Lately I have been thinking a lot about mentor texts in writing. One of my colleagues maintains that using mentor texts to help develop writers is not a very effective way to teach. My gut disagrees with this because I have seen student writers really take off based on mini-lessons where we have studied mentor texts.
In the last few weeks I have seen one writer who was not very interested in writing his own stories really take off after looking closely at Melanie Watt’s Scaredy Squirrel. He was taking his own ideas and using the structure of the book to guide him. Other students were inspired by his enthusiasm and started creating their own versions. I have often used picture books as whole class mentor texts, but this was one of the first times that I used a mentor text we had not used as a group with a student in an individual writing conference. This one conference has now affected many writers. Last week I saw a poem that I thought would inspire one of the writers in the room. Yesterday when conferring with her I shared the poem and she was fascinated. I sent the link to her via email so that she could look at it more carefully later and as an afterthought sent it on to the rest of the class. One student emailed me back to thank me for sharing it and today we heard the original student share her poem inspired by the mentor text. Wow! This was really powerful writing and others are ready to try it out. Today in class we were looking at “Currently” a poem type that slicer Fran McVeigh introduced me to. We looked at her inspiration, her version, and that of one of her student’s. Then we looked at my own attempt. After that, I set my students off to write. It was a perfect type of text, as we have been working on strong verbs and consistent verb tenses. While some students struggled initially when they looked back at the mentor texts they gained confidence. This short session yielded some amazing imagery and the students were eager to further revise and share. Students looked at each others’ writing and made note of powerful verbs they wanted to “keep” for future use. The domino effect of writers using mentor texts to create their own originals seems powerful in our class. The more we look at each other as mentors the better, but we will never push aside the great published writers who also can teach us. I wonder what mentors we will lean into next!
You can see some of my third graders trying out “Currently” here.