On days when I visit classrooms I come away feeling so inspired and energized by what I observe. I am so excited to see how children are thinking and talking about their thinking. The fifth grade class in one of the rooms I am visiting is working on the interpretive essay. I was impressed with the work that I saw in that room.Finding interpretive essays that are written in first person by students is very difficult. A site that was shared with me is: www.thisibelieve.org. It has sample essays by students under 18. Teachers are using those pieces to be mentor texts for their students. There is even a piece by a kindergarten student, Tarak McLain, who has a list of his beliefs.
As the fifth graders were working, I was able to talk to a couple who were struggling with their thesis statement. We went back to the list of things that our mentor writer, Tarak, had on his sheet. As we looked at his list, they began to make their own list. After a few minutes, they both knew exactly what their thesis statement would be and were ready to start collecting stories to support it.
I then sat down beside Sierra. She knew what her statement would be, but was struggling with the collection part. She needed to see the “big” picture of where the essay was going…what it would look like. At that point we went back to another mentor text. This one was written by a child about being opinionated. What made this piece work for Sierra was the way it was laid out. Each paragraph started with a similar phrase: “At thirteen,” or “At nine,” or “At eleven”. By seeing the format of this piece, she could then begin collecting her stories. She knew how it would look in her essay now.The last child I worked beside was Adam. He had a long list of beliefs but didn’t know where to go next. He was just making a list! I asked him to stop and read his list to me. I told him to be thinking as he read about items on the list that brought about a story to mind. He read through all 17 beliefs. I asked, “Did any sort of hit you?” He said that one did. He now had his thesis and was ready to begin collecting stories. We again looked at the same mentor text that I had used with Sierra. This time he was going to use: “In first grade,” and “In second grade, and “In third grade,”. You get the idea. He was ready!
Before I left, the teacher and I came up with a list of focus lessons for what would come next with these learners. Using mentor texts, listening to these young writers, and planning makes writer’s workshop a wonderful way to encourage thinking!