Mentor Text Wednesday: Top Down

Mentor Text: Top Down by Scott Nolan


  • Writing about place
  • Extended metaphor


For the last few years, second semester has held a nice treat for me as an English teacher, my Lit class. There’s something special about teaching the course that students have chosen to be in. It’s a Grade 11 & 12 split, which means we split our focus too, focusing on creative writing and literary analysis.

It is a wonderful testing ground for mentor texts, so you’re probably going to be seeing some texts that are field tested over the next couple of months.

I’ve been using the Get Lit model with poetry. We spend some time discussing the poem, flexing our analytical muscles, while considering the elements we might use in our poems inspired by the piece. (I also include a couple of suggestions on the back of the poem, which you’ll see, as I’ve given you a copy of my handout here.)

Scott Nolan is a songwriter from Winnipeg, and his collection of poetry, Moon Was a Feather is really good.

    How we might use this text:

    Writing About Place – A common thread in a bunch of things that I’ve loved reading lately is an explicit writing about place. Like this one, so many of Nolan’s poems are about place, specifically Winnipeg and Manitoba. As we discussed this poem, without realizing that the poet was a Manitoban, one of my students asked, “Where’s this guy from, because he’s writing about winter here!”

    ‘Top Down’ is such a great mentor text for writing about place because it chooses one thing that is central to that place, in this case, the winter weather, and focuses on it. As my students noted, he evokes the experience of a Manitoba winter, perhaps best in the line, “This is how we live here.” because though we hate these winters, we’re proud of our hardiness.

    Winter selfie on a nice day!

    Extended metaphor – Oh, but my students had a blast exploring the extended metaphor Nolan lays out here, comparing our winters to a drunk uncle. Nolan has so wonderfully layered the comparisons throughout this short poem, using what my students called the “perfect metaphor.” The brashness of the Drunk Uncle Winter, the top down nature, the way it commands our attention are all highlighted. And consider also, that the weather and folks like a drunk uncle are two things that are constant topic of discussion. I really love how Nolan shows that an extended metaphor has these kinds of layers.

    I’ve really loved using this model in Lit class to explore texts that I want to use as mentor texts, where we do the analytical thinking before we think about our own writing. We’re a few weeks into the semester now though, and this model has actually conditioned my students to be looking for craft moves and elements of inspiration as an ingrained part of their analysis. I can see both their analytical skills and writing growing.

    What mentor texts do you use for exploring extended metaphor? Do you have any processes that you feel make mentor text work more effective?

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

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