If you see a teacher lurking around the school library piling up books, scouring the latest Scholastic magazine, and raiding the literacy library, you know she’s probably just hunting for more mentor texts for writer’s workshop. For primary teachers, mentor texts play such an important role in our teaching of the youngest authors.
A mentor text is any kind of writing – magazines, picture books in any genre, essays, articles, and even teacher written texts – that you can use to teach students something about writing. Most teachers use their books for interactive read alouds for mentor texts throughout the year, too. You can use the same books for multiple purposes!
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Why You Should Be Using Mentor Texts for Writer’s Workshop
Mentor texts that come from published authors can teach our students many things about writing and provide tangible examples for them to look at. They can teach our young authors:
- Unique ideas to write about
- New structures to include
- An interesting craft to apply
Reading and analyzing mentor texts for writer’s workshop is a powerful strategy to help strengthen your students’ writing abilities. You can use mentor texts for all genres of writing, too – personal narratives, opinion writing, informative pieces, and even poetry. We want our students to see what real authors are doing in their texts and show them how they can apply these techniques in their own writing.
How to Use Mentor Texts
- First, choose a mentor text that will teach a specific writing skill, trait, or craft. It can be throughout the entire book or a focused excerpt from the book.
- Explicitly tell the students what you want them to learn from the book that day. We want them to be ready to watch for it and understand why the author wrote the way they did.
- Then show them the examples of the mini-lesson topic in the book after reading it. Remember to point them out and reread. For example, if you want to use Idea Jar by Deb Pilutti to show students how to use a list in their writing, point out the pages in the beginning and at the end that create lists. Read each page.
- Model how to emulate the idea. Remind students that we aren’t copying the author’s work, just trying to implement the same craft or technique in our own writing. For example, I might write a story about a trip I went on and include a list of important things I packed.
- Finally, have students try to use the technique in their own writing. Let them share their plans beforehand and how it went afterward.
My Favorite Mentor Texts for Writer’s Workshop
- A Squiggly Story by Andrew Larsen
- Night of the Veggie Monster by George McClements
- Idea Jar by Deb Pilutti
- The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson
- A Perfectly Messed-Up Story by Patrick McDonnell
- Oops Pounce Quick Run! By Mike Twohy
5 Quick Tips
- Think of books you’ve already read and your students love. You can often easily find teaching points in these texts.
- Use “author studies” to really dive into how an author writes and writing traits. Some of my favorites are Kevin Henkes, Eric Carle, Mo Willems, David Shannon, Jonathan London, and Laura Numeroff to name a few.
- Try to read the mentor text for writer’s workshop in advance. Once students have heard the book once or twice, they’ll be more apt to listen and look at it with “writers’ eyes”.
- Start with easier, more concrete structures and crafts to apply first. I like onomatopoeias and quotation marks (or “talking bubbles”). Students will easily get to see how to implement them. Plus, they are often a favorite to try!
- Use “think alouds” to model how to read a book like a writer. Model what you notice, what you like about an author’s work, and what you might want to try in your writing. We have to show students how to begin to analyze texts so they can do the same.
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