Recent Posts

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Mentor Text Display Cards

I frequently use mentor texts in the classroom, and students find them incredibly valuable as exemplars for their own writing. But too often in the past, our experience with mentor texts has been "out of sight, out of mind." Students simply forget them over time. So how can we keep mentor texts forefront in students' minds?

For each exemplar text we study, whether it be a picture book, poem, article, or excerpt from a novel, I've posted a simple letter-size display card listing the book title, author, illustrator, genre, theme, notable text features, and a text excerpt (see example below). On a bookshelf adjacent to these cards, I've shelved all of the mentor texts we've already read, as well as those I intend to use in the near future. You can view my sample Mentor Text Display Cards for Picture Books, or Mentor Text Display Cards for Novels

With just a few cards posted, already I've seen several benefits:

  • During free reading time, students will return to these texts since they're familiar and meaningful.
  • Students struggling to recall text features or literary devices will look to these cards for help.
  • Students now make discoveries of their own in their independent texts, and some have even suggested book excerpts for future sharing. This, in itself, is revealing, because students are noticing features and literary devices that haven't been formally introduced through our other texts.
  • The collection of cards serves as clear evidence of our classroom goal to create a common culture of literacy, while recognizing unique attributes of each text that we study. 
While I created the first few cards, I see no reason why future cards can't be made by students themselves. The blank prototype card I've provided is easy to duplicate and edit. After reviewing the cards I've shared, you may also decide that what I've chosen to illustrate on my cards doesn't quite serve your purposes, so I welcome you to customize them as you see fit. If you're a Google Docs user, simply open the link that I've shared, click on File in the top menu, and choose Make a Copy to create your own editable set of cards.

Looking to the future, I see some other uses for these cards:
  • Printed out, these cards can be inserted in the books they reference. That way, even if you choose not to use a book in a given year, a student can still benefit from the information the card provides.
  • Individual cards can be saved as pdf files, and these can be digitally stored for student access. My own teacher website has an index that would work well with this concept.
  • I chose to post my cards chronologically, since students will remember a book that was read "a long time ago" (two weeks ago!) and find it easier to reference if the cards are posted by occurrence. But I can also see posting cards closer to those shelves that they might reference. So my Fever 1793 card might be posted adjacent to the historical fiction section of my class library, and my Fellowship of the Ring card might be located near the fantasy section.
  • As students read their own books, they can create their own display cards to illustrate the "take-aways" of their individual texts.
Via Google slides I've provided you several cards to get started (all the books on these cards have been featured on this blog; see links below), including a blank prototype for editing online, as well as a blank that can be printed out if you prefer students to create a card using paper and pencil. Again, you will need to open the link, click on File in the top menu, and choose Make a Copy to create your own editable set of cards.

Need help teaching theme and theme statements? Check out this previous post. You can also check out my write-ups or activities for any of the following books or stories featured on the sample cards:

I'd love to hear your ideas for these cards, as well as ways you plan to customize them for your own classroom.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Student Presentations that Don't Suck

Most of us have heard of the inspirational TED Talks. We would love for students to give classroom presentations that were just as engaging and thought provoking.

Slightly less well-known than TED talks are the Ignite Talks which allow speakers only five minutes; additionally, the accompanying slides to each talk advance automatically every fifteen seconds. Now this is a format we can definitely adapt and use in the classroom!

One of my favorites is Matthew Inman, creator of The Oatmeal, speaking about How to Get 5 Million People to View Your Website:

Another favorite is Scott Berkun's Why and How to Give an Ignite Talk, which not only gives a cool insight into the Ignite format, but also provides a pretty compact lesson of effective storytelling. This one is more school appropriate, and this Ignite video could even serve as a "how to" for middle and high school students to plan their own talks:

For your next staff meeting or student presentation, give this format a shot. Perhaps just three minutes instead of five. Sometimes less is more!