Tips for Using Mentor Texts

Tips for using Mentor Texts – adapted from the blog Learning at the Primary Pond.  

  1. Before you bring a book into your writing workshop to use as a mentor text, read it for enjoyment and comprehension during a different part of the day.  Students need to have an opportunity to enjoy and talk about the content of a text before they are asked to examine it closely and use it to learn about writing.2.  Explicitly teach students how to read a book as writers.  Explain to students that people use books for many purposes – for enjoyment, to learn about a topic, and also to learn how to write.  Model how to read a familiar book and examine the writing.  Comment on how you notice things like characters, when the author introduces a problem, the types of words that an author uses, punctuation marks, etc.  Students need to hear how you read as a writer before they are able to do it themselves.

    3.  Use the same book for multiple lessons.  While it’s great to expose students to a variety of mentor texts, you can also use a single text for multiple mini-lessons.  For example, in a writing workshop curriculum, you can use the book Amazing Grace (Mary Hoffman) to teach students how to include a problem in a narrative, write an ending, and write dialogue.  This helps save time, because students are already familiar with the text and can dive right into the focus of the mini-lesson.

    4.  Use mentor texts to guide your own planning.  Sometimes when planning a unit, it can be a struggle to determine what, exactly, students should be able to do as writers of a certain genre.  When this happens, turn to mentor texts.  For example, if planning a nonfiction unit, take out a children’s nonfiction text and try to notice what the author is doing.  Is the author giving examples?  Providing definitions of important words?  Organizing the information into categories?  These are all things that can be taught to students to do in their own writing.

    5.  Teach students to find their own mentor texts.  Show students that they can use their own independent reading to grow as writers. You might have students keep a list of interesting words they find in the books they read, so that they can later use the words in their own writing.  Encourage students to share their findings with the entire class.

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