The never-ending quest for mind-blowing mentor text can be overwhelming. For some, there is the perpetual search for new books to convey critical teaching points while sparking engagement through unfamiliar titles. For others, it’s the hunt for the perfect demonstration of an author’s craft, the ideal tangle of tricky vocabulary, or the excerpt perfectly poised for strategy modeling and easy integration with interactive read aloud. We spend ample time on these pursuits, an irony in that the lifespan of a mentor text is often a fleeting component in the mini-lesson. We can expand the possibilities, and reduce the search time, by considering use of microfiction as mentor text.
What is Microfiction?
Microfiction, often defined as fiction with 1500 words or less, is an abundant form of short text found readily in the digital atmosphere. Variations of microfiction, sometimes called flash fiction, Twitter fiction, sudden fiction, and postcard fiction, can convey a story in as little as six words. Consider this bite-sized fiction, purportedly penned by Hemingway, a fact often debated as urban legend:
For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
Think of microfiction like this as the story told within a photograph. In a boundary restricted by lens scope and a 4×6 glossy paper perimeter, what “characters” can we depict? What setting provides the context for our travel adventure or milestone celebration? What birthday dinner, grandchild recital, or sporting event can we retell to readers of our Facebook page?
Why Use Micro Mentors?
Grant Faulkner, in his New York Times opinion series about writers’ craft, suggests flash fiction authors should “only show the top 10 percent of your story, and leave the other 90 percent below water to be conjured.” (Faulkner, 2013) With this in mind, microfiction provides exciting mentor text options for Writers’ Workshop. The “90 percent below the water” also lends wonderfully to strategy work, particularly around inferring, in Readers’ Workshop. In the most powerful use of flash fiction, teachers can help students distinguish between “reading like a writer” and “reading like a reader” by crossing over both Writers’ and Readers’ Workshop with the same miniature mentor texts.
Microfiction is a form found abundantly on the web. This makes locating mentor texts easy and allows convenient cut, paste, and project or print for use in mini-lessons, centers, small-group instruction, and independent reading and writing. Life on the web makes microfiction perfect for authentic publication and teachers can find many public sites or private spaces, like Google Sites, Blogger, and Edmodo, on which to allow students to publish their mini fiction for parents, classmates, and pen pals to celebrate. Finally, microfiction lends a high level of authenticity when publishing. Students can publish their work right alongside the work of other authors in the real world archive of microfiction.
Tips for Using Microfiction in Your Mini-Lessons
1. Build a collection of favorite sites from which to mine your fiction. As with any content on the web, it is important to be mindful of appropriate theme and language. Just because a site may house some content not appropriate for students, doesn’t mean you won’t find the perfect mentors when you comb through the offerings. Remember, this genre proliferates on the web where some content is spectacular and some is questionable. Here are a few options for microfiction sites to hunt for mentor text:
Six Word Stories (Twitter fiction)
Six Word Memoirs (Smith Mag)
Weekly Shorts (Little Write Lies)
Postcard Shorts (Postcard-sized stories)
Five Sentence Fiction (Five sentence stories prompted by a word of the week)
100-Word Stories (Prompted thematic writing in 100 words or less)
Personal Narrative Shorts (True tales in 100 words or less)
2. Think deeply about connections to common core standards. Microfiction is the perfect storm. Nearly all micro texts demand a high level of inferring while igniting ultra-rich conversation. The limited text volume lends well to a variety of genres, including poetry, drama, graphic novels, memoir, opinion writing (debating story elements and messages), personal narrative, craft of revision, and more. Connect the work of microfiction mentor text to common core standards, such as reading closely, inferring logically, and citing textual evidence to support conclusions, to anchor your instructional choices.
3. Write your own micro-stories. Use the mentors you discover on web to guide your own original writing. Construct these shorts during the mini-lesson to model author’s craft, revision techniques, and ways in which an author uses mentor text to improve the writing. Alternatively, craft your flash fiction prior to your lesson and engage students in the writing process to grow your piece.
4. Celebrate reader and writer experiences with microfiction by publishing in authentic environments. Develop new literacies among your students by letting them know that social media and web environments are wonderful places to share original writing, particularly bite-sized writing that easily generates feedback and connections to others through cyberspace. Choose a digital environment that is appropriate for your students. For younger students, consider posting their micro-stories on a class website, school blog, or school-wide contest page that connects the educational community and allows monitoring of comments before reader feedback can be shared. For middle and high school students, consider a hashtag on Twitter where continued posts can extend beyond the life of a unit into the reality of student lives.
Faulkner, Grant. “Going long. going short.” New York Times 30 September 2013: Digital.