Improving My Craft, Part One

Along with many teachers, I spend my summers soaking up learning like I soak up the sun.  There are many things from my reading and writing experiences this summer that I will implement in my classroom this year.  Modeling how I approach fiction writing is one of them.  Instead of considering the plot first, my learners and I will explore developing main characters, their backstories, and their problems first.  From this viewpoint, my learners will have a focus for developing the plots of their stories.

This idea comes from Story Genius by Lisa Cron.  I am reading this book for the Focus on Fiction workshop I am taking through Teach Write.  In her book, she applies research from brain science to writing fiction.  I have not yet finished the book, as I am taking my time to work through the exercises and truly grasp what the author is saying.  So far, the story I am writing is more purposeful and my characters are more realistic than in other fiction pieces I have written.  Also, there seems to be more ease in moving the story forward.  I am a long way from having a complete first draft, but the bits and pieces I have created so far thrill me and motivate me to continue.

I am excited to see what my learners come up with as they approach their stories from this perspective.  This fall will be an exciting time in my classroom!

Finishing May Strong

Steaming coffee mug in hand, I pause to greet the day as it begins to greet me with its lovely pinks and shades of light and dark.  I stop for a moment-just a moment-to notice the calm and quiet of a still slumbering neighborhood and acknowledge the promise of this new day.  I inhale deeply and exhale slowly.  I lift my mug and shut my eyes to fully savor the aroma and taste of the coffee and the way this peaceful moment feels.  I take one more deep inhale and slow exhale.  I offer a little word of gratitude for this moment of quiet and centering before the chaos of the school day begins.

May and December are the toughest months for me.  These months are so chaotically busy.  I feel whipped this way and that with no break in between.  By the time each month comes to an end, I am utterly exhausted and often have an upper respiratory infection or other illness.

So I have been doing what I can to build up my defenses to finish this May strong and positive.

  • I seek and savor small moments of quiet, solitude, and beauty.
  • I try to be mindful to eat more plants and less salty or sugary junk, although when stressed this is difficult.
  • I look for ways to get a few extra steps in each day.  It helps.
  • I keep a gratitude journal.
  • I strive to make time for things that matter most, like family and writing.
  • Finally, I tell myself, “This, too, shall pass.”

It’s May, and I want to finish the school year strong.  With some extra attention to self-care, I think I can.





The Power of a Mentor Sentence

A fourth grader crafted this amazing lead sentence after studying the mentor text Fox by Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks.

There is tremendous power in mentor sentences to influence writing and help students see authentic purposes for learning grammar and mechanics.  Jeff Anderson’s work on teaching writing and grammar through mentor texts shapes the way I use mentor sentences.  

Each week I introduce a sentence selected from a picture book or a student.  When choosing a mentor sentence, I look for sentences that demonstrate a focus skill (e.g. comma usage), author’s craft (figurative language, etc.), and/or model a particular writing structure.  In the sentence above, we were learning about introductory clauses.

My learners do all of their weekly work in their grammar notebooks.

My learners study the sentence for different purposes throughout the week.

Day 1: We identify the strong points of the sentence.  See what they noticed in Aven’s sentence:

  •  Introductory phrases can change the fluency of the text.  The expression is different than if the sentence read, “Dog awoke in the glistening light of the morning sun.”
  • Glistening is an adjective that not only describes but also helps with fluency.
  • Morning tells us the time and that the glistening is likely dew.
  • The introductory phrase contains two prepositional phrases that help set the scene.
  • The independent clause is only two words.  
  • “Awoke” sounds better for this sentence than “woke up.”

Day 2: The students work together to label the parts of speech, type of sentence, and subject and predicate.  We discuss how knowledge of the parts of speech, etc. helps an author write with clarity.  This activity takes the most time. We typically spend 10-15 minutes per day on mentor sentence work, but on this day, we spend closer to 20-25 minutes.

Day 3: My learners look for ways to revise the original sentence by deleting/adding/changing adjectives, adverbs, prepositional phrases, and/or swapping out verbs.  This is a great place to discuss simplicity, changes in meaning, etc. 

Day 4: This is their favorite day! They imitate the structure of the sentence to create and share their own sentences.  This also provides me with an informal way to assess their understanding of the week’s concepts.  



I notice several benefits from teaching grammar, mechanics, and writing in this interconnected way.

  1. The students can explain how grammar and mechanics apply to writing.  They no longer see them as isolated subjects.
  2. They have much better retention of the material.
  3. Their writing and confidence as writers improve as they apply what they are learning to their own writing.

Finally, there is the joy on their faces when I select a student’s sentence for the weekly mentor sentence. By choosing their sentences, I send the message that their writing is worthy and a model for others. A model sentence can come from any writer in your class. Imagine the confidence boost you can give to your reluctant writers when you select one of their sentences as a model text.

Mentor sentences take a brief amount of time to implement each day, yet their impact as a powerful and authentic learning tool is deep and lasting.  I can’t imagine teaching writing and grammar any other way.

When they imitate, they have a lot of fun. This is okay. I want them to experience the joy of writing and making meaning.

The Best Part of Me

The best part of me
believes the best is yet to come!
Each day that passes
I grow wiser,
love more deeply,
and find more joy in simple things.

The best part of me
shines brighter with my heart’s companion.
As we age together
we grow closer,
strengthen our bond,
and cherish the moments we have together.

The best part of me
thrills when I spend time with my children.
Adulting suits them well.
I grow prouder,
enjoy their company,
and know they make this world better.

The best part of me
giggles and squeals as we run through the house.
With tiny curls bouncing
she grows quickly,
calls me Mom-mom,
and builds precious, precious memories with Papa and me.

The best part of me
adjusts her headphones to hear me as I greet her.
With sketchbook beside her
she grows wiser,
dreams future dreams,
and treats Papa and me with much love and respect.

Yes, the best part of me
gets better as time passes day by day!
Each day that passes
I grow wiser,
love more deeply,
and find more joy in simple things.

2019 Tracy Vogelgesang

With a Grateful Heart #SOL19

“Should I really do this?” I questioned as I pasted the link to my first ever slice into the comments of the Day 1 Slice of Life Story Challenge.  Unknown territory, I was nervous about committing to a month of daily slicing.  Thanks to my Teach Write friends in our amazing Wednesday night writing group, though, I was encouraged to try.  So I did.

Now, thirty-one days later, I am so glad that I went through with it.  I have sliced every single day and enjoyed reading and commenting on other slices.  I have learned so much about writing from your slices and comments, and I have discovered new things about myself as a writer.  It is one thing to write daily, but it is quite another thing to commit to sharing my writing publicly every day.  This experience has helped me grow in ways I did not expect.  I am grateful.

So, thank you for reading and offering your comments, encouragement, and support.  Thanks, also, to all of the people at the Two Writing Teachers for hosting such a challenge.  I appreciate all of you and look forward to reading, writing, and learning beside you on Tuesdays.

Another Harry Potter Weekend #SOL19


“Wait! Put it on pause! I haven’t gotten my butterbeer yet!”  My oldest granddaughter says in a panic as the movie begins to play.  “Oh, and I haven’t gotten my snacks, either!”

“And I better go to the bathrooooom,” our youngest shouts as she suddenly zooms past us and runs out of the room.

Papa and I glance at each other and chuckle.  So begins our Harry Potter weekend movie marathon.

Periodically, we gather for a weekend of magic, butterbeer (purchased from a local vendor), and snacks that appeal to all tastes.   This weekend is one such weekend.

Choosing Wands at Ollivander’s

Yep, we’re that family.  We are nearing the label of Potterheads.  These stories are beloved by all ages in our family, and we have made many memories around them.  In fact, we’re currently in the process of planning our return visit to Harry’s magical world at Universal Studios.  My husband and oldest granddaughter are looking forward to breaking out their interactive wands and revisiting all of the areas where the magic comes to life.

The children return to the living room and settle into their favorite movie-watching spots.  It’s time for the magic to begin.

“Is everyone ready now?” Papa asks as he peers at each child.  They nod their heads.  “Okay.  Here we go!”  Papa pushes play, and I dim the lights.  Yes, here we go, ready to approach Platform 9 and 3/4 and enter that familiar, enchanted world yet again.

Silence #SOL19

As my Spring Break comes to a close, I pay tribute to those instances of quiet and solitude I’ve enjoyed this week.  Those magical, fleeting moments ground me, restore peace, encourage joy, and help me remember my humanity.



I seek it daily

so elusive, my soul’s treasure.

When received, a healing balm.


As stolen moments

or gifted bliss,

daily stillness is needed, valued.


Too much crushes me;

too little and I thirst.

When balanced, I thrive.


It’s my Divine connection

where truth and reality dwell.

A centering force, a refuge.



2019 Tracy Vogelgesang

A Sweet Remembrance, Part 2 #SOL19

Aprons on, buttered hands at the ready.  The wax paper squares are cut and stacked neatly.  My sisters in law and I move into position around Grandma’s kitchen table.  We are ready.  Bring it on!

A true labor of love, Grandma spends a lot of time over her stove to create these tasty morsels of heavenly goodness.  Standing at a height of under 5 feet, she literally has to stand on a wooden stool to reach over the deep, heavy pot and stir the bubbling confection as it cooks.  It is a lot of work, but she insists on doing it.  That candy contains so much more than sugar, cream, butter, etc., it contains love and lots of it!  That knowledge makes each morsel even more delicious.

After it has cooked to perfection, my mother in law helps Grandma handle the deep, heavy pot to pour the mouthwatering golden brown thick syrup onto the buttered cookie sheets.  Grandma then puts the cookie sheets on the steps leading upstairs where they will cool at just the right speed.  After a significant amount of time, she deems them ready to be cut and wrapped.

That is where the rest of us spring into action.  Grandma plops down cookie sheet after cookie sheet of the cooled, ooey, gooey, melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness.  She has them cut and ready.  We simply need to roll each piece carefully and wrap them in wax paper.

We all dig in.  Roll, wrap, twist, repeat.  The sequence goes on and on.  As the old saying goes, “Many hands make light work.”  Before we know it, we have several large bowls heaped high with wrapped candies.  Grandma takes the bowls and begins filling plastic bags with their contents.  These will go to various family members and friends.  Some she puts into decorative bowls to sit around the house.  Family members will enjoy these nuggets of love and goodness throughout the holiday season.  Thank you, Grandma, for your labor of love and this sweet, sweet remembrance.

A Sweet Remembrance #SOL19

Note: Thank you, Christine, for the idea to write about Grandma’s caramels.  Your suggestion really got me thinking and remembering!   

We open the back door and step inside the kitchen.  Immediately the mouthwatering scent of Grandma’s homemade caramels greets us.  It is nearing the holidays.  She will make seemingly endless batches of these delicious nuggets of goodness.  Grandma is there next to the stove with her beautiful warm smile and petite arms outstretched to give everyone hugs and kisses on the cheek.

“Are you hungry?” she asks.  Grandma always asks that question and always has food (most likely her famous spaghetti and meatballs) ready to serve.  We had eaten earlier, so we decline.  She puts a bowl of fresh caramels on the table.  “Take a few of those as you walk by,” she says.  Her caramels are as famous as her meatballs.  We all take some of the wrapped candy as we pass by the table and go into the living room.

“What are you up to today?” my husband, her grandson, asks.  They discuss the many things she has accomplished so far.  She is whirlwind of energy and can do spirit.  I love listening to her talk about her day.  She is a faith-filled woman with such enthusiasm and zeal for life, and she approaches every problem with a positive and resourceful attitude.  Her deep, enduring faith is a beautiful example for all of us.

During our visit, my husband pulls caramel after caramel out of his shirt pocket.  He always has a handful of caramels in his shirt pocket this time of the year.  He carefully untwists each end of the wax paper wrapper and pops the sweet confection into his mouth.  I can tell that he is savoring each sweet, creamy, and buttery morsel as they melt in his mouth.  I smile.  My heart warms to see him enjoy the company and the candy so much.

When our visit ends, she walks to the kitchen and promptly reappears, producing a quart-sized plastic bag full of caramels.  She hands them to my husband.  He bends over to give her a hug and she reminds him to share.   For a moment, I see a little boy and his grandma.  The vision makes me smile.  Another round of hugs and kisses commence as we make our way to the back door.  Another sweet memory made to tuck away for future reminiscing.

Cellophane Battle (or 10 Minutes of My Life I Will Never Get Back) #SOL19

I put my hand into the bag and with joyous anticipation draw out one sweet and creamy nugget.  I take it back to where I am writing and begin the process of removing it from its cellophane wrapper.

I slip one fingernail into the triangular fold of plastic at one end and pull.  It does not budge.  I give it more effort and attention and try again.  Nothing.  I walk over to the cabinet, pull a paring knife from the drawer, and slip it under the fold.  “Snap.”  Success!  I drop the knife back into the drawer and return to my computer.

The fold on the other end comes up easily, so I start working on grasping the overlap in the middle.  I can almost taste the candy.  Yum… Wait! Where is the overlap?  My fingers fumble around every part of the wrapper.  No luck.  Why can’t I find it?  My aggravation surfaces.

“Whose idea was it to buy these stupid things anyway?”  I ask aloud to no one in particular.  I grudgingly remember…it was mine.

My lip curls on one side and my eyes narrow.  I could give up.  Heaven knows I do not need this piece of candy, but my frustration and my pride have other plans.  Seriously, how hard can it be to remove a candy wrapper?

I study and tug, but with each pull I only succeed in snapping off tiny little pieces of cellophane.

“Thin, cheap stuff,” I mutter under my breath.  “Why can’t they wrap these stupid things in wax paper with twisted ends like Grandma use to do?”  I continue picking away.

Eventually, with a mountain of cellophane bits piled up on the napkin, I raise the caramel to make sure every last bit of plastic is gone.  I can almost hear the hallelujah chorus and see the golden light beaming from around the treasured confection.

“To the winner goes the spoils.”  Isn’t that how that old saying goes?  I have waited for this moment for nearly ten minutes.  This better be the best caramel ever!

I slowly bite into the candy.  With each chew, my spirit sinks a little lower.

Well…that was disappointing.  I sweep the multitude of cellophane bits into my hand, throw them away, and return to my writing.

One thing is for sure, this experience will make dieting a little easier.