Starting a Margin Project in Your School

It all started when I visited my parents over winter break last year and my mom wanted to show me and my kids the newly renovated library in town. I have to admit, the new library was beautiful and kinda made me wish I was still living back home.

As we were walking around in the children’s area, I noticed a shelf labeled “Margin Project”. Hmm…I had never heard of that or seen anything like it, so naturally I wandered over to get a closer look. And what I saw…stopped me in my tracks…

A whole beautiful section of books with the sole purpose of annotating the text IN THE BOOK as children were reading. My mind was blown and I knew right then that I just HAD to get this back into my school. We have been working hard for the past two years on creating “thinkmarks” while reading and I knew our kids would LOVE writing their thoughts inside the actual book. I called my principal right then, sounding like a crazy person, and explained what it was and got her permission to do it. I now just had to wait for break to end and get back to school.

Getting Ready

The first thing I had to do was get our LRC assistant, Jen, on board because without her support in the LRC, the project would fall flat. Lucky for me, she is incredible and always willing to put up with me and my crazy ideas!

We did some rearranging and cleared off an entire shelf close to the circulation desk and the door. I wanted the display to be in a place where there could be no way the kids would miss it. If I could’ve created a billboard with lights and music….I would’ve.

After we had our space, the next step was to gather the books. I walked around the LRC with a cart and pulled books we already had off our shelves. Our LRC is very large and has multiple copies of books so it was easy to find enough books to stock our shelves. I mainly grabbed titles that were popular, but I also grabbed some from authors that weren’t as well-known. I was using this opportunity to be able to possibly hook kids on authors and genres that were unfamiliar to them. I also made sure we had the books from the different award lists; we were already promoting these so I knew they would be a hit. Lastly, I knew I needed to have a wide range of levels. I couldn’t just pick lengthy novels for our older kids; I grabbed some beginning chapter books and even picture books. I was committed on making this accessible and fun for ALL our students.

Materials Needed

As Jen was busy recataloging all the books in our system, I got started on creating the labels that we would put inside the books. I had to create one label where the project would be explained. I knew this was important because I envisioned our students taking the books home and writing in them in front of their parents. I needed the parents to understand that YES, they were allowed to be writing in these books.

The second label I created was a space where each student could write their name down so other students knew who had the books before them and who the thoughts and pictures were connected to. I wanted to make reading social, and by putting a name to the thoughts and ideas in the books, our kids could start interacting with each other.

We also created spine labels so the books would be easily recognized as books that were part of the Margin Project.

Introducing it to Staff and Students

I love a great theatrical reveal, so the whole time Jen and I were working on this, we had the shelf covered in bulletin board paper to gain interest. When we were finally ready, I dramatically ripped off the paper and revealed it at a staff meeting to everyone at once. I brought in some of the books so they had a chance to read the labels and ask questions. One of the main rules we decided on was that they could only have 1 Margin Project book checked out at a time to ensure that everyone had a chance.

The next day I set up my office in the LRC so I would be able to personally introduce it to each class that came in….I have control issues. I’m working on it…

Anyways, as soon as I said the words, “you can write IN the book”, I had them hooked. I’m not even entirely sure they heard anything else I said; I just know that as soon as I was done, every single student checked out a Margin Project book.

What’s Next?

A few weeks in and it’s been crazy successful; the books coming back in have doodles, thoughts, questions, and more. I’m seeing kids respond to one another in the book; reading has become social in my building and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve even had a few teachers start mini Margin Projects in their own rooms with their classroom libraries.

If you are interested in learning more about the Margin Project, please check out Jen Malone’s website. She offers more in depth information. If you would like copies of the resources that I created for my school, please reach out. I am more than happy to share them with you!

6 Books that ALL kids should read

It’s hard to listen and watch what’s happening all over the country, but we need to. We need to be listening and watching in order to bring much needed change.

Change where black mothers and fathers should not live in fear for the children. Change where black people aren’t racially profiled at every turn. Change where non-black people become allies, not bystanders.

I have a 5 and 3 year old and I just started having those hard conversations with them. Just the other day in the Panera drive-thru, they heard the radio and I had to reexplain to them what was talked about so they would understand. That poor high school girl had no idea what to do when she handed me our food and found me weeping in the driver’s seat… #keepingitreal

When we got home, I took a hard look at the books on our shelves and noticed how “un-diverse” they were. I preach about how books need to be “windows and mirrors” for the students in my school, but I was ashamed to see that the books in my home were just “mirrors”. I immediately hopped on Amazon and ordered some new pictures books to add to our collection, and then because I’m even too impatient for two-day shipping, I placed a curbside pickup order from our local library for that afternoon.

In case you’re looking for some new books to add to your collection, here are some that I ordered and will now become regulars in our daily reading time. Click on the book to go straight to Amazon, where you can purchase the book.

#blacklivesmatter

Featuring eighteen women creators, ranging from writers to inventors, artists to scientists, this board book adaptation of Little Dreamers: Visionary Women Around the World introduces trailblazing women like Mary Blair, an American modernist painter who had a major influence on how color was used in early animated films, environmental activist Wangari Maathai, and architect Zaha Hadid.

A beautiful picture book for sharing and marking special occasions such as graduation, inspired by the life of the first African American woman to travel in space, Mae Jemison. An Amazon Best Book of the Month!

A great classroom and bedtime read-aloud, Mae Among the Stars is the perfect book for young readers who have big dreams and even bigger hearts.

A stirring, dramatic story of a slave who mails himself to freedom by a Jane Addams Peace Award-winning author and a Coretta Scott King Award-winning artist.

Henry Brown doesn’t know how old he is. Nobody keeps records of slaves’ birthdays. All the time he dreams about freedom, but that dream seems farther away than ever when he is torn from his family and put to work in a warehouse. Henry grows up and marries, but he is again devastated when his family is sold at the slave market. Then one day, as he lifts a crate at the warehouse, he knows exactly what he must do: He will mail himself to the North.

In 1963 Birmingham, Alabama, thousands of African American children volunteered to march for their civil rights after hearing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak. They protested the laws that kept black people separate from white people. Facing fear, hate, and danger, these children used their voices to change the world.

Margot Lee Shetterly and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Award winner Laura Freeman bring the incredibly inspiring true story of four black women who helped NASA launch men into space to picture book readers!

This volume focuses on Harriet Tubman’s brave heroism as part of the movement to abolish slavery. As one of the key players in the Underground Railroad, she helped enslaved African Americans escape and find freedom.

How a Hashtag Made a Better Teacher

Reading has always been a part of who I am. I remember many of my nights as a kid: snuggled up in bed reading the Baby-sitters Club series and the Boxcar Children series. I devoured each book as I just needed to know what happened next for each of the foursomes! As I grew up, my attention turned to the Sweet Valley High books. I felt a connection with Elizabeth and Jessica, like the books were written just for me! 

As an adult, slowly, other things started to take priority and my reading was put on the back burner. My love for books and reading was still there, but now I was living vicariously through others who would read and tell me about it. 

“Oh yeah, that one sounds great! I’ll add it to my list.” I would say. It made it to the ever-growing list in my mind, where it would sit, never being read. 

Over winter break last year, I optimistically brought home two books from our school library and I was determined to start small and read those two books over break! To my surprise, once I started, I just had to finish reading them as soon as I could. The day that I finished my second book, it just so happened to be New Year’s Eve. In true NYE fashion, I made a resolution that evening: I would spend 2019 reading as many books as I could. I also decided to share my journey with others as a way to not only hold myself accountable, but simply for the pleasure of sharing great books with others. I created the hashtag #booktalks2019 and the rest is history. 

Since then, every time I finish a book, I tweet out a picture of the cover with a short book talk and/or my thoughts about it, and use my new hashtag. I’m fortunate enough to work in a district that really utilizes Twitter, so I knew that this would be a natural way to share some great books that teachers could use in their own rooms. 

After finishing those two books over break, I finally felt my joy of reading come back to me after a long hiatus. I was hooked; I continued to seek out a variety of middle grade novels to read and share. I wanted everyone around me to be as excited about reading again as I was. I talked about the books I was reading to anyone who would listen to me! As an instructional coach, my main role is to be in classrooms supporting our teachers. Being in the classroom is continually my favorite part of my job. But now, reading so many middle grade novels has opened up the way that I can connect with students on a whole different level. 

Being able to recommend specific books to students based on what their interests and being able to share with them why they will like it, is such an amazing feeling. I’m telling you… there is absolutely no better feeling for an educator, when a student stops you in the hallway because he just has to thank you for recommending a book for him because he loves it so much! The same student who just the year before would never even think about picking up a book. 


After having enough of those amazing moments happen, I’ve made it my own personal mission to expose ALL students in my building to a diverse selection of books. Books should be windows and mirrors for our students; they should be able to see themselves in the characters but should also show them different ways of living. Since January 1st, I’ve currently read and shared 59 middle grade novels with students and staff in our building and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. I truly believe that the more we expose books to students, they will eventually find their book “soulmate” that will leave them hooked: just like Baby-Sitters Club did for me.

It’s finally here…

Hi all!!

Creating a literacy blog has been something I have been thinking about doing for a long time now. A place where I can share my own thoughts, ideas, opinions, and more without fear of being judged. A safe place in this little corner of the blogging world.

Welcome to Windy City Literacy!!

Now, I’m am definitely NOT an expert at blogging, so please bear with me as I learn how to get my blog running smoothly….and looking pretty. I promise, I will figure it out, it’ll just take some time.

As an instructional coach, my focus is primarily on supporting the teachers in our building, but I’ve learned a lot about myself as an educator over the past few years and I’m excited to share that with all of you.

Be sure to check back often for book recommendations (for adults and kids), teaching ideas that can easily be implemented in the classroom, organization tips, hot topics in the literacy world, and much more.

I’m looking forward to getting to know each and every one of you; I know there’s millions of blogs out there and I’m just thankful that you have chosen to stop by mine!

So….grab a cup of coffee (iced for me!) and settle in!

Liz