Deconstructing Mentor Texts for Our Own Writing: Research-Based Informational Writing In the Wild

My seniors have completed their research on their self-selected topics related to the Future of Work (see blog for previous posts); we have gone deep with our inquiry work as we have worked on this for the most part of the first nine weeks of the semester while sprinkling in some other writing studies and work before we shift gears to literature study at the end of the month.  Last Friday, I organized students into eight “Think Tanks” and gave them the following materials in a folder:

  • An informational article (I pulled from a variety of sources); you can message me if you’d like a copy of the text set.
  • A copy of Kelly Gallagher’s chart of purposes for writing
  • A sample of a kernel essay with the markups from Gretchen Bernabei’s Text Structures from the Masters.
  • A handout outlining effective leads for expository essays from Essay Writing Made Easy.

Inspired by Writing with Mentors How to Reach Every Writer in the Room Using Current, Engaging Mentor Texts by Rebekah O’Dell and Allison Marchetti, various posts over at their Moving Writers blog, and some personal Tweets from Rebekah, I gathered a series of eight mentor texts that I felt were good examples of research based informational writing “in the wild” or from the real world.  I wanted my students to have some models of how we might break out of the traditional five paragraph essay structure to compose and share their research findings.  Deconstructing and completing “noticings” about mentor texts is still a relatively new experience for my seniors, so I provided some scaffolding to help them organize their thinking and to create a poster to share out with the class:

We reviewed the instructions and some options for how groups or “think tanks” could go about their collaborative inquiry work.  Then I turned the groups loose to begin their deconstruction of the informational texts.  I walked about the room observing, answering questions, and supporting anyone who seemed to be struggling.  We worked roughly 35-40 minutes before it the class period ended, so we continued our work taking about 45 minutes to finish our endeavor.

We then reviewed procedures for sharing our posters as well as ways to show love and support as listeners.  Students also received a graphic organizer to take notes or capture “take away” ideas from each group poster session (see Gallery Walk Poster Share Notetaking Sheet 12th ELA for Deconstructing Informational Essays October 2017 ).  As each group presented, I reflected back what I heard and asked clarifying questions as needed; students could also ask the presenters for clarification or to repeat anything they needed to hear again.  The period flew by, and all groups finished but one, so our final group will start us off on Friday.  Once we finish, students will then complete a self-assessment of themselves and their group (see Poster Presentation Self Assessment Informational Text in the Wild Noticings) before beginning to develop a writing plan.  We’ll collaborate as we begin to draft the pieces of our essay, so stay tuned for more on that approach to our writing process!

It was interesting to see how each group worked together in terms of how they attacked the activity as well as the interaction (or challenges with working together).  Groups that communicated clearly and did the annotating/marking up “a la Gretchen Bernabei” style were the ones whose posters were the strongest finish product in terms of content depth and completeness.  Overall, I am very happy with the design of the learning experience and how my students handled this because it was definitely a challenging learning activity.  They have demonstrated growth since the beginning of August and took on this challenge in a way that they could not have done only nine weeks ago.  I am also excited that their work can now serve as anchor work to showcase in the classroom.

How do you support students in engaging in noticings about mentor texts?  I would love to hear your ideas!

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