Mentor Texts

Katie Wood Ray, in her book Study Driven, talks about the need for students to have a vision of what we're asking them to write. If we want them to take part in "re-vision" of their writing, they must first have a "vision" of what the writing should look like.

Mentor texts are picture books, poems, articles, nonfiction texts, or any other type of text that can serve as a model, or "mentor" to the writer. For instance, while studying personal narrative students might decide to adopt the beautiful descriptive language of Lester Laminack in Saturdays and Teacakes or they might try writing their personal narrative in the form of a poem, like Donald Graves did in Baseball, Snakes, and Summer Squash: Poems About Growing Up.  The more books the teacher reads aloud, the more options the student writers have for choosing a mentor to model their writing after.

This list of books can be used to choose mentor texts for specific purposes: writing_titles_and_mini-lesson_topics.xls Try this one too.  But keep in mind that any well-written book can be used as a mentor. Many teachers confer during writing workshop with mentor texts by carrying copies of specific books or even giving students copies of particular pages of mentor texts to help with figurative language, dialogue, or onomatopoeia.

Mentor Texts with Isoke Nia

Ruby Clayton, a Kindergarten teacher in Indianapolis, wrote this description of the work Isoke Nia did in her classroom when she visited from Columbia University to do embedded staff development for her school.

Isoke did a one week study on the Craft of Writing with my kids.  She said in order to study a writer's craft, we needed to use a "touchstone text" that the teacher loved and cherished well enough to talk about it across a long period of time.  There should be many things to teach within the text, between the lines, on the pages, and in the pictures. The book should be readable by the children or readable with support. It is to be a little more sophisticated than the writing of the best students in class.  It must be a book the class has talked about a lot as readers first.  It should be a good example of writing of a particular genre, and be of the genre we are studying.  Because she only had one week, and being the expert that she is, she was able to condense a Craft Study that would normally take 14 to 19 days, into five.

She read the book "So Much" by Trish Cooke to the kids.  Because the author and illustrator were different, the pictures were not shown during the reading or discussed in the Craft study.  Had the author and illustrator been the same, then we would have discussed the pictures.

A list was made of "What do you think the author did before she wrote the book?"

Children's answers:

  • Maybe she had a celebration at a party.
  • She may have been remembering a story she had heard when little.
  • Wrote things on little pieces of paper and then put it all together.
  • Write the whole thing down
  • Made a list of family members
  • She gave a party and this is about that party

Next the children begin to answer the question in the second column of a large chart. "What we noticed that our author did . . .".  This column had all of the children's "noticings" from only one page of the author's writing.  Later in the week, different pages from the book were divided among pairs of students, and the children added more "noticings."

  • Trish Cooke used all capitals in a word.
  • She uses exclamation marks.
  • She used ellipsis
  • She used a capital for a special name
  • She stretches words by adding extra letters
  • She uses contractions
  • She uses apostrophe's
  • She uses quotation marks
  • She uses periods

The next day they added these after seeing more pages of the book:

  • She uses words over and over in a pattern.
  • She uses "And" at the beginning of a sentence.
  • Trish Cooke ends some lines with the same word.
  • Trish Cooke has a page with no words.
  • She uses a question mark.
  • Trish Cooke uses a dash.

What amazed me was how she took the children's noticings and referred to them throughout the week, to conference and to teach.  I did not know so much learning could be taken from noticings, nor how powerful a tool they are.  From these, the children began to imitate the style of this writer in their own works.  Kids could say they did a "Trish Cooke" thing and tell what it was.  Vocabulary about writing increased.

She reminded us that the last words we said in a mini-lesson were to be what the children were supposed to do in their writing.  In this case, they were to think about what Trish Cooke did and to see what Trish Cooke things they could put into their own writing. 

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