Finding mentor texts can be hard. And time consuming. This, we know.
Even after years of making mentor texts the fulcrum on which the rest of my writing instruction pivots, finding the right set of texts for the students in front of me can be a challenge. In Writing With Mentors, Allison and I share a list of our go-to sources for mentor texts of all kinds — a list that continues to grow and evolve as we read and teach.
But recently, I’ve discovered a whole new kind of mentor text repository. And one that comes straight to my inbox. Email newsletters.
Email newsletters — the “modern day version of the ‘newspaper on your front porch’” — are on the rise, and there are thousands of them, appealing to every topic and audience imaginable. In this over-saturated age of digital content, the email newsletter feels almost old-fashioned, quaint, friendly. Instead of sifting through all of the Internet, newsletter editors carefully pick, choose, and sort through the noise for you, giving you the best-of-the-best as quickly as possible. It’s like a juicy email from your best friend sharing a bunch of articles she just knew you’d love.
How’s that for “current, engaging mentor texts”?
While you can quickly and easily get your news digested for you in popular newsletters like the Daily Pnut and The Skimm, English teachers can strategically subscribe to an array of newsletters that make our job easier by sending a quick-and-dirty round up of standout articles and essays. This has been a true innovation in my planning life. Why?
- Email newsletters are already curated. While I still fish for mentor texts on my favorite haunts, it’s a treat to have a list of articles & essays come to me already vetted. It’s like having a part-time mentor text assistant.
- Newsletters get me outside of my favorite haunts. The Internet is so deep and so wide that no matter how wonderful my favorite sites are, I am bound to miss things. Newsletters have a tendency to push my own reading boundaries, introducing me to new sites and new writers that I might not otherwise encounter. Some of these make it to my favorites list and become a regular stream of mentor texts.
- Newsletters can provide a launching pad for building a cluster of texts. On occasion, a newsletter will give you a cluster of mentor texts in an single issue. But, more often, the Internet wormholes I get pulled into — a new site full of amazing content, a prolific new writer, similar articles Tweeted by a particular writer — help me build new mentor text clusters of exciting material for students.
- No pressure. If I am having a particularly frantic day when one of my newsletters rolls in, I can easily press delete, clear my inbox, and move forward. But if I’m looking for a five-minute break or waiting for an appointment, I have available food for thought. Newsletters give me the flexibility to read (or not read!) when I am ready.
So which newsletters? What kind of mentor texts? Here are a few of my favorites along with a mentor text or two I picked up from them just this week!
From the data journalism hub of FiveThirtyEight.com, comes this daily newsletter. I use this source for raw data mentor texts fit for Notebook Time. One I’m sharing with my students this week:
I’m predicting stories about the world’s oldest people, poems about aging, and musings on the reliability of birth certificates!
Excerpt from the May 17, 2016 What We’re Reading Newsletter
Allison and I often say that if were stranded on an island and could only use one source for mentor texts for the rest of our lives, we’d save The New York Times. This newsletter is compiled by writers for the Times!
Twice a week (usually on Tuesday/Wednesday and Friday), the Times staff pulls together a list of five favorite articles they are reading from other writers in other outlets. These texts run the gamut of journalism on the web, and there is constantly something surprising to be found.
The What We’re Reading newsletter just directed me to this article (that I wouldn’t have otherwise found) on the BBC: “India’s Dying Mother”, a moving article about pollution in the Ganges river. You have to click that link and look at this article if for no other reason than the stunning way images, graphics, shifting maps, and online scrolling are used as evidence to support and push the story forward. Using images as evidence, not just decoration, is a lesson I revisit often with my students. I’m filing this away for next year!
The Ringer is a newsletter that soon promises to become a full-fledged website, edited by Grantland (RIP) guru Bill Simmons. Touting the same smart, incisive commentary as its predecessor, The Ringer sends a handful of full-length original articles your way a few times a week — primarily stellar sports and pop culture writing of all kinds.
Just this week, The Ringer sent me three original articles that could each be used in a study of analytical writing in my classroom: “Steph Curry vs. Kevin Durant Is the Western Conference Finals Duel We Deserve”, “Game of Thrones’ Baptisms by Fire” and “Meghan Trainor and the Limits of #Flawlessness”. The Ringer is a must-read for the mentor text savvy teacher.
Touted as the “best of the literary Internet”, LitHub Daily may well be the only newsletter you need. Through this newsletter, my eyes have been opened about how much authentic, real world writing about literature exists — and the many ways this can speak to students’ experiences writing analysis of literature. LitHub Daily pulls from all of the Internet as well as its own site, full of delicious and unusual ponderings about books.
Next year, I’ll use this piece from The New Yorker on “What Makes an Essay American” with my seniors when we study Annie Dillard and craft our own ruminating essays. I’ll use “Searching For Salvation in Charlotte Bronte’s Villette” as a mentor text for showing my students how deep, analytical writing can meld personal experience and literature.
This newsletter offers “the week’s most unmissable articles across creativity, psychology, art, science, design, philosophy, and other facets of our search for meaning.” Brain Pickings highlights more long-form articles and boasts beautiful design –– incorporating images and illustrations into its weekly newsletter. This is a source through which I often become lost for hours, clicking here and there as one discovery leads to the next.
In last week’s newsletter, I was introduced to W.H. Auden’s Commonplace Book, which I promptly purchased as a mentor text for potential commonplace-book-making next year with my students! Creating a similar piece would be a wonderful synthesis activity for them across a single text or multiple texts! Or, perhaps, we could add elements of a commonplace book to our writer’s notebooks. See? My brain is already churning.
Email newsletters have the potential to totally change your mentor text game — giving you wider scope and greater variety without ever leaving your email! Do you subscribe to email newsletters? What are your favorites! Let’s swap! Leave a comment below, or Tweet me @RebekahOdell1, or continue the conversation with us on Facebook!