We use mentors to help students become better writers. We want these mentors to teach them and inspire them and moving their writing forward in ways that our mini-lessons and conferences alone could not accomplish.
But we also want to use mentors to help students develop a thriving and lasting writing life. If writing is how we make sense of and communicate our lives, then mentor texts can — and should — do more than simply provide templates for structure and models for powerful sentences.
Mentor texts should teach students something about how we use writing to cope with our struggles and our grief.
I came across two such mentors this week in my reading travels. The first is a powerful opinion piece from the New York Times written by two high school students who attempted to publish interviews in their school newspaper featuring students who, like them, struggle with depression.
The second is one of the most moving post-9/11 narratives I have read. Written by a staff writer at Buzzfeed who is also the brother of a 9/11 victim, this piece tells the story of his first reluctant visit to the newly opened 9/11 Memorial Museum.
I haven’t used these yet, and they will probably wait until next year for my students. They could be used in an introductory unit demonstrating the myriad things writing can do or on the ways we use mentor texts.
Alternatively, they could be folded into op/ed and narrative genre studies, as ways that these genres can access the power of deep emotion.
Here are some other prompts or writerly nudgings I might pull from these pieces. These could be used as Quick Writes during Notebook Time and potentially be developed into polished pieces. Allowing students to engage with these ideas helps them cope with their experiences and potentially leads to powerful living and writing:
- Describe your experience walking through a place that is uncomfortable for you.
- Write about the worst day of your life from the setting in which it happened.
- What difficult issues do you wish your school could more openly discuss?
- What issues deserve to be discussed in your school newspaper?