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March 16, 2015 Mentor Text for Giving Students' Writing a Voice By Brian Smith
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5

    Ruth Culham and Raymond Coutu describe a writer’s voice as “the writer’s distinctive fingerprint that makes the writing his or her own” in the book Using Picture Books to Teach Writing With the Traits K-2. This is such a great definition because it allows students of any age to understand how unique their writing should be.

    Culham has a series of books and kits focused on the six traits of writing. She lists the six traits as:

     

    • Ideas

    • Organization

    • Voice

    • Word choice

    • Sentence fluency

    • Conventions

    The Trait CrateCulham then added Presentation as a seventh trait. She created grade-level Trait Crates that provide mentor texts for each of the traits. I adore the Trait Crate and the Writing Traits Book Bundle that I use to supplement the Trait Crate lessons. I consider my Trait Crate and Traits Book Bundle to be the backbone of my writing instruction. They have focused my teaching, made my students’ writing better one trait at a time, and they have made my life easier. Having said that, I would be a total fraud if I didn’t also say that as I have used these products for a few years, I have also found other mentor texts that I use to teach the traits.

    Bringing in different mentor texts made me feel as though I was cheating on the very sweet and knowledgeable Culham, but then I read in her awesome book, The Writing Thief, where she writes, “mentor texts can be materials that the student writer discovers on his or her own, such as how chapter endings are written in The One and Only Ivan, [amazing book by the way] or something the teacher shares with students to showcase a particular skill in context." This simple statement cleared my conscience and my brain exploded as I started thinking about great books for each trait.

    After you have introduced a writing trait, rotate a book bucket within your students' reach that is labeled with whichever trait you are teaching at the time. That allows students to see other exemplars of that skill. When they are able to discover and articulate that a book has voice, I know that the concept has solidified in their knowledge bank.

    My best mentor texts to teach the writing trait of voice are:

    This is Not My HatThis Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen
    This book is my favorite of the two books in Jon Klassen's Hat series (see the next one below), just because it’s told from the point of view of the bad guy. Kids love that. I never tell them that the little fish telling the story is not nice, but the first page says, “This is not my hat. I stole it.” and an audible gasp ripples through the crowd of 5-year-olds. They are hooked. What a great voice to give a book — the voice of the villain. We talk about every single reason that the little fish gives for stealing the hat. My favorite part (and my students' favorite as well) is the end where the fact that there is no voice telling the story. This story leads directly into my second favorite mentor text, the other book in the Hat series . . .

    I Want my Hat BackI Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
    A bear cannot find his hat. He wants it back. He asks around. Told entirely in the dialogue that occurs as the bear looks for his hat, this book is full of voice. From the rapidness and rambling of the rabbit’s dialogue, students can detect that he is guilty without the supporting picture. The students are then prepared for the ending of the book when the bear begins to talk rapidly. I love the connection that they make based on the voice of Klassen’s writing.


    Books with Voice LabelMy book bin of books with strong voice includes:

    Don't forget that you can use Scholastic's free, online Word Workshop tool to create a beautiful Books With Voice book bin label.

    I hope that you will share your favorite books with me that have a strong voice component.

    Find me, dad2ella, on Twitter and Pinterest.

    I can’t wait to see you next week.

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Susan Cheyney

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