Gnomes Read, Write, and Think

"Yeah, I've seen those things they think are gnomes," said Ron, bent double with his head in a peony bush, "like fat little Santa Clauses with fishing rods…” -JK Rowling

Archive for the category “mentor texts”

Narratives: What We Are Shooting For

It is helpful to be able to see your target. This is an example of a narrative that meets fifth grade standards according to the common core. As we work on narrative, we will study this and many other examples.



Can the Wilderness Heal?

We used this as an informational text mentor text.
We especially appreciated the help with the “little story” intro, as we call it, and the precise, descriptive language.

Simple Sentences

It’s a sentence if it provides answers to these two questions:

Who or what did something? (the subject)

What did they do? (the verb or predicate)


They race.
-Jerry Spinelli, Loser

Matt winces.
Maria flinched.
Matt froze.
Matt nodded.
-Nancy Farmer, House of the Scorpion

Tad watched.
Blood flew.
He sprung.
-Stephen King, Cujo

Coming Up Next: Realistic Fiction

Our next writing unit, starting late in the week of October 29, will be realistic fiction.

Goals for this unit include:

Students will explore possible ideas for plot, thinking carefully about how to craft a story that adheres to a narrative arc.

Students will increase their abilities to plan a narrative and continue to refer to the plan as they draft.

Students will use mentor texts and a knowledge of the genre of realistic fiction to inform their planning.

Students will build stamina, producing longer pieces and producing more in one sitting than before.

Students will plunge deeper into the process of revision, writing a succession of dramatically different drafts instead of just “doctoring up” one draft.  They will also work to revise as they write, instead of waiting until they have a huge draft compiled.

–adapted from A Curricular Plan for the Writing Workshop, Grade 4 by Lucy Calkins and Colleagues from the Reading and Writing Project


Personal Narrative Homework for October 15

Write a great lead!

Choose a technique (either the one from Jane Yolen’s Owl Moon or the one from Sandra Cisneros’s “Eleven”).  [Picture of the poster we made in class  is posted below to help you.]

Sample leads from Mr. Danielson’s class:

It was in the middle of a sunny, cool October day.  My literacy class and I exploded out the door for our favorite part of school: free time! There was a slight fall breeze and the fallen leaves crawled around the grass.  The sky was so blue it seemed like a robin’s egg or like you could see forever.  We had slaved for five whole days to earn this precious ten minutes of freedom.  We swung from the monkey bars like primates and were disgusted by the pile of deer scat waiting for us by the swings.


I feel like I know what to do.  It’s on the tip of my tongue.  I just don’t understand why I’m not doing it.  Class starts in Ms. Stark’s room but usually I would start with Mr. Danielson.  It’s weird Wednesday so we are all confused.  Kids are walking into the wrong rooms, other kids are bossing each other around saying, “You’re going the wrong way!” Some kids are just standing in the middle of the room with puzzled looks on their faces. There are lost classmates out wandering the halls.  I hear one thing and then another and I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be doing.

Sample leads from Mrs. Bodin’s class:

It was one fall afternoon at Geneva Elementary School, just past recess, when my literacy class and I had a lockdown drill.  Mr. Whitten’s concerned voice blasted over the loudspeaker, “This is a lockdown drill!” Silently, we all dove under our desks with excitement.  The lights went out.  Ms. Stark struggled and juggled the blinds, trying to protect us from outside eyes.  Just as she locked the door, a hand grabbed the knob to test if it was locked.  All of a sudden, Valerie sneezed!  We knew we were supposed to be invisible and silent, but we just couldn’t help bursting with laughter.


 The teacher shocked my class and I.  She started class that day by telling us she promised we would not learn anything from what we were about to do. Everyone had a puzzled look on their face. She told us today we would play a game called “the Note Game.”  Then she said, “It’s not really a game.”  Ms. Stark told us we would have to write a note to somebody we knew in the building, but not in our class.  We would also have to deliver it.


Writing a good lead is so difficult but so worth the effort!


Your Name in Gold

Your Name in Gold

Anne sat at the breakfast table, eating her cornflakes and reading the print on the cereal box in front of her. “Tastee Cornflakes—Great New Offer!” the box read. “See back of box for details.”

Anne’s older sister, Mary, sat across from her, reading the other side of the cereal box. “Hey, Anne,” she said, “look at this awesome prize—your name in gold.”

As Mary read on, Anne’s interest in the prize grew. “Just send in one dollar with proof-of-purchase seal from this box and spell out your first name on the information blank. We will send you a special pin with your name spelled in gold. (Only one per family, please.)”

Anne grabbed the box and looked on the back, her eyes brightening with excitement. The name Jennifer was spelled out in sparking gold. “That’s a neat idea,” she said. “A pin with my very own name spelled out in gold. I’m going to send in for it.”

“Sorry, Anne, I saw it first,” said Mary, “so I get first dibs on it. Besides, you don’t have a dollar to send in, and I do.”

“But I want a pin like that so badly,” said Anne. “Please let me have it!”

“Nope,” said her sister.

“You always get your way—just because you’re older than me,” said Anne, her lower lip trembling as her eyes filled with tears. “Just go ahead and send in for it. See if I care!” She threw down her spoon and ran from the kitchen.

Several weeks passed. One day the mailman brought a small package addressed to Mary. Anne was dying to see the pin, but she wouldn’t let Mary know how eager she was. Mary took the package to her room. Anne casually followed her in and sat on the bed.

“Well, I guess they sent you your pin. I sure hope you like it,” Anne said in a mean voice. Mary slowly took the paper off the package. She opened a little white box and carefully lifted off the top layer of white cotton. “Oh, it’s beautiful!” Mary said. “Just like the cereal box said, your name in gold. Four beautiful letters. Would you like to see it, Anne?”

“No, I don’t care about your dumb old pin.”

Mary put the white box on the dresser and went downstairs.

Anne was alone in the bedroom. Soon she couldn’t wait any longer, so she walked over to the dresser. As she looked in the small white box, she gasped. Mixed feelings of love for her sister and shame at herself welled up within her, and the pin became a sparkling gold blur through her tears.

There on the pin were four beautiful letters—her name in gold: A-N-N-E.



From Chicken Soup for the Kid’s Soul © 1998 by A. F. Bauman.

Papa Who Wakes Up Tired in the Dark

Papa Who Wakes Up Tired in the Dark


“Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros.
What they don’t understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you’re eleven, you’re also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one. And when you wake up on your eleventh birthday you expect to feel eleven, but you don’t. You open your eyes and everything’s just like yesterday, only it’s today. And you don’t feel eleven at all. You feel like you’re still ten. And you are—underneath the year that makes you eleven.
Like some days you might say something stupid, and that’s the part of you that’s still ten. Or maybe some days you might need to sit on your mama’s lap because you’re scared, and that’s the part of you that’s five. And maybe one day when you’re all grown up maybe you will need to cry like if you’re three, and that’s okay. That’s what I tell Mama when she’s sad and needs to cry. Maybe she’s feeling three.
Because the way you grow old is kind of like an onion or like the rings inside a tree trunk or like my little wooden dolls that fit one inside the other, each year inside the next one. That’s how being eleven years old is.
You don’t feel eleven. Not right away. It takes a few days, weeks even, sometimes even months before you say Eleven when they ask you. And you don’t feel smart eleven, not until you’re almost twelve. That’s the way it is.
Only today I wish I didn’t have only eleven years rattling inside me like pennies in a tin Band-Aid box. Today I wish I was one hundred and two instead of eleven because if I was one hundred and two I’d have known what to say when Mrs. Price put the red sweater on my desk. I would’ve known how to tell her it wasn’t mine instead of just sitting there with that look on my face and nothing coming out of my mouth.
“Whose is this?” Mrs. Price says, and she holds the red sweater up in the air for all the class to see. “Whose? It’s been sitting in the coatroom for a month.”
“Not mine,” says everybody, “Not me.”
“It has to belong to somebody,” Mrs. Price keeps saying, but nobody can remember. It’s an ugly sweater with red plastic buttons and a collar and sleeves all stretched out like you could use it for a jump rope. It’s maybe a thousand years old and even if it belonged to me I wouldn’t say so.
Maybe because I’m skinny, maybe because she doesn’t like me, that stupid Sylvia Saldivar says, “I think it belongs to Rachel.” An ugly sweater like that all raggedy and old, but Mrs. Price believes her. Mrs Price takes the sweater and puts it right on my desk, but when I open my mouth nothing comes out.
“That’s not, I don’t, you’re not . . . Not mine.” I finally say in a little voice that was maybe me when I was four.
“Of course it’s yours,” Mrs. Price says. “I remember you wearing it once.” Because she’s older and the teacher, she’s right and I’m not.
Not mine, not mine, not mine, but Mrs. Price is already turning to page thirty-two, and math problem number four. I don’t know why but all of a sudden I’m feeling sick inside, like the part of me that’s three wants to come out of my eyes, only I squeeze them shut tight and bite down on my teeth real hard and try to remember today I am eleven, eleven. Mama is making a cake for me for tonight, and when Papa comes home everybody will sing Happy birthday, happy birthday to you.
But when the sick feeling goes away and I open my eyes, the red sweater’s still sitting there like a big red mountain. I move the red sweater to the corner of my desk with my ruler. I move my pencil and books and eraser as far from it as possible. I even move my chair a little to the right. Not mine, not mine, not mine.
In my head I’m thinking how long till lunchtime, how long till I can take the red sweater and throw it over the schoolyard fence, or leave it hanging on a parking meter, or bunch it up into a little ball and toss it in the alley. Except when math period ends Mrs. Price says loud and in front of everybody, “Now, Rachel, that’s enough,” because she sees I’ve shoved the red sweater to the tippy-tip corner of my desk and it’s hanging all over the edge like a waterfall, but I don’t care.
“Rachel,” Mrs. Price says. She says it like she’s getting mad. “You put that sweater on right now and no more nonsense.”
“But it’s not—”
“Now!” Mrs. Price says.
This is when I wish I wasn’t eleven because all the years inside of me—ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, and one—are pushing at the back of my eyes when I put one arm through one sleeve of the sweater that smells like cottage cheese, and then the other arm through the other and stand there with my arms apart like if the sweater hurts me and it does, all itchy and full of germs that aren’t even mine.
That’s when everything I’ve been holding in since this morning, since when Mrs. Price put the sweater on my desk, finally lets go, and all of a sudden I’m crying in front of everybody. I wish I was invisible but I’m not. I’m eleven and it’s my birthday today and I’m crying like I’m three in front of everybody. I put my head down on the desk and bury my face in my stupid clown-sweater arms. My face all hot and spit coming out of my mouth because I can’t stop the little animal noises from coming out of me until there aren’t any more tears left in my eyes, and it’s just my body shaking like when you have the hiccups, and my whole head hurts like when you drink milk too fast. But the worst part is right before the bell rings for lunch. That stupid Phyllis Lopez, who is even dumber than Sylvia Saldivar, says she remembers the red sweater is hers! I take it off right away and give it to her, only Mrs. Price pretends like everything’s okay.
Today I’m eleven. There’s a cake Mama’s making for tonight and when Papa comes home from work we’ll eat it. There’ll be candles and presents and everybody will sing Happy birthday, happy birthday to you, Rachel, only it’s too late.
I’m eleven today. I’m eleven, ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, and one, but I wish I was one hundred and two. I wish I was anything but eleven, because I want today to be far away already, far away like a runaway balloon, like a tiny o in the sky, so tiny tiny you have to close your eyes to see it.Eleven

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