The Power of the Mentor Text
Last month I was back in High Bridge, NJ, one of my very favorite places to be, demonstrating writing lessons and student conferences in the classroom. Now here is a school (dedicated principal, talented and highly committed teachers, engaged students) that can’t help but make me look good. Nevertheless, I will admit it, I am always nervous before modeling. The jitters are unavoidable: I’m working with students who are new to me, while being observed by half-a-dozen adults, and often conducting lessons (based on a teacher-requested topic) that I’ve never done before! But, perhaps not suprisingly, the greatest risks often bring the greatest rewards.
I want to share two experiences I had in High Bridge, but I will divide the posts. The first was with Kim T’s pull-out class of nine third graders. Kim asked for a lesson on voice. I knew that voice can be a challenging trait for many eight and nine-year-olds, but especially for those who might have difficulty processing and/or articulating feelings.
I chose Jane Kurt’s Rain Romp: Stomping Away a Grouchy Day as a mentor text. I read the book from beginning to end so students could enjoy the lively story. Then I asked students, as I reread the story, to stop me when they heard voice. I recorded the phrases they selected, and their conclusions regarding author’s craft in a T-chart. For example:
Examples of Voice
How the Author Created Voice
“I Don’t Feel Shiny"
“Dad hums a snazzy jazzy tune.”
“’No way,’ I said. Noooo Way.”
Unique way of saying something, includes feeling
After, we had recorded a list of eight examples, I asked students to consider using some of these techniques as they wrote that day.
Here is what Jessica wrote (the spelling and correct conventions are mine):
Words that Make You Angry
I woke out of my bed. Angry words fell through my head. I jumped out of bed, saw words everywhere. They were feeling words. I felt angry. Really angry. I yelled, "Get out of my room!" The words straggled out with some toony sounds. I got my net to catch the words.
It continues for a page or two and end with: "All the words are gone for now."
Here are a few sentences of Nicholas’s piece:
Once there is a Grandma. She is scared of everything: rabbis, food, trees. But she likes surgeries, and shots, and home. And shopping. She is scared of dogs.
Voice? You betcha! Oh, the power of the right mentor text!