Take Two: Using Picture Books as Mentor Texts

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Anne Marie Marcus, a teacher/learning specialist. She began using  When The Wind Blows (Penguin Random House 2015) last September with her third grade inclusion class at the Richardson-Olmsted School in North Easton, Massachusetts.

Anne Marie Marcus
Anne Marie Marcus

Anne Marie recently attended a workshop with Ruth Culham, pioneering researcher and author of 6 + 1 Traits of Writing: The Complete Guide – Grades 3 & Up.  She was fresh with excitement about how she was putting her insights into practice.

LBS: Before we dive in, it would be great for folks to know a bit about you, the person behind the teacher.  Tell us about yourself.  What was your path to teaching?  

I’ve had a really varied background. After an undergrad degree in early childhood at Tufts, I worked for the Department of Developmental Services), with a population that was in prison or otherwise involved with the Department of Corrections. That was challenging. I left that to be with my kids.   When I had kids, I started to appreciate learning in its most minute forms. That every day wonder that leads to learning… I never really appreciated that until I had kids. Eventually I worked as a personal assistant, a store manager, even a home organizer. But my heart wasn’t in it.

Then I got cancer and began to rethink things. I wanted to be with my family more and do something meaningful. So I started as a paraprofessional, primarily as a way to keep busy while I decided my next move. I was surprised at how much I loved it. Eventually I got my master’s and now here I am doing special education. This is much more inline with what I’m passionate about. I love being able to get to know each of these little people so well, and spark that wonder so they want to be at school.

LBS: All that life experience has to helpful as you teach! You mentioned that you use pictures books in writing instruction. How do you do that?

The key term to know is “mentor texts” which are basically examples of good writing. Not long ago I had a chance to hear Ruth Culham speak. She’s well known for her “six traits of writing” which include ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency and conventions. The seventh is presentation.  Ruth talked a lot about using mentor texts to encourage the six+1 writing traits.

Your book is really great for WORD CHOICE. The words convey the meaning of the story so well. It creates that rhythm that makes you want to read it. And the imagery of the word is so powerful.

LBS: Nice! So what did the students do?

AMM:  First we read the book. Then, I took pictures of every page with my phone and put them up on the screen.

With the pages large on the screen, we went back through the book and really looked at the word choice and how it created rhythm and imagery.

We talked about alliteration – words that started with same sounds.

Alliteration example, When the Wind Blows
Alliteration example, When the Wind Blows

I helped them notice that each sentence had two words. This was a great way to talk about sentence structure. Some of my kids needed to be reminded that a sentence has a noun and a verb. And also, some needed a reminder about which was a noun, and which was a verb. That got us into parts of speech.  

Oh, I can’t forget personification. In the Wind Blows book, you have:

Chimes singing…. Personification

Strollers strolling… Personification.

Trees dancing… Personification.

For such a simple text, there is so much in it!

Word choice, sentence structure, personification, parts of speech, figurative language (such as alliteration and onomatopoeia) are all important parts of good writing – and they’re also part of the Common Core standards for third grade. Another part of the Common Core is for kids to understand how illustrations can help to create a mood. That led us to looking at how illustrations as context clues to learn the meaning of new words.

We practiced creating a mood with illustrations and word choice when we each student made an illustrated page (see below) to help decorate the When the Wind Blows tree at the Concord Museum Family Trees exhibit this year. The kids loved that project!

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3rd Grade, Richardson-Olmsted School - Easton, MA
3rd Grade, Richardson-Olmsted School – Easton, MA

LBS: That’s really great, Anne Marie. Before we sign off, I have to ask you about wonder. With so many pressures to teach to the standards, how you keep that wonder alive with our students.

AMM: We have a very lo-tech room, so our excitement is more tactile, and I think more genuine.   Good books are the my favorite way to create wonder with the kids because it’s something that they can take home with them and it’s something that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. But I sometimes have to do other things to make reading and school engaging. Thanks to my mother in-law, I have 100 beanie babies. I keep them in a big bucket nestled near the bookcase, a comfy beanbag chair and a rocking chair. The kids use the beanie babies in all sorts of ways. They read to them or use them for Reader’s Theater. They can set up a store with them. We sort through them for our math lessons and count the different kinds – forest creatures, fish, feathered ones, family pets — to make bar graphs and collect data. They lose themselves with those beanie babies.  THEN, THE WONDER AND THE PLAY JUST OVERFLOWS.

If you want to reach Anwtwbne Marie to learn more, you can contact her here: jammarcus@aol.com.

For a teacher’s guide to When The Wind Blows, click here.

The next best thing to sitting on the floor reading with kids, is hearing from teachers how they use my books. If you’re using my books, do be in touch.  You remind me that all those hours in the library are worth it!

 

 

 

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