When we select books to read in our classroom we begin with well-written books about topics we want to address as part of our instruction. Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox is a lovely, well-written book that has been around for a long time. (Published in 1989)
This book is about a young boy who lives next door to an old folks home and has made friends with the old people who live there. One of his best friends–Miss Nancy, who has four names just like him, seems to be losing her memory. When Wilfred Gordon hears this he goes to the other residents asking what a memory is. Their responses: something warm, as precious as gold, makes you laugh, makes you cry…prompt Wilfred Gordon to go home and find these for Miss Nancy. He collects his interpretation of these things called memories into a basket to share with Miss Nancy. When Miss Nancy unpacks the hen’s egg, seashells, puppet, and football she begins to tell the stories she remembers when she examines each object.
We started the school year a few weeks ago reading this book as a way of demonstrating the power of things to elicit stories and memories. We asked students to bring in an object or artifact that represented something important or special to them and/or their families.
In addition to using this book to teach the concept of object-based thinking and writing, we also used it this week as a mentor text for writing. We like to “mine” the books we have read for interesting sentences to help our students broaden their understanding of sentences, grammar, and conventions. As our first mentor sentence of the school year we looked for a sentence that was accessible to our first graders and still “meaty” enough for our more accomplished writers.
We decided on this sentence:
He admired Mr. Drysdale who had a voice like a giant.
Asking our students what they noticed, we were able to identify the use of the simile (a voice like a giant), proper nouns (names), and pronouns (he). We also talked about the verb admired as well as the basics like the use of a capital letter at the beginning of the sentence and period at the end. After a couple of examples of how we might follow the pattern of this sentence from Mem Fox, students set off to write their own sentence following the pattern.
Here are a couple of examples:
First grader, E, wrote: I love my bunnies because they love me.
Second grader, B, wrote: He loved his dog Milo even though he shedded on him if he brushed onto him.
Third grader, C, wrote: I admire LEGO makers who have a way of making awesome sets.
And another third grader, M, wrote: The people love to watch Emily who surfed the waves that were as tall as mountains.
You can see that not all students were including the simile…yet. But all were able to expand a sentence similar to the way Mem Fox did in her sentence.
There are many other ways to use Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge as a mentor text. Mentor texts are all around us, as close as those classroom bookshelves. Take a close looks at some of your old favorite read alouds, you’ll be surprised at all the opportunities to use them as writing mentors!