Helping Struggling Writers and English Language Learners – Session 2 of the 2021-22 CRWP Webinar Series

CRWP November 2022 Webinar Cover Slide

Megan Kowalski (@MeganKowalski7) was the second presentation in our line up for the 2021/2022 webinar series. Megan presented on the ways that she helps struggling writers and English Language Learners (ELLs) in both physical and virtual classrooms. Megan has taught a variety of elementary and middle school grade level special education students for Chicago Public Schools.

Megan started her presentation by asking us to define what differentiation is — and what it is not. She had us answer in a Google Doc and share our ideas. Megan’s definition of differentiation is how to match and mesh your teaching style with how your students learn, and she encouraged us to keep “rerouting” until you reach success in the classroom.  Megan’s presentation was rooted in four contentions:

  1. Keep your expectations high and get ready to invest some time
  2. Validate thinking as much as possible
  3. Find opportunities to build fluency and let kids enjoy writing and thinking
  4. Offer a clear prompt and a mentor text (preferably written by you).

She then gave us four tips on how to enact those contentions in our virtual and personal classrooms. Megan talked about the importance of rules and procedures. She walked us through her classroom and how she has set up ways to maximize her learning time and set her students up for success. She made suggestions about how to manage her virtual classrooms by using Google Sites as opposed to Google Classrooms.

Megan also discussed the templates from They Say/I Say as writing structures that help students think critically about what they want to say (many of the templates available in this GDoc). This allows students to focus on all the little stuff and focus on the bigger ideas that they need to showcase in their writing. Then, she discussed the importance of hyperdocs in both virtual and in person classrooms. Hyperdocs help keep students organized, as they are self-paced and they scaffold students learning. Additionally, Hyperdocs are also really easy to modify for struggling students. Megan also stresses the importance of Hyperdocs for teachers as a planning tool as well.

Her last tip is to use pictorials to help students who are struggling with reading. This is helpful for students who are learning to read, ELLs, and/or students who are lower-level readers. Pictorials are picture summaries that allow students to show their understanding of the reading. Megan stressed the idea of modeling and sticking with this strategy, even though it seems like it takes a while; ultimately, she contends that this is a great strategy to get students to really show and build their understanding of the text. This also allows them to help build a “movie in their mind,” since they don’t often make those connections in the way other students do.

Megan suggested the text Rethinking Disabilities by Jan Valle and David Conner and the WIDA Consortium’s resources as additional reading materials to help educators become better at meeting struggling students where they are.

We learned a great deal from Megan, and we hope that you, too, learn from her recorded session or by taking a look through her session slides.  

The Chippewa River Writing Project is a site of the National Writing Project at Central Michigan University. Currently, our site is supported only through grants and professional development work. Teacher consultants involved in the webinar series are donating their time, talent, and energy to these events.

If you appreciate the ideas that these teacher consultants are sharing, and are willing to support our work, please visit <> and select “Chippewa River Writing Project.” If you are interested in having us work with your school or district, please contact our Director, Dr. Troy Hicks <>. Find out more about CRWP at <>.

Mystery Argument Writing – Session 1 of the 2021-22 CRWP Webinar Series

Cover Slide for Mystery Argument Writing Webinar

Jeremy Hyler (@Jeremybballer) and Becky Schwartz (@Rschwartz702) kicked off our 2021-22 webinar series with a presentation about argument writing in their classrooms. Their unit was inspired by the book Crime and Puzzlement by Lawrence Treat. Jeremy has taught this unit in his middle school classroom and Becky has adapted it for use in her high school classroom. Jeremy and Becky discussed the importance of trying to get students to move from the idea that argument writing is less about “winning” or it being a fight, but argument can be a chance to have a discourse to come to a further understanding about a topic or an issue.

Jeremy discussed some of the ideas he’s gained about teaching argument writing from George Hillocks’ text Teaching Argument Writing. Then he invited participants to experience the beginning stages of an argument writing unit using Crime and Puzzlement in his classroom, inviting participants to a breakout room writing activity. After the writing activity, Jeremy guided us through the unit and how it’s centered on discourse and collaboration.

Becky then discussed how this writing unit unfolds in her high school classroom using the idea of making the mystery-solving process an authentic one by giving her students the chance to be a pair of detectives for a few days and solve a crime. Also, building on this idea of collaboration, Becky discussed how she uses this as an opportunity to teach counterargument in an uncomplicated and engaging way.

Both Becky and Jeremy have seen great increases in students’ confidence in their writing, skills, and engagement during this unit. Finally, Troy Hicks (@hickstro) brought in the resources from the NWP’s  College, Career, and Community Writers Program (C3WP) and from They Say/I Say’s writing structures to help add some spice into student argument writing (with many of the templates available in this GDoc).

We hope that you, too, can find a way to use their session slides and additional resources in order to solve the mystery of argument writing in your classroom.

CRWP 2021-22 Webinar Series

Close-up of second-grade girl behind protection shield. Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages

Close-up of second-grade girl behind protection shield. Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimagesCreating the New Normal In Our Classrooms (October 2021 – May 2022)

View our flyer on Smore.

As we embark on another year of historic changes in education, we find that we have been given ( or maybe thrust is the more accurate word) the opportunity to create what the new normal in our classrooms is going to look like. In the quest to do what is best for all of our students, every day, the Chippewa River Writing Project seeks to explore what that looks like and can continue to look like. We do this the only way we know how, with teachers teaching teachers.

The Chippewa River Writing Project (CRWP) has a PD series to help you (and us) discover what the new normal looks like this year. We invite you to join us for a new monthly webinar series running from October 2021 until May 2022 that will help ground yourself in your classroom despite everything going on. This free webinar series will be held once a month on the Tuesdays listed below from 7 pm to 8 pm (EST) on Zoom.

Register here to be included on an email list for any of the sessions listed below!

  • October 19, 2021
  • November 16, 2021
  • December 14, 2021
  • January 18, 2022
  • February 15, 2022
  • March 15, 2022
  • April 19, 2022
  • May 17, 2022

All sessions will occur from 7 pm to 8 pm on Zoom. Due to account limitations, this means only 100 people can attend them live. If you happen to not be one of the first 100 people to join live, know that a recording with a hyperlinked recap will be coming your way within a few days! We apologize for any inconvenience this might cause.

If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us:

  • Troy Hicks (CRWP Director) –
  • Jeremy Hyler (Webinar Co-Facilitator ) –
  • Becky Schwartz (Webinar Co-Facilitator ) –

Poems as Portals – Session #8 of the CRWP 2020-21 Webinar Series

Poems as Portals Cover Slide


In our final webinar for the 2020/2021 school year, CRWP’s teacher consultant, former MCTE President, and author, Andy Schoenborn (@aschoenborn), talked about teaching poetry in both virtual and face to face settings. He invited us to consider how poetry is not necessarily a therapy, but it is therapeutic. 

In this webinar, Schoenborn blended writing opportunities for participants to build an understanding of the power of poetry in our writing lives as well as our students. He also talked about the importance of making sure there are spaces between all the things we have to do in our English classrooms to allow the sparks of student creativity and writing to become a flame… and not be snuffed out or smothered.

Then, Andy talked about what a week in his classroom looks like and how he makes “spaces between the logs” of the fire to keep the spark of student creativity going. In addition to explaining how he provides students time and space for poetry writing, Schoenborn discussed what he has students do with their writing. Andy illustrated how he has students dig deeper into meaningful metacognitive conversations where they talk about their own writerly decisions and voices.

Andy also discussed the importance of sharing.  Not only having students sharing their writing with each other, but the idea that we — as teacher-writers — share our own writing with students and share in those moments of vulnerability with them. He talked about how, despite the differences in your students and their backgrounds, there is poetry that will resonate with them. Schoenborn encouraged all of us to give poetry in our classroom a chance and give the opportunity for our students to experience the magic of words. 

Towards the conclusion of the webinar, Andy gave us a strategy to use both with ourselves and with our students to help them “find the poem within themselves.” It’s a strategy any educator could take into one’s classroom tomorrow and use as “space between the logs” for sparks of student creativity as we finish out our school year. 

Andy’s grand finale to our series this year is a webinar you don’t want to miss!


We welcome you to follow CRWP on Facebook or on Twitter: @chippewariverwp.

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