6+1 Traits of Writing Mentor Texts: Organisation

This post is part of a series of posts on mentor texts I recommend for showing students how authors use the 6+1 Traits of Writing.

What is the Organisation trait?

The writing trait of organisation involves “the internal structure of the piece, the thread of meaning, the logical pattern of ideas“.

Ruth Culham (6+1 Traits of Writing, Grades 3 and Up, 2003)

The key features of a writer using the organisation trait are:

  1. Creating a lead – An inviting introduction entices the reader to continue and gives a hint of what is to come.
  2. Using sequence and transition words – Thoughtful transitions link key points and ideas. Sequence is clear through word choice.
  3. Structuring the body (including pacing) – Logical, purposeful and effective sequencing run throughout the body of the text. Pacing slows down for important moments or speeds up to move the reader along.
  4. Ending with a sense of resolution – The reader is left feeling satisfied and with a sense of closure or wonder.

It is important for developing writers to see authors displaying these features. With our students we can lean on mentor texts to unpack the way different authors do these. For example, one author might create a lead using a thought provoking question, while another starts with a dramatic statement, and another uses an expert quotation.

By analysing mentor texts, students can see how one author structures the body of their narrative by events taking place over a timeline while another author writes their factual text by organising the content into categories.

Mentor Texts for the Organisation Trait

Below I’ve put together a guide to some beautiful texts by Australian authors and illustrators and explained how they demonstrate the organisation trait in a way that can be identified by students. I’d love to know if you use any of these to teach the organisation trait.

Greetings from Sandy Beach – Bob Graham

Creating a lead – Greetings from Sandy Beach starts off in a humorous (and perhaps relatable) way, with all the characters quite stressed at home right before setting off on a camping holiday. It both sets the fun, light tone of the story as well as leading the reader naturally into the events of the holiday described in the book.

Transition and sequence words – This is a great example of a story organised by time and location. Although there are few nexts or thens in this text, the author usually makes it clear that the story is progressing by mentioning the time or the location. ‘It was better when we got going.’ and ‘We camped that night in the tent.’ illustrate that time and/or place are changing and move the story along.

Structuring the body – Greetings from Sandy Beach is unusual in its structure as it reads as less of a typical narrative (beginning, problem, solution) and more of a diary, detailing key events over two days of a family holiday. Still it is a great example of finding important details and structuring them in an order that makes sense – by time and events.

Ending with a sense of resolution – This text ends with the narrator mentioning the souvenirs she still has from the holiday. It both summarises the story by taking us back to all the moments those souvenirs involved, and invites the reader to think about their own mementos from special events and memories.

A Proper Little Lady – Nette Hilton and Cathy Wilcox

Creating a lead – ‘Annabella Jones looked in the mirror and decided that today she would be a proper little lady.’ The lead in this story tantalisingly invites the reader to turn the page so they can find out exactly what makes a ‘proper little lady’. The picture also hints as to what might be involved.

Structuring the body – A Proper Little Lady shows a clear structuring of the body, with details that fit together logically. We follow a satisfying narrative, watching the protagonist as she get dressed up as a Proper Little Lady, step by step, only to then see it all in reverse; we watch as her outfit becomes more and more dishevelled as she sets out in it.

Ending with a sense of resolution – This story lightly and satisfyingly ends with a laugh as Annabella Jones appears in her dirty and ruined outfit, with a suggestion from her mum to wear jeans and sneakers next time.

My Two Blankets – Irena Kobald and Freya Blackwood

Creating a lead – ‘Auntie used the call me Cartwheel. Then came the war and Auntie didn’t call me Cartwheel any more’. The matter-of-fact beginning of My Two Blankets drops us directly into the protagonist’s world and draws the reader in, piquing our interest in what other information will be revealed to us in this girl’s story.

Structuring the body – The narrative begins by setting the scene – the protagonist provides lots of comparisons between her old home and language and the new. Then narrative progresses, weaving these two differences together cleverly. The comparisons and movement through the story are enabled by transition phrases that repeat, like ‘When I went out,’ and ‘When I was at home’.

Transition and sequence words – This story uses simple and common time sequence words that could be used to introduce sequence language, like ‘then’, ‘one day’, ‘next time’ and ‘now’.

Structuring the body (pacing) – The events in this book move naturally from one to the next,maintaining a sense of time passing, but it slows down every time our main character goes home and gets under her ‘old blanket’. In these slower moments we hear what she is thinking and feeling and get to know the character more deeply.

Ending with a sense of resolution –  This lovely text ends on a positive, hopeful note, with the main character sharing a profound thought wrapped up in the metaphor used throughout the story: ‘And now I know that, no matter which blanket I use, I will always be me’.

Platypus – Sue Whiting and Mark Jackson

Structuring the body – Platypus is a multi-levelled explanation text. It swaps between a narrative-like explanation of a single platypus’s day, and on the same page, features related facts about platypuses written more in the style of a scientific report. This juxtaposition allows the reader to immerse, and then to stand back and watch.  

Creating a lead – Given the unique structure of the book,there are essentially two leads to this text.The narrative part beautifully immerses us in the setting, describing the entrance to the burrow of the Platypus without actually revealing the animal. Next, the information text part of the page hooks us in with the fact that when this unique creature was first studied by British scientists, ‘it seemed so odd they thought it was a fake’.

Ending with a sense of resolution – The narrative part of the story ends cosily, with our platypus’ day ending asleep in his burrow, but the report-style part of the text continues after this, with a summary of facts through the book, as well as some additional information. It also includes an index with an invitation to ‘look up the pages to find out about these platypus things’.

The Great Escape from City Zoo – Tohby Riddle

Creating a lead – The Great Escape from City Zoo has such a tantalising lead. The simple yet sentence ‘Something was brewing’ immediately engages the reader with its vague and mysterious hint about what is to come.

Transition and sequence words –This text is rife with a range of less common examples of transition and sequence phrases: ‘At daybreak’, ‘But all the while’, ‘meanwhile’, ‘Then, under a full moon.’. 

Structuring the body (pacing) – This text moves very quickly from a wide lens to close ups throughout. We follow a short book that probably takes place over weeks or months, but still makes room to slow right down to specific moments. The sentences often spill over two or more pages, which allows the author to slow the pace right down and pull our focus, over and over again.

Ending with a sense of resolution – Oh, what an ending! The one remaining zoo escapee takes us to the conclusion of this book, ending with an open-ended statement which leaves the reader with a sense of hope and a bit of a thrill.

The Rabbits – John Marsden and Shaun Tan

Creating a lead – ‘The rabbits came many grandparents ago’. The unusual wording of this simple first statement in The Rabbits invites the reader to continue in order to unravel what this mysterious and somewhat ominous first page means.

Structuring the body – If you teach narrative using a ‘story mountain’, where the problem grows and grows, this book is a perfect example of that. In The Rabbits, the titular characters spread and grow monumentally, causing sickness, destruction and death in a way that somehow worsens on every turn of the page.  

Structuring the body (pacing) – The pacing of this text is a powerful feature. It starts off wide and slow: ‘At first we didn’t know what to think. They looked a bit like us. There weren’t many of them. Some were friendly.’  But as more and more details are laid on, the urgency and pace build with the author and illustrator whipping us through catastrophic event after catastrophic event. The quick pacing abruptly changes for only a couple of profound moments: ‘We lost the fights.’ ‘and [they] stole our children’.

Ending with a sense of resolution – This text ends with four despairing questions spread over three pages, ending finally with ‘Who will save us from the rabbits?’.This ending does not end with a sense a closure, but rather leaves the reader on an uncertain note, probably intended to provoke further thinking and action.

What other mentor texts do you recommend when teaching the organisation trait?

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