Wednesday, December 20, 2017

For the Love of Mentor Texts - Jennifer Sniadecki

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 share thoughts from Jennifer Sniadecki about how she uses mentor texts to share organization structures with students.

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Using Mentors Texts to Teach Organization Structures
by Jennifer Sniadecki

I use mentor texts for reading and writing every day in one way or another. As I pondered the purposes of mentor texts in my classroom and personal life, I came to the realization that I needed to categorize my reasons for use. This post attempts to chronicle my favorite mentor texts in terms of teaching (and using) organization and text structures.

There are so many ABC books on the market! One of my favorites for viewing and providing information on a topic is Gone Wild: An Endangered Alphabet by David McLimans (2006).

Preventing a writer from drafting “and then,...and then,...” is tough, especially when that writer is drafting a wonderful story with gusto! Let 'em go! When it comes time to revise, I suggest looking at the story again to insert some purposeful organization into the piece. Using Smoky Night by Eve Bunting (1994), I have guided students to show their story with a tight beginning, middle, and end. This book opens with a fabulous lead (another reason to use this story) and guides the reader through the scary experiences of a night when a fire engulfs an apartment building. From beginning to end, this book is a fantastic example of story structure in a time-order sequence.

Students love to tell how to do something that they know well how to do! I've had many a conference where the student excitedly tells me directions: “First, and...and...and...then...then you're done!”
Getting these students to stop the “and” train is the reason I use books like Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin (2012) and How to Babysit a Grandma by Jean Reagan (2014). There are so many ways to tell others what you know already. These two books give writers some good ideas as mentor texts.

Compare/Contrast (Noting Similarities and Differences)
Again, this category provides a plethora of titles to use as mentors for readers and writers. Since compare/contrast consistently shows up in the teaching standards of each state, I consistently keep this book handy: John, Paul, George, and Ben by Lane Smith. Now Lane Smith writes hilarious texts (another reason to use this), but he also describes these four famous-for-history men (another reason – I use these books in many ways across the curriculum) in a way that readers can keep track of each distinct personality.

Sometimes students are looking for another way to write, other than paragraphs or long passages. They want to learn something different from the norm, and they are happy for me to suggest something that they (sort of) know already – writing notes! (Well, notes, letters, diaries, etc.) The ol' reliable mentor text for letter writing is Doreen Cronin's Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type (2010). The animals and Farmer Brown fight it out. The animals want luxuries to keep them happy on the farm, and Farmer Brown wants eggs and milk. (I love the vocabulary word, “ultimatum,” introduced here, by the “neutral party” duck, too.) If you want to use something new-to-market, I suggest Dear Dragon by Josh Funk (2016). This is a beautiful story of two pen pals, on assignment from their teachers, who finally get to meet at the end of the book. (Sequence order backup – writing through a school year) Another reason I love Dear Dragon is that is a practical mentor text for Parallel Structure, which is more difficult for writers, and I used for older elementary/middle school students.

Parallel Structure
Parallel structures means that different characters in a book are carrying out similar patterns in their plots, all in one text. This is more difficult to teach, but using Dear Dragon helped me because the readers can clearly find the similar activities between the boy and the young dragon. (Plus, it's funny – another reason!) My other go-to text for parallel structure is Charlie Anderson by Barbara Abercrombie (1990). This oldie-but-goodie story of a cat living two separate lives is adorable for all ages.

One of the curriculum standards for middle/high school literature surrounds the use of flashbacks in stories. Every year I break out Langston's Train Ride by Robert Burleigh to introduce this text structure. Langston had published his first book of poems and was headed to a party in Harlem to celebrate with his friends. As his shoes click along the sidewalk, he remembers a train ride, his aunt's apple dumplings, the rivers...Ah! No spoilers here! You'll have to read it yourself and add it to your mentor text collection.

I use these texts over and over for many reasons in the reading and writing classroom, and in my own writing life. In this post I have described how I use mentor texts for text organization purposes. Mentor texts are amazing! They are “best friends” (as Lester Laminack says) – and I hope you find your own ways to use these amazing titles in your own classrooms and lives.

Thanks to Jennifer Sniadecki for stopping by to share her love of mentor texts!

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