The Best-Kept Teaching Secret
How Written Conversations Engage Kids, Activate Learning, Grow Fluent Writers . . . K-12
- Harvey "Smokey" Daniels - National Consultant and Author
- Elaine Daniels - Santa Fe Community College, New Mexico
Your fast-track to student engagement
Everywhere Smokey Daniels goes—every school he visits, every workshop he leads, every keynote he gives—there’s one teaching strategy that teachers embrace above all others. That single method for transforming students from passive spectators into active learners . . . for evoking curiosity, inspiring critical thinking, and building powerful writers along the way.
Now, with Elaine Daniels as Smokey’s coauthor, that best-kept teaching secret is revealed to teachers at large: Written Conversations.
Just what make Written Conversations so potent? An ongoing, thoughtful correspondence between students, and between students and their teachers, Written Conversations, above all else, catch and ride the wave of social interaction, which in turn makes school matter to kids. It’s that simple. Structure by structure, from beginning to end, Smokey and Elaine describe four variations of these “silent writing-to-learn discussions,” during which all students in a classroom think and “talk” at once in writing, instead of one at a time out loud.
How Written Conversations Work
- It all starts with mini-memos, short student letters that teachers use to introduce, extend, and assess class work.
- Then come dialogue journals, where pairs dive deeply into academic subjects.
- Next, groups of three or four students join in extended written discussions called write-arounds.
- Finally, kids take their thinking online, where they enjoy digital discussions with partners from their own classroom—and with kids from around the world.
. . . all the while, you are supported by detailed descriptions of each structure, lessons, and annotated student samples—making this the most practical teaching book in recent memory.
What kid wouldn’t want to refine written argument skills, clarify a point, or defend another’s viewpoint, when the “audience” is people who matter? And Yes, Written Conversations align with the Common Core Standards for writing, reading, language, and speaking and listening, taking students well beyond the standards themselves.See Smokey reveal his best-kept secret to Ellin Keene.
“Engaging, enchanting, elegant, and totally practical. This little book is a gift to any teacher or school who wants students to write and think and communicate more--instantly. The tweaks to the written conversation strategies are fresh, stimulating, and easy to implement. Open it and start the conversation.”
“Smokey and Elaine pave the way to increasingly sophisticated communication and thinking by cracking open their secrets for successful written conversations. This book is loaded with fabulous student writing samples, tips for instructional success, and so many great ideas that you won’t be able to resist making written conversations an integral component of every learning day.”
“Smokey and Elaine Daniels let the secret out: when students participate in written conversations, they generate new and deeper thinking. The easy-to-implement strategies found in this book place writing where it belongs— in the forefront of the classroom— and in doing so ensure your students will be involved in active, engaged learning. Better yet, your students will actually look forward to writing. And reading, too! I recommend this book for all teachers looking for ways to deepen their students' thinking through writing."
“Simple and brilliant! Smokey and Elaine invite us to capitalize on kids’ natural urge to write to each other. The tactics they describe in this book are easy to implement and will have a huge impact the minute you deploy them. The book is brimming with examples from preschoolers to college English classes. You will laugh out loud when Marco writes ‘Am I a plant?’ and covet comments like ‘I would be excited if we did more things like this’ from a high schooler!”
"Written in a light conversational style, The Best-Kept Teaching Secret brims with jottings written by children and with an armful of ways you can use letter writing to revitalize your teaching. Readers who have come to trust Smokey's grounding in classrooms will find that once again, he draws upon a rich repertoire of stories and methods drawn from the hurly burl of classrooms."
“The Best-Kept Teaching Secret is brimming with the energy and heart of good teaching. . . . Smokey and Elaine anticipate your questions and answer every one. There are connections to the Common Core State Standards and student samples that range from handwritten notes to collaborative online conversations. There is vision here and plenty of smart thinking. Such a useful book. I can't wait to share it.”
"Written Conversations stand the test of time, and Smokey and Elaine prove it here. So bring on the new standards and ever-changing technology! The more things change, the more best teaching practices stay the same."
“The real gift of The Best-Kept Teaching Secret is it offers teachers a principled and powerful teaching tool adaptable in myriad different ways across all content areas. With the tool of written conversation in hand, teachers at any grade level are ready to engage students with increasingly rigorous content standards. All this, and the book itself is such a pleasure to read with its conversational tone and beautiful design and layout.”
Sample Materials & Chapters
Chapter 1. Letters Leverage Learning