Breaking Mentor Texts into Loose Parts

“What’s a break it box?” Ethan asked, pulling the overflowing black bin from the bottom shelf of our mobile makerspace. These shelves on wheels serve as a catch-all for recyclables, loose parts, and whatever craft supplies we currently have on hand.

“It’s a box full of stuff you can rip apart and repurpose,” I told him. “People donate the things inside. I think there are some old wireless modems in there right now.”

“And you’re going to let us break them?” He asked me, incredulously.

“Sure,” I encouraged him. “Tear them apart. Loosen up the bits inside. Don’t think about what they are. Consider what they could be. Make something new.”

He laughed. “I can’t believe you’re going to let me rip this stuff apart.”

“How will you know what’s inside unless you break it open?”


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Make Your Own Burger: Creating what is Missing

My classroom runs on an unwritten rule: use and celebrate metaphors as much as possible. I’ve used the “driving instructor” metaphor in which I lead the instruction until such a time when I can hand the keys to the students. Oftentimes, a student will confidently ask for the keys (seriously… “Mr. G., I’m ready to drive the car now.”).

During a recent literary analysis essay, the students were the baby birds and I was kicking them out of the nest. It was time to see if they could fly (analyze) without me.

Metaphors demonstrate abstract thinking. They allow for creativity and fun. After a Star Wars marathon over the weekend, one student came into class furious because he can’t not see foreshadowing when he revisits his favorite films. He said, “Mr. G., you used to be like this bird on my shoulder that pointed out foreshadowing. But now, even when the bird isn’t there, I can still hear you. Get out of my head!” We stopped everything to celebrate that image right away. Continue reading

Drop Everything and Play: Creating Opportunities for Creativity

When Students Fear a New Text

In fourth grade, right before we were about to step onstage for the yearly choir concert, my teacher told the class to picture the audience as giant pickles. She explained that giant pickles are funny and that if we could laugh before the concert, we wouldn’t be nervous. Of course, we had all heard about picturing the audience in its underwear, but that line had become worn out. The success of the pickle picturing plan was its novelty in addition to its effectiveness. We weren’t scared of performing because we were performing for giant pickles. It was new, and it worked.

Today, as my students work to see themselves as writers, I draw on my fourth grade teacher’s advice. How can I make the oftentimes daunting task of writing new and exciting? What can I do to demonstrate to my students that new texts are not tedious and should never be sources of fear?

On the first day of analyzing a new text, my students are hard at work charting the text. As a group, we have broken it into digestible chunks, and now, we are completing a triple-entry journal that will act as the pre-writing for our argumentative analysis essays. Our goal is to dive into the brain of the author to figure out how he is trying to persuade us. As effective as this is, it has also been done before. It is the equivalent of an audience in its underwear.

Drop Everything and Play

Dropping everything and playing is the pickle in the audience. The goal is to transform the fear of a new text into an opportunity for pure creativity.

More specifically, when students drop everything and play with a text, they are given complete creative license to do anything they want with their copies of the text.

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