Engaging Students with Thoughtfully Planned Mentor Text Lessons

Whether you're teaching your students to visualize, to draw conclusions about characters, or to create a mystery that blows the reader's mind, mentor texts can provide the teacher with exemplar books or mentors that students can use for learning. Mentor texts are not your read alouds from the past. Rather, they are carefully chosen for the way they can be used for modeling. Today, I'd like to talk about how to select and use mentor texts for teaching.

MATCHING THE TEXT TO THE NEED

The first step to planning a mentor text lesson is selecting the right text, and to do this, we need to start by thinking of the qualities of a mentor. According to Ralph Fletcher in What a Writer Needs, a mentor has the following traits:

📕 Has high standards 
📕 Encourages students to take risks 
📕 Builds on strengths 
📕 Looks at the big picture 
📕 Values originality and diversity 
📕 Is passionate
📕 Models desired skills 

When we think of these traits, we want the texts we select to be original and diverse, high quality, include the traits we are hoping to teach, and most importantly, feature the authors we'd like our students to know. As teachers, this last point is important. We need to familiarize ourselves with authors we want our students to emulate.

FIND THE TEACHING POINTS

Once you've selected the book you'd like to use for your lesson, the next step is to locate and mark the teaching points you want to use and reference in your lesson. You might use sticky notes with the questions or points you wish to talk about. When selecting your teaching points, you may find that only a portion of the text is needed. You might read that part as a teaser and let your students read the rest on their own. There have been times too where I've used just a portion of a book one day and another portion on another. Most importantly, simply reading the book to your students isn't enough. It's the discussions between your students about the teaching points that makes the lessons stick.

When teaching a mentor text lesson, I typically create an anchor chart with my students where I can record text examples and our thinking about them. To better plan out the lesson, I often make the framework of the chart and just add points from our discussions during the lesson. The key is getting your students to analyze the text for meaning, structure, and for the author's craft to help deepen their understanding of the text and how skills are applied during the reading process. (one important skill for kids who tend to be word callers especially). As writers, we can look at a text using the six writing traits for starters. Displaying text quotes you want your students to imitate is a great idea too.

TEACHING STRATEGIES THAT WORK WELL WITH MENTOR TEXTS

Last week, I wrote up [THIS POST] highlighting ways to increase student engagement, and as we think about mentor text lessons, many of the strategies shared would mesh well. Here are a few you might try:
📕 Turn and Talk (sharing with elbow partners)
📕 Give One, Get One (students pair up and each shares their thinking before moving to another partner)
📕 Carousel Brainstorming (kids move around the room to respond with thoughts on teaching points)
📕 Graffiti Walls (students record thoughts on the wall (paper you've laid out for discussion)
📕 Jigsaw (divide into groups to allow kids to analyze a section of the book to share)
📕 Response Cards or Boards
These are just a few options, but I created [THIS FREEBIE] teachers can use in planning. It is a checklist of high engagement activities.

FINDING MENTOR TEXTS

For all of us, time is short. Taking time to locate and mark a text you want to use for a lesson can be tough. Most of us are with kids the majority of the day, and we may not have the time to pull books, etc. If this sounds like your situation, you might find it helpful to trade books with colleagues who are teaching the same points, ask a coach to help you with book suggestions/teaching points, or consult Pinterest boards set up for mentor texts. The board I'm embedding below was developed by a group of literacy specialists and coaches, and it is constantly growing. I highly recommend following it so that you can easily check it when ideas are needed. In addition to this board, [HERE] is the link to a list of mentor texts for reading skills, and [HERE] is a listing of titles for writer's workshop.

APPLYING NEW LEARNING

As with any well planned lesson, a gradual release model is desired. You want to set they purpose for the text, use it for modeling the selected standard, interact with it as a group with deep discussion, and close the lesson with independent application of the skill and knowledge learned from the text. In our division, we use mentor text lessons for whole group instruction. Then, we move to our guided reading groups where we move to guided and independent practice. 

I'VE TAUGHT MY LESSON. NOW WHAT?

I'm a firm believer in growing readers with mentor texts and rich discussion. Through discussion, kids are able to work out confusions and see how skills truly work. One thing I have found though is that kids will muddy up terminology at first. It's kind of like when you teach quotation marks to your group, and suddenly everything they write is in quotes. (or substitute possessive nouns or contractions). Anyway, you may find it helpful to post reading words and review them regularly. There may be other suggestions you've got too. Please share them in the comments below if you do. 

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