraper

And striding through the Autumn

A crusade

On the horizon

In a negative universe

My sire on the asteroid

With a holy funk

Like a clown in paradise

A flame to the thief

Echoing quicksand

And a clout of fire

A siren is calling

A downhill struggle

It must be gone

In the ruins

A dandelion plays


By Richard, age 17

The Best

Posted November 27, 2007 & filed under Notebook.

I am an only childvole-superman-vole-anahita-via-flickr.jpg

and there is no need for another

in America, Europe, Asia, Africa,

or any other place.

My eyelashes are worth millions,

and a piece of my skin would be worth billions.

My grades are fit for a museum,

and my report cards are solid gold.

I am King Tut and Sylvester Stallone

added together and multiplied

by a number so high,

it doesn’t even exist.

June is now considered

“the month of miracles”

because I was born that month.

If you were born the same year I was—1997—

you would be three times as fortunate

as if you won the lottery twice.

My face makes up two-thirds of the library

and four-fifths of the TV.

Every country begs for my presence

and when I come

they shower me with riches.

I’m definitely worth it,

and five billion times more!

I have so many talents,

not even the greatest math whiz

could count them all.

I know I’m the best,

and you know it, too,

even if you won’t admit it,

you know it is true!

by Andrew, 6th Grade

(The writing prompt for this lesson is “Ego Tripping” by Nikki Giovanni. For more about Nikki Giovanni, click here.)

Writing Outside

Posted November 16, 2007 & filed under Notebook.


The invisible wind is wild and crazy like me.

When it blows, it tickles my skin,

The sun is lemon yellow,

it shines bright like my smile.

The gigantic puffy clouds float by slowly and quietly.

It is hard to sit here and write.

My friends are talking, laughing, and writing.

The old brown tree branches are moving in the breeze.

I love writing out here!

Poems fill my heart

like roses in a flowerbed.

I hope we do this next time,

when the weather is kind again.

by Graciella, 7th Grade

Another Op: Frodo’s Notebook

Posted September 28, 2007 & filed under Notebook.

Frodo’s Notebook publishes exceptional writing and art online by kids ages 13-19. If you’re interested in submitting to this journal, read several back issues to get a sense of the kind of work that they publish. The details of how to make your submission are here.

Poetry Contest For High School Girls

Posted August 31, 2007 & filed under Notebook.

What is the Nancy Thorp Poetry Contest?
Since 1962, this contest has been sponsored by Hollins University and awards prizes for the best poems submitted by girls who are sophomores or juniors in high school or preparatory school.

What are the prizes?
First place (one winner)

$200 cash prize
Free tuition for the two-week creative writing class in the university’s Hollins summer program
Publication in Cargoes, the Hollins’ student literary magazine
Ten copies of Cargoescargoes_04.jpg
Second place (six winners)

$25 cash prize
Publication in Cargoes
Two copies of Cargoes
What are the requirements?

All entries must be typewritten and be submitted by a member of the faculty or administration of the student’s school. No more than two poems by any one student may be submitted, and manuscripts cannot be returned. Each entry must be on a separate sheet and each sheet must include the following information in the upper right corner:
–Author’s name and gender
–Author’s mailing address
–Author’s phone no. and/or e-mail address
–Year of author’s high school graduation
–Faculty sponsor’s name and e-mail address
–Author’s school
–Address and phone no. of author’s school
If the poem is more than one page in length, label each page with author’s name, title of poem, and page number.

What is the deadline for entries?
November 15, 2007

Who chooses the winning poems?
Winners are chosen by students and faculty members in the creative writing program at Hollins.

When are winners notified?
By mid April, 2008

Where should entries be mailed?
Nancy Thorp Poetry Contest
Hollins University
P.O. Box 9677
Roanoke, VA 24020-1677