A mentor text is any piece of writing, partial or complete, that can be used to teach a writer about some aspect of writer’s craft. A mentor text can be a picture book, a line, a passage, a chapter from a novel, a feature magazine article, a news article, an op-ed/editorial, a recipe, a brochure…anything that would serve as a model for what students might wish to write.
A question that is often used to connect how authors work to structure a text is: What are you reading that will help your writing?
Fortunately, the idea of mentor texts has really taken hold in the profession with regard to teaching writers. There are many resources available that help teachers to teach writing strategies through published texts so that students can emulate the writer’s craft and begin to read texts as both a reader and a writer.
I really believe that a most important thing is to just be sincere with whatever books you choose to use as mentors with your students. They will notice your passions and your passions will be contagious. You really can’t fake the passion for sharing books as writing teachers–you really need to first love the book and all that it teaches YOU about writing!!! And then you can honestly invite them into learning.
What does it mean to Read Like a Writer? It means to read the text through the lens of the author, noticing all aspects of how the writer crafted the text. If you employ the six + 1 traits as a scaffold for students, the Reading like a Writer strategy can be introduced through each trait. I developed a handout that I provide my college students who are learning to use this strategy as they develop personas as teachers of writers:
Read Like Writers to Discover…..
IDEAS...so, what do we know about this text? If fiction–how does the writer reveal the plot; if non fiction, how does the writer reveal the information; if poetry, can we gather the essence of this poem? How does the writer do these things? What kinds of decisions do you think the writer made? Could you make these kinds of decisions, too, as you write? Ideas achieve the writer’s purpose for the text.
ORGANIZATION...how do we move through the text?What decisions did the writer make about how to put this text together–how to present it? If fiction, what about the plot line? If poetry–what form? If nonfiction—how is information sequenced?
VOICE…well, this is what keeps us reading (by choice, anyway), right? How does the writer keep you engaged and interested? Can you find the “voice” in this piece? Could you use some of the things this writer did to also write with voice?
WORD CHOICE…how do the words affect the meaning in this text? What literary devices? Simile, Metaphor, Onomatopoeia, Really strong Verbs? How does the writer use specific language? Can you find words that really worked for you? Can you imagine the decisions the writer made to make that happen? Of 7,000 other words the writer could have used, why do you think s/he chose the words that s/he chose?
SENTENCE FLUENCY…it is, in part, the fluency, the fluidity, the rhythm of sentences that keep us reading (and certainly in poetry), but we don’t often think about this. Sometimes writers will change up or determine sentence patterns to achieve this: long sentence-short sentence-long sentence, etc. What did this writer do to achieve this feeling as you read this text?
CONVENTION…how does the writer use conventions (punctuation, text styles, placement of text on page, grammar…) to make meaning for readers? Think of punctuation as road signs that tell us how to read this work–how does the writer do this? What decisions did the writer make?
The Six Traits are present in all good writing; we only extract them for close study for our teaching/learning purposes. If the language of the traits is part of the culture of your classroom, then discovery of and showing of masterful use of the traits in mentor texts will enhance the writing practices of your students. Mentor texts, however, should be studied as writers, and not exclusively as trait-seekers. The power of the mentor text is that it opens up possibilities for students to think “I can do this too…” and opens up ways into the unseen world of how a writer might think about why s/he made particular decisions while engaged in the writing of the text. While we cannot really know why a writer made a decision, we need not know this—we just need to wonder and to imagine a theory for why what writers do, but to name what they do and to develop our own theory for why.
Here is a handout of the above! Read Like a Writer
I prepared this Teacher Books handout for one of my graduate Language Arts classes–it’s a resource list of some great teacher books AND some children’s lit, as well..with my brief comments–so keep in mind that I put it together for a specific group of teachers. It’s acouple of years old now, so for sure there are brand new titles out there that could be added to this list. Enjoy!
If you pull down the Mentor Texts tab on the menu bar, you will find separate pages of chapter books and paperbacks that I continue to update.