Mentor Text Wednesday: Purple World

Mentor Text: Purple World by Richard Wagamese


  • Introductions
  • Conclusions


Sometimes, my path to a mentor text to share with you feels kind of random.

We’re at the halfway point of the first semester, and I’ve been doing some planning for the second half. I was talking to one of my colleagues about this, and how since our book room is in kind of a state, I don’t have the energy for our usual memoir study. We’ll fix it for later, but I’ve decided to simply pull some shorter memoir pieces, and we’re going to do a study that way.

And yes, I asked her for mentor texts – good pieces to study, discuss, analyze, and ultimately, write beside.

And because one of our things is passing great reads back and forth, she loaned me her copy of the late, great Richard Wagamese’s What Comes From The Spirit. It’s a posthumous collection put together from his short pieces from various sources, and an hour into it, I had flagged many pieces for many places in my courses.

via The Globe and Mail

This also dovetails nicely with the fact that 3 out of 4 of the classes I’m currently teaching are writing essays. We’ve adopted the five part essay structure, and it’s made things better, but this mentor text reminded me that we’ve always got room to grow.

How we might use this text:

Introductions- Okay, come in close high school teachers, we’re gonna talk about some secrets here.

Do you feel like you spend students’ first year in high school unteaching some habits? Like the introductory paragraph that is basically a list of core arguments and a thesis, like a miniature version of the essay to start the actual essay.

The five part essay has given us a tool to move away from this. The introduction is actually two parts of the essay. A background part, which serves to set up the reasons or inspiration for writing is included. As well, there is a part we call narration, which focuses on providing a context.

As I was reading Wagamese last night, I saw how wonderfully he exemplifies this. Yes, there’s a clear thesis in his pieces, in this case, “…that the Earth is alive.” He begins by sharing an image, a moment, that inspired him to write. In other pieces, he says explicitly what inspires him, but here it’s implied, which is, I think, a nice move to show our writers. He follows this by connecting his thesis first to his ancestors as a whole, and then specifically to his family. This move from global to specific is beautiful, giving a sense of importance, both personal and universal, to his thesis. From here, he can move specifically into discussing our relationship with nature.

Conclusions – I’ll openly admit here that conclusions are on my list of things I need to learn to teach better. Thus far, I’ve got the “unteaching” part figured out in that I know I don’t want them writing another mini-version of the essay in which they repeat their key arguments and thesis. I’ve got a vague instruction that amounts to “Leave ‘em with something to ponder.”

I think Wagamese is going to save me through mentor texts though. Though we still wind up discussing the conclusion as a single final paragraph, his one-two punch at the end here is a knockout. There is a strong final argument, an instruction in the second last paragraph. He tells us the thing we must do to understand what he’s telling us.

And then he follows that by telling us what the impact of that action will be. And without the ham-handedness that often happens, he calls back to the introduction where he evokes the idea of the Old Ones. He reminds us that this is an old concept, and perhaps one we’ve forgot as society has evolved. Coming back to the Old Ones brings us full circle in this piece – a strong conclusion.

Okay, so maybe it’s not that random, this mentor text thing. It’s about knowing what you need, having a community to draw upon as you search, and having really good writers you know you can go back to again and again.

What’s your network for mentor texts? Who’s always able to send you the piece you need? And what writers do you return to?

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

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