Saturday, February 9, 2013

Mentor Texts and Interactive Charts

Mentor texts are extremely important tools for writers of every age and stage. While my last few posts have been about increasing the volume of student writing since I feel strongly that writers improve their writing by writing, writers also improve their writing by reading. Therefore, the more that we can inspire our students to read like writers and study the craft of whatever they are reading, the more skills will develop.

Last week, I taught a kindergarten class. The teacher had asked me to try to change the routine of ending stories away from just going home or going to bed. The class had been reading a Joy Cowley big book and I read just the last few pages, asking the children how Joy had ended her book. (I purposely referred to the author as Joy, an idea I learned from a recent Teachers' College visit from Christine Holley. I love that this subtle but important wording brings the status of writer down for the children and makes being a writer more tangible for them.) We started a chart, the prototype, I am sharing here:

One of the students was quick to realize that Joy had ended her story with talking, so we added this technique to our chart. Next, I read them Molly Bang's When Sophie Gets Angry, Really, Really Angry, challenging them to not only pay attention to the story, but also to study how Molly would end her book. The students turned and talked and we were able to add feelings to our chart. When I sent the writers back to their seats, their challenge was to try out different ways of ending their stories, whether the stories were the ones they were working on or the ones that they had already written. Then, as they tried these new strategies, they could add their names to the chart, alongside and in the company of Joy Cowley and Molly Bang. There was a lot of experimentation and enthusiasm, as you can see in the real-life chart below:

The classroom teacher and I circulated and all of the signees had definitely tried out dialogue or feelings as strategies for ending stories. At one point, we had to suggest that students keep writing and come to the chart when there wasn't a line! One boy got to sign twice for one story since he had written: I said, I feel happy.

One of the Common Core standards is that kindergartners "respond to questions and suggestions from peers and add details to strengthen writing as needed." (W.K.5) Using this sort of an interactive chart not only inspires young writers to return to their previously written pieces, but also to begin to read as writers, an important step in the development of close reading of text. Think about K.RL.10 which states that kindergarten students will "actively engage in group reading activities with purpose and understanding."

I can't wait to hear about what this class adds to the chart, since I left room for them to add other ways that writers can end stories as they continue to read new books. Mentor texts and interactive charts combine in any grade for powerful experimentation and learning!

Happy Reading and Writing (and shoveling, if you live anywhere near me!)


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