April 12, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo
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. His post has a poor quality version of it, so I’ve embedded a much better one here:
Bruno Mars – SNL Pandora Internet Radio from Harp on Vimeo.
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?