On Sunday mornings, my favorite thing to do is sip coffee on the porch while reading The New York Times (NYT) and The Washington Post. This weekend ritual is especially sweet in the summer months because there is no rush to get on to a long list of chores.
This summer my weekend reading has another purpose: finding real world mentor texts for my 8th grade students. Next year I am moving up from 6th grade to 8th grade English. One perk of this switch is a broader choice of topics and a deeper level of sophistication for reading.
With the 2016-2017 school year complete, I find myself looking to fill my teaching toolbox with mentor texts that will speak to older students. Fortunately, interesting mentor texts are all around.
In this Sunday’s papers I found several worthy examples:
- a NYT SportsSunday front page story entitled, “Soccer’s Art of Calculating a Player’s Worth.” In the midst of the player transfer window, the NYT breaks down what the dollars mean. This article is great for soccer fans but could be paired with an article about trades in hockey and basketball going on now or an article about the famous Alex Rodriguez baseball contract that changed pricing in baseball. In addition, I can hand this article to a student reading Kwame Alexander’s Booked.
- a timeline of the 2016 U.S. election and new revelations. Today’s heated political environment is put in the context of revelations and their timing. What I like about this article is the format. The authors are able to distill a great deal of information into short sentences laid out on a timeline.
- “36 Hours in Dubrovnik, Croatia” in the NYT travel section. Author and teacher Kelly Gallagher first turned me on to the value of these page-long articles. Each week the NYT offers a 36 hour guide to some location. I collect the articles and ask students to consider location selection, theme and what is most striking in the article. In the past my students have written their own “36 Hours in…” and comparing a few selections from the NYT is particularly valuable.
- Another find in the NYT travel section is the “Surfacing” column. This regular series offers readers five places to go in some city around the world. The series differs from “36 Hours in…” because the articles tend to be more thematic. This week features “Low-key Options for Nighthawks in Logan Square,” a location in Chicago where my son happens to live. My son is a night owl and Chicago is a favorite city for me so I immediately found the value in the theme.
- “Why I Resigned from the Foreign Service after 27 Years” by David Rank in The Washington Post is found on the opinion editorial page. In the article, Rank, America’s senior diplomat in China, lays out his reasoning for leaving now. First, Rank describes his wealth of experience, his proud non-partisan stand, his close calls with danger as well as missed family moments. After the first few paragraphs, Mr. Rank is well positioned to state his concerns for America’s future. This article would be useful in a class discussion about what makes a strong position piece because it definitely has pluses and minuses.
These are just a few of the examples I found in two newspapers on a Sunday morning. Each day can bring new mentor texts if we just read with an eye toward writing.
On Sundays, we receive a weekly Blue Apron box that makes some week nights easier. the box includes recipes and all the precise ingredients to make quick meals. A few weeks ago, the box included a full color booklet entitled, “The Secret Story of Soil.” Filled with beautiful pictures this booklet included charts, a glossary and an article featuring a small farmer in northern California. As a former public affairs executive, I recognize the pamphlet as a clever marketing tool aimed at connecting the Blue Apron box with the local farm stand. However, as a teacher I find this piece of non-fiction writing illuminating. Other booklets have included “The Power of Pollination” about bees, “The Fight to Save Salmon” and “The Wide World of Wheat.” My Blue Apron box has become a source of highly focused, non-fiction mentor texts! Students can look at content, source and reliability.
I am excited to see what other mentor texts pop up over the summer. If you have any go-to spots for real world mentor texts, please share your ideas in the comment section.