Mentor Text Wednesday: Writing in Strange Times

Mentor Texts:The Afternoon The World Health Organization Declared the Pandemic’ by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer


  • Using Poetry to Write About the Tough Stuff

Background – One of my favourite things about poetry is how it can be used to put complicated feelings into words. The poetry of protest is powerful, as are poems that are clearly allowing the poet to process their pain, or confusion.

I’ve written before (here, and here)about how important I feel that this is for our writers. This is what their notebooks are for, to allow them to “write through things.” Often, it’s the ideas and material we’re working with in class, but I feel that we’re remiss as writing teachers if they’re not encouraged to write about the things that are hard – the feelings and fears that they’re trying to process.

Stay Soft Stay Brave
My fave, Frank Turner, used this as a backdrop on his recent tour. Love the message from Vanessa Jean Speckman

So many of our students are in an unprecedented situation right now. COVID-19 has had a significant impact on many aspects of our reality, and it’s safe to say that disruption will have an impact for a while to come. As I write this, I’m preparing material for my students for the period of time they’ll be out of school, knowing that period of time may very well change.

As I’m sure we’ve all heard, or said, lately, these are strange times.

One of the things that I’m sending home with my Grade 11 students is this poem. We have an ongoing project called the VoiceBox, a literal box containing various pieces in which we attempt to capture, and stretch, our voices. I want them to capture, such as it is, this unique moment in time.

How we might use this text:

Using Poetry to Write About the Tough Stuff – With mentor texts, there are always so many things you can do. Often, as I write these posts for you, I discover a whole new element of the piece.

I’m staying focused this time around, and I’m stressing a single purpose for this mentor text. This is how you can write about the pandemic.

Trommer starts with some metaphor, which I always love exploring with students, as it allows them to express the intangibles of a concept. The idea that things, like avalanches, or medical statistics, look different from afar is such a great start, as it captures the feeling that so many of us had, that “well, it isn’t happening here.” Avalanches is such a beautiful choice, as there is an implication of beauty when viewed from afar, yet an admission of the destructive power. We did some metaphor work early in the course, so my students will see that, and hopefully explore it in their own work.

There’s an acknowledgement of the passage of time, coupled with a realization that the situation has changed. This, I think, is one of the things that I love most about this poem as a mentor text for writing about one’s feelings, because it not only guides writers, but gives them permission to admit to a change in their thinking, or feelings. As we’ve discussed it a bit this week, I know that many of us have dealt with that very thing, as this thing from the other side of the world made its way to us.

The poem ends with hope, which I love. As much as our lives have been filled with anxiety and uncertainty recently, there has been so much that highlights, if I may borrow from my beloved Supergirl writers, our “better angels.” People are stepping up, and it’s beautiful. Though we’re living with terms like “social distancing” as a part of our new norm, there are so many examples of community and togetherness that one can’t help but feel we’re going to be all right after all. This poem, if our writers are “writing beside” it, encourages them to consider that, and in fact, to have that as their parting thought.

I know, right?

I’m not going to lie, when I remembered that I had a post to write for this week, I came pretty close to asking for a break. My head was occupied with planning for students that wouldn’t be in my classrooms, and wondering how my family was going to weather this. However, this poem, as I prepped it for my students felt like something I had to share. If it lightens your planning burden this week, I’m glad. If it gives one of our students the chance to write their way through these strange times, I’m glad. That is, after all, very much at the heart of what we do.

Have you given your students anything to inspire writing about what we’re going through? What have you sent home, or what are you giving them in your online classes? How is that going?

Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @doodlinmunkyboy!

-With love and hope,


1 Comment

  1. Hi Ryan –

    Use the link that I posted on the Schoolgy calendar. Let me know if you still are not able to get into our class.


    Mrs. Lockhart


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