Several weeks ago, I wrote about the writing work that 1st grade students at my school are currently doing. They are still working on small moment stories. This week, I visited Brandi Victorian’s 1st grade class to see how the work was progressing. They had folders full of in-progress small moment stories, and Mrs. Victorian was teaching them how to use Donald Crews as a mentor for their work.
Mrs. Victorian began her lesson by reminding her students of the work they had already done on their small moment stories. She also reminded them of the books they had read by Donald Crews, including Shortcut, Bigmama’s, and Night at the Fair. She then told her students that she wanted to show them how to use these books as "mentors" to make their small moment stories better.
Mrs. Victorian read an excerpt from Shortcut aloud and stopped to point out a few of the techniques Donald Crews used to make his writing effective. She called their attention to the fact that he used descriptive details to help the reader really picture the story, and she pointed out how he used sound words (e.g., “Whoo whoo”) to make the reader feel as though they were in the moment with the characters.
After putting these two techniques on a chart, Mrs. Victorian gave her students an opportunity to try out this work right there on the carpet with her. She challenged them to think about how Donald Crews could help them make their writing better, and she asked them to tell their partner what technique they might try in their writing.
The students quickly began to buzz about which strategy they could try. She leaned into several conversations to coach them, and she shared some of the responses with the whole group before sending them off to write independently.
As students moved to their writing spots, Mrs. Victorian immediately began conferring with individual children. I chose a few students to confer with as well, and I noticed that one student had a picture of the school cafeteria with one sentence written below it.
The picture captured some great details — I especially love the “peanut free zone” sign on the left side of the table — but she used words sparingly. I asked her to tell me what she was working on, and she said she was writing about how they go to lunch every day, and she was on page two since she had started the piece the day before. She pointed out several parts of her picture and read the sentence to me: “Some buy and some don’t buy.” (After reading the sentence aloud, she erased the word “didn’t” and changed it to “don’t.”) I complimented her detailed picture and praised the fact that she was revising as she re-read her work. I also asked her if she was going to try any strategies from Donald Crews today.
The student mentioned that she was interested in adding more details, but she wasn’t sure how. “I guess I can draw the floor,” she said, referring to her picture. I encouraged her to make her words detailed instead and asked her if she could say more about what happens in the lunch line. She still seemed unsure, so I went and got the copy of Shortcut and pointed out the example Mrs. Victorian had referred to in the mini-lesson. It clicked almost immediately, and she began to add another sentence to her page.
For this student, the writing was stretched immediately, and she was so proud of the work she had done that she couldn’t wait to turn the page and try it again. She kept that copy of Shortcut close by, just in case she felt unsure. Moments like this are how we know a favorite author has become a valued mentor.