Mentor texts can become powerful teaching tools in writing instruction. In their new book,
Welcome to Writing Workshop, Stacey Shubitz and Lynne Dorfman describe mentor texts as “examples of exemplary writing that can be studied to lift the level of student writing.” They describe three distinct types of mentor texts—published, student written, and teacher written —that can be used with students. Here’s how they define each type and how they can be used to teach your students to read like writers.
Published Mentor Texts
Published mentor texts are written by writers who have gone through the publication process (i.e., worked with an editor) with traditional and nontraditional publishing options outside of school. Published texts can include, but are not limited to, books, articles, and short stories. Most often, in elementary school classrooms, mentor texts are fiction and nonfiction picture books that showcase the qualities of good writing to students. Teachers may also share and study books of poetry, short stories, or middle-grade novels alongside students in minilessons, strategy lessons, or conferences.
Student-Written Mentor Texts
Student-written mentor texts are pieces of writing created by children. Typically, they’re written by a teacher’s former students and shared with future classes. These student-written pieces can come from any stage of the writing process (e.g., notebook entries first drafts, published pieces) so students can have a vision of the type of writing they’re expected to accomplish. Many teachers have children at several levels of sophistication whose work they regularly keep and archive during each unit of study for using it with students at varying stages of development in the future. Students are often inspired by the work of mentor authors who are students from their own class as well as students from a previous year’s class. Studying the work of other student writers at their same grade level is highly motivating. It helps create an “I can do that” attitude!
Teacher-Written Mentor Texts
Teacher-written mentor texts are crafted by teachers in service of the units of study they are teaching. Writing you do—at any stage of the writing process—can be held up as a mentor text for students since you are the living, breathing author who can discuss the moves you made right there in front of your students. Some teachers craft mentor texts for their students using the mirror writing concept (Cruz 2015) so their demonstration text is accessible to their students. By using mirror writing, a teacher can create a piece of writing tailored to a student’s ability level, thereby making it an accessible demonstration text.
This is just one technique you can use to strengthen your writing instruction through a workshop approach. Get Welcome to Writing Workshop and get started on writing instruction that will instill a lifelong love of writing in our students.
Cruz, M. Colleen. 2015. The Unstoppable Writing Teacher: Real Strategies for the Real Classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.