Jasper Roberts - Blog

Before the School Year Begins...

I decided that before I can start posting about what I'm doing this year, I needed to share some of my favorite strategies from last year that went really well with the students. I was completely inspired by Kelly Gallagher after reading devouring all of his books at the beginning of the school year!

I had the opportunity to go to a Kelly Gallagher workshop at Judson this spring, and it was absolutely amazing!

He was so nice when I went up to him (I was terrified and starstruck), and even wrote "You're Welcome" on this piece of paper, because my students actually asked me to THANK HIM for changing the way we read novels in class. 

Students + asked me + to say thank you to an author + about school stuff = UTOPIA!

Here are some of my abbreviated notes from the day:

His TOP Points:
  • Kids should write 4X more than you can physically grade 
  • Students suffer from word poverty. Must get students reading more in order to be exposed to vocabulary.
  • We need to teach kids WHY they need to write, while we teach them HOW to write.
  • Literature and poetry should be the core of a language arts program. No one else is being asked to give up the core of their content!
  • Use narrative to strengthen argument
  • If your district requires a cheese ball 5 paragraph essay, wait till the week before the test to teach that formula. Bring me a five paragraph essay published in the real world and I'll buy you lunch.

"If students don't write at least three times a week, they are dead." Donald Graves

Amazing Activities:
  • Narrative Writing Modeling Exercises:
    • The Six Word Memoir
    • Take it to twitter: 140 characters
    • Encyclopedia of an ordinary life by Amy rosenthal
    • Make an alphabetical encyclopedia of life
    • The unofficial and unwritten rules of...  Band, choir, drama, etc...
    • Explain a photograph (fictional)
      • Write one sentence
      • Share with your group
      • Mini lesson on first and third person pov
      • Start telling a story
        • You have four minutes
        • Stop
        • Pass
        • Continue the story
    • Mentor Text: This I Believe
      • Do this at the beginning of the year, on the first day of school.
      • Read these that Friday in class
    • Who made that? (Informational Writing)
      • Have them research who made that and why. 
      • One page, has to have a graphic. 
      • Bind and put in classroom library.
    • Explain a photograph (non-fiction)
      • Tell a story
      • Students bring in a photograph and write about one
    • Use TED talks so kids can learn to take notes
    • The one strategy that elevates writing the most is MODELING
    • Instead of teaching grammar separately, incorporate it into the writing curriculum

Grading Practices (MY EPIPHANY!)

Do four timed writing a quarter, staple together have them pick the one they want graded.

Second time tell them you will randomly pick one.

For me I would do this in the Interactive Student Notebook: 


Every ten assignments collect notebooks.
Tell students to put a post it on the assignment you want me to grade, and I'll pick one randomly.

I created and ordered this stamp last night to keep track of checking in notebooks from Vistaprint. See my FB page for a $10 off link!

Daily Practices:

SOW (Sentence of the week)

Although it was warm, she wore a sweater.
After the game, we ate pizza.
As the evening progressed, I relaxed.

1. What do you notice about them? Write the rule
Commas, front branch, dependent clause, etc...

Every time a sentence starts with an AAAWWUBBIS WORDS, it will need a comma.
Aaawwubbis phrase commas
After, although, as, when, while, until, before, because, if, since 

2. Can you imitate it?

Then do a table check, grade one person at the table for the whole group.

10 question quiz every Friday, including AOW (Article of the Week), SOW, lesson of the week, and what I'm reading now

Don't grade final draft, grade level of movement. Staple all drafts together

My favorite strategy from him: CLOSE READING!

The reason my students asked me to say thank you was because we read Flowers for Algernon this year, and we just read it. I would assign a certain number of pages that needed to be completed by a certain day, and they just had to read. NO vocabulary, no guiding questions, just reading. On the day the reading is due, I had taken random pages from that selection of reading, and made copies. I grouped the students, and gave each group the same passage. First, let me back up. 

On the first day, we modeled a passage together. Marking things such as details, questions, important vocabulary, and I would create two questions to focus the close reading. Let me preface that this was very time-consuming, but totally worth it!

Students were given their passages, and worked in groups to do the same thing we had modeled together.

Above are their questions to focus the reading.

I would then grade their close reading, making sure they showed careful consideration of the questions in a short response, and had highlighted and marked sections of the passage they felt helped to clarify the section of the reading.

I discovered that instead of quizzing students on completing the reading, we took it to a deeper level. Students who had possibly not finished the reading realized, on their own, that they needed to catch up in order to have a valid discussion with their peers about it.

To make it uniform, I created keys for my students to use. This made them easier to grade, and helped students get into a routine!

In reference to some of the activities above, I did the six word memoir and "This I Believe" with my 8th graders on the second to last day of school, and had them put it in a sealed envelope. Many students said in their course evaluation that it was their favorite activity, and they couldn't wait to come back and pick them up. A few even put dollar bills in their envelopes, saying they were starting a savings account, and to ensure they would come back for it! :)

Although I literally just had a mini panic attack realizing there are only 2 1/2 weeks of summer left, writing this blog post showed me the things that are so exciting that I'm looking forward to going back for. I am not excited, however, to leave this little sweetheart. 

Coming Up Next...I have an ERIN CONDREN shipment coming in today! I already received my new teacher planner, but I figured I'd wait to post pics until this other little package arrives!


  1. Thanks for sharing! I had a chance to hear Gallagher two years ago. He was amazing! I was wondering about your mentor text for the start of the year. Are you referring to This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women? Love the rubber stamp idea!

    1. Yes, that is it! He is so amazing and insightful! I also used Six Word Memoirs, but I had to be selective with what I shared with my students. I'm hoping to use the stamp to either put the date in the / spot, or the actual score. I haven't decided yet. Thanks for commenting! :)

  2. Thank you for that amazing post. I was privileged to see Kelly Gallagher last summer and reading what you wrote reminded me that I need to dig up my workshop materials and plan to use them this year. My school has been so caught up with changing over to Common Core, I lost sight of the real goal: inspiring students to want to read and write. Thanks again for the reminder!

    1. I'm so glad so many others have seen him speak. I completely agree about CC, our school is all over it as well, and with a new textbook adoption, I was worried that the core of Language Arts would fall to it. I was very happy to see that Gallagher was a contributing author to our book, it's one of the reasons I really liked it when it came time to choose! Thanks so much for your kind words. :)

  3. Loved reading this. It reminded me of so many of the things I love about him. He's in NYC this year, isn't he?

  4. What a great post! I could almost envision myself teaching the "big" kids.....almost ;o)


    1. :) Thanks for reading! I give you huge kudos for teaching the little ones!

  5. As I get ready to start another year of teaching 8th grade, it was fun to see what you took away from Kelly Gallagher. Thank you for sharing.


    1. Thank you for reading! I love your tumblr btw!

  6. These are some great ideas...thanks for sharing. I agree about all the writing they need to do, and like your idea about doing four per quarter and letting them pick one!

    1. I think it will make grading so much easier, and give them a chance to pick their best work, which gives them some ownership! :)

  7. Thanks so much for sharing! I'm going to do some of these suggestions in my class. I really appreciate you taking the time to post this.

    1. I highly recommend you see him if he is in your area! He is inspirational! Thanks for reading :)

  8. This was so much more relevant to my classroom rather than the 2.5 hour in-service I sat through today. I am definitely trying the This I Believe in my classroom... I am also the new mommy to a cavalier as well- yours is beautiful!

    1. You completely made my night. I just had to let you know that. I really appreciate your kind words. What kind of cavalier do you have??? :)

  9. Thanks for posting this! I am currently reading Flowers for Algernon with my students and would love to know more about the types of questions that you asked for the close reading.

  10. Great post! I've always wanted to hear Kelly Gallagher, and because you shared all of this great information, now I feel as though I have!
    Thank you!

  11. Hi Jen,

    I'm getting things ready for my freshmen and sophomore ELA classes for next year, and I want to move away from traditional "study guide" questions. Could you explain in more detail the process you use for analyzing the texts from chapters with focus questions in class? Like discussions and whatnot? I would really appreciate it!


  12. Have you already posted items to TpT? I use the resource all the time and want to know your contributing name. Also, all of the writing policies and notebook rules - do you establish that at the beginning of the year or is it introduced gradually? I took a 3 year hiatus, staying home with my kiddos and in that time CC has completely revises how I focused I was on reading and writing in the classroom. I've found this year that and down side is that, with so many excerpts, students have no reading stamina. I love the ideas you have and I'm looking forward to your resources on TpT!

  13. Thank you for sharing. I purchased Write Like This and am so excited to use many of the ideas in it.

    Have you seen this video clip of Gallagher? https://www.youtube.com/watch/?v=OJFMhWtFVnA

  14. Love your blog and ideas!! Can you tell me which Gallagher book discusses 4:1?? Thanks!

  15. Hi! I found a mentor in you. This is my first year teaching 7th grade and really need all the help I can get!
    Please explain in more details: 'This I believe' and 'six word memoir'?
    Thanks so much. Feel really inspired and also agree with everything you shared about reading.

  16. Thank you for sharing. I do most of the things you stated above in my own classroom. However, I never knew how to grade all of the writing. I really like what you suggested and plan to use it in my classroom next year. Thank you. :D

  17. Which Kelly Gallagher book would you recommend reading first?

  18. Thank You for sharing this innovative teaching strategies. This would definitely be interactive and interesting for the students

  19. Have you looked at Corbett Harrison? He also has excellent techniques for teaching writing. I love him.

  20. I had never heard of Kelly Gallagher until I read your blog (which I found on Pinterest)! Thank you SO much. I went right out and bought his most recent book In the Best Interest of Students;it was amazing. I am actually reading it a second time and taking notes. I just ordered another one of his books about teaching writing to adolescents and can't wait to read it. Thank you SO much for your blog. I have been a middle school teacher for over 20 wonderful years and can't wait to implement the new ideas I learned from his books (thanks to you)! By the way, I also have a blog http://mrskarneysenglishblog.blogspot.com/

  21. Great post, made me question a lot of things about feedback. I wrote down a few thoughts that were inspired by this post here: http://mrflynnsblog.edublogs.org/2015/11/12/feedback-is-overrated/

  22. Hi! LOVE your ideas here - Thank you so much!

    Will you do me a favor and explain a bit about the "The unofficial and unwritten rules of... Band, choir, drama, etc... lesson?

  23. Thank you for this great post! So many great ideas!!


Thanks for stopping by! JW