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Create Your Own Text: Teaching Writing with Mentor Texts

Mentor Texts Series FINALThe world of mentor texts seems endless.  There is a picture book, article, or digital text for almost every unit of study you can imagine.  A quick scan of your bookshelf or a Google search will likely provide you with a writing mentor in a matter of minutes.  Why, then, would you take the time to write your own mentor text?

First of all, teacher written mentor texts provide an experience for the teacher which will lead to insights about the genre and the writing process.  The act of creating a mentor text puts the teacher in a position of an insider in a way that reading a mentor text simply cannot do.  Let me show you an example.

I was teaching a unit of study on short stories in 5th grade.  We were just getting started and one of the opening minilessons was “Where do Writers Get Story Ideas?”.  We came up with this list and set out to brainstorm possible ideas:

Where Writers Get Ideas
From my writer’s notebook – click to enlarge

I thought and thought – about books I’ve read, about things I love, about my fears – but I couldn’t think of a good story idea.  At home later that night I was thumbing through a parenting magazine when I came across this chart about soothing anxious kids:

Short Story Idea
Another page from my notebook, clipped from Parenting Magazine

“That’s it!” I thought.  My story idea had found me.

I returned to school the next day with some insider knowledge: sometimes story ideas find us when we are away from our writing desks.  This meant I had to give the students time to find story ideas – or for story ideas to find them.

A second reason to generate teacher-written mentor texts is student engagement. Something about a teacher sharing a piece of his or her own writing causes students to sit up a little straighter, to lean in a little more attentively.  Kids love to see what their teacher has written.  The fifth graders were on pins and needles when I read them my opening scene to my short story.

Short Story Opener
From my writer’s notebook – click to enlarge

Finally, teacher-written mentor texts can become a solid anchor for your minilessons, small group work, and conferences.  You wrote the text so you know it inside and out.  You can use your mentor text to demonstrate all the subtleties of writing.  You can discuss the nuances of word choice and punctuation and revision because you made all the choices.

Some things to remember as you work to create your own mentor texts:

  • Teacher-written mentor texts are not the same as demonstration writing.  You do not need to create the text in front of the students.
  • Be authentic in your writing process.  Write in a way that feels comfortable to you.  If you are a brainstorming kind of writer, then brainstorm.  If you are a jump-right-in-and-give-it-a-go kind of writer, then jump right in.  Be true to your writer self.
  • Share the experience with the students, not just the finished product.  Talk about how it felt to go through the writing process.  Discuss the hard parts.
  • Save your teacher-written mentor texts.  You can use the same text year after year.

Good luck on your writing journey!

Don’t forget to enter the giveaway for the new book coming out titled Craft Moves: Lesson Sets for Teaching Writing with Mentor Texts, written by our very own Stacey Shubitz. See below for details!

GIVEAWAY INFORMATION:

  • Craft MovesThis giveaway is for five copies of Craft Moves: Lesson Sets for Teaching Writing with Mentor Texts by Stacey Shubitz. Many thanks to Stenhouse Publishers 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 email 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 email 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.

Dana Murphy View All

Literacy Coach, Reader, Writer

28 thoughts on “Create Your Own Text: Teaching Writing with Mentor Texts Leave a comment

  1. Agree that students really love to see what their teacher has written. Will definitely try to create some more of my own mentor texts in the future.

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  2. I have written my own mentor text. It was not as easy, but such an experience as a writer made me even more excited and enthusiastic to teach what I wanted to teach to my students.

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  3. You are so right on that writing our own mentor texts can put us right in the shoes of our students. “Why can’t they just…” becomes “It can be hard to … Here’s something I did.” Great for connecting with students as well as for better understanding how to support them. Great post, thanks!

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  4. This is the next level. After I have the sense of where the unit is going and what kids need to learn, I try to figure out how to use mentor texts. I appreciate the suggestions in Units of Study because the same mentor text is used again and again so kids really get to know them. I haven’t been able to do that yet with my mentor text selections.

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  5. When we experience the writing process, either when creating mentor texts or just because we are writing, we learn so much that can inform our teaching.
    I remember hearing Lucy Calkins talk about teacher created texts and how they give us opportunities to approximate what we are seeing in student writing and then teach how to take it one step farther.
    Still hoping for Stacey’s book!

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  6. I love that you happened upon an article that gave you inspiration as a mentor texts. I think this is very powerful for students to see as an example.

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  7. It seems as if most of my story ideas come to me when I’m not in a place to write. In my fifth grade we talk about “storing” our ideas in a safe place as soon as they come to us. It’s not uncommon to see students suddenly scrambling for their writer’s notebooks and mumbling to themselves so that they don’t forget their thought.

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  8. One of my core beliefs comes from Donald Graves, that a teacher of writing must be a writer herself. Otherwise, everything you say is fake. Kids won’t buy into writing if you are not in the trenches with them. My students are proud of my writing. We share and support one another.

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  9. I currently use mentor texts with my writing lessons, but it sound like you have craft mobes in your book that will increase my effectiveness with the students. Looking forward to reading your book.

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  10. Dana,
    So many great points in your post. First, a teacher can not fully understand the path their students will walk until they walk this same path. Writing what it is we expect our students to write is the best teacher prep I think we can do. We really need to put ourselves in the position of a student and remember what it feels like to be the student. This will help us to be more explicit in our teaching.

    Secondly, I had not stepped back enough to process that demonstration writing is different than a teacher written mentor text. I often use my demonstration text as a mentor because the student’s witnessed my process in writing the text. As you can imagine this often caused our time to run over. In reflection, these demonstration pieces are a but more like process mentor text. This give me much to think about.

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  11. Thanks, Dana, for the insights! I love the idea of knowing the text so well that your insight into it, whether it is word selection or revision or whatever, is helpful in guiding student writers.

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  12. So love this post, Dana, as well as the whole series!!! These lines in particular are ones I will be thinking about:

    ” Teacher-written mentor texts are not the same as demonstration writing. You do not need to create the text in front of the students.”

    As writers, we need to be aware of the different types of writing as well as different ways to “produce” our own writing! ❤

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  13. I have come to trying to write my own mentor texts in recent years- not with the idea that it is a model, but that it is a warts and all example. I have to get better at saving the texts I write past the current year.

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  14. In my experience teaching writing across grade levels, nothing is more engaging or powerful than a mentor text written for and with students. They hear the teacher’s thinking aloud, and the process is demystified. They see the teacher struggle and realize that’s natural. And safe. Students love to make suggestions for teachers’ writing, often with startling insight. And teachers who write are always growing, always able to help take each student further with the craft.

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  15. I agree with the power of a teacher sharing their experiences/ their life , through writing, with their students. My students are still bringing up something that I shared in my writing during our personal narrative unit.

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  16. I so agree with this suggestion, especially the idea that after you take the time to write it, then you have it for the next year!! It’s worked for me! I have my Linda and the turtle story and my Mary Margaret and the basketball try-out story because I took the time to write my own mentor text!!

    Fingers crossed I get picked to win Stacey’s book!! Reach me at Sally.donnelly11@gmail.com

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