Slice of Life: What If?

Today’s post comes as part of the Two Writing Teacher’s Slice of Life Tuesday. Check ’em out!

Today is a confluence of remarkable things.

First, I should tell you that I’ve started a writing club at both of my schools. For eight weeks, I run a weekly group for 4th and 5th graders after school. I get the 2nd and 3rd graders this winter. Let it be known that we are having a BLAST! I’m not quite sure what (or if!) any final product will be, but boy oh boy are we having fun expanding our practice.

Next, I should make you aware that Katherine Applegate – yes, THE Katherine Applegate, of The One and Only Ivan / Bob / Ruby and Wishtree and Crenshaw and Home of the Brave a bunch of Animorphs books and the soon to be released Odder – yes, THE Katherine Applegate who has won a Golden Kite Award and a Newbery Medal – Katherine Applegate CAME TO OUR SCHOOLS and YES I AM SHOUTING because it was a truly amazing experience.

And what was so amazing for me? All of what she said to the students. It’s what I’ve been shouting from the rooftops for any kid, teacher or parent who will listen. Write! Write a bunch! Write what moves you! Write for yourself! Write stuff you love! Write stuff you’re not a fan of! Write! Write! Write!

She spoke. I beamed. I felt validated, seen, energized.

My writing club kids talked about what resonated with them: the need to write, the importance of doing research, and how critical it was to put our passion into a form of self-expression.

And there was one more thing. Katherine Applegate challenged the students to consider, any time they were stuck, the question: “What if?” and let their imagination run from there.

Of COURSE. What if?

So this week, our writing club played with the idea. What if? What if? What if? The kids came up with fantastic, insightful ideas. And throughout the next week, we’ll be posting them all around our schools for other kids to ponder about, to roll with, and – who knows? – maybe to write about.

Enjoy a sampling of sheer brilliance.

That’s a metaphor for untapped talent, if I’VE ever seen one!

Just wait until this writer starts in on composing allegory. Stand back, friends!

This could be QUITE the exploration.

It’s a veritable FEAST of thought…

Slice of Life: Ridiculousness

I’m running a couple of writing clubs right now, one for each of the schools that I teach at. This go-around, I’m working with 4th and 5th graders. This coming winter, I’ll work with 2nd and 3rd graders.

In my description of the class, I mentioned that we would have a mix of writing, creative games, and oral work on stories. And yes, there would be fun. Because otherwise, what’s even the point?

I’ve now met once with each group, and it was a blast! We started with a game of story ball, tossing the ball to learn one another’s names as we also worked to create a story. There I was, thinking that our activity would be just a mixer, a fun little thing that paved the way for what was to come next.

Lo and behold, it was a learning experience for me. At both schools, here’s what I noticed:
1. When kids are called on (by me or a classmate), they have a habit of addressing only me, looking at only me as they give an answer. We’re going to chip away at that one.
2. Some kids have stuff they like to put in every story they tell, whether or not it might make sense in the one that’s going on in front of them.
3. We have a lot to learn when it comes to expanding possibilities, and moving stories past disconnected events. Oh…so the duck dad and son were playing basketball? Let’s dig into what that game looks like. Hey…they were on a road trip to Dubai? That might go in a few directions.

Speaking of expanding possibilities, that was the focus for our first session. Many of them mentioned that they loved writing because it let them be creative in whatever direction they chose. I wanted my students to take that creativity and run with it. I wanted them to experiment with a story completely unbound from the constraints of reality.

So each class had an assignment: work together in partners or groups to develop the MOST ridiculous story possible. One class worked on why they didn’t eat breakfast, the other developed excuses for missing homework. After having time to work on stories orally together, groups told their stories to the whole class and voted on the one that was the most entertaining and utterly ridiculous.

What good came out of our first session? Well, the kids were able to see that we as creators can put together any set of circumstances and let it fly. I wanted students to realize that no matter HOW ridiculous and far-fetched their stories might be, a reader or listener will be right with them, as long as the events make sense together and the story is well-told.

And even more importantly? Judging by the smiles and giggles, they had FUN. I can’t wait to see where we go next!

As for who won each of the contests and will receive the much-anticipated dollar store prizes, well…I’m keeping my lips sealed til the group meets next time!

Slice of Life: All in a Good Bake

Here I sit on the couch. It’s the end of a long, productive and busy day – a good one! – and rather than channel my energy into housework or data entry or emails, I’m watching episodes of the Junior Bake-Off Show (see that, Pillsbury? we’re good, we’re good!).

This show is one of my absolute favorites. And it’s not just because I’m a baker at heart. It’s not just because the folks on the show are so delightful, charming, and kind to one another. I’m realizing (from my campsite on the couch) that this show – the kid version in particular – satisfies me on a deep, emotional level.

As I watch, I’m realizing that this show, and the kids on it, have lessons for me and my students to learn:

  1. Sometimes the bake goes sideways. Yep. Sometimes it’s the humidity in the tent. Sometimes the bread just doesn’t prove correctly. Sometimes there’s a missing egg, or salt, or an unset jelly. What are you going to do? Dry your tears and keep going. It won’t be so bad.
  2. Sometimes the bake goes well. Really, really well. And people will compliment you on the precision of your icing, or the rise of your sponge, or the level of flavors you’ve given them. Say thank you and know that you’ve done something well because this is something you’re good at.
  3. Sometimes time is not your friend. There are times you will be frustrated because your pie just doesn’t have enough time in the oven, or you’re behind because you had to restart your caramel, or perhaps your cake doesn’t have the chance to cool before frosting it. Or maybe time got away from you and the pancakes burnt, or your egg whites got lumpy. Reconfigure, rework, and improvise something. Maybe breathe a couple of times. You’re going to be okay.
  4. Putting something into the world is both an act of courage and a release of control. And maybe the people who taste it will love your flavor profile, or maybe they’ll think there was too much lavender in the mix, or maybe they’ll wish the pastry had been a bit flakier. You’ll still be standing at the end of the tasting session. Promise.
  5. There’s a reason why the hosts are comedians. Because when things are at their most tense, their most terrible, the most dark and dim, it’s sometimes helpful to have someone else remind you that a botched batch of biscuits is not a ten on the awful-meter.
  6. Compadres are a special thing. When all of the folks around you are as excited about your passion as you are, there’s a certain feeling in the air. Knowing you’re in the company of people who GET YOU is a magical, magical thing. And being able to craft and create together side by side is a thing of awe. Enjoy it. RUN with it.

There’s more learning to be had, but quite frankly, it’s time for me to get back to the show. The kids are about to make choux pastry self-portraits. Will all of this young talent astound me?


One of my creations – hamentaschen, to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim. Maybe some day this would be a technical challenge – BOY would that be a toughie!

Slice of Life: Choice Writing Time

Some folks out there might know I’ve been at work behind a writing initiative for my school district. The answer is yes! I have big and grand plans for what I think my colleagues and students and I can accomplish, if only we put faith in ourselves and align our instruction with our philosophical and moral compass. Which sounds lofty and wonderful. But that’s not why I’m writing today.

This year is about NOT asking much. This year is about little things that accomplish a lot. This year, the focus is on low-investment, high-reward tweaks and changes. This year, classroom teachers are only asked to do two things:

  • Post a copy of a school-wide Writer’s Creed (more on that in another post)
  • Spend 15 minutes a week letting kids write whatever and however they wish.

That’s all.


You and I may both be well aware that it might not end there. We might both realize that once students get a sense of freedom, of autonomy, of choice, of trusting themselves…they may not want to let it go. And we might both realize that once teachers get a sense of the power that comes from offering said freedom, autonomy and choice, THEY may not want to let it go.

…but you didn’t hear that from me.

Anyway, I’ve been in several classrooms now to introduce writing time, and it’s been a blast. I’ve gone in with my notebook as well, writing right alongside students and teachers. So today, for your reading pleasure, I bring you glimpses of the kiddos I inevitably see from class to class, the kinds of kids we find in every class when it comes to writing time. Cheers! Let’s make a toast to these loveys:

  • The sitters-and-thinkers
  • The lookers-at-their-neighborers
  • The write-a-bit-and-give-a-quiet-gigglers
  • The dogged starers at empty pages
  • The spend-half-their-time-finding-better-spots-to-sitters
  • The earnest pencil movers
  • The just-can’t-keep-it-to-themselvesers
  • The all-of-a-sudden-and-repeated-emergency-bladder-havers
  • The can-I-ask-you-if-this-is-right-ers

All of them. All of these friends – and more! – have a space at our writing table. I observe them from classroom to classroom, and I can’t help but feel love and excitement for what’s to come. As the year goes on, I cannot wait to see what they bring. Buckle up. It’ll be a fun ride.

Slice of Life Tuesday: Nottabout

Thanks to Two Writing Teachers, as always, for providing a great place to share and read writing from fellow teachers!

Today’s blog post…

It’s not about the seventeen to-do lists that circle my brain but haven’t made it to paper and, therefore, remain undone until that happens.

It’s not about the increasingly bizarre and haunting dreams I’ve had as of late.

It’s not about the insight I’ve recently had about why I did next to nothing for schoolwork between eighth and tenth grades.

It’s not about the multiple mess-ups I’ve had today regarding meetings and scheduling and class visits.

It’s not about the guilt and obligation I feel, having stepped away from my own writing lately.

It’s not about the myriad baking projects I would love to take on, if only I felt like I had the time and could guarantee said baking projects would leave my home post-haste.

It’s not about the excitement I’m feeling over an initiative I’m leading, one that has aligned my purpose and practice, one that has allowed me to return to this school year energized rather than deflated.

It’s not about that one library book I still need to pick up, if only I could find my library card.

It’s not about the joy-sadness-relief-emptiness I feel upon having the nest once again empty.

It’s not about the various joints and muscles that give me grief and make me wonder if they bother me because I’m working them through exercise, or just plain getting old.

And it certainly isn’t about the frustration and anxiety of getting to the end of a blog post, of finishing what I’ve said, and having no wise, pithy, nod-your-head-in-agreement way of wrapping it up with a bow.

Certainly not.

Slice of Life Tuesday: Dispatches from Fifth Grade

This year’s treasures

Every year, I ask my departing fifth graders to share what they’ve learned about language arts and about themselves throughout our time together.

Every year, I tell them this is the last thing I will remember them by. I only give them two rules: letters need to be written in letter form, and I want them to be written by hand.

Every year, I tell students I don’t read their letters right away, but I wait until a day where I particularly feel like I miss them.

Today was that day.

Here’s what I love about reading through these letters:

1) The doodles, drawings and decorations – particularly the “trademark” ones certain kids drew all the time.

2) The way each letter encapsulates every one of my kids and their personalities, without fail. Who’s inventing their own language? Who constructed their letter via origami? Who wrote four lines and moved on? Who encoded a secret message? If you asked me who it would be before I opened the letters, I still would have been pretty darn accurate.

3) What the kids absorbed from their experience. Whether it was a meaningful quote from The Little Prince, a love for all things reading and writing, the kids were listening, and they were learning. I’m proudest that some of the kids reflected that our time together was safe, protected, a place where they felt the freedom to be a fuller version of themselves. I can’t think of a higher goal than that.

In keeping with what I’ve started in recent years, I’ll be writing them all back. Soon, I’ll dust off the writing paper and the Flair pens. In the meantime, though, I might just breathe deeply enough that my lungs match the fullness of this here teacher heart. ❤️

I mean…right!?

Slice of Life: Writing Challenge

I’ve done a thing.

I’ve begun an ambitious, multi-year writing initiative in my district that I think could be really amazing, and I’ve got some colleagues who, quite thankfully, agree. I’ve got administrative support, I’ve got the time to plan and build, and I’m banking on the excitement of tapping into JOY.

Because if there’s anything that this world needs more of, it’s JOY.

I’ve been working with a group of teachers this summer. Quite honestly, I felt badly enough that I was going to take away four whole days’ worth of relaxation in an already shortened vacation for us. I also knew that in our time together, I’d be asking the world of them.

Naturally, I baked for them. What else could I do?

I needed to feed them well. That, and cross my fingers that the experiences we had together would be meaningful.

During this past session, all of us engaged in choice writing time, complete with chances to offer feedback to one another. Time ran out before we could debrief (that’ll be first on the agenda later this week), but it warmed my heart to have my colleagues get brave and give this a try.

Below is the piece I wrote during that time. Like most pieces of narrative, it took me in a different direction than the one I set out to go, but oh. That muse.

Sometimes it seems like there’s so much to carry, she thought, as she set her bag and shoes by the door. She shrugged her shoulders, rolled them through a full range of motion, heaved a sigh and made her way to the kitchen, to the dishes and the cleaning and the laundry and the —
She promised herself she’d give herself a break, that she would allow herself time and space and the breath to —
But oh.
Just looking at them struck her. The thought landed with visceral force. She hated a dirty sink. Still…
She couldn’t.
She wouldn’t.
And all at once she felt it, the pushpull, the cleaving of her two selves: the one that had it all together and gleaming and shiny and spotless and tidy, the other a brazen, not-giving-a-flying-fig pursuer of joy and calm, with herself stuck solidly between the two.
She drew a deep breath as she pictured herself astride this gap, this widening chasm between ideal and real self. She felt each foot grounded in different territory. She felt a rumble, a shift..

…and grabbed the sponge.

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for more updates on our writing journey, and if you have a few minutes, check out the Slice of Life Challenge on Two Writing Teachers!

And, if you’re wondering…yes! Yes, I will be posting more about the writing journey I’m helping to lead. Stay tuned!

Slice of Life Tuesday: The Big Five-Oh


So this is fifty.

I’m taking a look at this gal.

She’s been through stuff.
She has seen stuff,
and has LEARNED stuff.

She knows birthdays are
brim-full of
days that demand
days that belong
to her

And yet

She also knows a birth day
(just like the idea
of turning fifty)
is messy,
not what people
crack it up to be.

She buried her grandmother
on a birthday.
She put her dog to sleep
on a birthday.

And she is is still reeling at the news of
a mass shooting yesterday
in the neighboring town,
and she spent the day yesterday checking up
on friends
and loved ones
and their friends
and loved ones
and she feels perhaps
isn’t quite
what’s called for.

So she begins this day,
this decade,
knowing this day
(every day)
belongs to her
and to no one

she has it in her
(because she knows it’s coming)
to handle the stuff
coming her way

of those
gray hairs
and wrinkles
and age marks
have come earned,

And she will wear them
like the birthday crown
she deserves.

Thanks to the Slice of Life community for keeping me writing. Check them out!

Slice of Life Tuesday: On Letting Them Go

Today and yesterday were my last days with my fifth graders.

Some of these kids, I’ve worked with for a year or two. Others, we’ve been together for three, four, even five years.

There is so much change that happens over the span of that time. Add our shared experiences living through COVID and its aftermath, and what you have is an incredibly strong, wise, tight-knit group of young folks.

On our last day together, it just so happens that we used the time to finish up our class read-aloud: Antoine De Saint-Exupery’s classic, The Little Prince. It’s one of those texts that I consider to be a “benchmark book,” a story that I like reading at various points in my life as a way to measure how I have grown and changed, a book that speaks to me anew with the wisdom and experience I gather over time.

And reading the book today, it hit me differently. Yes, I’m happy and excited for my fifth-grade students to move on to whatever comes next in their lives, but there is also that theme of letting go. And just like the pilot who will forever look at the stars and hear laughter, so will I be reminded of these amazing humans in ways large and small.

At the end of class, I took a couple of moments to thank the class for the time we spent together, to express my gratitude for the chance to learn with – and from! – them. What could I even say to sum it all up? And then, these words came into my head so naturally, words that will be familiar to those of you who’ve read The Little Prince:

“You tamed me.”

Image credit: Kenia Garcia

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers and their weekly Slice of Life Challenge. Check them out!

Slice of Life Tuesday: Book Teaser

It’s been three years since I’ve been able to put together a collection of allegorical fiction with my fifth graders, but this year we’re doing it!

I always love this project because it taps into the wealth of wisdom, perspective and potential these kids carry with them. I mean, I see it in them, and it makes my heart smile when they recognize it within themselves.

For each collection, I spend hours – hours! – cultivating the anthology, breaking it up into meaningful sections that flow from one into the other. And then there’s writing the introduction and finding the epigraph to bring it all together.

And I haven’t quite got the order of the book down, but I have composed the introduction. I’m sharing it here as a preview. I like doing this kind of writing. It allows me to love on my kids a little extra. Enjoy.

So much has happened between the publishing of Volumes 3 and 4 of this collection. COVID upended our lives, bringing fear, disruption, and trauma with it. The spectre of war, climate change and conflict looms large in our world. The quest for truth and justice has become clouded by the question of what truth even is anymore.

And our children, they see it.

They take notice.

Whether or not we wish them to, our children pay attention to the world around them. They watch. They listen. As they do, they begin to develop their own sense of justice, of right and wrong. They need us to hear their wisdom, and to stop underestimating their power because they’re young.

Their concerns, their frustrations, and yes, even some of their anger, are all represented here in a powerful collection of allegorical fiction. 

Read their work. Hear their voices.

-Lainie Levin, 2022

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” Elie Wiesel

Post script: I’m not usually so stark and plain in my language for these introductions. And yet, I can’t think of any other way to express what I need to say for this particular collection. So…here it is.