A Teacher’s Story & Classroom of the Month

Classroom of the Month/Teacher’s Story:

May 2011

Ayrin Gill, A.C. Teacher, Calgary Catholic

I started teaching ten years ago with Calgary Catholic School District. As a brand new teacher I found teaching writing to be a very difficult process full of frustration and angst. I didn’t know where to begin, what to teach first, second, or third or HOW exactly to teach it. It all seemed so overwhelming and fragmented. And what was I looking for exactly in the students writing when it came time for assessment? Every piece was different and the criteria was very vague.

2.   After finding EW my instruction became more skill-based, both myself and the students knew exactly what was expected–the vagueness was gone and the criteria were clear, writing and instruction were no longer overwhelming or something to fear, students were engaged and so was I, assessment became a cake walk, students WANTED to write and I WANTED to teach it. We were all surprised at just how well they COULD write. Confidence and self esteem increased along with the scores : >

3.  There are so many things to like about EW.  It’s laid out in a sequential, prescriptive manner. I LOVE that in the Comprehensive Guides, the lesson plans are done for you, the scope and sequence and rubrics are there, and there are tons of examples and guided writing suggestions. All the background work is done.all I have to do is deliver it with enthusiasm – which isn’t hard!  In particular, the lessons on Elaborative Detail generate the most amazing results because all of a sudden a student’s writing is transformed into something completely different and enjoyable to read. Across our cohort of six schools the teachers who are using EW on a consistent basis have seen tremendous growth in their students! Working together in grade level groups as a cohort meeting four times this year, we’ve found support and collaboration to keep on track. By talking with others we can see that we are all in the same boat, but by working together we formulate different ideas, problem solve and learn through the process together. The excitement and momentum builds up again and we’re refreshed and motivated to move forward. After hearing about the work we’re doing within the district, other cohorts have asked if they might join in. What an amazing experience!


April 2011

Everything we do at EW began in the classroom – so we thought this month we’d give  you a glimpse into the “original” EW classroom.  Check out Dea and Barb’s recent magazine profile that tells the EW story.  Click here to download article.

March 2011

I had written Rachel Jones.  I asked her if she had A Sentence A Day and if so how was it going using it with her kindergartners.  Here is her reply:

“Martha, I did get the sentence a day book and have been using it for about 4 weeks and mykids loooove it. They get so excited when I tell them to pull out their sheets.The book reinforces all the previous lessons we have had like elaborative detail, emotions and riddles so it fits in perfectly with everything else weare doing. I copied, laminated and cut apart the word cards and put them in mywriting center so my kids can make their own sentences and write it down on thepaper that goes with that week. So far it has been pretty awesome. Thanks, Rachel Jones”

Rachel is a kindergarten teacher at Oates Elementary in Houston.

The idea for the Classroom of the Month section of our newsletter was spurred on by teachers we’ve trained who’ve reached out to us, sharing the transformations in their writing classrooms.  As we travel school to school, conference to conference, we meet teachers who’ve been using Empowering Writers across the years.  In all of their stories the theme is over-riding – achieving measurable success in writing for the first time in their teaching careers – but, the stories are all very individual.

All of us at Empowering Writers take great pride in what we do every day.  Many of us left our own classrooms in order to influence a larger number of students through the training and coaching services we offer. Our goal is to empower children with the ability to experience a greater depth of knowledge through the written word and to articulate their “own stories” in ways that would be impossible without intentional instruction in the specific skills authors need.

Each month we highlight stories that inspire us to continue to do what we do each day. Keep the stories coming!  Seeing your success is what keeps us going!

February 2011

Rachael Jones
JW Oates Elementary, Houston, TX

The quality of work that I am getting from my students since we started Empowering Writers has increased considerably.   Throughout the month of January, my kindergarten class has been working on elaborative detail. We have described a snowman, a princess, a kitten and finally a wild thing.  With the help of empowering writers, we were able to extensively describe allof these, but I am most proud of the results I got from our wild thing project.

We began by reading “Where The Wild Things Are” and talked about all the different creatures in the book describing them from head to toe. I charted all of our observations on the computer and we turned those observations into sentences.  We then discussed how we could flip those sentences so it wasn’t so repetitive.  After a few days of practice, I introduced describing with similes. We practiced coming up with our own (big as a house, tall as a tree, and small as a mouse) and added them into our story.  We spent a few days practicing on each of the wild things from the book and coming up with many different similes to use to describe them. I asked them to give me some sentences to write down and the result was phenomenal!  They automatically started flipping their sentences on their own and came up with some fabulous paragraphs.

After all that practice we were ready to create our very own wild thing. Using our imagination we described a creature using similes, turned them into sentences and made an elaborative detail paragraph.

Here is what the students dictated to me.

This wild thing has long, red hair like lava. On his head is a blue crown with white, pointy horns.  His eyes are yellow like the sun and his teeth are like a shark. His body has blue and yellow stripes. Pink and yellow stripes were on his arms. Scales covered his legs. His claws are sharp like needles.

After we worked together, I sent them to their tables to draw their own wild thing and begin writing their descriptions. I would absolutely say that this lesson yielded great results!  I would like to thank Martha Hammett for all of the help and ideas she has given me through trainings and modeled lessons in my class.


January 2011

Melissa Zeitz, Special Education
Liberty Elementary School, Springfield, MA

I work with special education students who struggle tremendously in writing.  My students hated writing – getting them to write was like pulling teeth. We’d always had writing lessons that we were supposed to follow  but we lacked a true plan for how to approach them.  I was lucky if I could get a student to write a paragraph and I was trying to teach the long composition!  Their writing was very simple and all over the place.  Many at our school were trained in the John Collins approach, but the focus there is just getting them to write and then on how to score the papers.  It’s really more of a supplementary program.

But EW has made a huge impact on my students. Now they come into class excited and ready to write. They ask me to write even when it is not time writing time!  Their vocabulary has increased just by using the starter sentences, using their senses, and showing how they feel.  They also are crafting more complex sentences.  Their reading scores are going up and I truly think it is because of their improvements in writing. I have seen gains in their reading because they are making the cross connections between the two.

One aspect of the EW methodology that I feel is really important is the emphasis on model, model, model!   Giving me the OK sign to model everything for the children  was a breath of fresh air.  My students’ vocabulary is not very well-developed, so giving them starter sentences helps them develop vocabulary and write a creative piece with rich words.  I have also really appreciated having exemplars to use as I teach.  I also appreciate how EW breaks down all of the parts of a story. It teaches the different sections of a piece and how to connect them.

I think my favorite lesson was just before Thanksgiving. We had worked a lot on details for story critical setting, object, and character.  We decided to write a little story about a turkey in an unusual setting. The kids had turkeys on rollercoasters, at the Big E, Puerto Rico, and many other places!  I hadn’t taught any other skills besides elaborative detail, but I gave them free rein on this.  They wrote stories that were on topic and well elaborated.

I did a lesson today on beginnings and the kids were getting so excited! We are writing about a magical sled. I had them come up with tons of different first sentences. They were jumping up and down, shouting out sentences. I had trouble keeping up with all of their ideas!  It was hard to get them to just stick to the beginning!  They kept asking “When are we going to write?”  The students want to share their stories with their peers and other staff in the school.

Students who scored a 1/1 on their open response writing last year are now scoring a 3/3. This is a huge improvement especially when I have only been doing this for 3 months – already we see rising scores.  I have never, in my ten years of teaching, had a group of kids more excited to write!


December 2010

Lindsey Moleski, Teacher Grade 3
St Thomas More, Calgarly AB

My experience with the Empowering Writers program has been wonderful.  As a new teacher, I was feeling very overwhelmed with the endless number of teaching resources for writing.  I was picking and choosing and spending hours and hours flipping through trying to find ideas and lessons that were helpful for my grade 3 students.

This year, as I entered a new school I found another writing resource on my desk; yet, this one was different.  It combined the theories and ideas of writing into practical ready to use lessons.  Now from what I have learned about this resource from my AISI teacher Ayrin Gill, having discussions with other teachers, and collaborative learning in our Professional Learning Communities, my writing and language arts program has drastically changed.  I have a classroom rich with language development, student involvement and teacher modeling.  I have implemented so many fabulous ideas from this book, and they are easy to use and the children understand them.

I have by no means perfected this program but I have already seen a wonderful change in my students writing.  They are doing entertaining beginning and are beginning to add in the elaborative detail.  They understand story genre and are always using the proper terminology when talking about stories, books and writing.  I believe the title of this book is very fitting; it does empower writers, myself included!  Thank-you for taking the time to construct such an easy to use writing program with definite results!


November 2010

Cathy White, Principal
Hyman Fine Elementary, Attleboro, MA

1.    What was the writing instruction like at your school/classroom before implementing EW?

Inconsistent best describes our previous approach and results.  Each teacher used Write Traits and Collins tools however writing was at the discretion of each teacher.  They could not really identify where in their curriculum map it belonged, nor could they articulate the kinds of writing needed.  Some students wrote a lot because the teacher was a teacher of writing and others wrote little and mostly for the purposes of determining comprehension.  I can remember when we first began Reading Street (scott Foresman), there is one unit that suggests a writing project called the “to do list”.  For example in grade four you have to take something you do every day and describe the steps in detail.  Teachers thought this was such a waste of time, however when I went up to model the lesson for them I reminded students that this was the type of writing they would do most often in the world of work and it had some very specific techniques that they should learn as it would carry them through their lifetime.  It was the perfect place to teach the “snapshot” moment.  We did a lesson over a two day period and the kids loved it and teachers had a new opinion of the list and its importance… this was before empowering writers…
As administrators we didn’t talk about writing like we talked about math… so in one class they were heart mapping, in another class they were skipping lines in good Collin fashion.  Teachers were teaching about strong verbs but it wasn’t in the context of a larger picture of instruction and skill building.  As a result, our writing scores looked like scattershot.

2.    Why did you choose the EW model? 

When I left my coaching position to become principal I knew we had to do something different in terms of writing.  Traits and Collins were not the problem – students and teachers alike lacked structure when it came to writing.  Lack of structure and the understanding or recognition of the purpose of instruction around writing was a real problem.  So I made a list of the kinds of things I wanted to see:  designated writing time, defined writing assignments by genre and purpose, consistent teaching of writing across the grade level, training on how to use rubrics for scoring and time to calibrate among teachers as professionals.   I knew I didn’t want heart mapping in one class, the hamburger in the next and some other writing program in another.  I wanted something that was pedagogical in nature or at least had a scope and sequence that was compatible with content area instruction.  When I told teachers what they wanted, one teacher came to me with the little blue book by Barbara M.  The teacher had found the book the previous year at a yard sale and was “sneaking” in the lessons here and there.  When I took the book home and read through it, it had all the elements that I wanted.  Sequential scope and sequence, consistent vocabulary, a simple graphic (one that our special education and ELL students could master) and an approach that was compatible with their Write Traits training.  The lessons were simple and actually gave the teachers the “language” to have the writing conversation with students.  Many teachers were so insecure about teaching writing that this took the mystery out of how to begin the conversation and how to guide students through the exercise.

3.    How much time did it take for you to see a difference in your teacher/students’ reaction/students’ writing? 

About eight weeks.  Student samples started to come alive on the walls of our school.  In our leadership walkthroughs team members were not only stopping to read them but finding their teammates to bring them over to read what they had just read.  They were interrupting teacher instruction to ask questions about how they got the kids to write that way…

After 16 weeks kids were going home and having conversations with their parents about their writing.  They were using social networking to read each other’s papers (and yes we are in elementary school).  You couldn’t drag them out of the writing centers.

4.    Did using the EW model improve writing scores on the state writing test?

Yes.  For the first time since the initiation of MCAS, Attleboro had two students score a perfect 20 points (I mean in the whole district looking back at every grade level long comp was tested in).  Five more scored 19 points.  In 2009 our average writing score was 12.0 points.  In 2010 just seven months after initiating Empower Writers lessons 92% of our fourth grade class (86 students) scored between 12 and 20!  55% of those students scored a 17 or above. Our average went from 12.0 to 15.13 points.  Huge!

5.    Can you provide the before and after scores for your school and district?

TD = Topic Development, Maximum Score=12

Con=Conventions, Maximum Score = 8

Maximum Total = 20

TD 09

TD 10


Con 09

Con 10


Total 09

Total 10


AHS-Gr. 10










Grade 7






+ 0.29
























Grade 4










Hill Roberts










Hyman Fine






























Dist. Gr. 7










Dist. Gr. 4










6.    How did the results compare to other classrooms/schools in your district?

See above

7.    What would you say to a teacher, principal or administrator who wanted to improve their writing instruction and test scores?

If you can only do a little – use the blue book.  If you have access to resources bring in EW to train district-wide.  Be systematic – early writing, narrative, expository, persuasive – they need all that training.  We owe it to teachers to give them that training and the bottom line is that students deserve it.  The key to long term success that takes students through their high school experience is the consistent approach they receive K-8.
As administrators you must designate block time for writing daily.  At least 45 minutes for genre.  You should be identifying other types of writing such as readers response throughout your content areas and do not overlook the cross curricular opportunities for writing opportunities.

8.    Do you have a unique story about a particular student that was positively impacted by using the EW model?

“T. A.” was a student who received a large amount of special education support throughout his elementary experience.  Teachers often thought he would be a good candidate for a small language based learning classroom.  In addition to having academic and behavioral challenges, T. A. lived in a bi-lingual environment.  We often wondered the impact that language had on building a solid schema.  He thrived with the EW lessons.  At MCAS time, T.A. began writing at 9:15 AM and did not stop until 2:50 PM with the exception of a 20 minute lunch.  He received a score of 17 on the MCAS

Other thoughts?

For the first time that teachers could remember, no one cried during the long composition in our school.  Also no one threw up (another first).  Students wrote most of the day and when they were done they cheered.  No complaints, no anger, just great enthusiasm for a job well done.  I was never so proud of the Hyman Fine students and teachers.

October 2010

Diane Lazar, Writing Specialist
Samuel Staples Elementary, Easton, CT

In addition to  being a teacher coach for Empowering Writers, I am the writing specialist  for Samuel Staples Elementary School in Easton, CT. As writing specialist,  part of my time is spent working with directly with students struggling in  the area of writing.  As I searched the Internet for Response  To Intervention solutions for writing, I found solutions that could organize  data in many ways, but not one that provided specific strategies for  improving writing weaknesses.

Knowing that Empowering Writers  provided clear strategies for writing instruction, I began working with  Empowering Writers team to develop a RTI solution that provided teachers  with clear lessons and activities to improve the writing of Tier 2 & 3  students.

Last September, I put the new RTI resource to the test.  Using my district’s baseline prompt, I could quickly assess the students’  strengths and weaknesses and determine which specific skills needed the most  work.  Unlike other RTI solutions I researched, EW’s solution gave me  the intervention strategies and lessons for correcting the identified weaknesses.  The results were great.  My team was able to  significantly raise the writing scores of many of our struggling  writers.

Click here for this RTI Case Study.PDF

September 2010

Congratulations Round Top Elementary!

Each year the South Carolina Department of Education honors 5 schools across the state as winners of the prestigious Exemplary Writing Program Award. This year, Round Top Elementary in Richland School District Two is 1 of 5 schools being honored.

Round Top Elementary began using the Empowering Writers Model in 2009.  Jeaneen Tucker, principal, credits the implementation of these strategies and resources as having“made all the difference”.

Q. What were the reasons to invest resources into the writing instruction at your school?

A. Many of our teachers do not view themselves as writers and they were never trained how to teach writing.  It’s hard. Our teachers needed help.  I understood the connection between reading and writing; and I wanted my teachers to appreciate this.

Q.  Why Empowering Writers?  Why did you see it as a solution?

A.  I like that it’s structured.  I like to know what to expect, and with EW that is what you get.  The assured experiences, the specific training, the “how to” – that’s what I wanted.  We had enough theory.  We needed skills broken down into steps.  EW provides concrete tools and strategies teachers can apply right away in their classrooms.

Q.  What were teachers’ reactions?

A.  “This is the best thing I ever attended!  This will work for my kids”.  I heard that from everyone.  They were so excited to find something that taught them how to teach writing.  Once they attended one of the workshops, they wanted to go to all the different genres.

Q.  What differences did you see in the student’s writing?

A.  Amazing.  Kids WANTED to write.  The word choices, the powerful details; I was in a parent conference and the teacher pulled the student’s writing journal and read one of the passages.  I was so blown away.  I could not believe a fourth grader could have written something that detailed and powerful.  The voice and sentence structure was amazing.  These writing strategies transfer into all aspects of the curriculum and have given students so much more confidence.

Q.  What impact has EW had on your school as a whole?

A.  It’s all about the journey!  Teachers now know how to teach writing, which has built up their confidence.  They’re excited about teaching writing – the kids inherit that excitement and become confident writers.  THIS IS WHY WE ARE AN EXEMPLARY WRITING SCHOOL.  EW has made all the difference!  It works with students and teachers.  It’s now applied in what we do across our entire curriculum.

Q.  Why would you recommend Empowering Writers to other principals and district administrators?

A.  This is worth the investment.  In this time of budget woes, EW is the best way to spend limited dollars.  The training and resources are reasonably priced and deliver tremendous value.  EW is cost effective and delivers a very good return on your investment. 

Q.  What else would you want them to know?

A.  EW provides excellent service.  They’ll come to your school for training or you can send teachers to them.  They’re available for follow-up and communication with the company is quick and effective.   The bottom line is kids need to know how to write.  It’s a part of the SAT – and life.  EW will teach kids how to write.  It is well worth the investment and the best way to spend your money!


Mrs. Vanessa Golec, 5th Grade Teacher
Oliver Ellsworth Elementary School, Windsor, CT

Background:Each marking period, our town does a district-wide writing prompt.  That is when all 5th graders in the town of Windsor write on the same topic.  Recently, we completed our end-of-the-year writing prompt to have a score to send off to their middle schools.  The prompt the students were asked to write to was the following:

A friend is coming to visit you.  Write to your friend suggesting a place you can visit together.  Give reasons why it is a good choice.

Interview with the author:

I had asked the student a couple questions about writing and these were her responses:

1.  What are some good things we did in writing to help you become such a fabulous author?

In writing class, my teachers helped me make an expository pillar to organize my writing.  I struggled with it a little bit, but I soon was able to easily do it.  I love to read, so the words that I read in books are really good to describe things, so I try to use them in writing.  In every piece of writing that I do, I try to use the golden bricks like q quote, anecdote, descriptive segment, etc… Right before a writing prompt, I get nervous, but I calm down and breathe slowly.  Soon, I am calm and do my best

2.  Why do you like writing?

At first, I wasn’t sure if writing was the best thing for me.  I would think that I didn’t do my best on a prompt, but I would still get really good scores.  Then this year in 5th grade, my two writing teachers made writing fun and made me realize that I have a lot to write about.  When I write, I am able to write about experiences that most people don’t go through.  Sometimes, writing can make you feel better when you are holding a lot of feelings inside.  Expository writing makes you tell how you really feel about something.  Writing is something really exciting that I now love to do.


Michelle Allen, Reading Specialist/District Writing Coach
McKinney, TX

Seven years ago I moved from Atlanta, Georgia to McKinney, Texas in search of that “something” that was missing in my life as an educator.  I left an administrative position to return to the classroom to teach fourth grade writing.  Little did I know that it would be such a stressful position because the state test for writing is a stand alone, high stakes test.  Nevertheless, I took on the challenge and taught students who use English as a second language to write highly rated English compositions.  Along the way I was fortunate enough to “happen upon” your wonderful writing materials being presented by the phenomenal facilitator, Martha Hammett.  I cannot say enough about the relief I felt when I attended the training that changed my views on how to teach students to love writing.

Since that time I have become a Reading Specialist and a District Writing Coach.  I realized another dream since then – publishing my own picture book, based on a model lesson around the following – “Write about a time you had an adventure.”  My book, published in October of 2009 is titled “Grandma Nell’s Basement”.  It is the story of four cousins who spend a summer afternoon in search of hidden treasures in their Grandma Nell’s basement.  What they find is an adventure and the surprise of a lifetime!  It has since been selected for a distribution contract through Author’s House small publishers program.  In fact, Martha honored my work by sharing the book at one of her workshops and many participants ordered copies of their own!  To order your copy, follow the links on the website: www.michelleallenbooks.com!

Connie Drager, 4th Grade Teacher
Rockbrook Elementary, Lewisville, TX

When I first started teaching writing, I was lost in even knowing where to start. I even begged my mother to come teach a lesson to my class so that I could use her as a model of what to do. From the beginning, my mother knew that this area of teaching was going to be my challenge each year. Then, I got the hang of teaching writing, but just could not get the kids to pull out their creativity and elaboration. Everything that they wrote was just so boring and had no voice.

Several years passed, and I still struggled with getting students to elaborate more and show their voice. Finally, a fellow teacher friend of my mother became a part of the Empowering Writers team. She was giving a class that I attended. After being trained in Empowering Writers, I returned to my class with an easier sense of where to start and how to get the students to elaborate more. I also realized that I did not have to pull my hair out trying to get them to do prewriting either! I came back and right away went back to the basics of teaching “Beginnings with a Bang.” What a difference it made in the narratives! They would use those beginnings and hook me to continue reading their stories. Then, when the students got the hang of writing beginnings, we moved to the “Great Endings.” Wow!, what a difference just those five little sentences made in summing up the narratives. The kids loved how easy it was writing an ending.

To tell t he truth, beginnings and endings were all that we worked on before our state testing that year. I was so pleased with what my class was doing with beginnings and endings that I knew that just those changes in their writings would make a big difference in our scores. My campus is very transient, so our scores had not been very strong in writing. Before using Empowering Writers, we only had 23% of our 4th graders get commended on writing, but in the few months we used the Empowering Writers materials, our scores jumped to 43% commended! Seeing the difference in what just that little portion the program made, I begged my principal to get the rest of my team trained in Empowering Writers. Now, I am working to get other grade levels to use it as well.

Currently, with everyone on our grade level trained, our scores in writing continue to grow. I have even noticed that in my class the kids enjoy writing especially when they can do some form of art to go along with the writing. You can take any part of Empowering Writers and add it to whatever material that your district requires you to use. Empowering Writers is definitely material that I use daily without really realizing it, and I recommend it to almost anyone who teaches.

Amanda Batson
Grade 4 teacher, Providence Elementary

I classify my teaching as BEW (Before Empowering Writers) and AEW (After Empowering Writers).  BEW I was lost and did not know where to begin when it came to teaching students how to write.  I didn’t know how to teach them to elaborate more without just adding a grocery list of adjectives.  Paper after paper gave me disappointment, for I would see a summarization of events instead of a fully detailed and focused main event.  When I would ask for more, students would come back to me with just more added to the end of their original, stating the same thing again!  Fortunately in my third year of teaching writing, a light bulb came on, and I was introduced to EW.  Wow!  Not only did EW offer a focus to my teaching, but it also gave me specific tools I needed to successfully teach students.

AEW the results I have seen have been incredible.  I’ve have found diamonds in the rough.  Students who I would have given up for lost, left my classroom knowing how to write a personal narrative well.  Every year I am faced with the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) writing test.  As a fourth grade teacher I am responsible for taking students who may not know how to make a complete sentence and have them write a fully elaborated personal narrative.  AEW I have seen phenomenal results.  I have had writers who came to me writing a 1, leave my classroom writing at a 2 to 3.  I’m able, through EW, give that extra sparkle to a 3 and push them to a 4 composition.

The lesson I found the most helpful was examining the main event.  I assigned each element a color and critiqued three possible main events.  Students found this most helpful in looking at this biggest piece of their story.  I had one student this year say, “I didn’t have anything underlined in blue,” meaning he didn’t have any action.  I had others tell me that they had all dialogue or no description.  Something else I’ve done is randomly read aloud main events turned in by students.  They make comments on comment cards of what they observed.  They even comment on their own and are able to figure out what elements they are missing from their own!

I want other teachers to know about EW.  Without this program, I would have given up on writing a long time ago.  I just don’t know how other teachers do without this program.  EW is not another training to attend, book to receive and then take it straight back to school to put on a shelf.  It is useful, relevant, and necessary.


Ann Bundrick, Writing Tutor
North Carolina

At Empowering Writers Workshops you’ll always hear the presenter say that the skills we teach in grade 2 are the same skills kids will continue to use throughout their writing lives.  Here’s a great example of this!

I tutor in the afternoons.  Last week I was working with a girl on an assignment for her English III (Junior level) class.  Her assignment was to write a short story using several elements that would be found in a story by Edgar Allan Poe.  First we talked through the summary framework and then began to think through the diamond.  This led us to begin with the main event, which she decided would be a husband murdering his wife for losing her “goddess like” beauty and appeal of her youth and for being unfaithful. He would chloroform her, take her to a cemetery and bury her alive!

Once she knew that the scene of the main event would take place in the graveyard, I helped her use the detail generating questions to describe the setting (sprawling live oak draped with Spanish moss near the grave where he propped the shovel, crumbling headstones, moon peeking through wisps of clouds, cold, damp air).

Then we talked through options for the beginning which would open close to this main event.  She chose a thought/question combined with action – ‘Why did she have to change from the innocent beauty of her youth? Why did she have to be unfaithful?’  This I wondered as my shovel dug into the cold, hard earth.

We brainstormed the description of the wife (using detail generating questions for character, of course) – full, pouting lips, little fat bulges around her waist, name brand clothing from head to toe – and then we planned the conclusion.

It turned out SUPER!  And we both had the most fun! Here was a very average high school student who got totally turned on to writing because I HAD EMPOWERING WRITING TOOLS to help her!!!


Andrea Zwally, Grade 4 teacher
Ogden Elementary, Wilmington, N.C.
I was introduced to the Empowering Writers program 3 years ago through a county workshop.  I had always had a passion for teaching writing and have been to many trainings and I can honestly say that this is by far the best writing program I have ever worked with.  I have used it for the past 3 years.  The first year I used it my class had a 92% passing rate.  Not only did my class pass, but my children loved to write and would look forward to writing class each day!  My test scores have been among the top of my county and all of my children leave fourth grade with a true love and understanding for writing.  One of the many strengths I have found in this program is that it uses a systematic approach to teaching writing and it is consistent across grade levels.  There is truly a strong connection between reading and writing as it teaches strategies that real authors use.  Often times my students will bring their novels to me and say, “Look Ms. Zwally, here’s a character description just like the ones we are writing.”  I have also integrated the Empowering Writers lessons into my novel contracts that I teach in literacy stations.
Another key component to this program that I love is that it helps new teachers understand how to teach children to write.  It allows teachers the freedom to choose the genre they would like to address as well as the lessons they would like to teach.  By providing numerous activities and student samples, the program allows teachers to feel confident in what they are teaching, and the students writing will become proof of that.  I have had parents come to me and say, “I can’t believe that you have gotten him to write this, he hated writing before and barely wrote even a sentence!”  Having taught in a high stake writing testing grade level for several years, I know that this program works for both teachers and children.  I feel that it is the key to increasing test scores and closing the gap in student achievement.   I have seen my county as well as other counties within North Carolina improve their writing scores dramatically after being trained in your program. 

Reid Whitaker, Principal
Port Houston Elem.  Houston, TX
Empowering Writers has been such a wonderful program that my teachers and I just discovered this past school year.  After hearing the great buzz and word of mouth from other principals, I was eager to try something different that would help my students (98% which are economically disadvantaged and 72% limited English proficient) achieve academically.  My school, Port Houston Elementary, had grown in all subjects on the state standardized tests except writing and in fact it was the one subject that kept the school from receiving the state’s accountability system’s highest rating of Exemplary.
While we as a team knew that we had to focus on explicit writing skills and purposeful instruction, my staff was still a little skeptical to try a new approach. Needless to say, they jumped in and went to the training after all.  After the teachers attended to the Narrative training hosted by Martha Hammett, they were not only ready to try this unique approach but were energized and pumped to see how this could really impact their students in a truly significant way!  Now, the results speak for themselves.  Not only are students more excited to write, their work is published more on the walls, and the teachers are happy to know that their work is paying off in ways that students feel more successful!
Oh, and in regards to the state test, we realized that Empowering Writers’ focus on quality writing is exactly what our school needed.  Our state test scores rose all the way to 100% passing! Port Houston Elementary (a small, Title I, community-based school) is now a Texas Exemplary school!  We couldn’t be more proud, but we owe a huge part of our success to Empowering Writers.  I know we couldn’t have done it without their help!   Thank you so much, and I look forward to our continued collaboration for many, many more years to come.
Elaine Howell, Literacy Specialist

Plano, TX

Once a cheerleader always a cheerleader….isn’t that an old adage? Well, if not, this “old” cheerleader still has to shout it loud and clear how much improvement we’ve seen in our students’ writing using the Empowering Writers program!

As Plano’s newest elementary, it was just two years ago that our staff started our traditions, developed our mission statement, and charted our vision for our school and our students.  As the Literacy Specialist for Schell, I’m always looking for ways to improve reading and writing in our building.  Word of mouth is very powerful. I heard about Empowering Writers in the spring of 2007.  A friend of mine told me about the program and I signed up for one of “Magnificent Martha’s” (Martha Hammett) workshops.  That’s all it took…I was hooked! Empowering Writers gave our students the confidence to write by giving them sound strategies to strengthen each writing trait.

Notice I said “strategies” and not a “formula”.  Over these past two years, we have gradually phased in and supplemented our existing program with EW in our 4th grade. Many of our students are already natural or gifted writers…they “get it.” However, we have students (as do all schools) that freeze up and can’t get their thoughts down on paper, those that have weaknesses in one or more of the traits, and quite a few ESL students that struggle with grammar and word choice.

We have noticed a change in these writers. We saw their stories change from shallow to deep and developed, from “voiceless” to entertaining, and from unorganized to focused. The teachers found that EW was easy to implement and “blend” with our own ideas. The old phrase “I don’t know what to write about” is heard less frequently and is an indication that “Writer’s Block” is on the decline! Empowering Writers has been a success story for us….we like the abundance of materials, teaching tips, and the support that their website gives us.  Let it be said however, that the KEY to this program is that there is a LOT of modeling for the students.  They need to “hear” good writing, “see” good writing and then practice, practice, practice, and that’s all laid out for you in EW.

We’re so thrilled with our preliminary numbers for our 4th graders’ Writing TAKS.  We are so proud of our fabulous 4’s, but what we are really excited about is the big leap from 2’s to 3’s.  Sixty-two percent of our students  wrote a 3 or 4 paperWe have many ESL students and this is a true testimonial to our teachers’ dedication to writing excellence, and of course to your wonderful program, Empowering Writers!” 

On a final note, we have just finished training our 3rd grade team as well as many of our primary teachers in order to reap the benefits of starting this writing concept with our young writers.  “2,4,6,8 … who do we appreciate?  Empowering Writers that’s who!”


Britany Chamlee, Grade 7 Teacher
Tyler, TX

When students beg to skip lunch in order to finish writing…something is definitely working!  Empowering Writers has allowed ALL of my students, from my special education population to my advanced placement students, the opportunity to become good writers.  I can’t imagine using anything else, and I can’t imagine my kids loving to write more than they do once they have experienced Empowering Writers!

Kathy Brooks, Language Arts Coordinator
Snyder, TX

Snyder, Texas is a small rural town of about 11,000 with one huge, new elementary school responsible for the education of over 1200 K-5 students.  Combining the faculties and students from four buildings, our campus opened for the 2007-08 school year with Principal Karen Saunders as instructional leader.

She had brought Empowering Writers to her elementary campus at her previous school district.  The exceptional improvement of the TAKS Writing scores at that district prompted her to immediately task the ELA committee with examining it for possible use.  Martha Hammett, EW repsresentative from Odessa, provided an overview of the program early in the year to the facutly of 60 plus classroom teachers, who were eager for direction in the teaching of writing.

There was no hesitation in adopting Empowering Writers at Snyder Elementary!  It has been wonderful for our campus, with excellent training and superb follow-up from Martha.  (Not only did she train us in narrative and expository, but she has provided us with some “refresher’ and demonstration lessons which have been invaluable.)

EW materials are relevant and of top quality, blending well with teachers’ existing materials – worth every penny!  Ninety-one percent of fourth graders passed the writing TAKS last year, and teachers think the scores will be even better this year.  We can’t wait to see them!


Lisa Alley, Instrcutional Reform Facilitator
San Francisco, CA

I am “Instructional Reform Facilitator” commonly referred to as the “IRF” at Starr King Elementary School in San Francisco.   My job, in a nutshell, is to support the school in ways that allow students to succeed academically, such as model lessons for teachers, guide grade level meetings, study data for trends, etc.   Writing is a very high leverage skill that promotes logical, sequential thinking as well as a being a great vehicle for self-expression and creativity. I decided to put my energies in finding a great program or resource that would not only promote the craft and skill of writing but would allow students to also practice oral language skills.

A few years ago Barbara Mariconda gave a workshop in the Bay Area and I was fortunate enough to go. Empowering Writers had everything I was looking for!   I remember calling my principal from the workshop itself, very excited. I bought a manual and decided to share it with my very talented fourth grade veteran teacher who, at the time, was also responsible for the fourth grade writing test. Upon looking over the manual, she mentioned that she had never seen anything like this before and completely embraced it!   Did I mention that she’d taught for 20 years and was known for her expertise in the teaching of writing?   She helped me share and promote the program with other teachers.

Another motivation for implementing EW was to build in assured writing experiences from year to year and to have teachers using the same language in articulating the writing experiences   they provide for their students.

Not only has our students’ writing greatly improved but our students genuinely enjoy writing!   We’ve found that we have had much success with developing writing routines that students engage in during the first 10-15 minutes of the writing block. Students have a “SHOW NOT TELL” 3 punch folder with sentences such as Laura was frightened when she saw a bear rummaging through the garbage can near her campsite. Students then rewrite the sentence to show “what frightened looks like” and draw a quick sketch of the sentence.   We also laminated page 200 of the EW manual “What Feelings Look Like” and placed it in the folder for students to reference. Students then progress to writing their own “telling” sentence and transform it into a “showing” sentence.

We just gave the fourth grade writing exam and as I walked around while students were taking the test, I noticed that roughly 85% of the students wrote showing sentences!   We definitely saw transfer of many of the writing skills we’d taught. I can’t tell you how fulfilling that was!

We also combine our writing routines with a fun engagement strategy.   Students rewrite boring beginnings as one routine. Just this week we introduced another routine where students use their EW folders or sentence starter flip charts to rewrite sentences.   Ex. I heard a prisoner crying for help in the dungeon of the castle might turn into: I couldn’t ignore the prisoner’s cries for help in the dungeon of the castle.   We’ve found these routines especially helpful to our second language learners.

There’s so much depth and breadth to the Empowering Writers program. We feel extremely fortunate to have found, what I call, the Writing Teacher’s goldmine.


Lorraine Johnson Grade 4 Teacher
Cape Cod, MA

EW has given all teaching staff and students a common language to speak when students are writing.   All children are exposed to it in the primary grades and they bring it with them to the intermediate grades where they’re assessed by the state on a narrative composition in 4th grade.

The most positive aspect of student involvement is that kids not only love writing, there’s a confidence that they bring to the table.   They feel they ARE talented writers (hence “empowered writers”!). Not only have our students achieved success with their scores, but with their ability to write well.   As a teacher, I smile as I hear a resounding “YES!” when writing is on our schedule for the day.   To top it off, their writing is focused, organized, creative and well-edited.   It is the language of the EW program that enables this process to take place.

In our district, not only have teachers been trained, but educational assistants have taken workshops in the summer and on PD days to help them help students.   Not only does the teaching staff help, but students are able to help each other.   I beam with pride when I hear one student say to another, “Let’s change that sentence to an “object first sentence”.   Besides teaching staff being trained to help students, we’ve had workshops where teachers become “empowered writers” and have written using the same strategies that are asked of students!   We have all become better writers and better teachers of writing since using Empowering Writers!


Tammy Schmeltz Grade 4 Teacher
Ponder, TX

Tammy has been to the EW workshop 3 times.  She loves it!  The first time she drove all the way to Tyler during the summer.  She came back when Empowering Writers was in Plano and brought others with her.  Empowering Writers came to Tammy’s school to model lessons.

These students had been using Empowering Writers during fourth grade.  When asked what they thought about writing, here is what they shared with us.

“Sometimes I just write stories for the heck of it.”

Jack Coly  Age 9 Ponder, TX

“I was supposed to write one paragraph, but I wrote 3 pages instead.”

Seth Ferryman Age 9 Ponder, TX

“When I start writing, it is hard to stop.” 

Madilyn Bussart  Age 10 Ponder, TX

“Last year we didn’t do much writing, but this year we do and I LIKE IT!”

Julian Jesus Age 9  Ponder, TX

“You know how much you love your mom and dad; well that’s how much I love writing.” 

Abigail Miller Age 9 Ponder, TX


Amy Bryant, 4th Grade Teacher
Cleveland County, NC

We began using EW in January of 2005 after attending a training session in Greensboro. We were so excited about the program that we came back in January and revamped our entire writing program. Our scores in writing during the 04-05 school year were 65.1% from 53.7% the previous year. After just a few months of EW, our students drastically improved their writing ability.

In August of 2005 we again used EW and our scores improved to 72.4%. In 2006, only half of our grade level used EW and our scores dropped to 66.4%. After long discussion about the success we had found, Administration backed us as we took on EW for the entire grade level.  We worked diligently together to bring up our scores and even invited EW consultant Cheryl Welton to visit and give us suggestions.

Our administrator, Tropzie McCluney, purchased our one hundred and twenty 4th graders writing t-shirts that said “The RAMS have been EMPOWERED to write, one step at a time.” We wore our shirts several times before the writing test during our all-day writing workshops we held for our students. They rotated to different classrooms throughout the day to experience different writing lessons and do “fun” writing activities that boosted their confidence about writing. We wanted writing to be fun for them, not a chore. We even held pep-rallies for our 4th graders before the writing test. We made writing exciting and the kids made it exciting for us. We “Empowered our students to write” and they truly shined in 2008, scoring 79.5% while the county averaged 67.1.

In my personal classroom, I’ve found major success with my students. My second year teaching strictly EW, my students scored 93% proficient ranking them at #2 out of 54 classes in the county. Since then, my grade level and I have constantly tweaked our writing plans to get the maximum success possible. We are a Title 1 school and face many obstacles in student achievement but have found that when you find something that works, just do it!

Since we no longer teach just Narrative writing in 4th grade, we are pulling in lessons from the Expository manual in order to reach all genres of writing. This year our 2nd and 3rd grade teachers were trained in EW and have seen great success already.


Jan Townsend 4th Grade Language Arts Teacher
Harper, TX

I have been using EW for several years now. It is a great program and many of the schools in our area are starting to ask us what we are using since our scores are so good.

I first heard about the Empowering Writers program at the Gifted and Talented Conference in Austin.  Martha Hammett was presenting and the curriculum coordinator and I attended her session.  I was so excited!  I visited the booth and tried to get the book.  They were sold out; it was such a hit!

I did pick up an order form and speak with Martha.  She later e-mailed me and let me know of a conference in Midland which is a 4 hour drive for us from the hill country.  Our school sent 4 of us.  That was October of 2007.  I continued to use the program but thought our school would benefit from implementing it school-wide. Martha came to Harper in May of 2007 and presented a workshop for our language arts teachers 1st-7th.  One of our high school teachers also attended.  Our 2nd -7th grades have begun to use the program.

The teachers and students have found writing to be so much easier with this program.  The students love to write!  That is the most important thing for me.  They can’t wait to write!  They tell me it allows them to express their feelings and experiences.  Our principal has supported the program from the beginning.  School-wide, we had 100 percent pass the writing TAKS test last year!  This includes the high school.  The AP teacher even uses parts of the program.   Our school district and our students have benefited from the Empowering Writers Program.

By the way, we are an exemplary campus and have been for the last three years.  Our elementary received the TBEC award for being an outstanding elementary school.  The Empowering Writers program has helped us achieve these accomplishments.


Jennifer Demirs-Gautier
Paris, France

Empowering Writers heads to Paris!

I am a CT and MA certified teacher living in Paris, currently working for an association which teaches children K-5, from bi-cultural families, (English mother-tongue for at least one parent), English spelling, reading, grammar and creative writing.

We are currently looking into finding a program to enhance our creative writing approach which feels fragmented and not consistent. Instantly, I thought of your program which I assisted in using during my student teaching in Region 14 in CT (MA graduate from SHU in Fairfield, 2006).

I remember how it allowed creative writers to confidently soar and offered challenged writers a well-needed structure. With our many levels, I think this could work for us! I am very excited to show our board and staff a sample of what you offer. We are trying to prepare our part-anglophone students for creative writing that lies ahead of them in their education and careers. I am hoping you will be interested in bringing your program to France!


Emily Delgado 4th Grade Teacher
El Paso, TX

“Just wanted you to know that it was officially announced that my 4th grade team had the highest TAKS scores for Writing in the El Paso Independent School District. This speaks volumes, since our school is a Title 1 campus.  I have shared what I do with my team, and the results speak for themselves.

“I have started working with my students using the Empowering Writers Revising and Editing books.  My students absolutely love the writing sections at the end of each student page.  When I tell them to get out their workbooks, they get really excited!  Who would have thought that grammar lessons could be so much fun? I love this program so much!”

Last year in the state of Texas, 28% of Texas fourth graders received a commended performance ranking on the TAKS Writing Test.  Emily’s 4th grade classroom achieved 100% commended performance on TAKS.  As Emily will tell you, “If you want the 3’s and 4’s, you need to use Empowering Writers with your students.”

For those teachers not familiar with the TAKS test, that commended performance ranking means that a student has scored at least a 2400 on the scale score along with a compositional score of either a “3” or a “4”.

El Paso is the 7th largest district in the state of Texas with over 63,000 students being served on 92 campuses.  Congratulations to Emily!  The teachers and the staff at Empowering Writers applaud you and your students!


Kim Andren – 2nd Grade
Mill Hill – Fairfield, CT

After many years of struggling to improve student writing in our school, our second, third, and fourth grades adopted the Empowering Writers Program.  It used to be that only a few naturally strong writers seemed to excel and really enjoy the writing process.  For many students it was more like pulling teeth.

But after a year’s worth of using the Comprehensive Narrative Writing Guide, writing became a favorite subject in our school!  In fact, after taking our state writing test (which used to inspire lots of moaning and groaning!) my class was randomly selected to pilot a sample of the next year’s test, meaning they had to write to a second timed assessment. When I broke the news to them, they cheered at the opportunity to show off their writing skills again! Thank you EW for helping us create a community of writers!


Mary Renee Doelling – 3rd Grade
Glen Hills School – Cranston, RI

I teach third grade at Glen Hills School in Cranston, Rhode Island. We did not have a writing program and for the first 4 years I taught at the school, we each did our own writing program. As a faculty we were frustrated by the low writing scores, lack of student interest in writing, and the lack of acceptable writing lessons and information for our students.

When a new principal arrived, we made a plea, as a faculty, to obtain a writing program that we could all use so our students would have continuity and structure.  David Alba, our principal, had been familiar with Empowering Writers and when he suggested we try it in a few classrooms I volunteered. I attended the training on a Saturday in February and was using it on Monday. My class responded almost immediately.

The students were able to understand the materials and were making connections to their own writing from the start.  I had several boys who did not like to write; and were the ones who would sit and stare and think until writing was over. I would be thrilled if I could get a few sentences out of them. Once I started the Empowering Writers program, everyone was engaged and interested in the writing!  Because I was one of the pilot classrooms, I often had the principals from the surrounding schools come in to see how the program was working.  They were always impressed by the responses the students gave in the writing and could not believe these were third graders.  One principal even said that she would not expect that kind of writing from her 5th graders!

In addition to the quality of writing improving, I saw from the first lesson an interest in writing that was not there in the past. Our writing was not quiet! My students were active participants in their writing and were eager to share and give suggestions to others. The structure of the program was easy for the students to use. They loved using their colored pencils to identify action, dialogue, sounds and thoughts or questions. It was finally easy for them to see what they needed to add to their writing to create a balanced piece. They had pride in their work and wanted to share it with anyone who would come into the room.  Students who could not sit to complete a task for more than 10 minutes were writing for 15 minutes at a time and asking to write more!  I even had two of my thinkers  ask me if they could take a clipboard and their writing out to recess!  That was when I knew that I had found the answer to our writing woes. The results were so encouraging that the district is now piloting Empowering Writers at Glen Hills and Stone Hill with the hope to adopt it city-wide.

I have never used a program that I felt so strongly about in my 9 years of teaching experience. My own children used Empowering Writers in their elementary and middle school education and I know they are better writers because of it. It is easy to use,