one of our favorite writing strategies is using mentor texts to improve the quality of writing. who better to teach us about writing than published writers?
the possibilities for using mentor texts are endless as they can be used for narrative, informational and opinion writing. in this post, we’ll focus on using mentor texts for informational writing.
while we know that narrative writers have unique writing styles, the writing styles of informational writers are unique as well.
student informational writing can often sound like a restating of facts; in others words, boring and dry. but if you read the writing of the best informational authors with a writer’s lens, you’ll see the characteristics that make this writing interesting to read. just take a look at the work of seymour simon.
so how does this work of reading an informational text like a writer look in our classroom?
- we start this work by beginning a chart that lists the kinds of details that informational writers use to teach about their topic. (this list isn’t all-inclusive, but is instead includes the craft moves that are most appropriate for our students, and the ones on which our teaching will focus.) this chart is an important scaffold because it guides students in noticing what they might look for within an informational text. the first column – type of detail – is what we create together before our inquiry work begins. we also include an example of each type of detail from a text. (in the photo below, the examples of each detail that we’ve preemptively added to the chart are the pieces of paper that are on white paper and come from books in our class library. we use these to explicitly teach each type of detail through explain and example.)
- we gather a collection of texts with multiple texts by the same authors. some we’ve used are seymour simon, bobbi kalman, and nicola davies.
- next, we determine how we will group students. in the past, we’ve thought about the complexity level of each author’s collection of texts and placed students in homogeneous groups according to reading level. this means readers would be assigned to an author according to reading level. we also see value in heterogenous groups chosen by interest, in which higher level readers can be supportive to lower level readers in more complex texts.
- groups are given a text set collection of several books by the same author that they will explore over the course of several days. using the anchor chart with types of details, students will search for these particular types of details within the texts by their author, dividing their charts into the different kinds of details/craft moves and placing the examples they find within each section.
- when we reconvene as a class, we complete the second column of our class anchor chart by adding some examples that students discovered within their texts to our class chart. we’ve found the most success by asking groups to write some examples on a post-it that they’ll share with the class during the share and add to the chart then. it works well if you make sure each group is responsible for two types of details, so that each detail has a few examples, found by different groups (and, therefore, different authors).
mentor text examples allow students the chance to see how something can be done, while also enabling students to imagine the possibilities for their own writing and scaffolds them toward trying it in their own writing.