May 2015
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Expiration Date:  
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In This Issue
Website Links
Dates to Remember

2015 IRC Conference
October 1-3, 2015
Peoria, Illinois

Early Registration
Ends August 15, 2015

  Conference Housing
Closes August 15, 2015

Future Dates of the Annual IRC Conference
Sept. 29-Oct 1, 2016
October 5-7, 2017
Peoria, Illinois

Welcome to iCommunicate, IRC's monthly e-newsletter!  Here you will learn, share, and enjoy information on timely topics and cutting edge projects. We'd love to hear your thoughts.  Please contact us with your comments, suggestions, and ideas at   
The Social Emotional Learning:  The Writing Connection
By Nancy Steineke, 2015 IRC Conference Featured Speaker

Starting in 2004, Illinois required schools to incorporate the Illinois Learning Standards for Social and Emotional Development (ISBE, 2003). As a result, you might have noticed that your school or district has adopted a commercial program or created its own to address this mandate.  In either case, social emotional learning programs must address specific grade level benchmarks under these three broad goals:

  • Goal 1:  Develop self-awareness and self-management skills to achieve school and life success.
  • Goal 2:  Use social-awareness and interpersonal skills to establish and maintain positive relationships.
  • Goal 3:  Demonstrate decision-making skills and responsible behaviors in personal, school, and community contexts.

More often than not, school/district SEL programs are carried out in a somewhat piecemeal, inconsistent fashion: a lesson gets taught once a week in homeroom, there is a unit devoted to SEL in Health or PE class, once a quarter students meet with a guidance counselor for a SEL lesson. Though your school/district may be fulfilling its required mandate, how can you help your students use those lessons in the context of your classroom?  With writing, of course! What follows is a succession of quick strategies that help build some bridges between social emotional learning and writing.


Identity Webs

Creating identity webs helps students get to know each other as well as explore their own backgrounds via words and visual details related to their roles, personality, history, and interests (Daniels and Ahmed, 2014). Of course, the teacher should create an identity web so that she can share as well.


Partner Interviews

Ideally, students should be paired with someone they DO NOT know well so that there is a real "get to know you" need.  After trading identity webs, allow partners to study them and pick out some topics that intrigue them. However, before conducting student-student partner interviews, model an interview for the class using another student as your partner.  First, demonstrate being an interviewer, pointing out how to use follow-up questions in order to dig deeper into a topic versus just jumping from one web detail to another.  Then let your student partner interview you!  A similar activity using neighborhood maps is outlined in Teaching the Social Skills of Academic Interaction.


Defining One's Partner

Once students have completed initial interviews, students can extend their interviewing as they take on the role of investigative reporters.  Based on their recently acquired partner knowledge, student interviewers can choose a few topics that they'd like to explore in more detail.  Expanding the interviewing also requires students to hone their questioning skills so that they will be able to write about their partner using interesting and surprising details that will grab the attention of their classmates.  Interview notes in hand, partners conclude by writing up "dictionary definitions" for each other:  phonetic pronunciation of the name, enumerated and various definition entries, an accompanying portrait, and an illustrative Wordle that captures the partner's name and key words from the definition (McCann et al., 2015).  See Partner Definition photo at


Imagining Another's Point of View

From interviewing partners, students can use this same set of activities for researching and then inhabiting the roles of historical figures.  When reading fiction, these activities enable literary analysis as students interview each other from various character perspectives (Steineke, 2008).


Writing Circles

Knowing one's classmates creates students who are genuinely interested in one another.  In this hybrid of traditional writing workshop, student groups-writing circles negotiate topics that everyone in the group wants to write about.  After writing, they return to the group, read their piece aloud, and receive specific yet positive feedback from each member.  Writing circles give students an audience for their writing as well as a way to test craft and see what works when others hear their words (Vopat, 2008).


The SEL Writing Connection

Through writing, students can apply the social emotional learning lessons that may be occurring elsewhere in the school day. While engaging, fun and rigorous writing enables students to develop their interpersonal, intrapersonal, and decision-making skills. In addition, when students work together to create a positive classroom community, they've also created a safe place to learn. For more on how to support SEL with writing, contact the Illinois Writing Project.


Nancy Steineke is the author/co-author of seven professional books.  Her latest project, with co-author Harvey "Smokey" Daniels, is tentatively titled "Texts and Lessons for Writing."  Nancy will be a featured speaker at IRC's upcoming October 2015 conference.


Works Cited

Daniels, Harvey and Sara K. Ahmed. 2014. Upstanders: How to Engage Middle School Hearts and Minds with Inquiry. Heinemann.

Daniels, Harvey and Nancy Steineke. 2014. Teaching the Social Skills of Academic Interaction. Corwin.

McCann, Thomas, Rebecca D'Angelo, Nancy Galas, and Mary Greska. Fall 2015. Literacy and History in Action. Teachers College Press.

Social Emotional Learning Standards. 2003. Illinois State Board of Education.

Steineke, Nancy. 2008. Assessment Live! 10 Real-Time Ways for Kids to Show What They Know-And Meet the Standards. Heinemann.

Vopat, James. 2008. Writing Circles: Kids Revolutionize Workshop. Heinemann.


Illinois Vision 20/20 Initiative   
By Julie Hoffman, IRC Advocacy Committee Chair

The Illinois Reading Council has the opportunity to partner with the Illinois Vision 20/20 Initiative.  At this point, organizations involved in the partnership are:  Illinois Association of School Administrators (IASA), the Illinois Principals Association (IPA), the Illinois Association of School Business Officials (IASBO), the Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB), the Superintendents' Commission for the Study of Demographics and Diversity (SCSDD), and the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools (IARSS).


In considering this partnership, we must tread carefully, being ever mindful of:  our own mission, the possibility of power in numbers, the voice of our members, how the initiative will be implemented, and what it means for our state.  Because we will not move forward without first hearing from our members, we are asking you to fill out the online survey available at the following link by October 15, 2015. 


Please read the following and consider the pros and cons of our possible affiliation with the initiative.


The Illinois Vision 20/20 Initiative is based on the premise that Illinois public education is effective.  The initiative also recognizes that achievement gaps throughout the state are aggravated by shortcomings in the Illinois funding system. The organizations involved have isolated four priorities to focus on: shared accountability, highly effective teachers, 21st century learning, and equitable and adequate funding.


Overall, Vision 20/20 is an attempt to restructure education in Illinois, following an evidence-based process.



  • The 21st Century learning priority will focus on the "Whole Child" and early childhood education.
  • The Shared accountability priority intends to "expand the educator's role and responsibility in state governance."
  • The fund priority intends to distribute funds to areas of higher need, and provide autonomy to school districts.
  • The initiative is in its early stages, so it is difficult to read intentionality and progress.
  • The six organizations currently involved make the partnership administrator-heavy.
  • No teacher voices have been consulted/involved.
  • This could be an opportunity to add voices directly from the classroom.
  • Partnership could affect our autonomy.
  • Partnership could enable IRC to provide professional development opportunities.


  • Should IRC partner with Illinois Vision 20/20?
  • Should we let school districts partner, as they see fit, and have IRC refrain from committing?
  • Should we partner with the initiative, with limits?
  • What limits should IRC consider in exploring partnership with Vision 20/20?
  • Should we wait and revisit the option in:
    • 1 month?
    • 2 Months?
    • 6 months?
    • 1 year?
Thank you for sharing your voice!  The online survey is available at the following link:
Writing in Illinois Matters!  Writing an Informative/Explanatory Paper
By Roberta Sejnost, ILA State Coordinator


The last iCommunicate issue focused on Standard #1 and featured suggestions for writing opinion/argument papers.  This issue will focus on Standard #2, Informative/Explanatory writing.  In sum, expository writing imparts straightforward information but never personal opinions.  To accomplish this, the writer shares ideas and provides explanations and evidence.  And in doing so, it increases the readers' knowledge of a subject while helping them better understand a procedure or process, thus allowing readers to have an enhanced comprehension of a concept. Informative text is not intended to persuade the reader but to educate them.  Some examples of Informative/Explanatory writing include:    

  • Magazine articles
  • Newspaper articles
  • Textbooks
  • Autobiographies
  • College essays
  • Course descriptions
  • How-to articles
  • Explanatory essays 

As noted in earlier articles, one of the best ways to help students hone their ability to write effectively is to provide mentor texts because they engage and inspire students, and provide them with a snapshot of the type of writing they are learning about.  The following list, retrieved from, provides some mentor texts to help students successfully traverse their path to writing effective informative/explanatory papers.


Mentor Texts for Grades K-5 


Features Needed in Mentor Texts for Grades 6-12 and Content Areas


In grades 6-12, and especially in content areas, to write informative/explanatory papers students must understand the differences between text features and text structures so they can effectively incorporate them in their writing.  To do this, they must be introduced to texts that contain:

  • Pictures/photos with labels or captions
  • Sideboxes for defining domain-specific vocabulary
  • Hyperlinks to website addresses, videos or photos
  • Charts, tables, graphs and diagrams with labels

In addition, students need to be exposed to other structures that are the heart of what writers include in informative/explanatory pieces.  Examples of these structures are:

  • User Manuals to evaluate their format and ease of use
  • Literary Analysis to evaluate the literature for images
  • Scientific Reports to interpret the structure of the report
  • Encyclopedia Website to analyze content for historical significance or relationship to the event studied

Jill Brown and Kathy Rhodus, ISBE's ELA content area specialists, suggest that constructing a literary analysis must be done first along with how to create the proper structure for a scientific report.  Links to samples of these types of writing can be found in the background knowledge report for grades 6-12 on the website


Finally, the power of using graphic organizers is evident for they help students organize the information in their writing, ultimately leading to the ability to more easily write a draft in their own words. Below is an example of such a graphic organizer:  

To further help students organize their writing, students also need to be familiar with various text structures used in Informative/Explanatory writing. The following websites provide excellent resources to accomplish this: 


While Informative/Explanatory writing is the focus of Standard #2 of the New Illinois Learning Standards for English/Language Arts, the focus for Standard #3 is Narrative writing. Be sure to check out iCommunicate next month to see resources for teaching Narrative writing in Grades K-12. And, above all, check out, a website developed by ISBE's ELA content area specialists Jill Brown and Kathy Rhodus, to provide tools and resources in our mission to realize that Writing Matters in Illinois!



Culham, R. (2014)   The Writing Thief: Using Mentor Texts to Teach the Craft of Writing
Gallagher, K. (2011).   Teaching Real-World Writing Through Modeling and Mentor Texts

Illinois State Board of Education. "Illinois Writing Matters." 2014


IRC Book Club
By the Illinois Reading Council
Join educators from around the state in an online book club!

Choice of two books: Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess or The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller.
  • Sign up by June 30: Syllabus will be sent to registered participants.
  • Check in 1 due July 15: Read first 1/3 of book and complete the discussion questions.
  • Check in 2 due July 30: Respond to others' discussion answers.
  • Check in 3 due August 15: Read second 1/3 of book and complete discussion questions.
  • Check in 4 due August 30: Respond to second set of others' discussion answers.
  • Check in 5 due September 15: Read final 1/3 of book and complete discussion questions.
  • Check in 6 due September 30: Respond to third set of others' discussion answers.
If you participate in all assignments, you will be eligible to receive 15 clock hours for each book.  No partial clock hour credit will be given. Registration for the book club is FREE for IRC MEMBERS. The cost for non-members is $45 for the book club, which includes IRC membership for one year. All book club participants can attend sessions with Dave Burgess and/or Donalyn Miller at the 2015 IRC Conference. Conference registration and cost of book are not included.

Register online by June 30th at!