[Mentor Text Monday] Divergent Dashes

Inspired by my friend and colleague Barb, I plan to post regular editions of Mentor Text Monday.

I began reading Divergent, by Veronica Roth, at the same time I observed a 6th grade teacher helping her students learn about the various ways writers use a dash. Because of her interesting lesson where the students had time to explore their own novels for different examples of dashes, I now see them everywhere. Seriously! Open up the novel closest to you right now. I’ll wait… Flip a page or two and I’m sure you will see at least one dash.

One way that I would use excerpts from Divergent as a mentor text is to illustrate the ways you can use a dash. I would have students read and explore the different ways so that they could try them on in their own writing. Part of author’s craft is learning what decisions authors make, and then choosing to make them in your own writing.

On page 23 of the novel – on my eReader – there are over 8 different dashes or hyphens (side note- this could be a second lesson about the difference between the two marks).  Some of them occur at the end of a line, splitting up a word into two parts at a syllable break. In a hard copy of this book, there may not be so many line-break-hyphens.  However, the author also uses dashes on this page to:

  • Add a second thought or detail to a sentence

“I reach my street five minutes before I usually do, according to my watch- which is the only adornment Abnegation allows, and only because it’s practical” (Roth, 2012, p. 23).

  • Replace a parentheses

“Everything- our houses, our clothes, our hairstyles- is meant to help us forget ourselves…” (Roth, 2012, p. 23).

  •   Then there is also a hyphen, used to join two words together- in this case, “no-nonsense”.

Page 84 of Divergent also demonstrates two uses of a dash again.

In addition to the author’s use of dashes throughout the novel, there are so many other elements of author’s craft that could be studied in isolation with students. On page 21 there is a one word sentence. What a powerful example to share with students to explore when and why an author would ever choose to write a one word sentence.

Have you read Divergent? Have you had experience teaching students about how and when to uses dashes (or hyphens) in their own writing?

Previous Mentor Text posts:

Percy Jackson

Love That Dog

About Amy's Reflections

Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services in Southern CA, taking time to reflect on leadership and learning
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5 Responses to [Mentor Text Monday] Divergent Dashes

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