Mentor Text: excerpt from Stay True by Hua Hsu
- Writing an introduction
The week in which I’m writing this is one of those weeks we have as teachers, where we’re overwhelmed with obligations and expectations.
A couple of weeks ago, when I felt like I had a bit more breathing room, I was reading Hua Hsu’s gorgeous memoir Stay True. It’s a wonderful book, beginning as a beautiful exploration of identity through friendship, ultimately switching to an exploration of loss and grief when a friend is lost.
And it’s full of mentor text potential.
How we might use this text:
Writing an introduction – As I was reading Stay True, all but one of my classes were writing, or preparing to write essays. We were talking about the parts of the essay. The model we’ve been using, the 5 part essay, has had a positive impact on student essay writing the past few years. We like to make sure that our Grade 11 and 12 students know that it is scalable, that when they’re assigned papers of a certain, to them preposterous, length, they can use this model to meet that length skillfully, without meaningless filler. The fact that the 5 part essay’s introduction is actually made up of two parts, background and narration, works in this regard.
This excerpt from Hsu’s book is a great example of what an introduction can look like. In what is effectively a personal essay, Hsu is going to discuss the impact of the immigrant experience on identity. Before that, however, there are things that he makes clear for the reader.
The first paragraph serves to give a general sense of his interpretation immigrant experience, inferring what he will discuss later, that it impacts identity, as a sense of home, one’s goals, one’s cultural history can be important factors in who one is. Though it feels clear that these things are part of who he is, it’s establishing this as a general idea.
This is followed with some specific history. Research has been done, and Hsu condenses the pertinent elements of that. Hundreds of years of history are condensed here, which I think is important for our developing essayists to see. I don’t know about yours, but this is where mine can flounder. Some of them want to write a full research essay in this introduction, and wander away from the purpose for including this background, as context of the topic they’re going to explore. It’s hard, sometimes, for them to separate the importance of the material they’ve researched from their mission of communicating their core idea.
The last part of Hsu’s introduction to this section of his memoir is important. From “My parents weren’t drawn to the United States…” to the end of this excerpt is a paragraph not that far off from many introductions we’ve likely seen from our writers. It feels like a hook, because it’s interestingly worded, and it establishes the thing that he’s going to talk about next, the body of his essay, if you will. It’s a good little mentor text all on its own!
However, I think that there’s something for our writers in seeing this whole excerpt, and specifically studying it as an introduction. We could study it before we write our own essays. It might be a rich mentor text to consider when we’re in revision and editing.
Stay True was a book I really enjoyed as a reader, but it felt like a gift as a teacher, chock full of mentor texts. As is often the case, my eye for mentor texts was influenced by the work happening in my classroom as I read. A couple excerpts from it made their way into a folder of mentor texts for introductions, and has me thinking about what my approach to teaching this will look like next time.
Do you have collections of mentor texts dedicated to specific writing tasks, such as introductions? What have you read lately that felt like it gave you the most mentor texts?
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