Crafting Texts: Ideas

This is the second post in a series which goes deeper into the new VCE English and EAL Crafting Texts outcome. Each post includes some discussion of the Area of Study along with practical lesson ideas. Even if you’re not a VCE English teacher, you’ll find this post useful if you use mentor or model texts when teaching fiction and nonfiction writing.

Crafting Texts is a great area of study in VCE English. In this outcome, students develop their writing skills by reading and critically engaging with mentor texts that demonstrate effective writing within specific contexts. These texts provide inspiration for their own creative processes and generate ideas for their writing.

Through experimentation with language features, vocabulary, and text structures, students deepen their understanding of how writing can move, provoke, and inspire specific audiences. For Year 12, the VCAA provides Frameworks of Ideas that schools can choose from for their students to study. In Year 11, it’s up to the school to decide on an idea.

In this blog post, I’ll discuss how to select and use engaging ideas to inspire student writing. I’ll explore strategies for incorporating mentor texts that align with the chosen idea, as well as offer tips for adapting ideas to meet the needs of diverse student populations.

Check out the previous post here:

Choosing an idea

By now you’ve probably chosen an idea for your Year 11 cohort, but you may still be having these discussions at 7-10 or for future years. There are very few limits to the idea you can choose in Year 11: basically, it just can’t be one of the Year 12 frameworks. That gives you a lot of scope but can also be quite daunting. Here are some tips for selecting an idea:

  • Consider student interest: Choose an idea that is relevant and interesting to your students. This can be a great way to engage them in the writing process and encourage them to produce high-quality work.
  • Think about level: Select an idea that is appropriate for your students’ skill level. If the idea is too difficult or esoteric, it may be overwhelming and discourage them from writing. If it’s too easy, it may not challenge them enough.
  • Prioritise engagement: Look for ideas that are engaging and thought-provoking. This can help students develop their critical thinking skills and produce work that is meaningful and impactful.
  • Assess the quality of available texts: Ensure that there are quality texts available that align with the chosen idea. This can provide students with models for effective writing and help them develop their skills.
  • Consider the diversity of your cohort: Choose an idea that is inclusive and allows for diverse perspectives and experiences. This can help create a safe and welcoming classroom environment where all students feel valued and heard.
  • Be open to collaboration: Involve your students in the process of selecting an idea. This can help them feel invested in the writing project and increase their motivation and engagement.
Table of contents for free crafting and creating texts ebook

Finding mentor texts that align to the idea

One of the hardest parts of this area of study is finding quality mentor texts which align with the idea. The previous post had a few tips for how to analyse texts, and in a post last year I wrote about choosing mentor texts. There has also been a great collective effort going on in communities like the Facebook VCE English Teachers page, like this shared document curated by some of its members.

I tried a different approach to identifying mentor texts. Recently, I got access to Microsoft’s new Bing chat – the alternative to ChatGPT built into Microsoft’s Edge browser. It functions in much the same way as ChatGPT but it has a live connection to the internet, making it generally more reliable.

Using the ideas from the English teacher community’s shared document, I prompted Bing chat for five mentor text suggestions per idea. Here’s what it came up with:

IdeaMentor Text 1Mentor Text 2Mentor Text 3Mentor Text 4Mentor Text 5
Being TrappedThe Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman [short story]Room by Emma Donoghue [novel]127 Hours by Aron Ralston [memoir]The Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King [novella]The Truman Show [film script]
ConflictRomeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare [play]Animal Farm by George Orwell [novel]The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins [novel]I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King Jr. [speech]Serial Season 1 [podcast transcript]
EnvironmentSilent Spring by Rachel Carson [essay]The Lorax by Dr. Seuss [poem]An Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore [speech]Life of Pi by Yann Martel [novel]Planet Earth II [documentary script]
FamilyLittle Women by Louisa May Alcott [novel]Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller [play]Fun Home by Alison Bechdel [graphic memoir]Hamilton: An American Musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda [musical script and lyrics]The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls [memoir]
Father-Son RelationshipsThe Road by Cormac McCarthy [novel]The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini [novel]Death of a Naturalist by Seamus Heaney [poem]Finding Nemo [film script]Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates [letter]
Future1984 by George Orwell [novel]The Giver by Lois Lowry [novel]Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick [novel]The Matrix [film script]Black Mirror: Nosedive [TV episode script]
Growing UpTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee [novel]The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger [novel]Boy by Roald Dahl [memoir]The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky [novel]Inside Out [film script]
HateThe Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank [diary]Night by Elie Wiesel [memoir]Othello by William Shakespeare [play]American History X [film script]Hate List by Jennifer Brown [novel]
Identity and BelongingThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie [novel]Beloved by Toni Morrison [novel]I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai [memoir]Identity by Julio Noboa Polanco [poem]Moana [film script]
Justice and MoralityTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee [novel]Les Misérables by Victor Hugo [novel]A Time to Kill by John Grisham [novel]Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson [memoir]Making a Murderer [documentary series transcript]
LovePride and Prejudice by Jane Austen [novel]Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare [poem]The Fault in Our Stars by John Green [novel]Love Actually [film script]The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger [novel]
Power and PrivilegeThe Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald [novel]Macbeth by William Shakespeare [play]The Help by Kathryn Stockett [novel]A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift [essay]Parasite [film script]
RealitiesThe Matrix [film script]The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger [novel]The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka [short story]The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien [short story collection]Black Mirror: Bandersnatch [interactive film script]
War and ConflictAll Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque [novel]Schindler’s List [film script]Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen [poem]Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi [graphic novel]Maus by Art Spiegelman [graphic novel]

You can see that Bing’s responses tend to favour longer forms such as novels and films. I’ve been recommending sticking to shorter forms such as essays and short stories because I think they provide a more appropriate model – maybe I wasn’t clear enough about that in my prompt! I also specified “suitable for teenagers” and a couple of inappropriate texts have snuck onto the list like American History X. I probably should have specified a classification or rating.

After noticing the lack of nonfiction texts, I prompted further and also got this list. Where possible I have found a direct link to the texts online. Note that in some cases, when I searched for the text, they didn’t exist! Interestingly these were the contentious ideas of ‘trapped’, ‘conflict’, and ‘hate’ and I wonder if Bing’s filters messed up the results… Note that I haven’t vetted these for quality – this is more of an example of what the technology can do (or can’t do) to help teachers find mentor texts.

Being Trapped[Bing Chat invented a text that didn’t seem to exist to I removed it!]
Conflict[Another AI hallucination…]
EnvironmentThe Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert (The New Yorker)
FamilyThe Inheritance by Dani Shapiro (Memoir)
Father-Son RelationshipsMy Father’s Fashion Tips by Tom Junod (GQ)
FutureIs Google Making Us Stupid? by Nicholas Carr (The Atlantic)
Growing UpThe Cost of Caring by Emily Maloney (Creative Nonfiction collection of essays)
Hate[Another AI hallucination…]
Identity and BelongingHow to Tame a Wild Tongue by Gloria Anzaldúa (Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza)
Justice and MoralityJust Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson (Excerpt from book)
LoveModern Love: 50 True and Extraordinary Tales of Desire, Deceit, and Devotion edited by Daniel Jones
Money, Fame, & CelebrityConsider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace (Gourmet Magazine)
MotherhoodMother Tongue by Amy Tan (The Threepenny Review)
Otherness and BelongingNotes of a Native Son by James Baldwin (Partisan Review)
Power and PrivilegeWhite Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh (Peace and Freedom Magazine)
RealitiesThe Braindead Megaphone by George Saunders (Riverhead Books)
War and ConflictHiroshima by John Hersey (The New Yorker)
Check these out for yourself and see if Bing chat did a good job!
Worried about students using ChatGPT to write their Crafting Texts outcomes? Wondering how you might use AI in the classroom to support this kind of writing? Check out the upcoming PD Teaching Writing in the Age of AI

Using the mentor texts and idea for inspiration

Ultimately, the purpose of both the idea and mentor texts in to inspire writing. The students’ writing should be influenced by the values and attitufes towards the idea you discuss in class, plus the techniques, language, and style of the mentor texts.

Using the chosen idea and mentor texts in combination can be a powerful way to inspire and guide student writing. Here are some strategies for using mentor texts to support students in their writing:

  • Analysis: Encourage students to analyse mentor texts and identify the language features, text structures, and vocabulary that make them effective. This can help them develop their own writing skills and apply what they learn to their own writing. The previous post covered this in more detail.
  • Modelling: Use mentor texts as models for students to emulate in their own writing. Encourage them to experiment with the language features and text structures they have identified, and to adapt them to their own purposes. Discuss how the mentor text reflects the idea – what values does it express towards the idea, or how does it position the reader?
  • Inspiration: Use mentor texts as a source of inspiration for new writing. Encourage students to draw on the themes, ideas, and language of the mentor texts in their own writing, while still creating something new and original. They don’t need to exactly “mimic” techniques or approaches to ideas.

Here are five suggestions for things teachers can do in their planning to set students up to write:

  1. Choose mentor texts that align with the chosen idea and are appropriate for your students’ skill level.
  2. Provide opportunities for close reading and analysis of mentor texts in class, and encourage students to share their insights and interpretations.
  3. Use guided writing activities to help students develop their writing skills, such as writing prompts, peer editing, and revision workshops.
  4. Encourage students to experiment with different writing styles and genres, such as creative nonfiction, poetry, and memoir.
  5. Create a safe and supportive classroom environment where students feel comfortable sharing their writing and receiving feedback from their peers and teacher.
A person writing with a pencil
Image from Openverse

Practical Strategies for writing with an idea

Here are three activities which can be used before, during, and after reading the mentor texts. Breaking it up this way follows the writing cycle we’ve suggested in Practical Writing Strategies, which is coming soon from Amba Press.

Before Reading: Building Background Knowledge of the Idea

  1. Choose an idea and brainstorm what you already know about it.
  2. Research the history of the idea to build up your background knowledge.
  3. Analyse the contexts in which the idea is presented in society and culture.
  4. Discuss what you expect the mentor texts to explore and how they might present different perspectives on the idea.
  5. Write a brief reflection on what you have learned so far and how you might use this knowledge to read and engage with the mentor texts.

During Reading: How Authors Position Readers towards Ideas

  1. Choose a mentor text to read and annotate.
  2. As you read, take note of how the author positions the reader towards the idea.
  3. Analyse how the author uses language and writing techniques to convey their perspective and influence the reader’s understanding of the idea.
  4. Consider how the author uses structure, tone, and voice to position the reader towards the idea.
  5. Write a brief reflection on how the author positions the reader towards the idea and what you can learn from their approach.

After Reading: Making up Your Own Mind

  1. Choose two or more mentor texts to synthesise and compare.
  2. Consider the different perspectives on the idea presented in the texts.
  3. Reflect on how the mentor texts have influenced your own understanding of the idea and shaped your own views and values.
  4. Write a response that synthesizes the ideas presented in the mentor texts and communicates your own perspective on the idea.
  5. Share your response with others and engage in a discussion about the idea and the mentor texts.

Further resources

Here are a few other resources to help withX:

I hope you find this post helpful, whether you’re using the ideas for VCE English or any other writing unit with mentor texts.

If you have any questions, feedback, or there’s something you’d like to see in this series of posts, then please let me know via the form below:

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