With many teachers moving to teaching using the workshop model, and with an emphasis on choice to give voice and autonomy to the writers in our classrooms, we are frequently asked, “How do you teach mini-lessons in workshop when students are writing in many different genres and forms?”. Studying craft and process are two ways in which you can organize mini lessons that are not genre dependent.
Here is an example of a craft study:
Yesterday as I was preparing to book talk Heroine by Mindy McGinnis, I was refreshing my memory of the book by reading the back cover, which includes:
“I am not a wasted person. I am not prowling the streets. I am not an addict. I am a girl spinning her locker combination. I am a girl who got a B on her math test. I am a girl who has two holes on the inside of her arm, but they do not tell the whole story of me.”
I was struck by the use of what Jennifer Serravallo calls “Tell What It’s Not (to Say What It Is)” and I was thinking what a great mentor text this excerpt would be for students. Following the advice from THE RULE OF THREE (BECAUSE THREE BECOMES A THING), which states, “Three makes it a ‘thing’. Three (or more) similar texts allow students to answer the question, “What do you notice about the way these texts are written?” and find commonalities across the samples. Groupings of texts widen the opportunities for writers to look at the text and ask themselves what elements they might like to incorporate into their own writing. So, I asked myself where else I have seen this strategy used, and I remembered the following two pieces:
Excerpt from Hunger by Roxanne Gay: “The story of my body is not a story of triumph. This is not a weight-loss memoir. There will be no picture of a thin version of me, my slender body emblazoned across this book’s cover, with me standing in one leg of my former, fatter self’s jeans. This is not a book that will offer motivation. I don’t have any powerful insight into what it takes to overcome an unruly body and unruly appetites. Mine is not a success story. Mine is, simply, a true story.”
Excerpt from An Open Letter to Those Who Want to Liberate Me From Wearing My Hijab by Amira B. Kunbargi: “I don’t need your life jacket. I am not drowning in dogmatism or ideological idiocy. Nor am I prisoner to a patriarchal rampart. I am not brainwashed, backward, or bound. You don’t need to rescue me so stop trying to save me. I don’t need saving. What I need is respect.”
Studying craft in a variety of genres (in this case fiction, memoir, open letter) allows students to see how craft moves work across genres and helps them envision where, when, and for what purpose they may use the craft move being studied. For more ideas on studying craft in your writing workshop, check out the Craft Studio section of Margin Notes.