Student-Written Mentor Texts: Teaching Writing with Mentor Texts
Before I engage students in any unit of study, I begin by surrounding students with what it is they will be studying. I place books of the genre being explored in book baskets, on shelves, and I pepper them through our daily read alouds. Students slowly begin to get a feel for the style. After a week of this silent introduction, I begin to ask the students what they’ve noticed about these new books. As the conversations are just emerging, a few brave writers dabble in writing in the new genre. These early steps are where I begin my search for student-written mentor texts.
As students take these risks in writing, I ask them to share with the class. I publicly celebrate the bravery of trying something new; I ask the writer to talk about how they felt writing the piece, and I tuck these conversations into my notes and keep it in the front of my mind. These interactions are the early steps in creating a student-written mentor text.
As we move forward in our study, we continue to explore the genre. We read for enjoyment, we read for understanding, and later we read as writers, looking to imitate the style. We chart our discoveries and our questions. While I still have not asked students to write, more and more begin to explore writing in this genre. As I notice more writing within our community, we share and discuss the experiences and ask questions. I listen carefully for the pieces of the conversations that connect. Carefully, and purposefully, I point out these connections between writers and encourage more discussions to connect the similarities. Building familiarity with the text helps to cement the piece as a mentor.
Once I have a selection of student-written texts, I comb through the pages in search of pieces to serve as mentor texts.
How to Select Student-Written Mentor Texts
- I begin by considering the needs of the students.
- I look for patterns in writing.
- I look for pieces to bridge a student’s current writing to the genre.
- I look for pieces that will highlight structure, craft, word choice, conventions or any other instructional need.
- I look and listen for writing that was favored by the class.
- All along, I am asking myself, how can I help the writer. I move forward to engage and support writers, not the writing.
Honor All Writers
As you embark on using, student-written mentor texts push yourself beyond the flawless and visually perfect pieces. Look for the gems buried behind the messy and sometimes crumpled papers. Search for opportunities for all students to shine and guide other writers. All writers have value.
Using student-written mentor texts has elevated the confidence of all writers in our classroom. These mentor texts allow students to work within their proximal zone of development. Students study work that is within their reach and they learn to believe in themselves as writers and mentors. When students see their writing guiding other writers, they feel worthy, valued, and they are empowered. The writing of a peer isn’t polished and flawless like the purchased texts we share in our classrooms. Instead, it’s a piece of writing created by a friend; we can speak with the author to get advice and discuss the work.
Two examples of student-written mentor text from our classroom.
Dialogue and connected events. Details and connected events.
Storage and Organization
I like the convenience of having student-written mentor texts in digital form. Whether the students have written digitally, or on paper, I place the mentor texts in Evernote, Educreations, or KidBlog. Digital storage and organization keeps the texts at my fingertips for conferences, minilessons, and parent meetings. Another advantage of digital tools is the recording of student’s voice as the author reads their story. Students also have the ability to revisit the texts when they’re looking for support, ideas, or examples.
Student-written mentor texts have changed my instruction, our workshop, and who we are as writers.
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