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.

Mentor Text Wednesday: A Transcendent Review

Mentor Text: TV Review – The Walking Dead S05E09: What’s Happening and What’s Going On by Regina Lizik

Writing Techniques:

  • Writing Reviews

Background:

Sometimes, a mentor text sits in your files for a long time. You wait for a need for it, or a reason to pull it out. Sometimes, you’ve saved it knowing that someday, maybe, perhaps, you’ll have the perfect class to use it with, or it will be the catalyst for an amazing lesson you haven’t designed yet. You know it’s good, you just don’t know what you’re going to do with it quite yet.

Or, if you contribute to Mentor Text Wednesdays, you file it for future column fodder.

This week’s mentor text is one I’ve had sitting in the files for a while.

Often, when I write, I pop on a quasi-mindless show to watch. Time, as a dad, teacher and human, is often at a premium, so I view while I create. I knew I needed to write this week’s column, so I started looking at what I had queued up to watch. I noticed that I hadn’t watched any of this season’s Walking Dead after the premiere. I have reasons for that. I’m really of the mind that the writers of that show have lost their way. The character development and plotting has given way to, in my opinion, working solely to create water cooler moments… which aren’t strung together with all the stuff that made this show must see TV for me. I put on my old man grumbly pants, and mutter, “I haven’t cared about anyone’s fate on that show since they killed Tyreese.”

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Tyreese whom I miss. (image via web)

 

And then I remembered that I had an awesome mentor text about that very episode. Continue reading

Mentor Text Wednesday: A Lifetime of Secrets

Today’s guest post comes from Anne Wolter, a 6th grade English teacher at Western Heights Middle School in Washington County, Maryland.  Anne has a Bachelor’s degree in English literature, a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction, and has been teaching for four years.  She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two young children.  You can connect with her on Twitter @wolteann.

Mentor Text:  A Lifetime of Secrets (personal, reflective, arts integration)screen-shot-2016-11-15-at-11-10-00-am

  • Writing Techniques:
  • Elements of memoir writing
  • Incorporating art with writing

Background:

Before I was a teacher, my best friend gave me a book.  I have always been a reader, and have kept a journal since becoming an adult, and I guess the book reminded her of me.  The book is A Lifetime of Secrets by Frank Warren and contains hundreds of pages of people’s deepest, darkest secrets, anonymously sent in on postcards or other artistic backgrounds.  Since receiving this book, I’ve read it, and read it, and read it again.  It’s amazing and sad and beautiful and inspiring.  People still send in secrets to the website and Facebook page. There is something so empowering and exhilarating about leaving your secrets for others to find – knowing that strangers know you better than those who are supposed to know you best, even if the strangers don’t know your name and could never pick you out of a crowd.

I’ve always tried to find ways to incorporate PostSecret into my teaching.  Sometimes I’d pick one and share it as a warm up.  I’ve used it for characterization lessons.  But I’ve never felt it was getting its due.

Enter Mentor Texts.

I was teaching a memoir unit to my sixth graders and started with 6 Word Memoirs to get their feet wet with memoirs.  After that, I wanted to give my students some choices of another type of short memoir text before moving into longer memoirs.  After reading Writing With Mentors, I decided to use NYC in 17 Syllables, excerpts from Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Rosenthal, and while searching for my third choice, I saw my book A Lifetime of Secrets on my shelf.  PostSecret would be my students’ third option.

How We Used the Mentor Text:

I first had a discussion with my students about what a mentor text is and how they can use it to guide and inspire their own writing.  I told them I would give them three choices and gave them a quick blurb about each choice.  With PostSecret, I explained that the secrets are anonymous (and some are inappropriate!), so I carefully selected and took pictures with my iPad of 15 secrets from the book that were appropriate, and posted them to Google Drive, giving my students the QR code to access the folder.  I also explained that if they were to choose PostSecret, theirs were NOT anonymous and they should know their boundaries of what is okay to share.  

We looked at the secrets and talked about what they noticed. Students noticed that:

  • they were all written in the first person, were personal, and reflective
  • none of the secrets were more than one or two short sentences
  • the picture that was the background of the secret was always related to the secret – the art was relevant

Once we had this discussion, students were ready to get to work.

The students embraced this mentor text and ran with it.  Some used Skitch to take an image from Google that represented their secrets, and then wrote their secrets on the image.  Others drew pictures that represented their secret.  In both cases, the students work reflected the mentor text.  Now I have finally found an inspiring way to use PostSecret in my classroom for years to come!

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Student work

Mentor Text Wednesday: Drawing Opinion and Response

Mentor Text: WE by Nick Sousanis

Writing Techniques:

  • Expressing Opinion
  • Visual Thinking

Background:

As I write this, I’m beginning the multigenre project with my Grade 11 class. They’ve done some research around a topic that falls into the realm of global issues that interests them, and will use the multigenre project to present their learning and ideas.

I haven’t done the MGP, as I call it, in a few years. It can be a pretty frustrating project with a class who isn’t willing to take risks as writers, and my last swing through left a bad taste in everyone’s mouths.

However, this year, I have a class that rolls with just about anything. They’re open to the idea of me throwing random genres at them, and trying them out.

And, as is often the case, a golden piece pops up in my feed.

I’ve been drawn to Nick Sousanis’ work for about a year now. His book, Unflattening, is his dissertation, presented in graphic novel form. For some reason, I haven’t bought it, but the aspects of it that I’ve seen blow my mind. He is an fantastic Twitter follow, because the exercises and examples of his work he shows have such inspiring potential for our classrooms.

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Via Nick Sousanis’ website

So, on Monday morning, when his election comic for 2016, “WE” came across my feed, I knew I had something that would achieve numerous goals. I had a mentor text for something I would love to have my students try, and I also had something to share with you this week. Continue reading

Mentor Text Wednesday: Sick in the Head: Conversations about Life and Comedy

Today’s guest post comes from Brian Kelley, co-director of the Pennsylvania Writing & Literature Project. He teaches at Charles F. Patton Middle School in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania and produces the podcast “The Classroom,” where he confers with students about writing. you can connect with him on Twitter @_briank_ or at brianjkelley.net.

Mentor Text

Sick in the Head: Conversations about Life and Comedy, by Judd Apatow

Writing Techniques

  • Developing ideas
  • Identifying mentors

Background

From books to blog posts, writing teachers recognize possibilities for mentor texts everywhere. My radar is up as I look at Instagram, Twitter, and roadside billboards. I listen to podcasts and watch videos not only for pure enjoyment and personalized learning, but also for crumbs to bring into the classroom.

I found a breadcrumb trail worth sharing–mentor texts drawing attention to the act of writers doing writerly things outside of the classroom–where the real prewriting happens.

When Donald Graves wrote about a child’s control of the writing process, a piece of his interest was in what children did away from the classroom. When and where were children in a constant states of composition? Graves knew, in this state of constant composition (thinking of ideas), writers can glow like jack-o-lanterns.

A text in my reading pile, Judd Apatow’s Sick in the Head: Lessons about Life and Comedy, filled my writer’s notebook with ideas for focused free writes on our lives outside of the classroom.screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-7-08-11-am

Sometimes, students don’t know how to chase their curiosity when an activity, idea, or person absorbs them. Their life outside of the classroom does not always feel welcome or accessible inside the classroom. Our students need the mentor act as much as they need the mentor text. Often, a good first step is our sharing writing of writers doing writerly things outside of a classroom, on their own, because of a relentless curiosity.

Apatow tells comedian Marc Mahon that as a teenager he “used to transcribe Saturday Night Live. I would record it on an audio cassette…I think that I was in some way trying to figure out how to get into that world–how does it work? I wanted to break it down somehow (306).”

I wonder what our kids sink that much curiosity into? I also wonder…why I have never asked? You bet your ass I am asking now.

How we might use this text

I am offering several ideas for focused free writing to help students:

  1. identify ideas absorbing their attention.
  2. develop & write their thinking.
  3. reach out to mentors.

Could our students’ lives and thinking outside of school feel welcome in our classrooms? Could they write for themselves first and not for me? Could what I offer inside the classroom inspire action outside the classroom? Can I help students reach a constant state of composition about an element of joy and curiosity?

Each of the following ideas could be used as focused free writes in isolation or as a series.

Our mind

What is something that absorbs your attention so much that time spent with it is pure joy? Write about it so that you might share that joy with a reader.

When Apatow spoke with the team of Key and Peele, Jordan Peele said:

“…you can take all the classes you want and learn and practice and get all the advice from other people, but it’s really like learning an instrument that never existed until you were born. No one can tell you how to play that instrument. There’s a part of the journey that you have to figure out for yourself” (250).

What do you want in your life that would be worth the journey?

Our heart

What are the challenges of …? an older sister? being an only child? a dancer? being a perfectionist? living with a grandparent? caring for a sick pet? Perhaps Harold Ramis says as much about developing ideas as any mentor text:

“Maybe it would be better to do something you’re actually interested in, like an issue in your life…there’s got to be something going–what are the challenges of being a [fill in the blank] in the world? Start with something that’s important or of interest to you…” (125)

Write about the challenges of any truth you know. Share your truth until a reader owns it too.

Our belly

Seth Rogan began writing the script for Superbad when he was thirteen years old. When asked if he just kept rewriting it over and over again, Rogan said:

“Yeah, for around twelve years. If they made it when we were twelve–I mean it would be pathetic…What’s sad is that a fair amount of the jokes in the movie were in the draft we wrote when we were twelve years old…”(421).

What funny ideas do you have for a movie? What makes you laugh so hard that you feel it deep within? Don’t hold back–share ideas where laughter just pours from you and your friends like water from a jug. The odds are in your favor as a writer–if something makes you laugh, it may make your readers laugh.

Our feet

Apatow notes that mentoring comes from being in a place where you want to learn. As a teen, Apatow interviewed comedians. He went to comedy clubs. He made phone calls. And most often the George Carlins of the world were surprised to see a teenager when they finally met. But every comedian answered Apatow’s questions–and then they encouraged and mentored him.

I asked students to read this quote about Judd’s experiences and apply it to themselves:

“I needed to become one of them. The question was, how to do that? And the answer seemed clear: meet them. Talk to them. Get to know them. Learn their secrets (xii).”

Write about who the “them” is in our lives…who or what is it that we “need to become?” Framed another way, if you did not have to come to school for the next month, but you had to go someplace to learn something, where would you go?

Our soul

How can we create conditions so students feel as though they are in a place deep inside of themselves where they want to learn–bigger than the classroom–bigger than school–a mindset where they want to illuminate the page with writing that is like a grinning, toothy, jack-o-lantern inviting us closer to knock on the doors of their texts?

A good start is, of course, a teacher sharing what is deep inside himself; however, another move is finding other people in the real world (outside mentors) who feel so much love and curiosity for an idea that they share it through writing, sketching, digital mashups, music, and through multiple forms that transfer the glow of an idea to the eyes of a reader.

We can’t let this insight get away, can we? I so often see myself as the mentor, but Apatow pulls the rug out from underneath me. What about the push to bring more mentors into our students’ lives (inside and outside of the classroom) through local connections, writing letters, Google Hangouts, and social media?

Students can only be mentors themselves or get the most from a mentor if they care about what they are doing–if the writing is for them from the beginning–and if they are in a place (inside of themselves) where they want to learn. This is about a state of mind more than any physical space. Student writing does not begin or end by the light of a teacher’s dwindling candle.

Students must touch the flame to their own wicks. Yet teachers, as mentors, encourage that act.

Mentor Text Wednesday: Rewriting the Word Wall

Today’s guest post comes from Amy Heusterberg-Richards, a tenth-year ELA teacher at Bay Port High School in the Howard-Suamico School District, located just north of Green Bay, Wisconsin. Amy currently teaches Writing 10 and IB English Literature HL Year Two. Connect with her on Twitter at @LAwithMrsHR.

Mentor Texts:

Writing Techniques:

  • Reflecting on elements of craft
  • Creating voice

Background:

My fifth-grade Social Studies teacher had a head of hair that rivaled those of Michael Bolton and Kenny G (musical studs of the time), making him the subject of more than one conversation between my classmates’ mothers. He had an acoustic guitar on which he played historical ballads and an impressive collection of obnoxious ties. An apparent pioneer in flexible seating, he had a reading loft and colorful bean bag chairs, over both of which we students often fought. All these glorious items aside, though, the possessions I most remember from Mr. Weitzel’s school domain were his classroom walls, spaces filled with explorers’ names, vocabulary terms, and worldly locations.

At the beginning of the school year, the walls were unimpressive, white blocks spattered with grey smudges and sticky, tape residue. Come June, however, they transformed into an exhibition of all the learning we students had accomplished. I remember sitting at my desk those last days and feeling a proud satisfaction of all the terms I had acquired, all the people and places I could now discuss.  Mr. Weitzel, as primary school teachers perhaps best understand, knew the impact these Word Walls had on the development of his students. He used his walls to physicalize terms, to track concepts, and to serve as reference documents. He skipped posters to motivate and instead posted words to guide.

This school year in our tenth-grade Writing course, my teammates and I decided to re-write the seemingly elementary Word Wall concept at our secondary level. We knew we wanted to begin our class with an exploration of — to borrow language from Stephen King’s On Writing — the “tools” of effective craft. We selected five elements of voice (diction, syntax, imagery, inclusion/exclusion of details, and tone) which we felt we could use in all upcoming writing studies. We also decided, in the spirit of the Word Wall, to post visuals of each tool on our own walls for “Writing Well.”

How We Used The Mentor Texts:

For each writing tool, we asked students to define the device and study a teacher-selected mentor text whose purpose was twofold: The excerpt from King’s On Writing (chapter one of the “Toolbox” section) described how to select vocabulary, but students also discussed how King employed the diction tool himself; Anne Lamott’s “Short Assignments” from Bird by Bird advised how to include/exclude details, but the class analyzed how her writing gave/withheld information with intent, too.

After exploring such mentor texts by writers-on-writing, we asked students to discuss additional examples of each tool’s use in groups and practice writing these devices in pairs. Ultimately, we ended each two-day, tool study with an individual activity that prompted students to intentionally use the element of craft to write well and, at the same time, to produce a visual to adorn our Writing Well Wall.

  • For diction, each student selected words with similar denotative meanings and placed them on a spectrumed paint sample with consideration to connotation.screen-shot-2016-10-18-at-2-55-07-pm
  • For syntax, each student selected an auditory sound and visually wrote syntax that mimicked its quality and color.screen-shot-2016-10-18-at-2-55-12-pm
  • For imagery, each student selected a photograph and wrote the sensory experience of one of its human subjects.screen-shot-2016-10-18-at-2-55-17-pm
  • For details, each student selected a topic about which to write a flip-book riddle that excluded enough details to confuse but not enough to stump.screen-shot-2016-10-18-at-2-55-21-pm
  • For tone, each student pulled a page from a discarded library book, marked evidence that created a tone, and labeled/showed the tone word.screen-shot-2016-10-18-at-2-55-26-pm

The entire study of these five writing tools took the initial two weeks of our course. In that short time, our Writing students studied, practiced, and mimicked the craftsmanship of strong writers at a wonderfully tangible level. They created a wall full of examples showcasing the tools used to produce effective craft. Greater even still, they developed testimonies to themselves that they can control, at this most focused level, the sometimes daunting tasks needed to write effectively. As we move on to more challenging topics, more developed essays, and longer revision periods, I hope my students feel a comforting satisfaction — not unlike the one fifth-grade me experienced — as they sit aside a Writing Well Wall that reminds them with each glance that they can use — and have used — the tools of powerful writers.

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