A Way To Use Mentor Texts With Student Writers

Lynne Dorfman and  Rose Capelli in their book ‘Mentor Texts –Teaching Writing Through Literature, K-6 refer to having students walk around in the shoes of another author; to use the syntax of that author. I like this approach...

Using the style of another author enables one to teach aspects of grammar and mechanics in an authentic way. Using mentor texts we can embed the teaching of grammatical language. That way we allow students to view it in the same context experienced writers do.

A way to teach these important messages about language structures is to have students copy exemplars from mentor authors in to their writer’s notebooks and then try it out for themselves. They are effectively trying to 'write in the style of the chosen mentor. Dorfmann and Capelli refer to this as having students walk around in the syntax.

We start with the mentor text, imitate it ourselves, then have our students try it with us in a shared writing exercise. Then we challenge them to try it independently. There we have the gradual release of responsibility model in action!

After having students share their pieces, we are in a position to analyse exactly what the author did. Students are able to respond from an informed position having tried it themselves.

At this point I suggest recording their thinking and observations on an anchor chart. While you and your students are immersed in this quality conversation, the opportunity to reinforce the vocabulary of grammar and mechanics presents as a natural outcome of the discussion. Using such specialised vocabulary empowers students to discuss the language use of mentors in progressively meaningful ways. Your community of writers will be using the same language, and it will eventually become more precise. 

Here is an example using Margaret Wild and Ron Brook’s fantastic picture story book, ‘Fox’

Some additional things to look for with Mentor Texts:

·         connections to special places, people, wishes, dreams;
·         snapshots of setting and character;
·         rich descriptions;
·         use of parentheses;
·         effective use of  repetition
·         writing in the present tense
·         strong verbs
·         effective repetition
·         hyphenated words
·         using adjectives after the noun
·         variation in sentence length
·         variations in print
·         listing – with semicolon and commas
·         effective use of dialogue
·         using a sentence fragment with a dash
·         setting up the ending in the beginning
·         variation in leads
·         use of exact nouns and names


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