Tag Archives: responding to literature

Novels as Mentor Texts

The Northern Nevada Writing Project’s Writing Fix site contains a terrific section of lesson plans on Using Chapter Book Excerpts as Mentor Texts. What does that mean? It means the terrific writing we admire in our favorite novels can be used to guide our own young writers. The format, however, also means that your students don’t need to have read the entire novel being referenced; each lesson provides teachers with the specific chapters, which can be read independently by students or as a read-aloud by the teacher. If any of the twenty some books featured are the same novel you’re studying in class, added bonus!

So what you’ll find here is a fabulous collection of middle school and YA novels (you’ll recognize all the titles) categorized by the six traits: Idea Development, Organization, Voice, Word Choice, Sentence Fluency, and Conventions. Each lesson plan is preceded by a Three Sentence Overview (boom! there’s your lesson objective).

For example, Maniac Magee is used as a mentor text focusing on voice (with a supporting focus on word choice). The Three Sentence Overview reads:

The writer will analyze and discuss the tall tale format after reading Jerry Spinelli’s tale of Cobble’s Knot, told in Chapter 20 of Maniac Magee.  Then writers will need to create an interesting character in a special situation which would allow them to stretch the truth in an imaginative tale.  The interactive button game will provide writers with possible options from which to create their “whoppers.” 

The lesson plan contains a step-by-step approach, and all needed hand-outs, and additional optional site links (if required). Many lessons also contain samples of student writing submitted by teachers who have used that lesson plan in their classrooms.

While at Writing Fix, also be sure to check out the ipod Lessons which use lyrics to popular songs as mentor texts. Great way to connect with the young folk!

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Metaphorically Speaking

Metaphors and AnalogiesStenhouse has put out a new book that I can’t recommend enthusiastically enough. Rick Wormeli’s Metaphors & Analogies: Power Tools for Teaching Any Subject adds to the canon of distinguished titles which deal with the topic of metaphor. His work, however, is so far the most practical title I’ve seen on the topic, offering teachers simple steps for improving their instruction through the use of metaphors and analogies. Every page provides subject-specific examples, allowing readers to easily understand the real-life applications to the classroom.

My own forays into this topic began with George Lakoff’s now-classic Metaphors We Live By, which plainly illustrated the pervasiveness of metaphor in everyday language. While critics argued that the book was not well supported with research, just a brief look into its pages will convince Metaphors We Live Byany reader that what Lakoff was attempting to prove through discourse alone was pretty self-evident (once exposed) and pretty remarkable as well. People do speak unconsciously in metaphors, all the time, and the metaphors they choose can tell us a lot about their preconceptions, perspectives, and prejudices on a topic. My personal copy of Metaphors We Live By contains hardly a page not scribbled with a comment or question; it did profoundly influence the way in which I approached reading and language arts instruction.

Next came Marcel Danesi’s Poetic Logic: The Role of Metaphor in Thought, Language, and Culture, which was arguably more research based than Poetic LogicMetaphors We Live By. Discovering the scientific and linguistic basis for everything Lakoff argued reinforced for me that metaphorical language is neither coincidental nor arbitrary. In Danesi’s own words:

The main goal of this book has been to take the reader on an excursion through an amalgam of facts, ideas, and illustrations that reveal how poetic logic works in making the world visible and thus understandable in human terms. Metaphor is a trace to poetic thinking, which constantly creates connections among things. This is why metaphors and metaforms have such emotional power—they tie people together, allowing them to express a common sense of purpose in an interconnected fashion.

What Rick Wormeli now brilliantly accomplishes through Metaphors & Analogies: Power Tools for Teaching Any Subject might be seen as a currency exchange. He takes the “hundred dollar ideas” of Lakoff and Danesi and turns them into “spending money” for the classroom. Wormeli shows how students can use metaphors to make connections between the concrete and the abstract, prior knowledge and new concepts, and language and image (neither Lakoff nor Danesi discussed visual metaphors at any length). Wormeli also goes beyond the passive museum experience of “let’s notice and appreciate the beauty of metaphors” to a workshop mentality of “let’s throw some clay on the wheel and see what we can form on our own.” Ultimately, his work is an impressive how-to on the subject.

But what’s in it for teachers of literature? So many of Wormeli’s examples are based in math, social studies, and science that Reading and Language Arts teachers might wonder what’s in it for them.

Rather than construct an argument, let me instead offer a simple example. FlippedBelow is an excerpt from Wendelin Van Draanen’s Flipped (grade level equivalent 5.5). How many single and extended metaphors can you spot? And more importantly, what additional (between the lines) information can they provide if the reader is alert enough to notice them?

My sister, on the other hand, tried to sabotage me any chance she got. Lynetta’s like that. She’s four years older than me, and buddy, I’ve learned from watching her how not to run your life. She’s got ANTAGONIZE written all over her. Just look at her – not cross-eyed or with your tongue sticking out or anything – just look at her and you’ve started an argument.

I used to knock-down-drag-out with her, but it’s just not worth it. Girls don’t fight fair. They pull your hair and gouge you and pinch you; then they run off gasping to mommy when you try and defend yourself with a fist. Then you get locked into time-out, and for what? No, my friend, the secret is, don’t snap at the bait. Let it dangle. Swim around it. Laugh it off. After a while they’ll give up and try to lure someone else.

At least that’s the way it is with Lynetta. And the bonus of having her as a pain-in-the-rear sister was figuring out that this method works on everyone. Teachers, jerks at school, even Mom and Dad. Seriously. There’s no winning arguments with your parents, so why get all pumped up over them? It is way better to dive down and get out of the way than it is to get clobbered by some parental tidal wave.

The funny thing is, Lynetta’s still clueless when it comes to dealing with Mom and Dad. She goes straight into thrash mode and is too busy drowning in the argument to take a deep breath and dive for calmer water.

And she thinks I’m stupid.

The fact is, for students to read with comprehension and appreciation, they must be able to recognize and dissect both simple and complex analogies. And for students to be able to explain their own understandings of difficult concepts (no matter what the discipline), they must be able to describe those concepts through metaphors and analogies.

I highly recommend Metaphors & Analogies: Power Tools for Teaching Any Subject for teachers looking to advance their own practice as teaching professionals. As always, Stenhouse offers you a preview of the entire book at their site.

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Unpacking Passages

If you dug the idea of using Quote Analysis, or if you teach The Great Gatsby, you’ll want to see the Unpacking Passages pages over at TeachEng.us.

What I like about Ben Davis’ approach is that he created an acronym which would better help students remember the steps. Even this, however, needed some fine tuning and some scaffolding, which Ben describes in an earlier post

Okay, if you still haven’t clicked onto that blog, one more thing you’ll dig is the presentation of the documents there, as facilitated by Issuu. If you’re a blogger, or if you have a classroom site, you’ll appreciate the cool format provided by this free application. 

Interested in more ways to organize student note taking? Check out my recent post on Graphic Organizers over at Teaching that Sticks.

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The Hero Myth

One topic which I casually mention in my How to Teach a Novel workshop that stirs a lot of interest is the Hero Myth as described in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

According to Campbell’s introduction,

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

Described in greater detail, the journey of the hero typically includes most, if not all, of the following stages:

  • call to adventure: the character leaves his ordinary, exceedingly common life to enter an unusual and often supernatural world;
  • road of trials: there he encounters a number of tribulations, and often one exceedingly difficult challenge (he is often trained or advised by an older, wiser mentor);
  • the goal or book: a reward the hero receives as aa result of his trials, usually accompanied by a new knowledge of self;
  • the return to the ordinary world: the hero must consciously decide to return to his world, knowing what he now knows;
  • the application of the boon: the hero applies his new skills, powers, and understandings to somehow make his world a better place, or to right a wrong which he was previously under-equipped to face.

Sound familiar?

It’s the plot line of hundreds of books and movies, most easily recognized in Star Wars, Gladiator, the Matrix (see my cool post over at the Teaching that Sticks blog), and the Odyssey.

Less obvious is its appearance in The Lion King, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and Dirty Dancing.Dirty Dancing

Dirty Dancing? Absolutely. Our heroine Frances, so naive to the ways of the world that she’s called Baby, enters the strange and sexy world of the Catskills resort employees. Arriving wide-eyed and innocent at the steamy after-hours dance carrying watermelons (I’ll leave you to analyze that), Baby suddenly realizes that the world she thinks she knows is just a facade. She is indoctrinated into this brave new world by street-wise and somewhat jaded Johnny Castle, who helps her discover herself in many ways, both G and PG-13. She returns to her world (and Daddy) with new knowledge about herself, and the ability to stand up for what is right.

Isn’t it nice to find that your guilty little pleasure is following in the footsteps of the Hero Myth?

Teaching students about this literary pattern really opens their eyes to just how many stories utilize its conventions. Student writers may also find that it’s useful for identifying weak points in their own stories.

A great place to start exploring more about the Hero Myth (or Hero’s Journey as it is alternately called) is by checking out the collected sites and activities at The Web English Teacher. And of course, for you purists, nothing beats the book.

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When Will We Ever Use This Stuff?

You’re reading this post at the old How to Teach a Novel site. Continue reading this post or the most recent post at the new site.

“When will we ever use this stuff?” is an oft heard refrain in middle and high school classrooms, and I’ll admit I often asked that question myself (most often in Math and Science). According to Carol Jango, it’s a valid question, especially when students are asked to write responses to literature. After all, apart from college professors, who does that in real life?

In her NCTE white paper titled “Crash! The Currency Crisis in American Culture” Carol provides some answers. Jago has taught middle and high school for 32 years in Santa Monica, California, and directs the California Reading and Literature Project at UCLA. She is president-elect of the National Council of Teachers of English and has written four books in the NCTE High School Literature series.

After you check out her white paper, be sure to weigh in at the NCTE ning. The follow-up comments make for interesting reading as well!

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