Using a Mentor Text to Develop a New Style of Writing
Lesson 3 for Sharing in AfricaPrint this Page
- Subject(s): Language Arts & Literature, Social Studies & Geography, Environment & Health, Cross-Cultural Understanding
- Region / Country: Africa / Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Grade Level(s): 6–8, 9–12
- Related Publication: Uncommon Journeys
Students will examine some of the author's writing traits and then make an effort to incorporate his style into their own writing.
About the Story
In "Sharing in Africa," Tidwell tells how he experienced the overwhelming generosity of the local villagers, who plied him repeatedly with offers of food—and even of wives. Despite the generosity that surrounded him, Tidwell describes how he could not bring himself to share his food, belongings, or living allowance, until an embarrassing encounter with a beggar helped him question his own cultural values. Students will appreciate Tidwell's insight and humor and his ability both to analyze his reactions and to laugh at himself as he discovers the nature of true sharing.
Two other excerpts from The Ponds of Kalambayi, with lessons for the classroom, are available in the Peace Corps publication Voices From the Field (available online).
About the Setting
"Sharing in Africa" takes place in the remote chiefdom of Kalambayi in the heart of Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo (and before that, the Belgian Congo). Straddling the Equator, Congo has the third largest population, and the second largest land area, in sub-Saharan Africa. It includes the Congo River Basin, which encompasses an area of almost 400,000 square miles. Despite vast natural resources, including copper, cobalt, diamonds, gold, and petroleum, Congo at the beginning of the millennium had a per capita annual income of $82. Agriculture, the main occupation, includes cash crops such as coffee, palm oil, rubber, cotton, sugar, tea, and cocoa, as well as food crops such as cassava, plantains, and groundnuts—the term in Africa for peanuts.
In recent years, Congo has sustained brutal internal strife, with a lingering civil war producing high numbers of casualties, massive dislocation of the population, and starvation on a broad scale.
- To show how richly written literature can be used as a mentor text, or model, for improving one's own writing
- Congenital: Existing at the time of birth
- Manioc: [MAN-ee-ahk] Also called cassava; a tropical plant with a starchy root used for making bread and tapioca
- Ungrudging: Willing; generous
- Incapacitate: To make unable or unfit
- Regime:: [ray-ZHEEM] French for a bunch, such as bananas (an entire bunch, as it grows on a banana tree)
- Absurdity: Ridiculousness
- Doddering: Feeble
- Septuagenarian: A person whose age is in the 70s
- Michel:: [mih-SHEL] French for the name Michael
- Perplexity: Confusion; bewilderment
- Waive: To give up a right to something
- Reciprocate: To give or act in return
- Haggard: gaunt; tired looking
- Unkempt: Untidy; messy
- Intimidate: To make someone afraid
- Improvise: To make up on the spur of the moment
- Bludgeon: To strike, as if with a club
- Permeating: Penetrating; spreading through
- Mitigating: Making less severe; moderating
- Appalling: Dismaying; shocking
- Sharing in Africa by Mike Tidwell
- Ask students to read the rest of Tidwell's story. Then introduce them to the "So what?" rule of writing presented by educator Nancie Atwell. Here is her proposition:
Good writing in every genre answers the question So what? Good writing has a purpose, a point, a reason it was written.... Sometimes the So what? is subtle and implicit. Sometimes it's explicitly stated. But always a good reader finds something new to think about because a good writer has found something important to think about. [Lessons That Change Writers, page 40.]
- Tell students you'd like them to think about Tidwell's story "Sharing in Africa " and then ask themselves: "So what?" Help students determine if they see a "So what?"—"a purpose, a point, a reason it was written." Assist them with sample questions: How did Tidwell challenge you to think about your world? Your values? Did you learn something about another part of the world? Did the author entertain you? Did he employ a writing style you noticed and learned from?
- Suggest to students that Tidwell's story serves as a "mentor text"—literature that exemplifies elements of the writer's craft that students can emulate. Students don't just read a mentor text; they study it and write their own composition employing some of the same stylistic devices of the mentor author. You can have students return to Tidwell's story repeatedly to tackle the following writing issues.
- How do you write an engaging lead? Do you start with a question? A short sentence about the setting? A mysterious line?
- How do you introduce a new character? Do you describe the character first, or do you have the character talk first? Or do you describe what others think about him or her?
- How do you use hyperbole to engage the reader or add humor? "Sharing in Africa " has many examples of hyperbole ("People in villages across Kalambayi were trying to kill me." "Fufu a doughy white substance ... not unlike small bowling balls"). Have students find more examples of hyperbole and then think about what effect it has and how they could use hyperbole in their own writing.
- How do you handle transitions in time? How did Tidwell do this?
- How do you slow down the action at a critical moment? How did Tidwell do this?
- How do you vary your sentence length to add interest? How did Tidwell do this?
- Ask students to think of a time when they unexpectedly learned something that was important to them (a "So what?" time they will never forget) and to write a short personal narrative about it. Have them try to look for ways to make their writing engaging by imitating the way Tidwell held his readers' interest in "Sharing in Africa."
- Once students have a first draft, ask them to exchange papers with a partner for feedback, then to revise their texts, edit and proofread, and prepare the text for submission to their teacher.
- Students who wish to know more about life in a traditional African community can read Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart—a book on many middle school and high school reading lists. The themes that Tidwell introduces in his story are developed in Achebe's novel: the role of family, the nature of marriage, the individual's responsibility to the group. The contrast of these cultural traits with Western values in the novel invites comparison as well. Tidwell's story provides an excellent introduction to the novel.
- Have students select from the following options:
- Working in small groups, develop a written script for the dramatization of sharing fufu, bananas, and other foods from one's home. Make sure you illustrate the deeply held ethic that it is socially proper to share what you have. Perform this dramatization for a class of younger students. Each student in the group should be able to summarize the main ideas in the story and explain their significance.
- Imagine that you are Mike Tidwell at the end of your two years of Peace Corps service. Write a letter to your replacement who is preparing to come to Kalambayi. In the letter, include a description of Kalambayan culture and how it differs from the culture of the United States, and provide advice and recommendations for success. Do you think it is possible to convey adequately in writing the importance of sharing in Kalambayan culture, or does one have to experience it to understand it fully?
- Write a short essay addressing the question: How would life in our school be different today if everyone in our school shared the values of the people of Kalambayi?
- Working with a partner, illustrate the most important events of "Sharing in Africa" on a large piece of chart paper, using felt-tipped markers in various colors. The drawing should serve as a visual summary of the story.
Framework and Standards
- People of different cultures have different attitudes toward sharing.
- To understand people from other cultures—and to avoid misunderstandings—sometimes we have to try to see the world from their point of view as well as from our own.
- In some cultures, people believe the group is responsible for the well-being of each individual. In other cultures, people believe that individuals are primarily responsible for themselves.
- What are attitudes toward sharing in the United States? How is sharing viewed in another culture you might be familiar with?
- How do we know when we've shared enough? How do we know when we've been generous enough?
- What, if anything, do we gain from trying to see the world from another person's perspective?
- When is taking care of the individual more important than taking care of the group? When is taking care of the group more important than taking care of the individual?
- What does this story teach us about the challenges of serving as a volunteer in another culture?
English Standards: 1, 3, 6
Social Studies Standards: I, IV, IX
National Geography Standards: 4, 6, 10, 11, 13
For more information on the standards in Uncommon Journeys, see the Appendix (pdf—160 KB).