written by Heath Kelley, DMS 5th Grade Teacher
Athletes, musicians, artists...even teachers have others that they imitate in order to learn the intricacies of their chosen craft. Benjamin Franklin, for example, was well known to have imitated others to make himself a better writer (see his words here). When students are given the opportunity to model others, they also become better.
Recently, Steve Petersen and I collaborated on a writing task in which we sought to improve informational writing through imitation. We wanted to create a task where students would be learning and using multiple informational writing skills to create a quality final product.
The website Wonderopolis.org proved to be a great mentor for this task. The website provides many informational text features that students can learn about by mimicking the style and format of the articles. For example, the title of each Wonderopolis article is a question. Therefore, simply by imitating the format each student creates a title while simultaneously creating a research question. Another feature in the articles is the “Wonder Sources” section. This section lists websites the author used to write the article. Moreover, each article is written in a conversational style, embeds multimedia, and even highlights domain-specific words (Wonder Words as the website calls them).
Given all of these great features, we knew that by having students simply imitate the articles, a plethora of informational writing skills would be used. It would also provide many opportunities for mini-lessons and student conferencing.
The process for students went something like this:
Checklists and rubrics are great, but the students really thrived in trying to imitate the product. I can’t help but think that the mental repetitions involved with studying and imitating a mentor provided more depth of understanding than did my checklist or rubric.
From the teacher side, mini-lessons emerged from anticipating how students might need support prior to the moment they needed it (skills such as paraphrasing, citing sources, note-taking, etc.) and from individual conferences as we read over the shoulder or online drafts of the project.
I also wonder how many other types of processes or products that I might find as mentors in writing or other subject matter. How might students try to build on the ideas of others in order to create their own unique products?
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