When I came on board I was the Reader’s youngest staff writer, and I was proud to be there. I looked for things that captured my imagination or spoke to me in an unexpected way. I wrote pieces about some crappy bands I now think were mistakes, but I remember most the unusual ones that demanded more listening, and eventually made me write about them. The Vulgar Boatmen is a good example—a debut record on an unknown label that came in the mail. I ended up writing about it incessantly. (I just did .)
Mentor Text lessons and ideas exclusively for K-6. Even though I am a secondary teacher, I still find ways to adapt this book's ideas for my writers.
Students will learn how to demonstrate innovation and creativity, take responsibility of their actions, and recognize they contribute to their local, national, and global communities (Greene, 2013) through various cultural opportunities and experiences....
My readers at the time were aware of this, but since time has passed and the audience has changed let me say that, if there was a pop writer in America in the 1990s who wrote more about major-label sleaziness in general, rising album- and concert-ticket prices, and ancillary consumer issues like scalping than me, I wasn’t aware of him or her. (Joe Kvidera, the manager of Tower on Clark, would let me know whenever some price increases hit.) I wrote so much about crowd safety that . These didn’t get mentioned in Albini’s broadside.
that, in withering detail, explained how major-label contracts could end up screwing bands over. The implication of his attacks on me was that I was setting the bands up to be put into the major-label woodchipper.
A mentor text is a published piece of writing a teacher uses during a writing lesson to either a) teach a writing skill or to b) motivate the students to want to write something creatively similar. I first heard the term in 2006 at a conference, and my immediate thought was, "Why, I've been using those in my lessons for years. How nice to know they have been given an official name!" I think a big part of recycling ideas in education is reinventing old ideas by disguising them with cool new names...like mentor texts. Those of you who've been teaching more than a dozen years probably know what I mean by "reinventing old ideas" in education. I've been teaching long enough to see some ideas come and go by the wayside three full cycles now, not just twice. I'm genuinely trying not to be cynical about it anymore.
What you are finding on this page is the work I did around mentor texts as a presenter from 2006 until the present. I have posted my handouts and links to the very lessons I would have my participants analyze (and write to!) for how the mentor text is incorporated. I happily give all this mentor text stuff away for free, but I hope if you like it and make use of anything on this resource page, you'll also check out my work on , , and . These three subjects are the professional development topics I've developed into sessions for teachers, and they also continue to serve as a backbone for my students' weekly routines that teach reading and writing skills.
We all have those favorite books (or poems or short stories) we absolutely love to read out loud with our students. When I start discussing mentor texts at my teacher workshops, I always like to ask my participants, "What are your best read-alouds? What author's words do you bring to life best?" Teachers love to share the story titles that captivate their students the most. I usually have to pry teachers away from that discussion question with a metaphorical crow-bar so we can proceed with the training, and this always reminds me of some true facts. True Fact #1: Teachers like to talk about their favorite texts to read. True Fact #2: Students like to be asked to write stories, poems, and responses based on something the teacher loves to read; they'd much rather do that than find inspiration in something the teacher doesn't enjoy sharing: like any five-paragraph essay, just to throw an example into the ring.
I have two things I read aloud the best. I guarantee you will not find anyone--yes, this is a challenge!--who reads the first chapter of Animal Farm out loud better than I do; I have the best 'Old Major voice' (plus, I wear a pig snout that day!), and when I sing the song Old Major teaches the animals, I actually achieve vibrato! My second read aloud came to light thanks to an inservice class my wife and I co-taught for many years. I had written this pretty good writing lesson based on chapter four of Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo, which I read aloud to the class participants. On the drive home from class one night, she said, "I don't know what it is about that chapter, but when you read it out loud, it's like you become the author's voice." I don't argue when my wife compliments me, but it's amazing how--even after you've shared something aloud dozens of times--if you love the words and the way the author put them down, you can still make it come alive for others.
A mentor text should ultimately be discussed by students for one of two purposes: 1) to showcase a writing skill found in the text that you want students to notice and then practice in their own writing; and 2) to motivate students to write something different-yet-similar that was inspired by the mentor text's idea or structure.
In 2006, when I made the decision to learn even more about mentor texts and how they affected my writing instruction, I spread out 15-20 of my very favorite mentor texts from my very best writing lessons on the carpet in front of my bookshelf. In Language Arts, I require my students do "sorts" all the time with words and sentences and quotes, and so I was immediately inspired to attempt to sort my mentor texts in an interesting way. I sorted them first by genre. I sorted them next by reading level. Neither of these sorts did much to challenge my thinking. However, when I asked myself, "How are you specifically using these mentor texts to teach writing?" something really interesting happened. I made a discovery that became very meaningful to me. The sort I ended up doing showed me that I had three distinctly different ways I was using mentor texts to inspire student writing. I was using some of my texts as idea mentor texts, some as structure mentor texts, and others as craft mentor texts. You can read about these three different categories I created by viewing the PowerPoint slideshow, which you can freely download at our or by clicking on the picture of my opening slide, which is at right. In my PowerPoint slides, I define each category, and I share a purposefully diverse selection of mentor texts that I have personally used while designing writing instruction to 3rd-12th grade writers. When I present to teachers about mentor texts, I explain how it's the writing task I have students complete after being exposed to the text that determines in which category I place the text. This is a pretty important concept to understand before you can start sharpening your own use of mentor texts, and so it deserves the discussion I set aside for it at my trainings. I usually place a pile of possible mentor texts at each table in the training room, and my participants like to sort them once they watch the Powerpoint. They discover that the same mentor texts can be used to teach a variety of things.