Writing with Ralph Fletcher

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?

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