Mentor Texts in the Midst of Writing

When we think of using mentor texts when teaching writing workshop, often our first thought is to use them at the beginning of a unit of study so students can gain a sense of the genre they are going to write. Recently, the stars have been aligned in my writing life. First I embarked on a study of YA fiction, then in August I participated in Laurie Halse Anderson’s WFMAD (Write Fifteen Minutes A Day) Challenge. Most of the prompts in her challenge were centered around writing fiction, so I found myself playing with the genre.

As I wrote, some questions began bubbling to the surface, which made me choose three of the YA books I read this summer to serve as my personal mentors. I am struck by the deeper understandings of the genre I gained by using mentor texts during the writing process. Although I’ve used mentor texts throughout the writing process in the past, this time I’m struck by the power of returning to a mentor text with specific questions and needs.

Here are some pages from Kristina McBride’s The Tension of Opposites with my notes as I tried to figure out the length of scenes and the way she made the characters come alive as I read. (Click for her website or blog.) These are notes I could share with older students to teach them how to dig into a mentor text to make it serve their needs as writers. (Click on the image to make it easier to see.)

Shared with permission from Egmont USA

Shared with permission from Egmont USA

What are some ways you’ve studied a mentor text to dig deeper into a genre? How can you use your learning in a minilesson or conference in writing workshop?