I am the worst at successfully locating mentor texts when I need them (even though Amy gave me great advice on how to do so here), but I do far better at tripping over mentor texts in life and designing subsequent lessons around them. Recently I found three mentor texts that inspired me to create mini-lessons in which my students could write beside their authors. Their written products could be cultivated as stand-alone pieces, but because May means multigenre in my classroom, I’d envision these mini-lessons as possible genres for a longer MGP.
Mentor Text #1: Microfiction on a Chipotle Bag
I love Chipotle for a variety of reasons (did you get your free burrito yesterday for Teacher Appreciation Week?), but one surprise I love encountering is whomever is published on my bag. On my latest visit, I spied one of my favorite new authors on my heavenly-scented bag of burritos–MT Anderson. This phenomenal author of Feed and Symphony for the City of the Dead is already a favorite in my classroom, so I know his work will go over well.
His story is a piece of microfiction, or a short short story, or flash fiction. Whatever you call the genre, it’s a highly useful one for the multigenre research paper, which seeks to tell the story of its topic using a variety of genres. This year, my students are focusing on their relationships to literature in their MGPs, and re-reading one of their favorite books from the year with an eye for telling the story of how they interacted with, learned from, and grew because of the text.
This piece of microfiction is, as a result, a great mentor text. MT Anderson’s story leaps into the action without directly establishing setting, employs minimal but highly effective dialogue, and uses extremely precise diction. These skills could easily be practiced during a quickwrite, which could then be revised into an MGP piece.
Mentor Text #2: Annotations in Books
Billy Collins’ great poem “Marginalia” has always been one of my favorites, and I thought it’d be a wonderful genre for this year’s MGP. On a re-read, there’s plenty to say in the margins, plenty to preview on the inside cover, and plenty to exclaim about after the afterword. For the project, I asked students to purchase their own copies of their favorite books they’d read this year so they could marginalia the heck out of them.
The creation of marginalia could be done, in part, in two separate class periods–one day for the preview note at the beginning, and one day for the review note at the end, with the remaining marginalia being written while the student was re-reading at home or during independent reading time. Many of my students relish the idea of writing in books and enjoy encountering previous readers’ marginalia, so I know they’re excited to create a new text by adding to their favorite book.
While I’ve been wanting to have students try this genre for a while, I was inspired by two mentor texts I stumbled upon–a note left in Andrew Smith’s 100 Sideways Miles, and the notes my students wrote in a copy of Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, which they presented to me as a gift for Baby Ruth. (Yes, it made me sob, and it wasn’t just the postpartum hormones!)
Mentor Text #3: Biography Picture Books
With the arrival of little Ruthie, I’ve found my taste in literature skewing to a decidedly younger set of titles. One of my favorites is a beautiful, lyrical biography of Walt Whitman. As my students work to reflect on and engage with their favorite books, I want them thinking about the books’ authors as well–and writing about them, too. This book is a wonderful mentor text for showing how an author came to be a writer.
Walt Whitman, written by Barbara Kerley and illustrated by Brian Selznick, is a gorgeous text that tells the story of Walt Whitman’s upbringing and eventual discovery of his love for writing. Kerley intersperses lines of his poetry into the story, and they’re paired with beautiful illustrations by Selznick. My students could easily create short biographies focused on how their authors became interested in writing, then pair them with an illustration for a children’s book genre to add to their MGP.
What writing lessons have you designed after stumbling upon random mentor texts? Please share!