emulation 101: mirroring authors’ writing moves.

In her book Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent Readers, Penny Kittle discusses the importance of using mentor texts to guide student writing. In addition to escaping into an intoxicating Other-World, students learn to appreciate craft as they read and take their own writing to the next level as they compose. Plus, both permeate the CCSS. And as they begin reading as writers, students begin to pay attention to Writing Moves like diction, syntax, polysyndeton, intention.

In that vein, a few years ago I began a routine writing practice I call “Emulation 101.” I asked my high school writers to create an Emulation 101 Journal to house prompts (both teacher- and self-selected) and student emulations of said prompts. (I now have them complete their emulations under an Emulation 101 topic in Google Classroom.) I provided my students with the first prompt, which I excerpted from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird:

Summer was on the way; Jem and I awaited it with impatience. Summer was our best season: it was sleeping on the back screened porch in cots, or trying to sleep in the tree house; summer was everything good to eat; it was a thousand colors in a parched landscape; but most of all, summer was Dill. (Lee 34)

I then shared my own emulation as a model–which I do for several reasons. I want to experience what I’m asking my students to experience, and for lesson-planning purposes, I need to gauge how long an Ask might take. Plus, I want them to see that authentic Writing and Reading continue in the Wild—long after the grades stop coming.

Here’s my model, emulating the untouchable Ms. Lee (with borrowed Lee-isms in caps):

Autumn WAS ON THE WAY; Amy AND I AWAITED IT WITH IMPATIENCE. Autumn WAS OUR BEST SEASON; IT WAS “helping” Dad rake the leaf-carpeted yard, OR worrying about whether or not my new teacher would like me; autumn WAS the intoxicating new-baby-doll smell of a fresh set of binders; IT WAS A THOUSAND trees, flaunting their bursting oranges and fiery crimsons; BUT MOST OF ALL, autumn WAS my annual Do-Over.

I was thrilled with what the students produced. Take a look at the four student emulations below.

Summer was on the way; Josh and I awaited the beaches with impatience. Summer was by far our best season: it was letting sunshine and volleyball dictate our days, and trying to find songs everyone can sing around the fire; it was the very best of the hot and the very refreshing of the cold; it was the ocean breeze and new sunglasses and smiles of new friends in a kaleidoscope of aqua and gold; but mostly, it was the renewed hope that change and excitement was right around the corner.
Summer was on the way; Matthew, Mia, and I awaited it restlessly. Summer was our best season: it was sleeping on the porch in Maine, or imploring our parents to put the air conditioner in; summer was endless days stretched out in front of us; it was the silhouette of the Rocky Mountains from the window; but most of all, summer was growing up.
Winter was on the way, and Nolan and I awaited it with impatience. Winter was our best season. The trees were bare of leaves, and any day now snow would cover the town, making it unrecognizable from its former self. Winter was the holiday season and we’d be stuck inside for days on end, but most of all, winter was a time of celebration for holidays and a new year,
Summer was on the way; my brothers and I awaited it with impatience. Summer was our favorite season together: it was going down the Cape, or running on the beach at sunrise; summer was a plethora of ice cream to eat; it was a thousand people together encompassed in the Cape Cod elbow; but most of all, summer was precious time spent with the family.

Remember: These are English students, not Creative Writing ones. So, without regular practice, they might not otherwise include sophisticated Writing Moves like repetition and metaphor and asyndeton in their pieces. And while they may not hereafter, it’s a start—and one of the very reasons we read.

*Cover Photo by Brad Neathery on Unsplash

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