As I wrote last week (here), beginnings and endings are challenging for young writers. They often dive right into the heart of the writing…and then end abruptly when they come to the end of their content. “The End” seems like a perfect ending for many of my students.
And so…in an attempt to help our students with both beginnings and endings, we turned to some mentor texts to study and learn from. In my work with the San Diego Area Writing Project (SDAWP), I am repeatedly asked for lists of mentor texts to use with students. And I repeatedly remind teachers that great mentor texts are often within reach…right in their own bookshelves!
I do admit to being a bit of a book addict…constantly on the lookout for wonderful children’s books. Books that are beautiful to look at. Books that contain language that sings from the pages. Books that present information in interesting and accessible ways. And I use them as mentor texts…just like I use excerpts from text books, articles in the Scholastic News, texts from the internet…
Back to teaching conclusions… Today we returned to the same books we used to teach introductions. We revisited the graphic we created to remind students the importance of introductions and conclusions… (Here’s a rough sketch)
The point of the thought bubble as a symbol for the conclusion is that we want to leave the reader thinking. And so we studied our mentor texts with that in mind.
We started with Life in the Rain Forest, a Smart Words Reader by Scholastic. This book concludes with an entire page that goes back to the big picture of the importance of the rain forest. It ends with these last two sentences:
Many of the plants and animals in this book are in danger of becoming extinct. Only by learning about rain forests can people work to protect them.
Students decided that was a “learn more” ending. Then we turned to Let’s Go Rock Collecting by Roma Gans. We decided that this book’s conclusion was an invitation to do something.
Rock collecting is fun. And one of the best things about it is that you can do it anywhere. Wherever you go, try to find new rocks and add them to your collection.
In What Do You Do When Something Wants to Eat You? by Steve Jenkins, we noticed the use of a question that asks you to apply the information learned from the text.
What would you do if something wanted to eat you?
And a Scholastic News article from the October 28th issue entitled Supersized Pumpkins offered this ending.
Now Wallace is back in the pumpkin patch working on his next record breaker. “I have my sights set on 2,500 pounds!” he says.
We decided that conclusion made us curious about what would happen next.
With those examples in mind, students returned to their writer’s notebooks to try out their own conclusions. With the piece they had written about animal defenses in mind, they set out to “try on” some possible conclusions.
In some ways we made this a bit hard. We didn’t give students back the writing they had done previously about animal defenses–so they had to depend on their memory. But then, last week when we did give back the writing we had a number of students “forget” to focus on the mini lesson and instead either copied what they had already written or continued on from where they left off.
So at the “stuck” spot, we asked students who weren’t stuck to share their early attempts at conclusions.
Here’s a few examples:
From a third grader: “Every single animal wants to stay alive…hiss…and some animals are defending themselves right now!”
From a second grader: “All the animals try to stay alive and use their defenses. One might be using one right now…you never know!”
From a first grader: “Would you play dead of something wanted to eat you?”
Another third grader: “Have you even seen an animal use its defense? Did it play dead? Did it run? Did it roll up in a ball?”
Another second grader: “What do you know that I don’t about animal defenses?”
I feel like it was a good first attempt. We’ll continue with another try with a different topic tomorrow.
So here’s what I’ve learned. Introductions and conclusions are hard. It takes study and practice to figure out how to make them work in our writing. And we need to experiment to see what the possibilities are. In our class, we plan to continue to revisit introductions and conclusions throughout the year to help our students internalize this important aspect of their writing.
I also know that there is no “magic” mentor text…and in fact, especially with things like beginnings and endings it is important for students to see that there are multiple approaches rather than a “right answer” or formula. So I will continue to “read like a writer” and mine everything I read for its potential as a mentor text…for introductions, conclusions, language use, grammatical constructions, use of evidence and examples, and more.
What mentor text is your current favorite? How do you use it with your student writers?