“Where Do You Find Mentor Texts? How Do You Select Them?”

We loved seeing so many of our Twitter and blog friends at NCTE this weekend! Yesterday, during our presentation about technique-driven studies, two of the big questions that emerged were: Where do you find mentor texts? How do you select them?

Our criteria:

 To select mentor texts, we begin by visiting our usual haunts (listed below). We look for current, hot-off-the-presses writing that will engage our students and connect them with the writing real writers are doing right now. We also look for pieces that are excellently crafted, and easily digestible (sometimes we pull excerpts of longer pieces to meet this criterion). If we can find a text that teaches more than one element of craft—texts that do double or triple duty—all the better. Below we’ve listed a few of our favorite go-to places.

  • The A.V. Club – great for reviews & pop culture analysis
  • Grantland – sports/pop culture analysis & news
  • FiveThirtyEight – raw data, infographics & visuals
  • Vulture – pop culture analysis & reviews
  • The New Yorker – news, longer analysis, feature articles, narrative writing, cartoons

On the drive home from NCTE, we pulled up our Twitter feeds for each of these sites and searched for a few mentor texts that anyone can use in class tomorrow—texts that can be used to teach myriad skills in myriad genres. Below we’ve listed some of these possibilities: Continue reading


NCTE14 Preview: Do Your Student Writers Need Technique Study?

Where does writing workshop go next?

Traditionally, writing workshop is organized around genres. We write editorials, learning about the conventions of that genre, incorporating it into pieces of student writing, and then move on to narrative. Then literary analysis. Then, perhaps, a This I Believe essay. And this is great. Genre is important. Students must understand the differences between the genres — both in terms of purpose and conventions — in order to write anything at all. We love genre study. We do not want to get rid of genre study.

But, over the years, we have encountered a few classroom circumstances and a few students who pushed us to think about something else, something new, something beyond genre study.  This is technique study, and this is what we will be exploring in our session.

Here are some questions to answer to see if, perhaps, your student writers could benefit from a technique-driven workshop:

  • Do your students have rich ideas that don’t necessarily all fit into the same form at the same time?
  • Do your students need to move toward increasing independence in their writing?
  • Do you teach writing in a class that focuses on the writing of a single genre, but you would like to use a workshop model? (Like AP or IB English which focus primarily on the writing of literary analysis)
  • Do you need a way to differentiate instruction between grades or between class levels? A place for writing workshop to grow as students move into new English courses?
  • Is your whole class proficient in their knowledge of genre-based writing and in need of a new challenge?
  • Is your whole class struggling with a particular element of craft and in need of reinforcement?
  • Do you have a student who wants to take her writing to the “next level”?
  • Do your students crave practicality and the direct transference of skills from one writing experience to the next?

A technique-based workshop or strategic technique-based studies can do so much for students — our excellent writers, our struggling writers, our bored writers, and our super-engaged writers.

Join us SUNDAY at 10:30am in Magnolia 2 to hear more about this new kind of workshop, to listen to students tell you how this experience has transformed their writing, to play in a technique-based study yourself, and to get materials to take directly into your classroom!

Connect with us on Twitter to let us know where you will be at #ncte14! We are so excited to see you! @allisonmarchett and @rebekahodell1

NCTE 2014 : Sneak Preview #1

Rebekah and I are gearing up for NCTE 2014 in just a few weeks! This week’s post is a special preview of our presentation: Moving the Writer: Embracing a Vision for a Technique-Driven Workshop. Here is the description printed in the convention program:

What does it take to move the writer and not just the writing? We envision a writing workshop in which ideas come first and form later. Participants will receive a curriculum centered on author’s purpose and elements of craft, mentor texts that cut across genre, and tools that promote independent writers.

The idea is simple: to teach units of study that aren’t organized around genres but around elements of writing that are intrinsic to all kinds of writing. For example, rather than teaching a workshop about memoir or critical review, we might teach a workshop on argument or evidence or punctuation. Students hone their skills in one particular area of writing and choose whatever genre fits their purpose best.

Our presentation will feature a few short interviews with students who experienced a technique-based workshop last year. You can watch one of these videos below–a short but compelling interview with Isabella who talks a little bit about the work that emerged from her technique-driven study (of evidence), as well as her thoughts on genre-based vs. technique-based workshops. Enjoy!

Note: This version of the video is unedited. We will be showing an edited version during our presentation.

Are you coming to NCTE 2014? We would love to connect with you. We will be presenting on SUNDAY at 10:30 in the MAGNOLIA room. Please connect with us @allisonmarchett @rebekahodell1, and let us know where you’ll be!

All Writing, All the Time — My Plan for Semester 2

Maternity leave has given me a huge gift — the excuse to teach all writing all the time when I return to school in January. That might sound daunting or boring (writing every day? five days a week?), but for me it’s an enormous mental relief. Let’s be honest: the absolute most challenging part about teaching writing and teaching it well is finding the time.

Leaving reading and literature instruction to my sub in the first semester has eliminated half of what I normally try to find a way to squeeze in alongside writing workshop. The reading part of class will still be important to us in the second semester — they will continue their independent reading, and they will use all of the close and distant reading skills on a daily basis as we study mentor texts and write about the things we have read. But, delightfully, as I sit back and plan, I feel like I get to teach this writing thing exactly the way I would want to teach it if I had all the time in the world. Because, to an extent, I do. (And when does that happen in teaching?!)

So, today I thought I would share some of my intentions with you — the big, broad strokes I am drawing to conceive of a whole semester of writing instruction. Continue reading