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The Big Fresh November 1, 2014 Short and Smart

Brenda Power

It is with words as with sunbeams, the more they are condensed, the deeper they burn.

                                                                             Robert Southey

I remember Don Murray's favorite apology when passing out a long draft for others to read was "Sorry -- I didn't have time to write it short so I wrote it long." Don believed writers honored their audiences by distilling ideas down to their essence. For him, the best writing was always the most succinct -- the fewest carefully chosen words in just the right order.

Don didn't live to see the days of Twitter, but I think he would have loved the challenge of saying something of value in 140 characters or less. It's not surprising that Twitter flourishes, even though writing length is not an issue on the web. Blog posts can go on and on -- no dead trees to worry about. Yet it seems intrinsic to human nature to appreciate economy -- there is beauty in the barrista who moves so quickly and efficiently to craft a delicious espresso or swirl a heart on the surface of a latte, with not one wasted movement.

It's easy to view short text as easy reading, a way to differentiate instruction for learners who can't handle longer tomes. But the best short texts (like poetry) present whole worlds in words. They are challenging precisely because they are so precise -- they show students the power of rereading, the possibilities of inferring, and the importance of punctuation when it's framing spare text.

This week we look at using short nonfiction texts in instruction. Plus more as always -- enjoy!

Brenda Power

Founder, Choice Literacy


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Here are two features from the archives with creative ideas for using short nonfiction texts.

Mary Lee Hahn has advice for Making the Most of Short Texts:


In Sticky Little Invention, Jill Ostrow encourages student responses that will only fit on a post-it, with powerful results:


The ultimate short text is a poem. Tanya Baker from the National Writing Project talks with Shirl McPhillips about teaching poetry and her new book, Poem Central:


The new online course Supporting Teachers in Writing Workshops: A Course for Literacy Coaches with Ruth Ayres runs November 7-18. The focus is on conferring, recordkeeping, and helping teachers at their point of need. Click on the link below for more details:



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Kim Campbell shares her favorite nonfiction short texts to use with adolescents in Inform, Inspire, Instruct: Essays as Mentor Texts in High School:


Katherine Sokolowski is assigning Shorter Research Projects in her fifth-grade classroom as a way to help students acquire notetaking skills and understand the boundaries of plagiarism:


Andrea Smith explains two routines, Daily News and Fact of the Day, which are her means of Infusing Informational Texts in Morning Meetings:


In this week's video, Sean Moore leads his second graders in a whole-class discussion of nonfiction writing, including a partner share:


Our new Short Texts cluster features contributions from Megan Ginther, Mary Lee Hahn, Tony Keefer, Clare Landrigan, Holly Mueller, and Tammy Mulligan:


Finally, our encore video from Tony Keefer shows the use of short nonfiction texts in action during the Article of the Week activity:


That's all for this week!

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Brenda Power

Brenda Power is the founder of Choice Literacy. She worked for many years as a professor at the University of Maine and an editor at Stenhouse Publishers. Her publications as an author include Living the Questions and The Art of Classroom Inquiry. She has worked as a book editor and video producer for many of the authors featured at this site.