How do you decide which books you’ll choose as mentor texts to use with your students in writing workshop? I believe it’s important to spend time in the stacks of your local library looking for books you adore. Once you find books you love, you can plumb those books for craft moves. However, you might be unsure about what makes for a good mentor text. Allow me to share my process for finding and mining mentor texts for things you can teach students.
- Read a book for pleasure first. Although I’m subconsciously paying attention to the writing, I’m actually focusing on the characters and plot, if it’s fiction, or on the new information I’m learning, if it is nonfiction, upon the first read of a book. I’m concentrating on the quality of the illustrations, making sure the pictures are enhancing the story or the information being presented. If I fall in love with a text and think it will be a good match to teach students something about writing, I give the book a second read.
- Read like a writer. When I read through a text a second time, I’m looking for the way the author plays with language. I’m noticing the structure of the text. I’m listening for a distinct voice. However, I don’t note any of my observations yet.
- Look for craft moves. By the third read of a book, I have sticky notes and a pen in hand so I can record the craft moves I notice, page by page. At this point, I paginate a book if it doesn’t already have page numbers. I go online to find out how many pages the publisher says are in the book. Sometimes the publisher lists thirty-two pages, but I see only twenty-two pages of text. (That usually means the publisher is counting the front cover as page one, the front end papers as pages two and so on, and the back cover as page thirty-two.)
- Read the book again. I don’t go through a book just once looking for craft moves. I read through it several times to make sure I have caught all the features I can teach a young writer. I’ve noticed I often find more things I can teach writers with each reading of a book.
- Sort through notes. Next, I sort through the sticky notes I’ve stuck around the book to find craft moves that appear in at least two places in a text because it helps kids to see multiple examples if they’re going to try something new in their writing. You might wish to sort through your sticky notes by craft move. If I find only one sticky note for a particular craft move, I toss it.
- Plan your teaching. I create a Word document and include any craft move that appears two or more times in a book. From there, I explain why writers use a particular craft move and flesh out the points I want to teach in a lesson. I develop explanations and examples, as well as lines of inquiry, to use in small-group lessons. I always record the page numbers where I found the craft moves for easy reference. Sometimes I make notations about things I’d teach to sophisticated writers, such as a sentence-terminating period prior to ellipses. Also, I note places for additional supports I might give to inexperienced writers, such as retelling a story across their fingers before writing it down on paper. Making notes about differentiation can also help because often my small-group strategy lessons morph into one-to-one mentor text conferences.
It helps to do this work with colleagues. It is often easier (and more fun!) to mine picture books for craft moves when you’re working alongside colleagues. It helps to have someone else sitting next to you with whom you can share ideas. And later, you can draft small-group craft lessons with them using the books you found together.
(The information in this post was adapted from chapter 1 of my forthcoming book, Craft Moves: Lesson Sets for Teaching Writing with Mentor Texts. Several process photos are included in chapter 1, which shows how I mined Melissa Stewart, Allen Young, and Nicole Wong’s No Monkeys, No Chocolate for craft moves to teach young writers.)
- This giveaway is for five copies of Craft Moves: Lesson Sets for Teaching Writing with Mentor Texts by Stacey Shubitz. Many thanks to Stenhouse Publishers (https://www.stenhouse.com) for donating a copy for five different lucky readers.
- For a chance to win one copy of Craft Moves: Lesson Sets for Teaching Writing with Mentor Texts, please leave a comment about this post on any post in the blog series, including this one, by Sunday, May 8th at 11:59 p.m. EDT. Beth Moore will use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names she will announce in our blog series’ IN CASE YOU MISSED IT POST on Monday, May 9th.
- You may leave one comment on every post in our Teaching Writing with Mentor Texts blog series, which runs May 3rd – May 8th.
- Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so Beth can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, our contact at Stenhouse Publishers 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.)
- Stenhouse will ship a print or ebook to winners in the United States and Canada. If you live outside of the U.S. or Canada and you win a copy of Craft Moves, then you’ll receive an ebook.
- If you are the winner of the book, Beth will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – CRAFT MOVES. Please respond to her 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.
I am a literacy consultant who has spent the past dozen years working with teachers to improve the teaching of writing in their classrooms. While I work with teachers and students in grades K-6, I'm a former fourth and fifth-grade teacher so I have a passion for working with upper elementary students.
I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).