craft · mentor texts · September 11th

Specific Examples of the Power of Three

Last week I wrote about the power of three in writing.  I felt my post lacked specific examples of what this looks like in published writing.  So, I looked back at Carmen Agra Deedy’s newest book,  14 Cows for America (written in collaboration with Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah), which has examples where she writes in threes. Hence, I contacted the Permissions Department at Peachtree Publishers so I could reprint a few lines of text from Deedy’s book (permission was granted and the lines of text follow below).

Why this book, as opposed to the other titles I mentioned in last week’s post?  There are actually three reasons.

1)  I’m a fan of Deedy’s work.  I especially loved The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark.  Hence, I was excited to make mention of her newest book, which came out last month.

2)  The story has gorgeous illustrations, which were created with pastels, colored pencils, and airbrushing by Thomas Gonzalez.  There’s nothing better than reading a gorgeous picture book to children!

3)  As we approach the eighth anniversary of September 11th, this text is timely since it’s about the way the Maasai People of Kenya reached out to the Americans nine months after the devastating terrorist attacks on this country.  If you’re looking for a new text to use in your classroom on September 11th, then this is surely worth adding to your classroom library.

An example of starting three sentences in the same way:

Deedy wrote:

They sing to them.

They give them names.

They shelter the young ones in their homes.

An example of posing three questions for emphasis (notice the repetition of the word they in each sentence):

Deedy wrote:

Buildings so tall they can touch the sky?

Fires so hot they can melt iron?

Smoke and dust so thick they can block out the sun?

As with any mentor text you use to illustrated a point to your students, I think it’s helpful to have at least two places in a text where the author does the thing you’re talking about with the child.  Also, showing more than one instance the author wrote in a particular way makes it seem less accidental, and more purposeful, thereby making our students want to purposely try out the same strategy.

3 thoughts on “Specific Examples of the Power of Three

  1. Thank you for your help. I am definitely going to look at writing with a new lens and I can’t wait to share this with the teachers I work with.


  2. Caroline:

    At this time, I cannot recommend any professional resources about this. However, if you start thinking about “the power of three” you’ll find it everywhere. Here are some instances from President Obama’s Speech to schoolchildren today, where he spoke in threes, copied over from

    EXAMPLE #1: Repeating the phrase “I’ve talked…”
    I’ve talked about your teachers’ responsibility for inspiring you, and pushing you to learn.
    I’ve talked about your parents’ responsibility for making sure you stay on track, and get your homework done, and don’t spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with that Xbox.
    I’ve talked a lot about your government’s responsibility for setting high standards, supporting teachers and principals, and turning around schools that aren’t working where students aren’t getting the opportunities they deserve.

    EXAMPLE #2: “Maybe you could be…”
    Maybe you could be a good writer – maybe even good enough to write a book or articles in a newspaper – but you might not know it until you write a paper for your English class. Maybe you could be an innovator or an inventor – maybe even good enough to come up with the next iPhone or a new medicine or vaccine – but you might not know it until you do a project for your science class. Maybe you could be a mayor or a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice, but you might not know that until you join student government or the debate team.

    EXAMPLE #3: “You’ll need the…”
    You’ll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You’ll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You’ll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.

    EXAMPLE #4: Three stories about young people
    Young people like Jazmin Perez, from Roma, Texas. Jazmin didn’t speak English when she first started school. Hardly anyone in her hometown went to college, and neither of her parents had gone either. But she worked hard, earned good grades, got a scholarship to Brown University, and is now in graduate school, studying public health, on her way to being Dr. Jazmin Perez.
    I’m thinking about Andoni Schultz, from Los Altos, California, who’s fought brain cancer since he was three. He’s endured all sorts of treatments and surgeries, one of which affected his memory, so it took him much longer – hundreds of extra hours – to do his schoolwork. But he never fell behind, and he’s headed to college this fall.
    And then there’s Shantell Steve, from my hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Even when bouncing from foster home to foster home in the toughest neighborhoods, she managed to get a job at a local health center; start a program to keep young people out of gangs; and she’s on track to graduate high school with honors and go on to college.
    Jazmin, Andoni and Shantell aren’t any different from any of you. They faced challenges in their lives just like you do. But they refused to give up. They chose to take responsibility for their education and set goals for themselves. And I expect all of you to do the same.

    EXAMPLE #5: Time-frames
    It’s the story of students who sat where you sit 250 years ago, and went on to wage a revolution and found this nation. Students who sat where you sit 75 years ago who overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man on the moon. Students who sat where you sit 20 years ago who founded Google, Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other.


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