This is a continuation of our post from yesterday.
What are you reading now, and/or what are your latest finds that could be strong mentor texts?
Jackie: For fun, I am currently reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, and for AP Literature, I am currently reading Othello. I read Ready Player One as a departure from my typical YA reads. I was never a gamer or 80s enthusiast, so I wanted to “challenge” myself by choosing a new genre. Ernest Cline brilliantly writes action pieces. Somehow he manages to translate the video game structure into a novel AND make it interesting for non-gamers like me; I am planning to use an excerpt to discuss movement of time either when we work on our multi-genre project this year or our fictional writing next year.
Most recently, my CP freshmen read the picture book The Promise by Nicola Davies as a mentor for our narrative fiction unit. In my academic freshman classes, we recently completed process papers based on The Compound by S.A. Bodeen. Mentors for these included “What you will need in class today” by Matthew Foley and “Instructions for a bad day” by Shane Koyczan. Students used each as a mentor text by which to craft their own poems and then eventually built them into unique survival guides ranging from “How to survive a zombie apocalypse” to “How to survive a friend’s breakup.” As Shana said yesterday, I like pairing professional work with my own to show them the messy process of writing, so prior to class I get a head start on my own piece and then I continue developing it while projecting my writer’s notebook on the board at the beginning of workshop time.
Shana: I just finished the beautiful Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon. I love it as a mentor text because it’s a bit multigenre, and it’s an engaging YA love story, AND it’s gorgeously written. With tons of parallel structure and a short-chapter format, it’s a quick read but one that lends itself to lots of frequent re-reading. I’ll use this text for craft studies at the sentence and paragraph level to teach things like repetition, parallel structure, and varied sentence structure.
Another book I just read was Caitlin Doughty’s memoir Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, and Other Lessons from the Crematory, which I usually booktalk with Mary Roach’s Stiff. This tale of Caitlin’s experiences working in a crematory will be useful for my students to analyze at the chapter level, during which she employs narrative to blend her adult experiences in the crematory with the formative experiences of her youth in order to make a claim about the nature of human life and death. It’s a powerful example of the use of narrative within nonfiction.
I also recently read Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin, which tells the story of a high school senior who falls and loses all memory of everything after sixth grade. As a result, most of her life story is revealed through dialogue with other characters, so this will be a fantastic mentor text at the whole-text level–how can we craft a short story that uses dialogue to reveal movement through time, a character’s background, or a character’s personality traits–all without that dialogue being spoken by that character?
How will you integrate your current reads into your practice?
Shana: I like to share this article about noticing beautiful writing with my students. We use it as the basis for two sections in our notebook–“Quotes & Craft Study” and “Wondrous Words.” I like to break down with my students why a particular line or paragraph or chapter in a piece of writing is so powerful–at the word level, the structural level, the punctuation level. When we read like writers, we can notice all of those details and begin to imitate them in our own writing.
My students asked for more craft study and grammar instruction in their midterm exams. With our new notebook setups, I’m hoping to create a routine for the wordplay we’ll need to constantly return to in order to strengthen our use of punctuation, specific diction, sentence structures, and other craft moves. I want to employ more “triple-plays,” as Penny Kittle calls them–books that act as a booktalk, a quickwrite, and a craft study mini-lesson. For example, I’ll take the chunk of Everything, Everything pictured at right and make copies of it for my students to glue into their notebooks. Beneath it, we’ll imitate the parallel structure of the sentences, and the exercise will serve to teach parallelism, talk up the book itself, and be a quickwrite we’ll call “it could be.”
Jackie: Inspired by a course we took this summer with Tom Newkirk, my colleague and I are putting together a superhero unit for our academic Freshman English classes. The unit will involve both a persuasive essay and a comic strip students make about a hero in their life. In turn, I’ve been skimming comics and graphic novels to find inspiration for students.
In this unit, students will practice storyboarding their own comics while studying the use of craft like onomatopoeia, movement of time, and internal and external dialogue. My hope is that these building blocks will provide a foundation for us to further discuss the use of colors to portray goodness and evil within a comic (or novel) as well as the use of framing or perspective in the pieces as well.
Please join the conversation–how do you approach the study of craft with your student writers?