Tag Archives: mentor text

What Students Love: #writeout

As promised, here are some of my students’ poetry inspired by Lee Bennett Hopkins’ City I Love.  (For more details, check out this previous post.)

Even before pulling out City I Love, I launched the idea of writing about place by reading All the Places to Love by Patricia MacLachlan and Where Am I From by Yamile Saied Mendez.  Students then created heart maps of the places they love (ala Georgia Heard).  By this time students were excited about the places they love, eager to tell each other and me all about them.  But instead of diving right into the writing, I asked students to “map” themselves.  I tried to keep this direction pretty broad, letting students take it in any direction they wanted.  These watercolor and black sharpie marker masterpieces are the result!

This map is a wonderful map creature by H.

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And his poem:

Morro Rock I love

Looking at the dormant volcano 

The fish swarm in the water 

The sound of the sea gulls

The smell of the salty sea.

Casting a line

Getting the bait 

catching the fish.

It’s just sitting in place

Day after day

Year after year

For hundred of years.

Walking on the beach

looking at the fish and crabs

and looking at the ocean scenery

Sitting on a dock waiting for a fish

like waiting for a train.

 

And a pineapple map by I.

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And her poem about a very special bench that honors her grandmother:

The Bench I Love

 On the bench I sit at

      Bench I love 

I watch the flowers flowers flow 

As the birds glide slow as they pass by their home

Through the palm tree garden I go 

Past the great sun’s glow

On the bench I sit at

Bench I love 

I sit down and watch the tide curl 

Up & down it will go 

On the bench I sit at 

bench I love

The breeze flies past my hair 

And chases the ocean’s salty waves

On the bench I sit at

 bench I love

I sit down and inhale

Look up and exhale

And a horse map by S.

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Accompanied by a barn poem:

Barn I Love

Barn I go to

barn I love.

Horse smelling wonder beyond city.

Gallops of emotion. Races of hearts.

Barn I go to 

barn I love.

Each morning a sweet smell of hay .

Each night a thankful nay.

Barn I go to 

barn I love.

Morning wet covers the arena.

Full of playful horses running.

Barn I go to 

barn I love.

Stardust black mares galloping in the cold moon.

 Sunset colored  butterflies leave at the end of the day.

I told my students that I would use my blog to amplify their voices (our vocabulary word from last week!).  I know they will appreciate your comments.  And know that these are just a glimpse of what my students created as they thought about the places and activities that matter to them.

How are you celebrating writing in your classroom, in your home, in your life?  #writeout

                      

Exploring Still Life: NPM 2019 Day 16

As a way to help students go deeper with their poetry, we tried on some still life poems today inspired by Work Boots: Still Life by Jim Daniels.  I experimented a bit the other day with my poem about malasadas, and could see ways this approach might help my students. We practiced together using the classroom rocking chair as our subject.  I encouraged students to push their ideas, moving beyond the literal, stretching to unexpected comparisons.  Using the structure described by Go Poems, students then brainstormed a description of an item of their choice (a thing, not a person or animal) and then considered the deeper meaning of the item.  Using Work Boots as a mentor text, they wrote their own poems.

Frankie, who is obsessed with books, wrote this still life poem:

Poem Book: Still Life

On my shelf

just waiting to be read

it is a poem book.

So as I touch it

the hard cover is blank.

Open, close with a snap.

Floating on a river of poems,

feeling relaxed on my boat

taking me to places I have never been.

New words, new poems.

Places like the forest to the sea, on the fields

and in my bed.

Sloane, who was wearing a skeleton key necklace today, took that as inspiration.

Rusty Key: Still Life

The wispy key, sitting quietly

waiting to unlock the door to the world.

With waves swirling at the top

like octopus arms.

There on that silent table

at the end of this wonderful old key are two humps

like a camel

ready to click the invisible switch

behind the clockwork of the door.

That’s where the new world unfolds.

You see, this old silver useful and quiet key

can do so much.

The key finally breathes a sigh of relief.

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And my poem was about my alarm clock:

Alarm Clock: Still Life

Next to my bed

my alarm clock stands guard

silent glowing numbers

mark the invisible

beat of the day, keeping track of

seconds,

minutes,

hours,

days

When the time is right

the tiny bird chirps

insistent

incessant

tearing me from my dreams

as my hands reach and fumble

to press snooze

annoyed yet comforted

knowing it will chirp

again

I drift back to my dreams.

©Douillard

A Homage to Weeds

I’m fascinated by weeds.  They have a way of surviving in the most unlikely of circumstances, even when they are directly and persistently attacked…like the dandelions in our lawn!  And on a lazy Saturday, a day where I am trying not to have the cold this tell-tale runny nose is suggesting, I’m still looking for an interesting photo or two to snap.

So, after wandering around my yard, I spied a patch of dandelions and other assorted weeds that have hijacked an abandoned pot of dirt and the ground around it.

I love my macro lens when weeds are concerned, it takes me in close and lets me see the magic and beauty of what often is mistaken as ordinary.  So with the macro attached, my phone and I headed out to a corner of the yard.  I’m particularly interested in unfolding buds, like this one.

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The string-like petals remind me of a variegated ball of yarn or multicolored strands of thread. It’s hard to believe that this will bloom into that yellow, sun-like blossom that most recognize as a dandelion.  (I’ve written about dandelions before, if you’re interested.)  Here’s a few tiny blossoms trying to get a foothold in my lawn.

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SDAWP TC Cindy Jenson-Elliott just had her first picture book released recently.  Weeds Find a Way is a book that celebrates weeds in all their tenacity, beauty, and adaptions for survival. We’ll be using it in our class this week to both teach students about weeds in all their glory and to study the writing as a mentor text for our writing about some other plants in our school garden.

water drop on dandelion

So this post is an homage to weeds, a pause to appreciate these often maligned plants.  Taking time to find beauty, especially in what others have taught us to see as ugly or a nuisance, is refreshing and renewing for me.  And for me it transfers beyond weeds and helps me look at all aspects of life and living in a more appreciative frame.

What have you taken the time to appreciate today?

Introducing…

Beginnings and endings often confound writers.  And yet they are critical to the success of a piece of writing.  Many of the young writers I work with simply dive into their content…regardless of genre or text type.

We recently gave our students a writing performance task to inform our teaching of informational writing.  Students watched a short video about animal defenses and either read a short article on the same topic or listened to a picture book on that topic.  After reading, watching, taking notes, and answering a few questions, they were prompted to write an article describing and comparing animal defenses.  Our students were immediately engaged in the task, eagerly taking notes and excitedly writing about the animals.  It was clear that they understood the material and wrote effectively about the content.

But…many of our students dove directly into the body of their writing without any kind of introduction at all.  They started with sentences like, “The porcupine has sharp quills…” or “Puffer fish blow their bodies up so other animals can’t eat them.”

I’ve often wondered why this lack of introduction is so noticeable (not just in my class) in prompted writing and less evident in classroom products that make their way through the writing process, including the use of mentor texts and mini lessons along the way.  Does the written prompt encourage students to see the writing as an answer to a question rather than writing that stands alone?  Or is the missing step the writing response group or individual teacher conference?  Or maybe it’s a combination of all of the above.

My teaching partner and I have thought long and hard about this phenomenon and decided that we would use our students’ prompted writing, and our analysis of it, as an opportunity to teach our students about introductions and conclusions.

In planning our introductions mini lessons, we took a careful look at non-fiction/informational texts we had read in our classroom recently.  We ended up using both texts from the performance task…a picture book and a short article.  We also used an article about pumpkins from Scholastic News that we had read as a class, a book about rock collecting, and then an unrelated book about rain forests that we had not read.  We chose all of these because they demonstrated different approaches to introductions.  With our students we noticed a “preview” introduction, one that set the stage with a context and overarching idea, an anecdote that took us right into a place, and one that used a list to get started.

We sent students off to try our a new beginning for their animal defenses piece…with varying success.  Some of our younger students actually started rewriting the same information they had already provided!  As a class, we looked at a couple of student examples and noticed what they had tried out.

Today we returned to our introduction mentor texts and reminded ourselves about the purpose of the beginning.  And then we asked students to write a short piece about the fruit trees we had been out photographing and studying yesterday.

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With beginnings fresh in mind, students began to write.  We limited the time…giving them 7 minutes of “power writing” to write their beginning and whatever else they had learned about fruit trees.

Here are a few examples;

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So here’s a second grader’s attempt, “Hey, want to know about trees?”  I’m not that crazy about the “Hey” or the simple rhetorical question…but it is an attempt at at a beginning.

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This first grader took a very formal approach, “This article is about trees.”  She made a very definite attempt to set the context and expectations for her writing.

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This third grader attempted the more complex and creative anecdote approach, “Walk carefully through the big apple orchard.  Notice everything that has happened in the trees. Sketch it out in your notebook and take a minute to write about it–hope you have fun!”

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And this second grader tried out a broad overarching idea, “Trees are amazing parts of Mother Earth.”

I feel like our students are getting the idea of the importance and variety of introductions. Tomorrow we will take another look at introductions–both from our mentor texts and from some student examples.  And then we will ask students to write another short informational piece about another topic they are familiar with…with an emphasis on the introduction.

And then next week we will shift our focus to endings…and continue to explore ways to support our students’ development of writing that includes beginnings and endings as well as rich content!

Writing is complex…and we can always work to make our writing better.  How do you support student writers?

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Ordinary

Today, out of necessity, I had to scrap a plan and invent another without notice.  For teachers, this is something that happens with some regularity and most of us pride ourselves on our flexibility. And I love it when that spontaneous plan blossoms into a wonderful learning moment.

We always have picture books at the ready to read to our class.  Some are set aside for specific purposes and lessons, others we know we want to read but are waiting for the perfect time to present itself.  Last year we read Spoon by Amy Krouse Rosenthal–a book that our students loved.  We revisited it a number of times throughout the school year for different purposes…from mentor sentences to a situation for opinion writing.

At the end of the year, I came across a new book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal: Exclamation Point. So today, in that moment when I needed a plan at a moment’s notice, I picked up Exclamation Point, reminded my returning students (two thirds of them) that this was the author of Spoon, and started to read.  I love those moments when each student’s attention is fully engaged…and they were hooked by the bright yellow cover and the whimsical smiling exclamation point. They noticed right away that there wasn’t a title…at least not written in words. The exclamation point itself stood as the title.

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We read and discussed and noticed and connected all the way through the book.  We delighted in the words and the pictures and the message.  And we were inspired to write our own stories about punctuation.

And then later in the day we managed to get packed up and ready to go home with enough time for a book before the dismissal bell.  Overwhelmingly, students wanted me to read Spoon. It was sitting near Exclamation Point…and suddenly today became the day for a mini author study.  The second and third graders were treated to an old friend, and the first graders were anxious to get acquainted!

After reading, students volunteered their observations, connections, reactions, reflections. They had so many thoughtful comments and ideas for their own writing.  And one student pointed out that Amy Krouse Rosenthal wrote about ordinary things…in wonderful ways.  We started thinking about all the ordinary things we might write about and how our writing could transform them beyond the ordinary.  They were excited to write as the dismissal bell rang today…I hope they sustain that excitement long enough to actually get to the writing.

I’ve also been noticing the power of the ordinary.  Yesterday’s post was about the transformation of an ordinary photo into something I was willing to name as art.  And today on five minute friday the prompt is ordinary.  Today in the classroom the ordinary business of reading a book because an extraordinary opportunity to notice the magic of writers and writing…and turned students into active learners making meaning for themselves.  Today I was reminded that ordinary is a state of mind, and each of us has the power to re-look and re-see the ordinary in new ways.  I love when that wonderful learning moment in the classroom means that I learn too!

Mentor Text: September Is…

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.

September Is

September is

when yellow pencils

in brand new eraser hats

bravely wait on perfect points–

ready to march across miles of lines

in empty notebooks–

and

September is

when a piece of chalk

skates across the board–

swirling and looping–

until it spells your new teacher’s

name.

Bobbi Katz

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

Fall is Halloween when ghosts glide through the night sky and when leaves glide off the trees.

“S” — a third grader –wrote this:

Fall Is

Fall is…

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!

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Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge: #113texts

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)

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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.

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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!