Two years, ago I was planning a workshop for teachers on using an inquiry approach toward genre studies in writers workshop. I wanted the participating teachers to explore mentor texts through the lens of the question “How is this written?” Unfortunately, we only had 90 minutes together, so our reading time would be limited. My solution was to use flash fiction. Because, by definition, the pieces would be short, we would be able to read and discuss several of them in the time available. When I started looking for examples, I discovered they were everywhere, including on the cups and bags at Chipotle.
I recently discovered that flash fiction has a cousin, flash nonfiction (aka the flash essay). Spry Literary Journal offers this definition: “Flash nonfiction, just like flash fiction, is a story shrunk into miniature form. It’s a single story, a moment, or a scene shaped and compressed into a small capsule.”
Using flash nonfiction as mentor texts is a way of supporting writers in examining craft in a larger variety of examples than they might typically be able to when reading only longform essays. This can also be helpful during mini-lessons because students can see the craft move in the context of the whole text and not simply an excerpt.
Invite students to write their own flash essays as a fresh alternative to the traditional memoir or personal essay. You might challenge them to revise a longer piece down to its essence or ask them to create a flash essay that will eventually be developed into a longer, more detailed text.
There are many possibilities for incorporating flash nonfiction into the readers and writers workshop. Here are some sites/resources to get you started:
The Writers Alliance of Gainesville
Teachers & Writers Magazine