Writing in The Style of A Mentor Author- Margaret Wild

Recently, I have had the good fortunate to work with some Second Grade writers and their committed teachers at Cairnlea Park Primary School. Together, we have devoted considerable time becoming more familiar with the literary work of Margaret Wild. Adopting this author as a mentor has enabled all of us, teachers, consultant and students to become more deeply acquainted with Wild’s personal writing style. Apart from the enjoyment of sharing this author’s books (through multiple readings), we have devoted time to exploring such aspects of writing as themes, characters, settings and the like. This close study has provided multiple opportunities to notice some of the different craft moves Margaret Wild consistently employs as she writes.
The teachers of these enthusiastic learners did a great job gathering a host of books enabling students to deeply explore the work of this mentor author. Margaret Wild became part of both the reading and writing workshops in these classes.

This is the place where learning to read like a writer begins. This is where the teaching of writing begins to delve more deeply into what makes writing a special craft.

Until the teaching of writing moves into this zone, it remains mired in merely looking at the surface features of writing. -Spelling, punctuation and grammatical features. While this is an important aspect of writing, it represents, only a part of the total picture of what constitutes writing. When we delve into writing, we are more likely to uncover what makes words fizz and sparkle with energy and delight.

This happened when we read Margaret Wild’s latest book, Tanglewood.                                                         
It begins - ‘On a tiny island, in the middle of nowhere, there was a tree. It is a short, yet highly effective lead. This short, yet beautifully written text, deals with the themes of loneliness, firendship and family. It has much to offer the teacher who wants to wants to nudge young writers forward in their understanding of craft.

 On the second reading, students were encouraged to look closely at the structure of this opening sentence. They noticed the series of commas separating groups of words. They had noticed this same way of crafting sentences in Wild’s Fox and so we set about giving this particular craft move a name. We called it ‘Where? Where? What?

I showed the students how I would use this particular crafting of words to create a narrative lead. I wrote, ‘In a tiny cottage, at the end of a laneway, lived a grumpy old man.

I shared a number of these ‘Where? Where? What?’ leads before inviting them to join me in jointly constructing a lead in this same style. You could sense that they were keen to try this in their writing, so I set them free to explore.

Some tried it multiple times, as if practicing a move. They clearly wanted to feel a sense of mastery, before continuing. Others used it to launch a piece of writing and then moved their writing forward from that point. It was most gratifying to watch their sentence structure move into this area of sophistication, so effortlessly.

When students came together to share some of their writing, we were amazed how effectively they had adopted this craft move from a studied author. They were writing in the style of Margaret Wild!

For his lead Odin wrote, ‘In an old rickety train station, near the library, lived a little ant.’
Joshua wrote, ‘On a small island, on the sand, was nothing but a tall tree.’
Isabella wrote, ‘In a pond, among some grass, was a man about to drown.’ -Disturbing, yet effective.
Other students adapted the strategy and it became, Where, When, What or Where, What.

And so it went…
We are never alone when it comes to teaching writing. Authors abound whose words can assist us to deepen a student’s understanding of what makes writing so interesting. We can learn from them; imitate their style and in the course of doing so, develop our own writing; our own knowledge of craft.

 When we want students to notice a writer’s use of craft, the following actions greatly enhance their uptake and sharpen their observations:

  • Read books from authors they love and trust
  • Read books from authors you love and trust
  • Take advantage of shorter texts that can be managed in a single reading. Rich content, without the overload.
  • Ensure that students get to know the author responsible for the book.
  • Link the work of the illustrator to the words of the author, assuming you are working with a picture-story book.
  • Read and then reread with a focus on noticing the craft.
  • Invite students to experiment with the craft element in their writer’s notebooks.
  • Plan a series of lessons that focus on craft elements.
  • Always use the share time to reinforce what has been uncovered by studying the author’s craft.
  • Be patient with the adoption of writer’s craft. It takes time and practice to feel comfortable with using a particular style of writing.
Thank you to Lisa Anderson and Belinda Rae, two enthusiastic teachers and their wonderful young writers, who are going bravely into new areas of understanding and making great discoveries. Discoveries that are moving them forward as writers, and teachers of writing.


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