Monday, October 27, 2014

The Important Thing . . . about Mentor Texts as Writing Models

The important thing about writing is. . . having a strong model to emulate! Hands-down, one of my favorite books I've used countless number of times over the years is The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown. (You may know her best as author of Goodnight Moon, Runaway Bunny, The Big Red Barn. . .) Before reading the book aloud to the class, I ask them to listen for the pattern.
The text follows a very simple pattern: the first line is repeated as the last line. Details about the subject are the in-between lines. This is the PERFECT organization to writing a paragraph and teaching topic sentences! Many of my kids always notice that there's a pattern to the illustrations also: every other page is black and white, every other page is in color. And there's just something about the writing pattern that is very rhythmic and melodic. Even students who don't usually have much to say (at least in writing!!), can write a few words to complete this writing frame. Kids and parents alike are impressed with their writing because it sounds poetic!
I've used this book in almost every subject area: reading, social studies, math, science, health!  I often will use the writing as an assessment, rather than give a test. 
Here are some samples about the California Regions during our geography unit. We love to turn our writing into books! There's something about knowing their work will be "published into a book" that makes my kids take more care and pride in their writing!
If you teach California History, you might like the ready-made template, The Important Thing About California Regions here.

Another favorite book to use as a mentor text for writing comes from the series, Discover America State by State by Sleeping Bear Press. Each book focuses on a different state, with a simple rhyme for each letter, as well as informative text in the sidebar.  G is for California: A California Alphabet by David Domeniconi is an fact-filled, beautifully illustrated book. My kids loved it so much that they wanted to write their own version! (This was towards the end of the school year.)
Together we brainstormed for what we had learned about California during the year, then sorted the topics into alphabetical categories. After selecting which topic they wanted to write about, my kids got busy! It was a bit challenging to write a 4-line rhyming verse about the topic they selected, but with peer suggestions, they did an amazing job!! And since (of course) I had more than 26 (letters) students, we added digraphs as pages: ch, th, sh, wh, wr and kn. 
After writing the poem, students began to organize and write their informative rough drafts. We went through A LOT of revision, especially to form writing into coherent paragraphs! Typing their final copies took a while. . . we formatted the width to fit into the sidebar. Since my kids wanted to make this unique and special, their idea was to draw then watercolor the illustrations. . . this was not as easy as they had anticipated!! But the effect was still beautiful! Lastly, I got scrapbooking stickers to use for the capital and lower-case letters on each page. Voila!! A memorable class book!! 
What books do you use as Mentor Texts for writing? I'd love to hear from you!

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