Welcome to another guest post in my series For The Love of Mentor Texts here at Teach Mentor Texts. I love to talk about the power of mentor texts to impact our writing but I'm thrilled to have friends share how they use mentor texts for a fresh perspective. Today I'm excited to welcome Beth Sanderson to share how she finds and organizes mentor texts.
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Finding and Organizing Great Mentor Texts
Summer is a time to relax, recharge and read. But teachers never really take the summer off. Twitter and Facebook are filled with posts by teachers sharing a “must read” book or a noteworthy article. If you are like me, you clip articles and save posts, thrilled to add to your classroom mentor text collection.
When September rolls around, however, who has the time to sift through the list of arbitrary articles clipped or Facebook posts saved?
Taking a little time during the summer to consider the organization of your mentor texts will yield a system that puts texts at your fingertips when you need them.
Here are some ideas (along with a few good mentor texts) for organizing:
1. Select one or two locations as a repository for written mentor texts. The single most effective step I have taken to make mentor texts easier to find is selecting two platforms to house my texts. Evernote, a digital organization tool, and Google folders have simplified my teaching world.
Evernote (or its kin Microsoft OneNote) allows you to create digital notebooks filled with individual notes. Evernote is accessible from any device and once installed, is quick to open from anywhere. When you open my mentor text notebook, you will find lists of articles, stories or links organized by genre and/or intended use. Evernote allows you to “clip” or save PDFs from the web into any notebook. Therefore, if I find a digital article I want to save, I immediately file it in the correct notebook.
For example, right now I am revisiting the joy of the late Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life and Textbook. Ordinary Life is a unique memoir written in encyclopedia form and Textbook is her thinking organized into textbook chapters. Both books are written for adults but there are plenty of pages appropriate for the classroom. Her work offers students a whole new world of creative writing. Rosenthal’s website www.whoisamy.com has a complete PDF of Ordinary Life uploaded! In Evernote, I have added pages of the text to several genre notes so I remember the text can be used in more than one way.
If you use Google folders, consider creating mentor text folders by teaching unit or genre to share with your teaching team and spread the wealth.
2. Employ apps that ease article “clipping”. Technology has made saving mentor texts much easier. In addition to clipping articles through Evernote, I use the app Pocket. Pocket is found in the app store or at https://getpocket.com. Pocket allows you to grab articles, videos, images, charts and more from any site. Opening my saved Pocket folder always sparks a note of creativity as I scroll through the gems I may have clipped on the fly while on Twitter or a news site.
In Pocket, you can add tags to saved items, star favorites or sort by type of media (article, video or image). One step worth taking is copying the links for mentor texts and adding them to a word or Google document listed by genre or lesson plan. Otherwise, Pocket will serve as a creative treasure chest like your grandparent’s attic.
3. Make a YouTube channel for videos. Inspiring videos or ads can be the perfect addition to a class lesson. Rather than just writing down a URL or inserting the video in a power point, consider creating a YouTube channel. I can’t believe how long it took me to take this step but now I have nicely organized playlists on my channel built to match my classroom use. The channel can be private or public. When you find a video you want to save, simply hit the plus sign (+) when you are logged in and YouTube allows you to create or select a playlist for the addition.
Some of my favorite videos are:
- Sarah Kay & Phil Kaye’s Origin Story
- Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s The Beckoning of Lovely
- Ancestry’s Declaration Descendants
- Gatorade’s The Secret to Victory (for use in a lesson on the value of struggle in writing)
- The Literacy Shed – if you haven’t found this British website…stop reading right now and check it out. The Literacy Shed is a website curated by Rob Smith filled with visual resource (animated shorts, images, etc.)
4. Have a set of folders, by genre, for hard copies of articles. I read several physical newspapers and magazines weekly. Reading physical papers allows one to savor stories and find treasure. Additionally, I often clip infographs and small items that I would miss scanning The New York Times online. One recent gem was the cover story in the NYT Review of Books about poetry revision that included edited pages by poets such as Billy Collins.
However, a pile of clipped articles can quickly become a mess. Consider creating a set of folders by genre to house the clips. Then, when you need a piece, finding just the right article is a snap.
5. When creating units or lesson plans, build a playlist of mentor texts on one page. To make lesson plans as flexible and responsive as possible, I like to have a number of mentor texts to personalize the learning experience and help each student find a way into a skill or topic. During lesson planning, consider creating a Word or Google document with your objective and a long list of links to videos, articles, books or stories to serve as mentors for students. Finally, place the “playlist” document in the appropriate Evernote or Google Drive folder for easy access in future units.
As summer winds down, I am reading away. Having a store of strong, well-organized mentor texts has changed my teaching. I can’t wait to see what I find!
Beth Sanderson is an 8th grade English teacher and instructional leader at Swanson Middle School in Arlington, Virginia. When not teaching, Beth goes everywhere with a book in her hand. Her classroom has been featured in The Washington Post Sunday Magazine, the Book Club for Kids podcast and NEA Today. Find her on Twitter at @bbsand.
A big thank you to Beth for taking the time to share her love of mentor texts!