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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Mentor Text Back to School Theme!

It is Sunday and I am just in time to link up with my BBB's at Collaboration Cuties for their Mentor Text linky!!  
This week's topic is back to school mentor texts!
Last year I used the book Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes for the first time when working on building writing stamina at the beginning of the year.  The students really got into it because what nine year old doesn't like to talk about their name?

Amazon.com review:  Until Chrysanthemum started kindergarten, she believed her parents when they said her name was perfect. But on the first day of school, Chrysanthemum begins to suspect that her name is far less than perfect, especially when her class dissolves into giggles upon hearing her name read aloud. That evening, Chrysanthemum's parents try to piece her self-esteem back together again with comfort food and a night filled "with hugs, kisses, and Parcheesi." But the next day Victoria, a particularly observant and mean-spirited classmate, announces that Chrysanthemum's name takes up 13 letters. "That's half the letters in the alphabet!" she adds. Chrysanthemum wilts. Pretty soon the girls are making playground threats to "pluck" Chrysanthemum and "smell her."
Kevin Henkes has great compassion for the victims of childhood teasing and cruelties--using fresh language, endearing pen-and-ink mouse characters, and realistic dialogue to portray real-life vulnerability. He also has great compassion for parents, offering several adult-humor jokes for anxious mommies and daddies. On the surface, the finale is overly tidy and the coincidences unbelievable. But in the end, what sustains Chrysanthemum, as well as this story, is the steadfast love and support of her family. And because of this, the closure is ultimately convincing and utterly comforting. ALA Notable Book, School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, Horn Book Fanfare Honor List. (Ages 4 to 8) --Gail Hudson
In addition to the writing stamina activity that I used last year (discussed below), this book would be great for the beginning of the year when discussing classroom expectations and  how we treat our classmates!

I read about using this mentor in the Notebook Know-How by Aimee Buckner (pgs. 15-16).  

I downloaded these handouts to use with the writing about your name strategy from Super Pig and Tyrant King.  Click here to get her handouts.

My experience last fall using this activity:  First, I had students complete the first worksheet in class.  Then, I assigned the "Investigating My Name Interview" for homework to interview a parent/guardian.  The next day, without discussing the "Work on Writing" rules, I had students free write for a few minutes about their name in their first journal entry.  I told them that they could write anything.  Ready, set, go!  I was curious how the students would handle work on writing.  I have the top third of the 4th graders in my class.  So, the first student raised their hand immediately.  I walked over to this bright student and he asked me, "What am I supposed to write about my name?".  I replied, "Anything you want.  You have a lot of information."
Next, a student raised his hand and said, "I'm done."  This was after writing two sentences.  

This was a great learning experience for me to see where the students are in their writing stamina.  We have already began Read to Self and made an anchor chart, modeled the correct/incorrect behaviors and have been working on stamina (they only lasted 2 min. 30 sec. the first time we tried it...and these are the top readers in the grade!).  

We discussed the percentage of time spent working on reading vs. working on writing since they were young.  Most students agreed that it was about 80% reading and 20% writing.  They really have had very little practice writing about a topic freely.  Their name (how they got it, how they feel about it, etc.) is something they should be able to write about for 5 minutes, especially after interviewing their parents the night before!  I mean, they had the worksheets right on their desk and students were "done" without including any of the information they learned about their name!

After discussing the Work on Writing expectations and why we need to practice writing freely, the students did a much better job the next time with their stamina and there were no more hands in the air.  They wrote for an additional 10 minutes about their name.   

The most difficult part for me has been to just let them write without butting in over their shoulder.  I really want them to get comfortable writing without worrying that they are doing it "wrong".

Looking back at this journal entry from September now really is encouraging!  The students grew so much as writers throughout the year.  Wow!!  Back to school will be coming quickly and we will all have another set of kiddos to transform in about 9 months:)  Are teachers amazing or what?!?  :)

Be sure to check back at Collaboration Cuties for all the other back to school mentor text ideas!


  1. Hey, Holly!
    It's pretty interesting to see how the same book is used in different grades - you in fourth, and me in second. I really can't wait to check out the other book you posted above, for my own learning! I think I could even get my babies to write for a bit about their names, so I'm downloading your sweet freebie to give it a try next year (month???).

  2. I love Kevin Henkes and this one is a classic!
    I agree with Brooke- in K I used this book for name graphing! I love your lesson- it makes me a little nostalgic for my upper elementary days (3rd grade) :)
    Creating a Thoughtful Classroom

  3. Hey Holly~ So many things I want to comment. :) First of all, when I saw Chrysanthemum pop up, I heard myself saying her name over and over again from the times I have read it before. I love this book!!!
    Secondly, I love that you shared your writing experience from last year. As you know, I plan to work on writing a good bit this year and I am loving Notebook Know How. Thanks for sharing.
    Creating Lifelong Learners

  4. This is so great!!! I love all of the information you included here!!

    I love Aimee Buckner (she taught at a school right down the road from us) and we also do a similar activity about names! It's so fun and a lot of kids have never asked why they have that name! This year, we got some really interesting information about names (one student said his dad made up his last name...by the end of the year, they had legally changed his last name to his mom's...interesting!).

    Thanks so much for linking up sweet friend!
    Collaboration Cuties

  5. I adore the book Chrysanthemum! It is so sweet. I gave it to my niece for her birthday!
    It is perfect for character education talks! I read it to my students and then tell them the story of how I was always called, Charlotte's Web! It made me dislike my name! Great for building a class community! Thanks for sharing this beautiful book!
    Fabulous Fifth Grade Fun

  6. I love the way you use this book, what a fantastic idea!

    I love Aimee Buckner-she has some fantastic ideas that I like to use as well.

    Hunter's Tales from Teaching

  7. I like how you tied the book into writer's workshop. It's one of my favorite books!

    Don't Let the Teacher Stay Up Late