The Pen and Paper
Developed by The Indiana Writing Project
A local site of the National Writing Project
Thoughts about writing...
We have found that mentor texts can be used to motivate and support students with their writing. Have you ever given a writing assignment and had students say, “I don’t know what to write about.” We remember how we felt defeated as teachers--we had presented what we thought was a wonderfully motivational lesson only to see blank looks and still pencils. Then we discovered using mentor text to generate story ideas! We read a mentor text and then gave students choice (an invitation to write), and the students wrote more because they felt in charge of their writing. Mentor texts are often picture books that contain quality writing craft, but mentor text can also be an article, a paragraph from a novel, a short story--really anything that is written well and is appropriate for students. Using a mentor text is not only a way to generate story ideas, but it is a quick way to show writers imagery, dialogue, word choice, etc. Peach and Blue by Sarah Kilbourne does just that. After seeing these great examples mentor texts provide, students can practice the craft in their own writing. . . standing on the shoulders of experts.
Finding mentor text may seem a daunting task, but we found using mentor text brings joy along the way while planning. We believe mentor text can be required books, poetry, newspapers, scripts, really anything that is written well. We use what we love, because if we love it--our students will too. After making students familiar with the storyline of the text, we used the text to point out the tricks and word magic , the craft, the writer used to make the ideas come to life for the readers! Once we made the reading/writing connection, and taught our students how to make the reading/writing connections, no one in our classroom ever read the same way again. The writing craft will pop up! It is so rewarding to have students, while reading, tell us about finding Magic Threes, or simile, or a circular ending! We rejoice with the students about their “noticings.”
We also found that we did not need many mentor text to demonstrate our entire writing curriculum. We selected a couple mentor text for each writing craft/genre to referred to many times throughout the year. (We use 8-10 books to teach all writing craft following Katie Wood Ray’s example in Wondrous Words). Each mentor text contains several examples of writing craft and is used over and over again to provide examples for our students to emulate. These books become the students’ best friends and provide valuable connections to published experts who assist in guiding our students’ learning. Students may not remember imagery, but they will remember Peach and Blue and the beautiful description of the pond. . . “The green of the moss, of the reeds, of the grass. The red of my skin of the ladybug’s back. The blue of your belly, of the afternoon’s sky. The brown of the bank of the eider duck’s eye. The white of the swans, of the kingfisher’s eggs. The cream of cocoons, of the whippoorwill’s legs. . . “ Can’t you see this in your mind’s eye?
In closing, it is okay for our students to emulate the craft they see in their favorite authors’ texts. Writers learn from being exposed to wonderfully written material. As teachers, we need to teach them to not only enjoy the story, but appreciate the craft that goes into telling the story. We teach them to write like readers and read like writers.
What do you think of our new format? Let us know! Also, is there a topic about which you have questions? Send us an email! We want the Pen and Paper to be helpful to you! Until next month, write on!
Shirley and Susan
Kelly Gallagher on Mentor Test
Why Use Mentor Text?
Using Mentor Text to Motivate and Support Student Writers