"I am rich beyond measure." This is the quote I share with my students before starting this lesson. It comes from an amazing novel by Robert McCammon that I discovered back in the 1990's--Boy's Life. This rich, well-written story documents the boyhood of Cory, a young man growing up in the south. Like most boys-about-to-be-men, the world still seems magical to Cory, and the author helps us believe in this child's magic. In one chapter, for example, Cory convinces himself that his bike has "free will" and can fly; the chapter is so well written that--by its end--the reader is convinced the bike can think and fly too.
Right in the very first chapter of Boy's Life, McCammon shares a wonderful description of Cory's room. The description starts simply: "Here is my room." Cory describes his personal treasures--the things that are most important to him. The description ends effectively with "I am rich beyond measure," summing up the author's belief that items without monetary value can be "treasures."
After we read this passage from the first two pages of McCammon's book, I ask my students to think of the things they own or possess that have "personal worth" to them. They don't have to be items found in their own bedrooms (like the mentor text), but they have to be personally valuable items to them. I ask my students to discuss these things before we move forward with this lesson.
When it comes to a mentor text, I believe students should be "tricked" into reading it a second time. The first time my students read a short piece of text, I tell them they have just "Read it like a reader" so they can comprehend the words; on a second read, they should begin noticing tricks the writer did to keep the reader interested, which we call "Reading the text like a writer." To trick them into read the text a second time, I tell them they are about to play a memory game, where they will be asked to remember as many items from Cory's room as they possibly can. Quietly, allow the students to re-read the passage from the first chapter again.
Then, I collect the passages back, replacing them with an Alpha-box sheet. Working with one partner, students recollect as many nouns from Cory's room; if the noun they think of starts with an "N" (National Geographics, for example), they record it in the appropriate box on the alpha-box sheet. I give student groups five minutes to remember as many items from Cory's room as possible. Without the text in front of them, they do a great job of really thinking back on the words they've read; the alpha-boxes do a great job of keeping them focused, but there is not an item for the text that will fit nicely into every box of the worksheet.
When they have brainstormed a list, I give them back the passage from the book and cleverly "trick" them into reading the words a third time, this time checking for the items they missed. I actually inform my students that I have "tricked" them into now reading the same piece of excellent writing a third time; should they ever spot me doing this again in the future, they are to automatically know that I think this is a valuable enough piece of writing to read a third time. Good writing deserves to be read (and analyzed) multiple times. When the passages are short--like this one--students don't see a third read as that much of an inconvenience.
Next, I show my students the "Personal Treasures" page I made in my own writer's notebook. This page features six items from around my home that I believe make me "rich beyond measure," like Cory in the mentor text. On my notebook page, I have sketched the items, described what they are, and I have had a character from a favorite alphabet book--Old Black Fly--land on each of the items.
Students always ask, "Who is Old Black Fly?" which always prompts me to bring out my copy of James Aylesworth's book (at right) and share from it; it's the story of a fly landing on different items around a house that happen to correspond with the letters of the alphabet. Students immediately figure out that it's in alphabet book pattern, which makes it predictable. I ask, "So what do you think the fly lands on next, knowing the letter will be [insert name of letter here]." The students always have fun, varied guesses.
I, then, explain that I chose to create a page for my notebook that shared six of my personal treasures, and that I chose Old Black Fly--a character that was easy for me to draw--to connect the six pictures together. I tell students they can use Old Black Fly as their character on this page they will set up, but I challenge them to create original characters/ideas to link their five or six personal treasures together.
And...then they work. These pages in their notebooks begin to take shape.
Some of my students borrow Old Black Fly from my notebook to link their personal treasures together. Some just share their personal treasures without a "mascot." And some create an original mascot that I have never seen before.
A visual page like this one will draw students back to this page on a day you ask them to look through their writer's notebooks for their next idea for a paper for writer's workshop. Students can be easily encouraged to write a longer piece about one or all of their personal treasures; the two paragraphs from Boy's Life can be shown to those students right before they build a rough draft inspired by this page.
Below, find some of my students' notebook pages from this year. I hope they inspire you to try this lesson and to encourage original "notebook mascots."