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The Value Of “Mimic Writing”

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I’ve written about the value of “mimic writing” in some of my books, and today read a post by Daniel Coyle that put the value of mimicry much more succinctly and and accurately than I have ever described it.

But first, let me share a little bit more about what it is and what I’ve shared about it….

Simply put, it’s just showing students models of writing and challenging them to write their own versions sticking pretty close to the models’ styles.

In our book, The ESL/ELL Teacher’s Survival Guide, here’s what my co-author, Katie Hull Sypnieski, and I say:

Mimic writing. Students can examine multiple examples of certain writing features through strategies like concept attainment, text data sets, and teacher modeling. Then students can mimic these writing features by creating their own examples. For example, students can examine several Yes and No examples of topic sentences and identify the features of a good topic sentence. Then students can write their own topic sentences and evaluate them according to these features.

We then share a “data set” of effective openers or “hooks” that students can use for mimicking (you can see an example of what we mean by a “data set” at this article).

Here’s what I wrote about mimic writing as part of a chapter on “Gratitude” in my new book, Self-Driven Learning:

there may be times in lesson plans where “mimic writing” a gratitude “letter” to someone could also be used to refine writing skills. For example, students could write such a letter to someone important in their life using the speech Nelson Mandela gave upon his release from prison as a model. The first portion of that speech is all about the idea of gratitude.

Now, back to Daniel Coyle’s post….

He shares a couple of excellent videos. One is a famous Bruno Mars skit from Saturday Night Live where he brilliantly mimics several famous singers:

Here’s Coyle’s key reflection:

Apparently Mars has been doing these impressions for years, starting with Elvis when he was a little kid. Think of what the repetitions of these imitations have done for Mars’s vocal technique, his range, and his ability to create certain vocal effects. Thanks to mimicry, he has a whole menu of sounds and moves to choose from and use.

I can testify that writers do this too. At various times in my notebooks I’ve mimicked Hemingway, Tom Wolfe, Frank DeFord, Gary Smith, and Kurt Vonnegut, and I know many others who did the same.

What experiences have you had with mimic writing in your classes?

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

3 Comments

  1. Interesting to read about a strategy that I have used over the years. Instead of mimic writing, I call it ‘echo writing. The “echo reading” strategy has been an appropriate, powerful strategy in classrooms for centuries. The term is much newer I’m sure. In echo reading, students read a sentence or long phrase exactly like the teacher. This is especially beneficial for ELL and low-ability readers. When they hear the teacher pronounce the words correctly (many times this involves key vocabulary words), hear word and sentence stress properly, and notice the accurate punctuation expressions, they can echo back correct reading.

    Likewise, for echo writing, the teacher supplies well-represented text to echo. For example, when my students studied certain prefixes, I would make sure they echo wrote sentences containing those prefixes. Other times they echo wrote content-rich sentences that scaffolded the content areas. Other times, I chose sentences (or short paragraphs) that represented solid writing samples to strengthen their writing skills (and confidence). Depending on the students’ needs, the text to be echoed was either dictated or directly supplied to be copied.

    Interestingly, one of the best ways to become the next [insert favorite author] is to write out their works, word for word. I did this once with Missing May, by Cynthia Rylant. Honestly, I felt I was almost living in her head as I wrote each word. Several pages into the book, I could nearly predict her next sentence.

    To bring my admiration of ‘echo writing’ to date, as a temporary instructor to Mongolian engineering professors who teach one-three English courses of Technical English, I introduced my echo writing technique this week. We were discussing the formidable task of writing English engineering contracts or letters, and I suggested that they find well-written representations of technical writing pieces. I admonished them to have students write, word-for-word, the entire text, noting any part that needed further discussions about English word usage or sentence formations. I can’t think of a better way to scaffold technical English writing than to start with this method of echo writing.

    Mimic writing…echo writing…all the same thing. It’s understated in education but in reality is very powerful. Great article. Thank you, Larry, for bringing it to light.

    I tweet @ContentLiteracy.

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