Learning Craft and Content Using Mentor Texts

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SWBAT understand the differences between craft and content in personal narratives using "Fences."

Big Idea

Learning how to analyze personal narratives: the difference between what the piece is about and how it's written

Reading Time

10 minutes

Each day, I begin my ELA class with Reading Time.  This is a time for students to access a range of texts. I use this time to conference with students, collect data on class patterns and trends with independent reading and to provide individualized support.

Definining Personal Narrative

5 minutes

In this unit on personal narratives, my larger objective is to get students to think about their past experiences as shaping who they have become and to improve their thinking skills in the process. The skill of writing that I want my students to walk away with from this unit is that of craft, which is how a piece is written and the techniques a writer uses to do so. When my students can analyze the craft techniques of mentor texts, they can begin to make informed decisions for their own writing.

I begin the lesson by pulling up the Craft and Content In Personal Narratives Powerpoint on the Smartboard. This Powerpoint will serve for as the framework of the next few lessons. These two lessons may take longer than two days. It will depend on how much time is devoted to reading the narratives that we will use. I begin the unit with such great plans that seemed organized, however, time usually gets the best of me. If you need to stick to a clear schedule, make sure you keep discussions short for these two lessons.

We start by defining the differences between content and craft. I have students write these defitions in their notebooks so we will be working with them for today's lesson. We then move on to creating a working defintion of personal narrative. This will help us to have common language for the classroom. I start by asking for a volunteer to define the genre. We then, as a class, work together to revise the defintion if needed and usually get to this: a piece of writing that describes a significant even in the life of a writer - include a so what/theme. When beginning a new genre study, I make sure my students understand what that genre is so they are not lost throughout the unit. That's why we define craft, content, and personal narrative in the beginning of the lesson. 

Class Reading: Using "Fences"

14 minutes

No matter what is taught, students need to have a conceptual understanding of what they are learning. They need examples and models so they can comprehend what certain definitions and concepts mean and how they apply to writing. For this lesson, after we have defined personal narrative, craft and content, we then analyze a text to see these three definitions in context. This allows students to see what these look like and this allows them to internalize this for their own writing.

I move on in the lesson by passing out copies of "Fences" by David Rowe. I tell students that we are going to be reading this narrative and looking for how it is written and not just what it is about. We are looking for what makes it a well-written piece and the choices the author makes to do that. I personally really like using this narrative. The craft techniques in this piece are very clear so it's very accessible to students. It's also a great transition into thinking about experiences meaning more than just what happened.

After I pass out the narrative, I then refer back to the Craft and Content In Personal Narratives Powerpoint on the Smartboard and move on to the third slide. This slide will gives questions to think about as we read "Fences". As we read this narrative, we are looking for how it is written. In order to help students along in this process, I read the following questions, which are on the slide:

  • ™Is this piece just about fences?
  • ™How does he write an appealing story?
  • ™What lessons, in terms of style, can we from this?
  • ™What lines are written the most effective? How?

 This questions focus both on content and craft, which is the point of today's lesson.

We then read the narrative out loud as a class while thinking about the questions above. For the beginning of the narrative, I need to do a lot of modeling so I stop after each paragraph and show them my thinking about the above questions. After a page or two many students are then able to do the work on their own. If they are not, you can then differentiate instruction by grouping together students based on ability and working with those who need guided assistance on the above questions.

By the end of the narrative, you may need to have students reread the narrative and make notes that answer the above questions. The next step will be to have a group discussion based on the craft techniques of how it's written so it's important that students have examples.


Guided Practice: Analyzing Mentor Texts For Craft

14 minutes

To finish the lesson, we then look at the piece as a whole and come up with various craft techniques that make this piece stand out. This allows students to begin to look objectively at writing. They can begin to learn how to analyze a piece for more than just content and now look at it as a writer and whether or not the piece is written effectively. If they can master this skill, they can grow as writers themselves.

We answer the questions from the previous section as a class. This allows us to fully understand the choices the writer made in creating his piece. As we discuss, I refer back to my own Teacher Notes to help pin point specific examples. Hopefully students see this and begin to do this work as well. I want students to be able to show me evidence of how this piece is written. This video explains my notes on craft techniques in the piece: Fences Teacher Notes Explanation.

I then move on to the fourth slide of the Craft and Content In Personal Narratives Powerpoint, which lists various craft techniques from "Fences." These are stylistic choices the author used in writing his piece. This list can be created as a class, or it can be given to the class depending on the level of students. I am a huge fan of letting students show me what they know so I start by listing what they found. I may refer back to specific examples in the text if there a craft technique that is worthy of discussion. I make sure students copy the list down. We may have referred to these as we were discussing the questions, but I want to make sure students have this concrete list with them so they can try these techniques when they eventually draft on their own.