Scribble Sessions: Words and Crayons–Writing with Mentor Texts

Scribble Sessions ButtonLately, I’m all about Mentor Texts. Mentor texts are books that provide teaching opportunities. The official definition says that a mentor text is one you return to again and again to continually glean lessons, but I’m not that exacting. If a book can offer as much as one simple lesson, I’ve stamped with my big, fat MENTOR TEXT stamp.

Mentor Text

It’s not that I’ve never used mentor texts before. Earlier this year, I read Patricia Polacco’s Thundercake and followed Corbett Harrison’s fabulous Recipe Writing Lesson Plan. And remember Book Week’s measuring activity? Recently, however, I did two projects with that I thought would be fun to share with you. It all, of course, started with a book…

The Day the Crayons Quit

Written by Drew Daywalt

Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

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First I read the charmingly funny story The Day the Crayons Quit. For those of you unfamiliar, the story is told in letters to a boy named Duncan. Each color has a protest to lodge with the crayons’ collective owner, whether it be over or underuse. (And, in one sad case, a lack of crayon-clothing.) Each crayon gets a chance to speak and explains the problem they’re having that led to the general strike. Even Green, who is happy with his “coloring things green career,” is distressed by the fact that his two friends, Orange and Yellow, have stopped talking since they both insist they’re the “true” color of the sun.

I loved reading The Day the Crayons Quit to my students. “They all have a different reason,” said one. “Look at how tiny Blue is! He can’t even stand up!” cried another. “Why don’t we color in things in black?” wondered a third. Reading the book led to a discussion of which colors they used a lot and which they didn’t, which crayon personalities they liked and which annoyed them. It was fun! After we talked about how each letter had a different “voice,” I gave them their assignment: Write a letter from a crayon.

I encouraged my students to think about who their crayon might write to and why. What might their crayon have to say if it could write a letter? Then I passed out boxes of crayons and letter paper. It was amazing what a simple change of instrument could do to inspire these students. They wrote letters to their siblings, their classmates and me! Take a look:

Crayon Letters

The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus

by Jennifer Fisher Bryant

Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

The second mentor text I discovered during my search for 2015 Caldecott Honor Books for MSO Book Week. During a visit to my favorite local(ish) independent bookstore, Chaucer’s, a saleslady told me about The Right Word and said, “It should have won.” Unfortunately–and probably because of that saleslady–Chaucer’s was out. But I got a copy eventually…and boy was I impressed! I couldn’t wait to read it to my students. I knew it was a fantastic teaching opportunity just waiting to happen:

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The Right Word tells the story of Peter Mark Roget–yes, that Roget. It begins in his childhood and as it goes through his life, it talks of his search for the right word. Roget was an inveterate list-maker (Latin terms!) and, eventually, his lists became the book we know today as Roget’s Thesaurus. Not only is the story fascinating, the details on each page are intricate. There’s hours of entertainment on each one.

Now, my class read Wallace’s Lists as a mentor text for list-making. It, too, is a charming book and I was glad that I’d used it because, after reading The Right Word, I could take our list-making to the next level. After I read The Right Word, I asked the students to get out their reading books and a thesaurus (we were excited to see Roget’s name on some of our classroom thesauri!) so we could get right to work. They were already familiar with the process.

Here were their instructions:

  • Using their reading books as a resource, students were instructed to choose a word to write at the top of their list paper.
  • Using their thesaurus, they looked up their chosen word.
  • They then listed the synonyms and related words on their list paper.

This was perfect, since we’ve been working on dictionary skills for the last couple of months. A way to bring in a little something new and little history, too.

Synonym Lists

I’m always collecting books for my classroom (I’m so excited about the Friends of the Library Sale at the Ojai Valley Library this weekend!), especially when I can use them for mentor texts. Right now I’ve got a copy of Roller Coaster by Marla Frazee and Journey by Aaron Becker that are just burning to be used in new and educationally stimulating ways! What are your favorite mentor texts?

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