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Writing With Mentors + A Book Giveaway

When my daughter was in her freshman year of high school, she was assigned to write a film review.  Elizabeth had two concerns: she had never written a film review before, and this teacher was especially feared for her high standards and savage critiques.  When some brave students had stepped forward in class to ask about how they should go about this writing task, the teacher had offered this curt advice: “read film reviews in The New York Times and the New Yorker, then figure it out”.  So, Elizabeth dove into back issues of both periodicals, read as many reviews as she could find, marked them all up, and then went on the write her first ever movie review with some degree of clarity and confidence.  She had discovered the power of mentor texts.

In their wonderful new book, Writing With Mentors: How To Reach Every Writer In The Room Using Current, Engaging Mentor Texts, authors Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell offer every writing teacher a beautifully thought out methodology for carefully curating mentor texts, organizing them for purposeful access, and then teaching  students (such as Elizabeth, who was left to learn this on her own) through the lens and power of mentor texts.  They write:

“Mentor texts enable student writers to become connected to the dynamic world of professional writers.  Mentor texts enable independence, as over time, students are able to find and use the inspiration and craft elements found in the sentences  and pages of their favorite writers.  Mentor texts enable complete creativity and individuality to emerge in student writing and instruction.  Mentor texts enable a teacher, whose planning time and knowledge of every potential genre of writing is limited, to reach every writer in the room, on any given day, whatever the writer’s needs.  Mentor texts enable all of us-teachers and students alike-to do far more than we ever could on our own.”

In the book’s first three chapters, the authors lead us through the “why?” of  teaching with mentor texts, and then the “how to” of such a teaching practice:

  1. A Classroom Where Mentors Matter
  2. Developing a Mentor Text Habit of Mind
  3. Moving from Mentor Texts to Writing Lessons

These were rich chapters, filled with thoughtful and practical ideas for developing mentor text habits of mind and what this looks like and sounds like in real life classrooms.  Our students come to our writing workshops with diverse interests and learning styles, and we teach many genres over the the course of a learning year.  For our collections of mentor texts to remain current, and therefore relevant, to our students’ needs, we need to do more than simply tag our favorite picture books, chapter extracts, and articles for use on an “as needed” basis.  We need to figure out specific ways of setting up our writing units, and then gathering and organizing mentor texts to support and enrich those units:

“Being a teacher who puts mentor texts at the center of the classroom is a rich and exciting way of life…It means tapping into your writing sensibilities every time you read and enjoying it doubly – as a reader and a teacher of writing.  It means learning beside your students and keeping their interests at the helm.  It means finding an organizational system that works for you and your students and puts the mentor texts at everyone’s fingertips for the moments when they will be needed in the throes of writing.”  

If this sounds like a tall order, it is.  But, Rebekah and Allison show us the way with clarity and purpose, from the fundamentals  of organization (where I for one need a lot of help!) to the way in which to plan a unit of study built around a set of mentor texts.  Each part of the process is unpacked and explained beautifully, with links and QR codes to text sets, student writing samples, and easy to decipher tables and charts for exploration and reference:

writing with mentors 2

 Most importantly, Rebekah and Allison give us the classroom friendly language we need to ensure that the intentional use of mentor texts becomes as evident and necessary to our students as it is to us, their teachers.  As my daughter Elizabeth learned, it is not enough to just have access to mentor texts, students need to know how to put them to good use.

The authors set up the next six chapters as a “six-step process for planning a writing study that is infused with mentor texts from top to bottom”; here they are with some of my favorite quotes:

  1. Introducing Students to Mentor Texts:

“Right from the start, students need to spend time with mentor texts and see the role they can play in their writing lives. They need to understand they can consciously infuse their writing with the techniques of successful writers and recognize the value that adds to their work. Because students need time to intentionally learn how to learn from other writers, we teachers also have to give students time to breathe, to fiddle, to play, to figure it out.”

“To read like a writer is to be encouraged and supported in bringing the craft to your own work-in short, to read like the writer you are becoming.”

  1. Mentors Show Students How to Play:

“Regardless of the powerful mentor texts we share with students, older students are often reluctant to take risks and play in a piece of work that will be graded.  Somewhere along the way they have become afraid of “doing it wrong”, afraid of doing anything other than what is explicitly set forth on a rubric.  In order to grow as writers, students need safe places to play with writing – places that aren’t assessed or evaluated or given a grade.  They need places where their work can be messy, where thinking outside the box and being wild with ideas is encouraged.  This is why we have daily notebook time, a time where mentors show students how to play.”

  1. Mentors Show Students How to Plan:

“Mentor texts provide a bigger, better vision for students’ planning.  Mentor texts help students anticipate the choices they will need to make as writers and give them the latitude to do just that – consider options and make real choices.”

  1. Mentors Show Students How to Draft and Revise:

“While the class collaborates during daily craft lessons and in mentor text response groups, students largely move forward on their own as they draft and craft, mentor texts on one side of the desk and notebooks on the other.  Here, they make the choices writers make: what to put in, what to leave out, how best to communicate their purpose, which pieces of mentor text inspiration to include and how to include them.”

  1. Mentors Show Students How to Go Public:

“It’s not enough to have students share their work within the walls of our classrooms.  If we are going to put true meaning behind the term writer, we need t make it real.  We need to help our students ready their work for readers and then help them push it out into the world.”

  1. Mentors Show Students How to Be Independent:

“Finding writing mentors and using mentor texts isn’t only academic, It’s life.  The ability to find good writing and identify what makes it effective will carry students through their education and into the world of work.”

Although Writing With Mentors is geared towards upper grades and high school, and both Allison and Rebekah teach at the high school level, much of what they have to say is just as true for those of us who teach fifth grade and middle school.  In fact, this is just the sort of book I need as a sixth grade teacher, as I prepare my students to dig deeper and stretch themselves as readers and writers.  Writing With Mentors is a must-have book for all writing teachers – my own heavily marked up and sticky note laden copy will certainly be an integral  part of my writing teacher life.

Allison and Rebekah recently presented at The Educator Collaborative gathering, check out what they had to say about mentor text work in the writer’s notebook:
https://gathering.theeducatorcollaborative.com/session-one/workshop-2/

Would you like a copy of your very own?

  • For a chance to win this copy of Writing With Mentors, please leave a comment about this post by Friday, April 19th at 11:59 p.m. EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by April 21st..
  • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.  From there, Heinemann  will ship your book out to you.  (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
  • If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – WRITING WITH MENTORS. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.

Tara Smith View All

I teach Writing Workshop, Language Arts and Social Studies to sixth graders at a middle school in suburban New Jersey. This blog is my attempt to capture all the "stuff" that goes into my teaching life - the planning, the dreaming, the reading, the preparing, the hoping and (above all) the kids.
Please note that the content of this blog is my own. It does not reflect the opinions of my employer.

93 thoughts on “Writing With Mentors + A Book Giveaway Leave a comment

  1. This book sounds wonderful! Mentor texts are such a powerful tool in a rich, authentic ELA classroom.Lucky us to have a chance to win!

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  2. Can’t wait to read and share this! We use mentor texts, but this looks like it will help us move to the next level. Thank you for an in depth review!

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  3. Oh wow! What a resource for teachers and coaches! This sounds like just the book to help us move from reading mentor texts to showing how to “put them to good use.”

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  4. Love using mentor texts to teach writing and reading! Learning from professionals is how we learn different methods for the skills we want to attain.

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  5. Thanks for this post, Tara. The book sounds intriguing. I know you said you will stretch it to fit your 6th graders’ needs. Do you think lower elementary (3rd, 4th, & 5th) teachers could find it useful?
    My Lit. Coach and I are planning on sharing this with our staff, by the way. 🙂

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  6. This looks like a fantastic resource. Although I work with younger writers, I have often had experiences with my own children, who are in high school and college, needing mentor texts to help them see and understand what a particular type of writing looks and sounds like. I’ve also had parents of former students ask me to help their children who are struggling with assignments in upper grades, and I consistently find that what these writers lack is enough exposure to examples of the kind of writing they are being asked to generate.

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  7. I love that just the description of the book has gotten me thinking about how I use mentor texts with students and how I might end the year with a stronger focus on using mentor texts. This sounds like a great book to know.

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  8. Being a teacher of writing opened new doors and purpose when reading. Our students have felt this same phenomenon. They brainstormed such thoughtful questions for our guest author last week. Mentor texts are making such a difference!

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  9. Thank you for this review, and for the mentor text on a way to write a review! I love how you highlighted a quote from each chapter that not only shows what resonated with you, but also what the chapter addresses.

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  10. Wow! What a post. What a book. This is probably the biggest change I need to make in my teaching of writing. I use mentor text continually. BUT they need to be in the center. They need to be my student’s first, second, third….and last go to strategy. Thank you for this review, Tara. As usual, it is perfection and a gift to this community.

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  11. I’m so excited for this book. I use mentor texts in my classroom, especially to begin a unit, but I find I move away from them as the unit progresses. I am interested in how the authors talk about using them to get the kids to move deeper in their writing.

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  12. I don’t feel I have used mentor texts as much as I could and should. I hope this book can help guide me to guide my students. Thanks for this review.

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  13. Mentor texts give my 6th – 8th grade writers permission to try on new styles and even break the rules sometimes as they develop their unique voices. I would love to have a copy of this!

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  14. This book is right up the alley for what I continue to search out for my students. I’d love the opportunity to push my students and their writing. This would help me out greatly in doing so! 🙂

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  15. Mentor texts allow students to be independent. They can revisit the text again and again to understand what the author is doing. They also can use this skill of searching for their own mentor text when writing.

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  16. “To read like a writer is to be encouraged and supported in bringing the craft to your own work-in short, to read like the writer you are becoming.”

    It’s true….how can we carry on as writers without reading? Recently, I was reading a memoir that was so well crafted…..I read and re-read lines. Each day after work, I rushed home to read. We all need mentor texts like that.

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  17. I would love to see their suggestions about mentor texts that are not the typical trade book. That is one area in where we struggle and tend to use old student examples or create our own writing (which also works!).

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  18. I have used mentor texts (we used to call them cuttings) for years. They provide students with a wealth of information. Thanks for a great article.

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  19. I have worked to incorporate the use of mentor texts into Writer’s Workshop. I usually use books that the students have first heard and discussed during Interactive Read Aloud. I think this book sounds like a must-have addition to any teacher’s or coach’s professional library. I hope I win!

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  20. This book sounds amazing! I teach all the ELA classes for 6th grade. I have just started using mentor text in the last couple of years and would love to be able to dig deeper into my own practices to be able to help my students use this strategy more effectively. 🙂

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  21. We have been using mentor texts the last several years at our school. We are always looking to improve our techniques. This looks like it would be the perfect book to do that!

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  22. Mentor texts are the way to go when teaching writing to students. The examples provide such a rich resource for them to refer to over and over. I would love to add this book to my library’s professional collection of writing texts.

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  23. What a powerful tool this will be for my staff. Not just for my ELA teachers, but as we write across the curriculum, teachers from other content areas who are asking children to write can use mentor texts to help develop skills in all types of writing. This will be a powerful collaborative tool, as well.

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  24. I have used mentors (both published writers and students’ writing) in writing mini-lessons since I began using the Six Traits model in 1997.It is a key way to helping students raise the level of their writing. I would love to see new ideas and approaches. This book sounds great!

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  25. This would be an amazing resource to have as an instructional coach. Our coaching team is also working on professional development in relation to writing across our district; this would be a great addition to our list of resources!

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  26. This book sounds amazing! It is so helpful for students to have a strong mentor text when trying out new strategies. This is going on my list of “must-have” books!

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  27. As a coach I NEED to read this book because it is often difficult to decide why one book would be a better recommendation than another or how to pick the MOST important way to use a text as a mentor text.

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  28. Mentor texts are as vital as pencil and paper in becoming the writer we truly are. Thanks for sharing another great resource for leading scholars along the path to a writerly life!

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  29. I use mentor texts in my immersion phase of my writing units and I use mentor texts for mini lesson demonstration but I struggle with how to really plan lessons that give kiddos permission to really emulate mentor authors in their own writing. I think this book will help me with that.

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  30. I heard about this book at a Writing Workshop Prof. Development I recently attended! I’ve been waiting for it to come out! I am a literacy coach for 5 elementary schools and I feel like this book will be an amazing resource for both myself, and the teachers I work with.

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  31. I have just started introducing my HS/JH Special Education kids to mentor text. My students have had the most trouble with introductions of writing and creating closure to a written product. Mentor text have helped them get closer.

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  32. The way they have organized the book sounds very interesting! I’d love the chance to use more mentor texts with my 5th graders. Thank you for sharing!

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  33. I’m happy to hear the book is geared for high school. It sounds like a gem. I can’t remember a time when mentor texts, which we called models back in the day, haven’t played a vital role in my writing and teaching life.

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  34. Mentor texts can be professional pieces of writing or teacher-made. I’ve also used exemplars of other students’ writing from previous years, which makes the writing more accessible to some of my students.

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  35. Mentor texts are so important in classrooms as working models for our students, not only as role models, but as proof of the value of writing in the “real” world. I have heard of this book before but didn’t pick it up because I thought it would be geared toward younger students. I think this will now go on my summer personal PD list. Thank you for the clarity!

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