I love reading New Year’s listicle articles. It’s fun to look back on the Top 10 best films of the past year and look forward to the Top 22 Things to Do in 2022. So with the new year approaching in just a few days, I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon and offer you some practical advice for elevating your writing instruction in the upcoming year. All it takes is a few minor purchases, and you’re on your way to new and exciting activities for your writers.
- A Teacher’s Guide to Mentor Texts by Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell
If you’re new to writing instruction OR new to the concept of using mentor text to elevate student writing, all the information and resources available can get a bit overwhelming. This book is a great place to start. In the book, Allison and Rebekah break down the process of finding great mentor texts, planning units using mentor texts, and introducing mentor texts to students. As a bonus, they include super helpful videos that can be used not only to help teachers understand the process, but also as teaching tools to help students become more comfortable with using mentor texts as well. I especially enjoyed the section that breaks down different craft moves real writers use in different genres, as these make great mini-lessons during writing units. Seriously, where was this book when I started teaching? It would have never left my side.
Image via Pixabay
- A Class Set of Highlighters
I remember the days when I thought students would read a model of excellent writing and then easily produce a product of equal quality. It didn’t take me long to learn that if I wanted students to write like the models I was showing them, I was going to have to do some serious work. Students have to look at the pieces of the model with a magnifying glass (metaphorically speaking); they have to examine the parts and figure out how they work. Only then will they understand how to make these moves themselves. This is why every great writing unit begins with annotation. If you want your students to write like the published authors you read, you first have to give them the opportunity to notice what it is those writers are doing. Using a highlighter to mark what excites them about a writer’s use of language and structure is the first step in nurturing a discussion about how students can elevate their own writing to look like the mentors.
- A New York Times Subscription
Do you know the types of writing you want your students to do but struggle with coming up with new and exciting ways to write in this genre? Do you really want to use mentor texts but struggle with finding the right ones? Look no further than the New York Times. For $1/week, you not only get access to all kinds of writing written by professionals; you also gain access to The Learning Network, which offers a plethora of lesson plans and resources that accompany some of the articles. Here’s an example of how I used this resource just a few months ago. My narrative unit for my freshmen was getting a little stale, so I did some searching inside The Learning Network for different types of narrative pieces that are published by the Times. I found this awesome column called “My Ten,” where celebrities share 10 pieces of culture that have impacted them. I used the lesson plans provided by The Learning Network to craft an awesome unit where students read some mentor texts and then wrote their own My Ten piece. What a fun way to get to know students while they engaged in narrative writing!
- Post-It Notes
Oh, post-it notes. Where would I be without you? There are so many ways I have used them to save a lesson or find a meaningful way to spend the last 10 minutes of class. I’ll share a few of my favorites. Have students simply write down a goal… for the day, the week, the semester. Seeing it in writing as they work helps them stay accountable. If students have been writing for a while and you want to celebrate what’s going well in their writing, give everyone a post-it note and ask them to write their best sentence. Students love putting these on the walls and reading what their peers have been working on, too. They make an awesome revision tool, too. Have students identify a sentence that needs attention and have them re-write the sentence on the post-it note (bonus if they can try one of the writing moves you talked about when you looked at mentor texts). When they’re finished, they can look at a “before” and “after” of their sentence and decide which is best.
Image via Amazon
- Student Voice: 100 Argument Essays by Teens on Issues That Matter to Them by Katherine Schulten
As writing teachers, we are expected to have students write formal, academic essays. However, it’s hard to find actual examples of this type of writing to use for mentor texts because there aren’t a lot of real purposes for this style of writing. Until now. For the last few years, the New York Times Learning Network has hosted a Student Editorial Contest in which students submit short pieces of research-driven writing requiring citations. The essays are written by teenagers about issues that matter to them. Topics range from serious, worldly issues such as the presidential election to issues about daily life such as how teen movies are misrepresenting today’s youth. This book is a collection of 100 of the best essays that have been submitted to the contest. Even if you don’t plan on having your students participate in the contest, this book is a goldmine of mentor texts for your more formal writing units. And what’s best is that while the essays do fit the bill for academic writing, none of them use the traditional 5 paragraph format. What a great resource to show students other ways of structuring formal writing.
I want to close by emphasizing that most of the ideas I shared today have been discussed for years. Afterall, I’m hardly the first teacher to use post-its or highlighters. However, I know how difficult it can be to remember those quick, easy tricks. I hope you were able to find something useful here today that you can use in 2022!
What are some affordable resources you can’t live without in your classroom? Tell me on Twitter @TimmermanPaige
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