Friday, September 21, 2012

3 Of My Favorite Mentor Texts To Teach Personal Narratives

When I teach personal narratives, I also teach writing through different lens. During the experimenting stage I introduce three different lens that I'd like the students to try with their selected personal narrative; writing with dialogue as the main focus, writing by using small actions as the main focus, and writing by using thoughts and feelings as the main focus. In reality of course, our stories should be a combination of these things. But I find it helps the children to explore the different types of writing that's possible if I feature each one of these as a separate lens in which to look through and write with.

With that in mind, here are three powerful mentor texts that illustrate writing through each lens.

1) Writing Personal Narratives Through the Lens of Dialogue

"Trapped In The Drive-Thru" by Weird Al Yankovich

I wrote about using this last year. I don't (usually) use the whole video. Since the song is split into three acts, and the first act doesn't take place in the drive-thru, I skip ahead to the start of the second act.

2) Writing Personal Narratives Through the Lens of Small Actions

Mick Harte Was Here by Barbara Park

Barbara Park is the very funny author of the Junie B. Jones series. Another popular and fun book she's written is Skinnybones. This book though is heartbreaking. And awesome. It's her best work in my opinion. Much of the book revolves on the main character dealing with her brother's accidental death. So there is a lot of inner story here. But what makes this a mentor text for me is not the main plot. It's a section in the beginning of the book where Phoebe, the narrator, is remembering the last time she had breakfast with her brother. What follows is a very accurate and well-written small moment story about a  breakfast fight over a toy in a cereal box. The story is littered with small actions that make this common story not only interesting, but the details allow the reader to connect with the scene in a multitude of ways.

3) Writing Personal Narratives Through the Lens of Thinking and Feelings

Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements
So yeah. I use a science fiction book about a boy who wakes up one morning invisible for my third mentor text. Specifically I use chapter 7. Bobby, the narrator, is home alone for the first time in his life. His parents are in the hospital after a car accident. And in this chapter we forget that Bobby is invisible, because the chapter is not about that. It's about coping with the shadows of an empty house, trying to scare fear away with noise, trying to occupy yourself and rationali so that the fear doesn't transform into dread, and trying to rationalize with yourself so that dread doesn't turn into panic. That chapter is a fantastic personal narrative using the lens of inner feelings and thoughts, because almost nothing happens inside the house. Bobby eats, he turns on the TV and the radio and the lights. And that's it. The entire story is what's going on inside of him. And what is going on inside of him is written great detail, word choice, and emotion. Anyone can relate to how Bobby is feeling and coping, whether they're invisible or not.

What are your favorite mentor texts for writing? I love to pursue suggestions. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Breaking Up Cliques In The Classroom

Marcia L. Tate is a heck of a speaker. When I saw her in Cairo a few years ago, her presentation was full of useful information packed into a high energy performance. She had the participants do something that I've been doing with my class ever since.

Growing Dendrites Since 19-Ot-12

First she had participants find a "family", four or five people to do group work with. In the presentation, this meant that participants found the people sitting next to them to be their "family." In the classroom when the family is formed, students usually find their closest friends.

Next Marcia asked each member of the family to choose between four animals. For example, "snow leopards", "owls", "snakes", and "sharks." Now we can have "animal" groups and "family" groups. The next thing she did was to have the participants set up "seasonal dates." We had to find one person outside of our family for a "summer date", "fall date", "winter date", and "spring date."
Because I felt the word "date" would not fly in elementary school, I changed it to "appointment." 

Um, Not Really What We're Going For

The beauty of this is though that the students are picking their own partners, but because often their best friends are already in their family they have to reach out to others in the class. 
I do this exercise with the children at least twice a year, and sometimes more depending on how many children leave and come in throughout the year. Every time I do it, no matter how many times they've been exposed to the exercise, they'll form their families with their closest friends first. It's just natural to do that. But by the end of the exercise after we write down our families, animals, and appointments and tape them to our desks, we have a multitude of ways to form groups and partners. All I need to say is, "Get into your spring appointments" and the children know who their partner is.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Heart Maps

I've been having students create heart maps ever since I read Georgia Heard's book Awakening The Heart in graduate school.

The idea is that students write briefly about what is close to their heart, with the most important things in the center.  The one thing that I changed though is that I think student choice for their heart is important. So the children pick either the Hallmark Valentine's Day heart, or an outline of a real heart for their heart map.

Background or Foreground?

My motivation has changed for using them however. The original intention is to use them throughout the year to help generate ideas for stories and poems. Now we use heart maps as an integral part of our values study. 
This is because Heart Maps don't do such a hot job reminding us of stories, and if they do they are very similar to the Lucy Calkins first unit of study where the main strategy for generating personal narrative writing is, "Think of a person, place, or thing that's important to you, and then list the small clear moments with that person, place, or thing." But they are a great conversation piece about what's important to us and why.
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