Mentor Text Round-Up: Year-End Lists

As I’ve trolled my Twitter feed in the days after Christmas, it seems that everyone is publishing their year-end lists — bests, worsts, most-shockings, favorites. I started thinking about what a fun mini-study this could be, especially when we return to school at the beginning of a new year and the end of a first semester of school. As Allison reminded us last week, this time of year is ripe for reflection, and we could use this genre as form for our ruminations.

A year-end list seems simple enough, but when I started looking at them with a writer’s eye, I noticed that there are actually many opportunities for craft lessons embedded within this genre. Year-end lists require an incredible amount of synthesis and are useful in helping students draw — and write about — their conclusions on a topic. They require evidence and ask the writer to give a “so what?”

Digital year-end lists also often include interesting multimodal presentation pieces — video clips, images, playlists, and hyperlinking. What an interesting way for students to engage in this kind of thinking — what do these insertions add to the text? When does a video clip work better than a still image? How can hyperlinking extend their ideas through other texts?

Your students don’t have to compose year-end lists. They could work on favorite lists — favorite movies? Favorite sports moments? Favorite mentor texts they have used in their first semester writing?  What about a synthesized, annotated list of books they have read in the first semester? A top-ten of things they have learned during semester 1 — in your class or in all of their classes combined? My students may well work on lists of Most Important Things You Should Know After Maternity Leave. Or, save this mini-study for the end of the year — perhaps for their exam writing? As a way for them to present their own writing portfolio?

Here are seven mentor texts for your year-end list studies and a couple of their most interesting features:

  • “Manhola Dargis’s Best Movies of 2014: ‘Beyond the Lights’ and More” – This article from The New York Times does more than list favorite films. Dargis begins with an argument for her favorite underrated movie of the year and then moves into a contemplation on the state of movies in 2014 before providing her list of favorites, with judiciously chosen images from some of those films.  This article also links to favorite film lists from other New York Times critics, providing an opportunity to compare and contrast lists among multiple writers.
  • “Playlist: The Best Songs of 2014” — This best-of list isn’t heavy on writing, but it does do something really interesting (and something I suspect teenagers will love) in the service of proving its point: it includes an embedded Spotify playlist of best songs as evidence. The music lovers in your class will go nuts.
  • Best Books of 2014” – This article from The New Yorker is far more traditional, giving a brief paragraph to each of the favorite books. This article is a compilation of favorites from many New Yorker contributors — it could be a fun mentor text for collaborative writing.
  • Favorite Portraits from 2014” – My class this year is full or artists, and this list of favorite portraits will appeal to them. While the New Yorker doesn’t provide commentary on the portraits they list, your students might add a brief paragraph to explain the impact of a particular piece of visual art that has moved them.
  • Our Favorite Games of 2014, Part One” — from The A.V. Club, this best of list chronicles a year in video games. Another collaborative effort from a group of writers, this list features images and concise descriptions of gameplay. My favorite feature, though, is that each item in the list begins with the useful, simple template of  “I liked ________ because __________.”  No, it’s not revolutionary literary styling, but it is a nice way of keeping each item consistent among writers and gives readers an immediate indication of what they are about to encounter. The writers often use this template to delve into the themes and experiences of the playing the games: “I liked The Vanishing of Ethan Carter because it took detective work”, “I liked OlliOlli because it made me wince with pain”, “I liked Angry Bird Transformers because it didn’t take the easy way out.”
  • “Podmass’ Favorite Podcasts of 2014, and a Promise for Next Year” – This list of favorite podcasts is written in the style of yearbook superlatives. This mentor text would be great for showing an engaging alternative path toward crafting a list. It might also introduce your students to some smart podcasts!
  • “50 Wonderful Things from 2014” — Something written by Monkeysee’s Linda Holmes is bound to end up on any roundup of mentor texts. Her lengthy list of 50 wonderful things is a great mentor for a hodgepodge list, showing students that an effective list needn’t have one single focus but can incorporate multitudes of favorites from very different realms.

What other year-end list mentor texts would you add to this list? How else might your students use these lists as inspiration for their own lists? What other lists do you envision your students writing? 

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