Mentor Text Wednesday: At The Movies

Mentor Text: Someone Will Come Along: Rogue One, Logan and Hope by Jessica Plummer

Writing Techniques:

  • Writing Literary Analysis
  • Essay Structure

Background: If, as Stephen King would say, you are a “Faithful Reader,” then you know I’m a bit of a geek. If you’re here for the first time… Hi, I’m Jay, and I really like pop culture with a genre bent. I will not go for long without mentioning sci-fi or superheroes.

These interests actually pay wonderful dividends in my classroom. At the very least, it has dropped wonderful mentor texts like this week’s into my Twitter feed.

Plummer’s piece is a great little piece that analyzes the core thematic elements of two recent blockbusters withing my wheelhouse, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Logan, the final installment in Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine film series.

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A still from Logan via BookRiot

I love the timing of this piece, right after I finally  got a chance to see Logan, and as I’m plotting some of the next things we’ll be working on in my classroom. Actually, it ties in quite well to some work I’m doing with The Great Gatsby in my Lit class, as I’m having them connect Gatsby to pieces of pop culture, focusing on themes. Continue reading

Mentor Text Wednesday: Inspiration From a Master

Mentor Text: Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman

Writing Techniques:

  • Creative Writing
  • Voice
  • Humour
  • Considering Audience

Background:

A beloved part of my day is right before my daughters’ bedtime, when we read. I have a six year old and a four year old, and each is currently obsessed with a different book. My oldest is in the early stages of Pottermania, as we read, for the second time, the beautiful new illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Our youngest, like her sister before her, has been repeatedly requesting Neil Gaiman’s gorgeous little novella Fortunately, the Milk.

If you’ve not read it, do so. It’s a hilarious little book. Left alone, without his wife’s support, a father goes to the corner shop to pick up milk for his children’s breakfast. He takes a long time. Upon his return, he spins a fantastic tale explaining his delay. Initially abducted by aliens, he escapes only to be caught by pirates, is rescued from them by a stegosaurus in a time travelling hot air balloon, which they take to a primitive jungle in the past, a land populated by vampires, meeting back up with the same batch of aliens, before making it home with the milk. The illustrations, by Skottie Young in the version we have, make it clear that Dad is likely making this whole tale up, using things in his sight in their kitchen. Yes, it’s essentially a kiddie version of The Usual Suspects, but it’s awesome. My girls love it, and I love reading it to them. Continue reading

Mentor Text Wednesday: In Praise of the Secondary Character

Mentor Texts: “In praise of Joanne Rowling’s Hermione Granger series” – Sady Doyle

Writing Techniques:

  • Character analysis
  • Applying a critical lens
  • Voice

Background:

I am re-reading the Harry Potter series with my oldest daughter. We’re reading the gorgeous illustrated editions. This means that we are now on our second go-round with Chamber of Secrets, as Prisoner of Azkaban won’t be released with Jim Kay’s art until October.

I was a fan of this series as a reader, but as a parent, watching my oldest react with such excitement to Rowling’s tale is a whole other experience. I’m especially proud of how she’s picked up on the fact that Hermione doesn’t deserve the treatment she gets from others, because, as she says, “It’s not fair, Dad. She’s really smart and works hard to help.” Every time she takes her braids out, she struts about, with “hair like Hermione’s”

Which makes her part of my inspiration in my mentor text choice this week. Sady Doyle wrote this great piece which I’ve had in my files for a few years now. If you haven’t read it already, it is a fun piece, assuming a somewhat satirical voice while applying a feminist lens to the Potter series, imagining them as a series dealing with, instead, the exploits of Hermione. Continue reading

Mentor Text Wednesday: Infographic Rankings

Mentor Texts: Rolling Stone magazine’s Threat Assessment infographic

Entertainment Weekly magazine’s The Bullseye infographic

Writing Techniques:

  • Organizing information
  • Tone
  • Visual presentation

Background:

Hi. I’m Jay and I’m a recovering magazineaholic.

I’ve mentioned it here before, but magazines are wonderful things, especially for a mentor text based teacher. They contain, if you’re getting a variety of them, such diverse writing, both in form and focus that it can be quote overwhelming. Most of my magazines wind up making their way to my classroom, to be used as mentor texts, as well as research sources.

A neat thing has happened though, as many aspects of communication include visual literacy more frequently. Many of the features in a magazine are more familiar to people, and forms like the infographic have become more prevalent.

This works for me, because one of the things I love to do is to have students play with information, ideas and opinions. I frequently refer to what I call The Great Scale, the idea that everything is relative. When we’re researching or talking about social justice issues, I often use my white boards or bulletin boards to visually manipulate ideas and opinions, facilitating discussions about how we rank things.

int_bl_2010_sept_30_rolling_stone_picThe Threat Assessment infographic that Rolling Stone used to feature looks like my Great Scale. It ranks things happening in the world from worst to best, or in their words, from the things Against Us to the things For Us. Entertainment Weekly‘s The Bullseye works in a similar fashion, albeit with a pop culture focus and the target as a visual reference point. (I’ve included a recent Bullseye in .pdf format, but a Google image search yields oodles of ’em! Threat Assessment is a bit harder to come by, alas.)

Though these may seem kind of silly, the critical writing involved in their creation is what makes them seem so valuable to me. Continue reading

Mentor Text Wednesday: No Convincing Answer

Mentor Text: excerpt from “Who Wants to Shoot an Elephant” by Wells Tower

Writing Techniques:

  • Research writing
  • Writing counterargument
  • Exploring difficult issues
  • Expanding writing

Background:

It is a terribly kept secret that I am a huge fan of The Best American series. These annual collections of writing litter my workspaces, and live in every corner that I stash books. I’m either reading one of these, I’ve just finished one of them, or there’s one floating near the top of my To Be Read pile. Quite often, a Best American is my placeholder read, the thing I read when I’m trying to decide what the next read will be.

As I regularly write a column called Mentor Text Wednesday let me hit you up with a pro tip. The Best American series of books is a fantastic source of mentor texts. Some of my favorite pieces I use have come from these anthologies.

I have a special spot for The Best American Nonrequired Reading. It is filled with such a variety of pieces making it feel like a more diverse read in some ways. The fact that it features a balance of asethetic and pragmatic writing adds a lot to the experience.

23874530I had the 2015 version kicking about and picked it upwhile I was waiting for my next read to arrive. At the time I had my students working on multigenre projects and making zines as their last work of the semester. As I remarked last week, this time of year is fruitful for planning, since I’m reflecting on the courses wrapping up whilst planning the next ones.

Wells Tower’s piece of journalism about sport elephant hunting exemplifies what I love about Nonrequired Reading as a piece I might not have found shows up in front of me. The fact that it showed up just short of me actually being able to use it in class was a bit frustrating.

Because looking at this piece, particularly what I’ve excerpted here, I’ve clearly got a great piece I can use not only in projects like the multigenre one, or the zine, but for other purposes as well.

In short, I feel there is much value for our writers in exploring question for which, as Tower says, there are “no convincing answers.” Continue reading

Mentor Text Wednesday: Eulogy

Mentor Text: 10 Inspiring,Confusing and Humorous Eulogies of the Famous via The Atlantic

Writing Techniques:

  • Specific Form
  • Considering Audience

Background:

This is actually a post that should be subtitled “What I’ll Do Better Next Time”

My Grade 11 students are in their final weeks of classes, and we’ve been working on MultiGenre Projects based upon research that we’ve done. I’m actually blessed with a group of students who will willingly follow me down any path I choose to take us down, which is making it a pretty rewarding time.

Our first week back from Christmas break, our Grade 12 students write a provincial exam for four days, and they kind of become my focus. Luckily, I’ve got a lot of resources and experience, so I’ve been able to give good stuff to my Grade 11s. They’ve been writing a lot of MGP pieces, and I’ve got mentor texts and guides to support them.

I got my mind set on having them write eulogies. In the past, I’ve seen students write really great pieces eulogizing all kinds of random things, so I felt like it was a great fit for my 11s.

Teacher isn’t my primary function. I’m a dad too, with two awesome daughters, and the husband to an awesome lady, who happens to be an early years teacher. This often means chaos reigns supreme. Which sometimes means I’m sending the stuff I need for my first period to the printer as the bell goes.

Which made it pretty frustrating to discover that I didn’t actually have any material to teach eulogy writing.

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A eulogy scene from Arrow because I’m a geek via The Geektified Blog

I stubbornly pushed ahead, and we talked about what is in a eulogy that we needed to include in our pieces. We made a pretty good list, but I knew that I could do much better. Once I found a bit of prep time, I did some googling, and came across the link I’ve included, full of excerpts from notable eulogies.

How we can use this text:

Specific Form – A neat thing about teaching something like eulogy is that there is a specific nature to the form. The purpose for the piece impacts the writing, which in itself is a great lesson.

However, what can be seen from the variety of excerpts on the site I linked is that the purpose can be met in different ways. This is where a collection of mentor texts is valuable. There are pieces that are solemn, and pieces that are humorous. There are pieces where the writer knew the deceased very well, and those where they didn’t. The variety shows different ways to meet the requirements of the form.

And perhaps this is why I want to build  a set of mentor texts for eulogies. This is my favorite kind of writing task for a class of varying abilities and interests. They are given a form, one that specifies that certain things should be included, and meets a specific purpose. Yet there is a lot of freedom in this form, a variety of ways to meet the “requirements” that allows for our writers to explore and experiment. This, I feel, is where we can do the best for our writers – they have a structure to guide them, yet not one so rigid that they write like automatons.

Considering Audience – This form, as I’ve noted, serves a purpose. In doing so, it actually speaks to an audience. This means that we can give our writers a piece in which audience is a serious consideration, which is, I feel, a pretty important lesson. (Truth be told, I’m marking that provincial test I referred to this week, and there’s a question that always troubles students that this lesson addresses!)

It’s a conversation that encapsulates many elements of writing. Tone is important. One must be reverent, but if you’re eulogizing a comedian, shouldn’t humor be considered? If you’re a comedian eulogizing someone, do you use the humor people expect from you? Is a place to express anger? A eulogy is celebratory, but do you, as a writer, take a moment to highlight moments of imperfection?

And what is included? If you’re including an anecdote, how personal do you go? Do you tell the story only two of you know, or do you go for a larger inside joke, that everyone would get? Do you write something intensely personal, or do you write something for a much broader audience, as Reagan did in his eulogy for the Challenger astronauts?

My use of the eulogy was a bit different. I wanted the students to eulogize something in their research. As I moved around and talked to people, I was glad I persevered with this lesson. We had great talks about what it was from their research they wanted to present to their audience, as well as how they wanted to present it. The student discussing obesity eulogized the gym. Another discussing climate change and its effect on farmers eulogized the trustworthy weatherman. Once they figured out the subject of the eulogy, they considered the impact on an audience as they wrote.

So as for this being a post about what I should have done, I should have collected my mentor texts earlier. Had I had this link to share with them, many students might have moved ahead faster. I share this this week however, to highlight how useful mentor texts are. Having examples of the form, examples of how other handled various aspects of the piece for students to look at is important. Yes, our students can write well without mentor texts, but access to them makes a difference. It’ll be better next time in my room.

Flat out begging – do you have any good eulogies you use as mentor texts? I used them in the multigenre project, how have you used them in your classes?

Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @doodlinmunkyboy

-Jay

 

 

Mentor Text Wednesday: The Tweet-o-graphic

Mentor Text: Women of Isis Infographic by Karishma Sheth & Thomas Alberty

Writing Techniques:

  • Editing
  • Purpose
  • Presentation

Background:

I’m a huge fan of The Best American Series. As a reader, and a teacher, I find them valuable beyond compare. There are a handful, such as poetry, non-required reading, short stories and science-fiction and fantasy, that have become annual purchases for me. Others I get when I see a good deal, since I don’t have the Best American Paycheck.

the-best-american-infographics-2015-bookOne I picked up a couple months ago was The Best American Infographics 2015. I hoped that it would be a great classroom resource, as well as a very interesting read. Of course, I haven’t had time to actually read it all yet.

However, since it’s a visual text, I did what many of us do, and flipped through it, looking for what popped. A lot of it does, which makes sense, as that is kind of the purpose of infographics, right?

One infographic, however, popped out and screamed “Take me to class tomorrow!” and that was the one I’m writing about today. In this infographic, the creators arranged a series of tweets from a single subject, in this case, a young woman’s tweets about joining ISIS. My students had just completed research, and we were looking at various pieces we could include in a multigenre project. Seeing an opportunity to show them a new research skill, as well as a different way to share information, I hopped on it. Continue reading

Mentor Text Wednesday: The Unique Narrator

Mentor Text: The Book Thief by Markus Zusakand The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom

Writing Techniques:

  • Point of View
  • Voice

Background:

 

December, as we all know well, is busy.

Really busy.

Which makes it one of the worst times to get engrossed in a book. But I did it anyway. See, I had won a signed copy of Mitch Albom’s The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto, and in moving the stacks of books around the house to make room for holiday guests. And I opened it, and started reading.

Right away, I was hooked. See, what blew me away was that the narrator of much of the book is Music. Albom personified musical talent to narrate the story of musician Frankie Presto. As a music fan, this book, so clearly a love letter to music had me in its grasp until I finished reading it.

imageThen, I got back to shelving and organizing books, and came across my copy of Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. I was struck by the similarities between Albom and Zusak’s books. Both feature an unconventional narrator, Music, and in Zusak’s book, Death. Both of these narrator’s told the main character’s story with such tone, showing care and concern for the subject, yet capable of delivering truths in a frank and harsh manner.

And then, I thought about what some of the things I’ve got planned for my students this year, and realized these books make wonderful mentor texts. Continue reading

Mentor Text Wednesday: Reflecting On the Year’s End

Mentor Text: The Quietus Albums of The Year 2016

Writing Techniques:

  • Writing an Introduction
  • Reflective Writing

Background:

I sat to write this week’s post with an idea in mind. Alas, it seems impossible for me to operate a browser that has but one tab open, so I opened a couple of websites, and took a quick rip through my Twitter feed before I wrote.

And, as happened to so many of us I’m sure, I came across an idea that in the moment seemed more interesting than the one I was planning to use.

See, as December rolls ahead, the end of the year approaches. As a fan of pop culture, and ideas, I get excited because that means the unveiling of a multitude of best of lists. My magazine budget needs a shot in the arm as I grab extra things I don’t normally buy, all because they have some sort of ‘Best of 2016’ list. As well, pretty much everybody with access to the Internet releases their lists. I love them all, even if they make me mad.

A big part of what I love about these lists is that it’s a nice way to reflect on a year. Yes, they’re often crafted well before the year is done. Yes, they’re often biased. Yes, I don’t always have any idea what or who the things in people’s top 10s are, but the reflection is nice. Some of it is written very well too.

So, that made it pretty hard for me to ignore this tweet that popped into my feed.

Yeah, pretty hard for me to ignore that. So I read those paragraphs.

How we might use this text:

Writing an Introduction- My favorite introductions do more than simply explain what follows the introduction. That is actually something that this piece does rather briefly. We know the conceit, so we don’t need a big explanation.

What it does so well, however, is explain what is important about their list. They admit that much of what they include as the best of 2016 is actually music created in 2015. Though this introduction highlights the difficult nature of 2016, it doesn’t do what I think many other Best of 2016 lists will do, and consider this music a response to 2016.

This introduction is, quite simply, a love letter to music. The important (to me anyway) question is asked, “What purpose does music serve in these times? ” This, in my opinion is the focus of the introduction, not a canned packaging of the list to follow. It does so much more than set up a typical ranked list of music curated by the website’s writers, but it makes a case for listening to, engaging with and writing about music going forth.

I love the idea of giving a text like this our writers, and showing them that they can express their love of a piece of media with a level of importance that we know they feel.

Reflective Writing- I’ve alluded to this already, but much of this piece is actually about the year that’s wrapping up, in my mind, so much more than music.It reflects on the year we’ve had: “…before the events that have made this year such a strange, challenging, even traumatic one. The sparks that led to this being one of the best years for albums since we started The Quietus in 2008 ignited before Brexit and Trump, the murder of Jo Cox, the rise in British hate crimes, record-breaking increases in global temperatures, the slide of the pound, the growing sense that we’re teetering on the edge of something very grim indeed.”  This highlights some of the less than awesome things that 2016 has wrought upon us.

As the piece discusses, art is often created in response to the kinds of events of 2016. “In a world that is increasingly sinking into myopic nationalism and putting up borders, music is a vital, universal force that can unite people, open up the channels of understanding that exist even beyond language..” speaks to music’s role in our society. For music fans, this is important. It also acknowledges that, “This is not to say, of course, that we (as some foolishly and dangerously do) subscribe to the belief that a terrible period in history will produce great music.” which looks forward as well. I love that this statement reflects upon society, and our commentary on art, as well as the notion that the bad stuff that is happening is somehow a good thing.

I’m confident that this year’s crop of Best Of lists will inspire another post, but that’s likely going to be about curation and defending choices. Introduction and reflection were key in this piece. I’ll be honest, I haven’t actually looked at the list. All I know is the well laid out, well written truths in the introductory paragraphs were all I needed today.

What are some things you look forward to all year, like my Best Of lists? How do you get students to reflect on a year? Do you make your own Best Of lists?

Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @doodlinmunkyboy

-Jay

Mentor Text Wednesday: Building Eloquence (Using Patrick Henry)

Today’s guest post is from teacher Melissa Surber. Melissa teaches 11th grade College Prep English 1, 12th grade College Prep English 2, and AP Literature and Composition at Troy Buchanan High School in Troy, Missouri, an hour north of St. Louis. She is in her 18th year of teaching and just recently became National Board Certified. Connect with her at @ELAWordsmith.

Mentor Text: Speech in the Virginia Convention by Patrick Henry

Writing Techniques:

  • Rhetoric (ethos, pathos, logos)
  • Imagery
  • Claim and Counterclaim
  • Metaphor/Simile
  • Rhetorical Questions
  • Allusion

Background:

Teaching college bound juniors is a blessing, but teaching college bound juniors early American Literature, well, that’s always been a challenge. Over the years, I have learned to navigate the world of Olaudah Equiano, Red Jacket, and Patrick Henry by focusing on their use of rhetoric, specifically how they create ethos, pathos, and logos to influence their audiences. Focusing on these elements has given me a direction in teaching texts that may not be as accessible or significant to students.

Several years ago as I passionately described Patrick Henry’s balanced and effective use of ethos, pathos, and logos, I had an epiphany: why not prove to my students Henry’s genius by using his speech as a mentor text for their own speech about a current issue. Luckily, there never seems to be a shortage of major news events. The first year, I had students consider the Benghazi attack. Then they wrote about what the U.S. should do about ISIS, then what the response should be to Syrian refugees, and this year, after much anxiety and some sleepless nights, I made the decision to have students consider the issue of the police shootings of unarmed black citizens. Part of me wanted to stay away from the issue, but my heart told me my students needed to be able to articulate their ideas about these weighty events. Often, the discussion about this topic, especially in our small rural suburb just north of Ferguson, Missouri, involved yelling and divisiveness. I wanted to encourage my students to consider how to reach people’s minds and hearts with a more balanced and thoughtful approach.

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Melissa’s students work together to analyze Patrick Henry’s speech as a mentor text.

How I use the mentor text:

Providing students with current event background: By the time we read “Speech in the Virginia Convention” by Patrick Henry, we have been discussing rhetoric for several class periods. Before we begin reading, I provide students with information regarding the event we will be pairing with our reading. I usually give them a news article or infographic and have them watch a news broadcast. I have them examine:

  • The causes of the event
  • The effects of the event
  • The solutions offered by leaders
  • The pros and cons of each solution

I function as notetaker and clarifier during this discussion.

Setting the stage for students to write a speech: I then ask students to choose the solution they believe to be the right one. I say, “Imagine trying to convince an entire room of intellectuals who are scared and uncertain that your solution is best. The entire room disagrees with you. How do you make them listen?” I preface Henry’s speech by telling students his words are partially responsible for our country’s creation, so he knows how to persuade. Because of that, I tell them, we are going to use his speech as a mentor text for our own speech about ___________ (whatever issue is prevalent at the moment).

Analyzing Henry’s speech as mentor text: We then proceed to read. We examine Henry’s ideas, but primarily, we analyze how he creates them. Often, I pair students in a modified think, pair, share to analyze his writing moves. Below are the items they discuss and try to create in their own speeches.

  • In paragraph one, how does Henry use ethos?
    • They immediately notice he compliments his audience and then tells them directly he is about to disagree with them. We discuss why he may have made this choice and the effect it had on the audience. Students then begin their speech by complimenting a modern audience and acknowledging their differing opinion.
  • “I consider this as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery.” Why did he choose these opposing words? (paragraph 1)
    • We discuss the way these opposites solidify the gravity, the importance of his words and the pathos of the word slavery, an idea these men would fear because they either owned slaves or had slave owner friends. Students then create their own contrast with weighty words that appeal to a democratic nation. We often list some possibilities on the board before they create.
  • In paragraph two, how does he structure his ethos to connect with his audience?
    • Students realize he acknowledges why they believe the way they do and then explains why his view differs. Then they go to their speech to do the same. I ask them to consider why an audience would not support their solution.
  • “Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed by a kiss” allusion (paragraph 3)
    • I often have to explain this Biblical allusion, but then I ask why Henry may have chosen it. We discuss how Henry knows the values of his audience. We then discuss what Americans value. They go to work to create an allusion that will resonate with their audience.

We continue reading, pausing to discuss and write.I help give students a focus by giving them this handout: speech-in-the-virginia-convention-teacher-copy. Together, we think about the following: 

  • the use of rhetorical questions (paragraph 3)
  • the list of the solutions already tried and their results (paragraph 4)
  • the use of anaphora (repetition of phrase beginnings) to build rhythm and momentum (paragraph 5)
  • the brief declaration of his solution and why it’s so late in the speech (paragraph 5)
    • This is integral to the effectiveness of his speech. He knows his wary audience will shut down if he begins with his intent to go to war. He must ease them into this frightening idea by building their animosity toward the British response.
  • the use of claim/counterclaim to further build anger toward the British (paragraph 6)
  • the metaphor of slavery and bondage he extends through the speech and his use of imagery with “clanking” (paragraph 7)
  • the use of a rhetorical question to soften his implication of cowardice inaction (paragraph 8)
  • his final statement personalizing his call to action (paragraph 8)

We work our way through the speech in that way, with students analyzing his rhetoric and then using it as a mentor for their own. By the time we finish reading the speech, students have created a persuasive speech at which they marvel. It has the necessary argumentative components of claim and counterclaim, but it also has beauty and imagery and style. Below are excerpts from two students’ speeches.

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Making it meaningful: Students then type their speeches and sign them. I send them to politicians. Some have been mailed to the White House, some to Missouri Senators, some to our local Representatives. I also tweet excerpts to political leaders as well. For some students, it’s their first foray into civic responsibility; for others, it teaches them a finessed approach to argumentation. For all students, they develop a different aspect of their writing voice, one more authoritative, persuasive, and effective.

 How do you use classic American speeches and other literature as mentor writing in your classroom? Leave us your ideas below, connect with us on Facebook, or Tweet Melissa @ELAWordsmith.