Yesterday I got to write with Ralph Fletcher at a conference sponsored by the IUS Writing Project. I came away with pages of notes of ideas to think about and tips to try in my classroom. Of course, I also came home with a few more books to read. I can’t wait to dig into Fletcher’s books Mentor Author, Mentor Texts and Nonfiction Craft Lessons. I even got my copy of Pyrotechnics on the Page (our study book for Advanced Institute) autographed.
One of our writings used Fletcher’s poem “The Good Old Days” as a mentor text. Fletcher asked us to use his opening and closing stanza, but to write about our own memories in between. I found it fascinating to see how different people in the room connected with different parts of the poem to copy in their poems. I borrowed the beginning and ending stanzas (as we all did). I also used the two-line stanzas, included lots of gerunds (though I kept thinking I was using too many), and adopted a nostalgic tone. Other people focused on a memory involving their mother (as Fletcher’s did) or father.
It was a good reminder to trust my students to take away from a mentor text what they need for their own writing. There are many lessons a single text can offer, not just the one I see. I’ve had success in the past using mentor texts in getting students started with a piece of writing. (Raise your hand if you’ve used George Ella Lyon’s “Where I’m From.”) One of the things I like about such writing is that the structure allows students (and me) to get ideas down on paper in a way that makes us look good. Here is what I came up with yesterday in just a few minutes. It brought up a memory I haven’t thought about in a long time. I just might go back and keep working with it.
Sometimes I remember the good old days, rolling down the grassy hill until the blue sky whirled above me. I lay in the sun-soaked grass feeling the earth tilt and spin beneath me. I staggered to my feet, grass tickling my toes and raced my brother to the top and paused before doing it again. I still can’t imagine anything better than that.
What do you like? What still needs work?