[Mentor Text Monday] A Sunday Evening Sentence Search

It’s Sunday evening. I want to post a mentor text, but my brain, she be empty. I tumble through my thoughts, flip through my mental card catalogue, scroll through my Twitter feed, and… nothing.

And then I remember–books! I read books, own books, and display said books in an easy-access shelving unit otherwise known as a book shelf. Books have words! Words have inspiration! I leap up from my slouchy-couch-typing position, semi-shut my eyes, pick a book, and settle back in (a little less slouchy, but not much).

What follows is my completely unstructured method for finding mentor-textian inspiration in a randomly-selected book.

The book, chosen mostly at random from my living room bookshelf:

Translated by William O’Daly
Published in 1974 by a small publishing house in Port Townsend, WA (near my home town!)
I’ve spent time with this book before–both in Spanish and English. I didn’t read it cover to cover, but it’s one of my familiars. It is not what I’d call an easy or accessible read, but it is undeniably gorgeous. The entire book is a series of unanswerable questions written as couplets.
Unanswerable questions–I like that as a discussion and writing springboard.
Couplets–I don’t find teaching rhyming couplets overly inspiring, but I can see some interesting possibilities in a couplet conversation (rhyming vs. non-rhyming, open vs. closed, end-stop or run-on).
I thumb through some of the passages:
XII
And at whom does rice smile
with infinitely many white teeth?
 
Why in the darkest ages 
do they write with invisible ink?
 
Does the beauty from Caracas know
how many skirts the river has?
 
Why do the fleas
and literary sergeants bite me?
Um… no. Even in my swirly-twirly brain, these words do not inspire a teachable moment for me. I find many more phrases that are interesting, but not “the one”:
How large was the black octopus
that darkened the days peace?
No…
Who can convince the sea
to be reasonable?
Better, but I’m looking for a series…
If all rivers are sweet
where does the sea get its salt?
I like it, can I use the series?
If all rivers are sweet
where does the sea get its salt?
 
How do the seasons know
they must change their shirt?
 
Why so slowly in winter
and later with such a rapid shudder?
 
And how do the roots know
they must climb toward the light?
 
And then greet the air
with so many flowers and colors?
 
Is it always the same spring
who revives her role?
Yes, I think I can use this. A few of the lines are less clear than I’d like, but as a series, it has possibility. I see a few possible links:
  • geography–rivers leading to the ocean, where DOES the salt come from?
  • science–plants, roots, photosynthesis, how DO the plants know?
  • literature–symbolism, figurative language, what is the personality of Spring?
I’d like to try a lesson with a good read of these couplets–individually, and as a series. Depending on the grade, I would dig a little deeper in to the idea that with these questions, Neruda shows a depth of learning about the topic–the idea that good questions can hold as much information as an answer. I would like to tie it in to a content area unit, and then use this series as a mentor text for showing learning about that content.
My next step? Trying it on. I have to try to write one to see if it is possible, to watch the path of my thinking, so see if it supports the thinking I have in mind, and to use as an example if I do use this text. Sometimes I’ll try this with a topic that is interesting to me personally, but often I use content that is appropriate to the grade level I’m teaching.
3rd Grade–Physical Science: Energy and Matter
Why does the fruit bowl not light up 
with the energy it stores?
 
Does the energy it creates 
travel in waves as well?
 
Are sunbeams sisters 
to soundwaves and oceans?
Well. That was harder than I thought. I tapped out at three. It took more content knowledge than I expected, and it was difficult to find a balance between poetic and factual. This mentor text would take some time, a class I knew well, and students with experience struggling through challenges in reading and writing. Considering all of that, I’d still like to use it. I’m tucking it away in my idea file!
So, that’s my process when I try on a new mentor text. Do you have a process you use, a resource you prefer, or some favorite mentor texts you can use over and over?

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