Teachers for Teachers | Slice of Life: Mentor Texts Are the Perfect Scaffold #SOL19 #TWTBlog
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Slice of Life: Mentor Texts Are the Perfect Scaffold #SOL19 #TWTBlog

Mentor texts are the perfect scaffold for young writers.  Mentor texts are always available.  They do not care how often they are used for support.  They don’t over-scaffold or rescue. They are great with wait-time.  They are open-ended and allow the writer to use craft moves purposefully in his/her own writing.  Research demonstrates that it takes 10,000 hours to become deliberate in any field – that’s a lot of hours.  Mentor texts provide choice, allow students to have agency, and create space for students to practice again and again.

The sooner we start inviting our writers to use mentor texts the sooner they will start reading like a writer.  There are no limits to how we can use mentor texts to support our young writers.  I worry that too often we only use mentor texts to study a particular author/genre or we tell kids which craft moves to try.  I have been trying to open up the possibilities of using mentor texts by always making it an option for students when they are writing. Once we show them how to use a mentor text, I want the student to be in control of when and how they use them.

Last week I was working with some first graders.  They were writing nonfiction and as we studied their writing, we noticed it was a bit dry in comparison to their narrative writing.  We decided to focus on the table of contents and think about how authors “get their readers to not want to stop reading” through their table of contents.  We sent partnerships off to immerse in tables of contents.  We gave the post-it notes to mark chapters they liked and to note why they liked them.  Here are a few examples:

Students then came together and shared what they found.  I quickly posted the options and invited kids to revise one of their chapters using one of the craft moves.  It was amazing how quickly they set off and revised with intention.  Some continued to study other tables of contents, others talk with their partner about which book they should revise, and others had a clear vision of what they wanted to do.  This is the authentic work of a writer.

The process of revision should be active, playful, and meaningful.  We need to get out of our students’ way and let them give it go.  The more they try things out and look to authors – professional, teacher, and student authors – as mentors, the more they will embrace and find joy in the revision process.  They will anticipate writing as they are reading, and they will consider their reader as they are writing.

How do you use mentor texts in your classroom?  I would love to hear about it!

And … congratulations to Mandy Robek!  You have won a copy of The 39 Stops to Making Schools Better.  Please email me your contact information so I can send it to you!  Clare.landrigan@gmail.com


Thank you, Betsy, Beth, Deb, Kathleen, Kelsey, Lanny, Melanie, and Stacey for this weekly forum from Two Writing Teachers. Check out the writers, readers, and teachers here.

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    Kristina Weller
    Posted at 03:12h, 22 May Reply

    I love how you say that mentor texts do not over-scaffold and they do not rescue. What a perfect description. I have my own list of mentor texts that I use in my classroom, but I love it when my students also discover their own. Maybe it’s a prior read aloud book, maybe it’s a personal favorite, but it’s their choice. Makes it all that more meaningful, you know?

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    Posted at 10:54h, 22 May Reply

    I appreciate the way you opened this piece! Mentor texts are a great writing teacher since they are always there.

    Yesterday, a teacher asked me what I thought of a revision checklist she had printed off of the Internet. I noticed that it had a row for mentor texts as if you only try using a mentor text to help you fix one thing when you revise. She had showed it to me and asked me what I would change about the checklist and I told her that that particular thing should be removed because mentor text should be helping kids too many things when they revise not just one thing.

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    Lisa Keeler
    Posted at 12:49h, 22 May Reply

    I love the reminders here about mentor texts and how invaluable they can be for young writers. Thanks Clare.

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    Posted at 14:32h, 22 May Reply

    So important, Clare, to use mentor texts for everything. I remember spending a week studying Amazon reviews (which I need to revisit) in order to figure out what to write!

    So true, “ALL the time” – Mentor texts cannot be overused!


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