“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:

  1. As Its Clunky Title Suggest Mockingjay—Part 1 is Half a Hunger Games Film” by A.A. Dowd from The A.V. Club
  • Expressing a negative opinion in a review in a tasteful way
  • Titling a review
  • Demonstrating to students that the best reviews are written about timely topics
  • Writing about a series or trilogy
  • Providing context when writing about literature
  1. Love Hurts: Why Cleveland’s Interior Defense Isn’t Working” by Kirk Goldsberry from Grantland.com
  • A great example of sports analysis—not a genre we usually teach, but one some students will want to explore on their own
  • Writing a strong claim
  • Writing a clear, concise introduction that forecasts reasons and counterarguments
  • Embedding visuals, charts, and Tweets as evidence
  • Using voice and conversational language to carry your argument foreword (“But here’s the thing—this isn’t new.”)
  1. “Almost 30% of Americans have a given name that appears among the 100 most common” from fivethirtyeight.com
Click the image to see this graph on fivethirtyeight.com.
Click the image to see this graph on fivethirtyeight.com.

We would use this data about American names during Notebook Time. Look here for more information about what notebook time is. Look here for a post about how we use raw data to inspire writing.

  1. How YA Dystopian Films Became What They Hate” by Nick Schager from vulture.com
  • In literary analysis, analyzing the title as representative of the whole
  • In a literary analysis or a review, discussing the trends of that particular genre
  • Writing about multiple texts in the same piece & transitioning between texts
  • Writing about irony (see paragraph 2)
  • Writing about elements of film in a review
  1. The Battle Hymn of The Papier-Mache Mother” by Lucinda Rosenfeld from newyorker.com
  • Using remembered feelings and present perspective to show autobiographical significance
  • Using quotes as evidence (her mother’s letters and poems)
  • Syntactical repetition / writing in threes (see third sentence in fifth paragraph)
  • Using em-dashes for an effect
  • Describing characters and people with imagery and figurative language (“From affair, my mother—with her twig-like frame and mop of wiry black hair—sometimes resembled a feather duster.”)

Want some more resources?

What mentor texts are you able to find on these sites or others? Please respond in the comments below—or use the tag #movingwriters to tweet the articles you find. Happy hunting!

–Allison & Rebekah






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