Donald Crews' 'Shortcut:' An Ideal Mentor Text for Personal Narrative Writing

Fall is the perfect time to get your students writing personal narratives!  Writing and sharing personal narratives is such a great way to get to know your students in more detail and for them to get to know their classmates.  Donald Crews' book Shortcut is an ideal mentor text to get your students going.  The story is engaging and realistic.  It's about a group of friends who decide to take a shortcut home along some railroad tracks.  As they make their way down the tracks, what is that they hear in the distance?  Whoo-Woo!  The sound is faint at first, but it grows louder and louder and louder.  When one boy realizes a train is upon them, he shouts for them to get off the tracks.  But, what about the horrible briers that cover the slopes and the water with snakes that follows along the tracks?  Are the kids okay?  We have to wait a long time to see, since Donald Crews keeps us in suspense as we watch the train move along the tracks (Klickity-klak, klickity-klak) for page after page!

Students can often relate to the characters and events, thinking of a time they did something foolish.  We use the book to inspire topic generation, to review the elements of narratives, to guide the creation of a personal narrative anchor chart, and to encourage the addition of onomatopoeia in students' stories. (Crews masterfully uses this element in Shortcut.  It's easy to encourage students to try onomatopoeia in their writing based on his model.) 
Our Personal Narrative Anchor Chart based on 'Shortcut'
I wrote a series of detailed lesson plans outlining the specific steps I've used to help students in grades 1-3 create the best personal narratives EVER using Shortcut as a mentor text.  The plans are written as if they were students' first exposure to writing personal narratives.  I just finished the series of lessons with a group of ecstatic second graders today.  They were in love with their stories, as was I!  I've never seen so much wonderful use of onomatopoeia--it really enlivens their texts (I also attempted to get them to use some dialogue, and several did).  I plan to ask a few parents if I can post some samples to share here (stay tuned!).  If you'd like a copy of the plans, I just posted them as a FREEBIE to TPT:

These plans were adapted from my new book of integrated literacy lesson sequences which will be out THIS MONTH!
You can read more about the book on a post I created for this blog a few months back:  
Note:  There is also a 3-5 volume of Booster Lessons, written by master teacher Leslie Blauman.  
Check it out here:

(It is now 2:30 AM and I teach a full day tomorrow.  The things we do for our fellow teachers!) 
(Also note:  The mystery word for this blog post and the Fall Mentor Text Hop is:  Klickity-klak  (from Donald Crews' Shortcut, of course!)

I hope you enjoy the posts and resources you've found on this Fall Mentor Text Hop!  Thanks for stopping by and Happy Personal Narrative Writing!   -Janiel    Here's the link to your next stop:


  1. Thank you so much for joining in at such a busy time. I do not know how you juggle so much, and I appreciate the detailed plans. After I finish commenting, I'm heading over to check them out.

    1. Thanks, Carla. Would love to hear what you think! I haven't had time to check out many posts, but from what I've seen, there are tons of amazing resources! What fun it will be for two winners to get all the books, as well!
      Thanks for all your efforts!

  2. This is one of my favorite books to use for teaching about small moments.

    Literacy Spark

    1. Yep, it's a great one! Thanks for stopping by Jessica!

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