Tag Archives: mentor text

Sorting Quiet

Today was a sorting and categorizing kind of day in my classroom.  Yesterday we read The Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood.

quietbook

In it she describes quiet in lots of evocative ways…here’s a couple of lines:

Last one to get picked up from school quiet.  Swimming underwater quiet.  Pretending you’re invisible quiet.  Lollipop quiet.  First look at your new haircut quiet.  Sleeping sister quiet.

Then we asked our students to think about the best kinds of quiet they have experienced. They had so many wonderful ideas including things like lost in a good book quiet, waking up before everyone else quiet, playing your favorite video game quiet, watching your favorite cartoon on television quiet…  They wrote their best kind of quiet on an index card before the end of the day.

Today to help us think about sorting and categories we read Shoes, Shoes, Shoes by Ann Morris–a book about shoes from around the world used for a variety of purposes.  We thought about the categories our shoes fit into…and the ways they cross categories: school shoes, running shoes, playing shoes…  And then, in groups of four students shared their best kinds of quiet and thought about ways to group their “bests” into categories.  We asked each group of four to try to find 2 categories that their 4 index cards would fit.  They came up with lots of categories: electronics quiet, family quiet, in-the-zone quiet, playing quiet, learning quiet…

And as a class we were able to narrow their categories down to four that we will use to create a class graph of our best kinds of quiet tomorrow.  Can’t wait to see what the data tells us!

What’s your best kind of quiet?

Condor’s Egg: #113texts

Jonathan London is probably best known in children’s book circles as the author of the Froggy books, but he has many wonderful books that are varied in content and well written.  I mentioned Dream Weaver a couple of days ago as my contribution to the #113texts Mentor Text Challenge.  Today I want to tell you a bit about Condor’s Egg by Jonathan London.

photo

Condor’s Egg is a realistic story about a family of California Condors in the wild.  As is typical with London, the language is lyrical and carefully chosen.  His use of verbs evokes movement and creates a sense of action.  And as an added bonus, there is factual information about California Condors at the end of the book as well as a guide to using the book with children.

During the 2012-13 school year, after reading the book as part of our study of birds, we used a number of sentences from this book as mentor sentences for our students to study and then to replicate with their own content.

Here’s one sentence we studied: Circling, he rides the warm air, higher than the tops of the clouds. This is a tricky construction with the main part of the sentence between the parentheses where extra information is often deposited.

T (a second grader) created this sentence–a close approximation:  Roaring, they start their engines, then the drivers shoot off the starting line.

J (another second grader) came up with this one:  Building, Steve builds a square house, nice and safe!

Here’s one from a first grader (Okay–I know it’s not fair–this is a talented writer!): Running, she goes through the house as fast as she can, trying to get away from the pretend monster.

And here’s one more second grader: Diving, she is determined to catch it, landing on the dusty floor of the canyon.

We used many sentences from this book and explored creating our own sentences following the pattern of London’s sentences.  By doing this my students had opportunities to try out new sentence structures, which later showed up in their own writing.

I was thinking about the Jonathan London titles that I use…here’s a few:

  • Dream Weaver
  • Condor’s Egg
  • Puddles
  • The Waterfall
  • Like Butter on Pancakes

How have you used London’s books?  What titles do you like?

Dream Weaver: a Mentor Text

Sometimes it is the simplest books that pack a powerful punch.  When I started to consider a recommendation for the #113texts Mentor Text Challenge so many books came to mind.  I expect to add more than one!

dream weaver

Dream Weaver by Jonathan London is one of those simple books with beautiful language.  The verbs create an orchestra of sound and movement.

A sudden wind, and the trees hum, the branches creak, and Yellow Spider’s web shimmers, like wind across a pond.  But she hangs on and you stay with her.  The whole world is in these leaves.

Besides the language, there are two other features of the book that I love.  One is the way the books uses the space on the page and draws you in close to feel the insect view and then pulls back to give a human perspective.  I also love that the back of the book includes facts about spiders.  (The fiction/non-fiction mix is one of my favorites!)

This year we used this book as one of several to teach beginnings.  Here’s the text of the first page:

Nestled in the soft earth beside the path, you see a little yellow spider.

This beginning takes the reader directly to the “place” in the book.  Our students wrote a piece where they highlighted the qualities of our local community–exploring ways to share their opinions with evidence from their own experience.  But like most young writers, they are still working to build effective beginnings.  So they studied this beginning from Jonathan London and many tried their hand at making this structure work in their own writing.  (Nestled did become a favorite word in our class!)

Here’s a couple of examples from students:

“B” , a second grader wrote this opening

Nestled between the blue beach and the desert there’s a small town called Cardiff-by-the Sea

Okay–I’m not sure that the beach and desert are quite close enough to “nestle” this little town, but she definitely got the idea!

“K”, a third grader tried this version where the setting is revealed in a similar way without using the word “nestled.”

A little town called Cardiff lies between two other towns in Southern California: Encinitas and Del Mar.

There are many ways to use this book as a mentor text.  I highly recommend it, especially for students in grades K-3.  I’d love to know how you’ve used this book (or others like it)!

Connected Learning…a Challenge

At the San Diego Area Writing Project (SDAWP) we are always looking for ways to learn from each and ways to support each others’ learning in our mission to improve writing instruction for the young people in our area.  For a while now we’ve been wanting to create a shared resource of mentor texts that teachers love and have used successfully to teach writing in their classrooms.  We’ve thrown a bunch of ideas around about how to do that–and nothing has really stuck.

Enter Barb–SDAWP Teacher Consultant and one of the administrators of our SDAWP Voices blog, the collaborative blog we’ve been experimenting with over the last year.  In another part of her life she is an artist with fabric–creating beautiful quilt projects–and maintains a sewing focused blog where she also participates in challenges and contests and blog link-ups.  Sharing her experience with textile artists and their social media world is helping us at the SDAWP experiment with new ways to build connections…and learning experiences.

So starting today we’re asking people–everyone is invited–to commit to the 113 Mentor Texts by the End of 2013 challenge.  Committing means agreeing to add at least one mentor text that you’ve used to teach writing or used to support your own writing that you would recommend to others.  There are lots more details on the SDAWP Voices blog here.

So join us…and please share with your friends and colleagues so we can reach our goal of 113 mentor texts by the end of 2013!

Writing, Science, and Making

On my way to UCSD yesterday morning I listened to this story on our local public radio station about a zombie horror video game inspired by a nature documentary, with commentary from a local entomologist from the San Diego Natural History Museum, Michael Wall.  I’m not much of a video game player, but I love the idea that a nature documentary and the very real behavior of parasites inspired the story of this game.  I started to think about the ways that science and writing are natural partners and the roles that curiosity and creativity play in both.

And then I started to think about the ways that curiosity and creativity often get squished in schools in the name of supporting our learners.  We’ve been reading, writing, and debating formulaic writing in the SDAWP Invitational Summer Institute this week and asking ourselves what is gained and what is lost when writers, especially young writers, are encouraged or even forced to fit their thinking and ideas into five paragraphs (or three or…) predetermined and highly structured by a formula?

I’ve heard people say that “structures” (provided by formulaic writing) free young writers from the frustration of figuring out effective organization for their ideas and their writing.  But I’m guessing that neither the writer of the nature documentary nor the video game maker used a formula to craft the stories behind their movie and game.  I wonder if they even thought they were writing (as in school writing) as they crafted the narrative structures that hold their work…or were they simply making and/or playing as they explored the ideas in their heads?  I’m also wondering if they worked with collaborators–and how that shaped their stories and their productions.  (It sounds like both making and playing to me…and fun!)

My brain is already on fast forward to the new school year as I think about how my students might be inspired to write video games and documentaries and radio podcasts like the one above and who knows what else!  I know I won’t be providing any fill-in-the-blank formulas to structure their compositions.  Instead, I will help them locate mentor texts (texts in the broadest sense of the word) to play with, examine, and study to figure out how they will construct their own.  And I will create and compose along with them.

And for those of you who think your ideas are not clever or original or good enough, take a look at this video (thanks Kristina Campea for sharing on google+ at the #clmooc).

So what inspires your writing and creating?  What structures do you depend on to move from ideas to composition?