close reading narrative text like a writer

revising lead side by side mentor

a revised lead written based on a mentor text that has been analyzed

as we’ve thought about and discussed what close reading is and what it isn’t, we’ve decided that when we ask students to do the work of using mentor texts to inform their writing, that this is indeed the work of close reading.

when we ask our students to use mentor texts, we are asking them to re-read a text at the word and sentence level and think deeply about the reason an author has chosen to use those particular words. in other words, we’re asking them to closely analyze text.

most of the time when we read, we don’t think about why an author has used a particular verb or figurative language in a certain place or why he chose a particular way to begin a story. this doesn’t mean that we don’t use these details to help us make meaning, but we don’t normally think about the purpose of a particular writing craft that has been used. we are reading to enjoy the story, seek the message, learn something new…in other words, we are reading like readers.

but when we use mentor texts to inform our writing, we are reading like writers. reading like writers means that we are mindful about the reason an author has chosen a particular craft move and we imagine how we might try this in our own writing.

one example of how students may read like writers is to choose a particular part of the text to focus on, like leads or endings. if we want to teach students a strategy to revise a lead that goes beyond instructing them to “write a lead that hooks your reader,” we could do this by modeling reading a lead from a mentor text with a writer’s eyes.

steps we use to model using a mentor text to write or revise a lead:

  • model choosing a mentor text lead to read like owl moon by jane yolen. when we choose a text to use as a mentor, we have already read this text together as a class read aloud so the story is familiar to everyone. this allows us to move beyond the story itself, beyond reading like a reader.
  • think aloud about what the author has done while marking it up in the mentor text and naming in the margin or on a chart what the writing work is. in owl moon, it might sound like this: “we’re going to underline this part where the author compared the trees to statues. that part really helped to create a vivid picture in our minds. watch as we write what writing work the author did here….” as we’re doing this annotating, we might write something like “make an interesting comparison to describe the setting.” continue doing this naming work throughout the first mentor lead.
  • model writing or revising a lead by using the mentor. “we’re going to try writing a part in our own lead that makes a comparison between two unlike things to describe the setting like jane yolen did in owl moon,”  and we’ll do this right in front of our students. we think writing right in front of your students is very powerful because it more accurately demonstrates the thinking and struggle a writer goes through, but you could also have your writing prepared in advance if you feel more comfortable doing it that way. we’ll be sure to remind our students that the close reading that we do when we read mentor texts like writers focuses on what the author did as a writer and why, not what the story is about or where it takes place. we need to notice things that we could use in any piece of writing. (so, coach students away from thinking about how jane yolen is describing the trees. what if your story takes place at the beach and there are no trees?! describing it, instead, as “makes an interesting comparison to describe something in the setting” is more universal, and can work in any story because all stories have settings.)
  • we release some of the work to students by asking them to try revising their lead using the lead that we’ve annotated in front of them while they’re right there with us. we use this time to quickly confer and notice if there are students who might benefit from staying at the carpet for some extra reinforcement at the end of the lesson before heading off to work independently.

as students go off to work independently, they’ll now have the chart that we’ve co-created while modeling as a scaffold and we’ll also have several more mentor leads available for them to try out this work if they’re choosing to work on leads in their writing that day or any other day. most importantly, we’ve shown students a strategy that they can use to write or revise any time that they’re writing a lead for a piece of writing.

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