teaching through explain and example

this is the second post in a series on ways to vary the “teach” part of your mini-lesson, and this one will focus on using “explain and example.”

explain and example is a great method to choose when you’re trying to lessen the time you’re spending during a mini-lesson. rather than showing exactly how you might do the work, you’re using work already done ahead of time as an example, and explaining how it was done.

you might, of course, decide to follow up with more support or demonstration in a small group or conference for those students who would benefit from it. explain and example might be especially effective when the work isn’t completely new to students, but it’s building on something, so that they have some context already and sense of how it would look to do it. you’ll also give students a chance to practice some part of it during the active engagement, so you’ll be able to see who might benefit from more support or a step by step demonstration as a follow up to the mini-lesson.

in the first post in this series, we showed how we might use demonstration (link to post) to make our own revision plans. this mini-lesson would go the same way, except instead of doing the writing work in our draft in front of our kids, we’d have the work already done and we’d talk about it, trying to make our thinking and steps clear (this is so important since students won’t be seeing us do the work). if you’re following along and read the first post, a lot of the mini-lesson will seem the same until the part that we’re showing the example of what we’ve already written.

and, just to be clear: we wouldn’t teach both of these mini-lessons in a unit. instead, we’d decide which teach method would benefit our students the most, and choose one of these mini-lessons to teach. (doing something similar to the mini-lesson but with a different teach method might, of course, be an option in a small group as a follow up to the mini-lesson.)

the teaching point we’re using is: writers can reread a familiar text – a mentor text – and notice things that the author did to make plans for revision in our own writing.

we’re using fox by margaret wild and ron brooks as our mentor text, a text we know well and love in our class. as always, when we use a mentor texts with our students, we’ve read it as a class as a reader, just to hear the story, at least once.

below, we’ve  written out how the teach might go, meaning these are the words we could end up using in a mini-lesson, and will include portions of the text where appropriate to give a sense of how exactly it might look in a mini-lesson.

teaching point: today we want to teach you that writers can reread a familiar text – a mentor text – and notice things that the author did to make plans for revision in our own writing.

teach: i’m going to show you how this might go in my personal narrative story. the first thing i need to do is re-read a mentor text – i’m going to use fox – and notice a part that stands out to me as interesting writing. next, i’ll name what the writer is doing in that part. last, i’ll try it in my own writing, trying it in many different places as revision – adding to or changing the draft i’ve already written.

let’s look at this part here, when fox first arrives to dog and magpie:


watch me as i re-read this part, and notice something the writers do that really stands out to me…

hmm, i’m noticing this part here: dog beams, but magpie shrinks away. it seems interesting to have the characters respond to fox so differently – dog smiles, but magpie moves away. i think it’s interesting to have your characters react to the same thing so differently.

so i’ve re-read a part of a text i know, and noticed a part that stands out to me. i’ve done my best to name the writing work that’s happening there. now, i need to try it in my own writing. i can do this as revision work since i’ve already written my first draft.

so remember the story i’ve been writing with you guys about the time when the bird hit our classroom window and it fell to the ground? i’m going to see what revision work i could do in that story using this strategy. here’s what i’ve written so far:


this is a draft we would have been writing alongside our students during mini-lessons. we’d probably quickly reread what we have so far to remind them, and we’d definitely have it displayed under the document camera.

when i was rereading my draft last night, i realized that i could say more clearly how different students reacted, thinking about how, in fox, the characters responded really differently. i also tried to use the word “but” to show those differences. so, right after i wrote “‘a bird, i think,’ i say,” here’s what i added:


the numbers are a way we teach our students to revise – we call it “the number strategy” (super clever). we put a number into our draft where the new writing would go, and then write our revisions on a separate sheet of paper. this way, we have plenty of room for our revision and we can see exactly where it would go in our draft.

do you see how i tried to add how different characters in my story reacted, and show the differences in their reactions by using the word “but?”

here’s how my draft looks now – remember when you get to the numbers, you go and find what goes there:


do you see how i re-read a familiar text – a mentor text – and noticed a part that stood out to me? i  named what it was the author was doing in that part, and then tried it in my writing in a few different places, adding to my draft so that it was revision work. this is work you can do in your own writing – make revision plans for yourself using a mentor text.

we’d likely continue on to the active engagement by having the students try the same work in another place in the story, which works because this story is a shared story (and even if it weren’t a shared story – one that the students had experienced with us – they would have seen us working on it so much and know the story so well that they could likely add to it with realistically imagined parts). this would give us a good sense of who needs more support than the explain and example teaching method provided.

another option for the active engagement, or maybe in a small group to support students who would struggle with this independently, we might have them look at another part of fox (or a different mentor text of their choosing) and name writing work that they notice. we’d likely not have time to do that in addition to trying it in our own writing during the active engagement, so deciding what your students would benefit from more – practicing identifying and naming writing work OR trying the writing work in a shared draft – would be important when planning for this mini-lesson.


2 thoughts on “teaching through explain and example

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