Learning from Mentor Texts

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Mentors teach and inspire us.  They set examples for us to follow, and we benefit from their guidance.

The same is true of mentor texts.  These are pieces of writing that we read and analyze so that we can figure out what the writer is doing that is so effective.  What moves does the writer make to set a scene, create a mood, or sketch a character?  Once we’ve figured that out, we can try those same moves in our own writing.  Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?

In some of our blog posts this week, you’ll notice us giving credit to Suzanne Collins and Gayle Forman for inspiring our writing.  The following passages were lifted from the first chapters of The Hunger Games and If I Stay:

     Sitting at Prim’s knees, guarding her, is the world’s ugliest cat. Mashed-in nose, half of one ear missing, eyes the color of rotting squash. Prim named him Buttercup, insisting that his muddy yellow coat matched the bright flower.  He hates me. Or at least distrusts me. Even though it was years ago, I think he still remembers how I tried to drown him in a bucket when Prim brought him home. Scrawny kitten, belly swollen with worms, crawling with fleas. The last thing I needed was another mouth to feed. But Prim begged so hard, cried even, I had to let him stay. It turned out okay. My mother got rid of the vermin and he’s a born mouser. Even catches the occasional rat. Sometimes, when I clean a kill, I feed Buttercup the entrails. He has stopped hissing at me.
      Entrails. No hissing. This is the closest we will ever come to love.

                                                Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games

      You wouldn’t expect the radio to work afterward. But it does.
   
 The car is eviscerated. The impact of a four-ton pickup truck going sixty miles an hour plowing straight into the passenger side had the force of an atom bomb. It tore off the doors, sent the front-side passenger seat through the driver’s-side window. It flipped the chassis, bouncing it across the road and ripped the engine apart as if it were no stronger than a spiderweb. It tossed wheels and hubcaps deep into the forest. It ignited bits of the gas tank, so that now tiny flames lap at the wet road.
    And there was so much noise. A symphony of grinding, a chorus of popping, an aria of exploding, and finally, the sad clapping of hard metal cutting into soft trees. Then it went quiet, except for this: Beethoven’s Cello Sonata no. 3, still playing. The car radio somehow still is attached to a battery and so Beethoven is broadcasting into the once-again tranquil February morning.

                                                          Gayle Forman, If I Stay

What do YOU see in these passages?  What are the writers doing to help you hear, feel, see and understand what is being described?  We’re learning to recognize and name writer’s craft, and we’re starting to apply our new understanding in our own writing.

For examples of student work inspired by the above mentors, see Carly’s blog post, William’s blog post, and Tristan’s blog post.

For an example of student work inspired by our use of Beowulf: A New Telling as a mentor text, see Erin’s blog post and Julia’s blog post.

 

Author’s Craft

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Show, don’t tell.

Use vivid verbs.

Paragraph for effect.

Create images that the reader can see, hear, and feel.

Open your writer’s toolbox: dialog, metaphor, simile, personification, ellipsis, dash, colon, sentence variety, repetition, inner thoughts, leads…

And more.

All good advice, but none of it as effective as it could be without models–mentor texts–to serve as guides for imitation and inspiration.

So in recent weeks, we’ve been reading Michael Crichton, James Herriott, J. K. Rowling, and more published authors to enjoy their work and the way their words made us feel, and to ask how they did it.  What choices did those writers make that were particularly effective, and could we do apply the same “brushstrokes” (thank you, Harry Noden) to our writing to achieve the effect we wanted?  Students were also encouraged to pay attention to the crafting in the books, articles, and posts they read outside of school and to ask the same questions:  What do I like about this?  How did the author do it?

I’m excited to see our attention to author’s craft showing up in student blog posts.   Read the following Flipboard magazines spotlighting our student writers…what craft lessons can you recognize in their work?

Word Play:  Fiction–Setting, Mood, and  Character

Word Play:  Expository and Personal Narrative

 

 

 

 

 

Student Poetry: Where We’re From

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These poems were inspired by a reading of George Ella Lyon’s “Where I’m From” and by our own explorations and excavations of childhood, home, and family in our Writer’s Notebooks.

Enjoy these ten. More student poetry will be posted over the next couple of days.

A Favorite Mistake

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“Mistakes are painful when they happen, but years later a collection of mistakes is what is called experience.”  — Denis Waitley

Making mistakes can be frustrating, but we can grow from them.

Newsweek magazine has a regular column called “My Favorite Mistake” in which people of note are invited to tell about mistakes they are glad they have made because the mistakes taught them  valuable lessons or gave them insight they wouldn’t otherwise have.  In class, we’ve read about the favorite mistakes of violinist Joshua Bell and Congressman Jason Chaffetz.

Now it’s our turn to write personal narratives about our favorite mistakes and what we learned from the experiences.  Perhaps some of those essays will appear in our blogs. 

Do you have a favorite mistake?  What did it teach you?