I’m excited to share this with you. It was one of those times when things just worked out in writing workshop. In one of the third grade classes studying reviews, we began talking about using details to support your opinion. I try to avoid the word details as much as possible. I think it’s an ambiguous word. What does it mean, exactly, to add details? Because of this, I do a lot of thinking about kinds of details. When I teach writers different kinds of details they can add, their writing is always lifted.
Since the review study is so broad, I’ve realized the kinds of details reviewers add are very dependent on the subject of the review. Reviewers use different kinds of details to support their opinions about food than they do to support their opinions about video games. The more I think about it, the more overwhelming it becomes to teach kinds of details review writers use.
So I selected several different kinds of reviews for students to read and study as they write their own reviews. A popular review topic is pets, so I selected a couple of mentor reviews on this topic. Nyla was writing a review about Shih Tzu dogs. During our conference, she said, “I wish I could read a review about animals. I smiled and gave her a copy of the mentor text. Then I said, “When I study text like what I’m writing, I read it differently. Let me show you.”
Then I read the first line, paused, and asked Nyla, “What do you notice?”
Nyla thought for a moment, then said, “It tells what they think of the dog.”
“That’s right, it tells the reviewer’s opinion.” I jotted Nyla’s noticing on the text. Then we read the next sentence and jotted our thinking.
I gave Nyla her pencil and the text, giving her the opportunity to lead the study of the text. Check out Nyla’s notes.
When I checked back with Nyla, not only had she finished the studying the mentor text, but she drafted her own review of Shih Tzu dogs.
Ahh, the power of a mentor text, right? The next day I used Nyla’s examples in my minilesson to encourage students to study and use mentor texts like Nyla.
We also set up a system so students have access to the reviews. Here is a pdf of the mentor reviews we have in play in several third grade classes. It’s not exactly a pretty document, but the reviews are solid enough to be used as mentors for third graders first attempt at writing in this genre. Mentor texts, when used properly, will always lift the level of student work.
Also…I want to let you know, the idea for this unit came from the new Common Core Reading and Writing Workshop series (Heinemann). It is developed by Lucy Calkins and colleagues from the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. They are very inexpensive ($10 per grade level, and goes from kindergarten to eighth grade for both reading and writing workshop). I’ve found them useful in giving our teachers a common ground, but there is also a lot that needs to be added to the units in order to make them possible in classrooms. For example, I did all of the leg work in finding mentor reviews. The conference, as described here, was not in the resource, nor was the lesson I described to launch the unit. The stronger your background knowledge is in writing workshop, as well as writing process, the more useful this resource will be. As with all resources, it is not an end all, be all answer to curriculum. However, it is inexpensive and provides a common ground for everyone in the district.
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