As a teacher of writing, I see mentor text everywhere. It exists in expected places–like well-written children’s literature and in less traditional places like Youtube videos, blog posts, and even billboards and advertisements. The tricky part about using mentor text to support writers is finding the right mentor text to use in the situation at hand. With that in mind, sharing our successes with mentor texts is a great way to help each other as we make our own classroom selections. The 113 Mentor Texts Challenge over at SDAWP Voices attempts to do just that–create a collection of mentor texts that educators from all levels and all over are using.
Early in the school year in addition to doing some sentence level work, we also like to use mentor text to support students’ generation of whole text. After examining a number of texts we had for consideration, we decided last week to go with a poem to support our young writers. Bobbi Katz wrote this poem called September Is that describes some qualities of the beginning of school that are easy for students to relate to.
when yellow pencils
in brand new eraser hats
bravely wait on perfect points–
ready to march across miles of lines
in empty notebooks–
when a piece of chalk
skates across the board–
swirling and looping–
until it spells your new teacher’s
As we studied this piece as a class, students noticed that the pencils were described like people…with hats and ready to march. (They do know that is called personification) They noticed the use of swirling and looping to further describe the skating of the chalk. They noticed that Bobbi Katz didn’t just make a list of things in school, she picked two and then went into more detail about each of them.
As students got ready to use September Is as a mentor text for their own writing, we also talked about other ideas besides September as a focus for the writing. They were thinking about Fall Is and School Is as other possibilities.
Students began to generate ideas on that first day and then set their writing aside. The following day we asked a couple of volunteers to share their work in progress as we noticed what they were doing well. Students definitely were including interesting verbs and expanded descriptions. We all then went back to work…even those who thought they were done…to consider stronger words, to add more description and detail.
And here are a couple of student-generated drafts.
“E” — a first grader — wrote this:
Fall is Halloween when ghosts glide through the night sky and when leaves glide off the trees.
“S” — a third grader –wrote this:
when the reddish-brown leaves are too tired of hanging hopelessly on the weak branches so they twirl and spin in the air before they carefully float right on to the cold grassy land full of new seedlings that are going to grow in the summer.
Fall is also when you scoop all of the white tear-shaped seeds out of the big round orange pumpkin and carve a face for the spooky night when ghosts haunt the night sky and children in costumes are running about trick-or-treating and scaring everybody.
I feel like my students captured fall in their writing and that Bobbi Katz supported their ideas. They were able to use her basic structure and let her strong words and images guide them to their own compelling compositions. That’s the power of mentor text!