Mentor texts have made my life as a teacher so much easier! They provide skillful, nuanced examples for students to emulate. Mentor texts are valuable tools and they can fit into your curriculum, no matter what age or subject you teach! Learn how to effectively use mentor texts in the classroom.
What is a Mentor Text?
Just as a mentor guides you and is full of pertinent knowledge, a mentor text provides a concrete example of the skill you want students to master and guides them toward achieving it. Most of the time, teachers use picture books for mentor texts, but novels also model a variety of well-crafted skills. Now, mentor texts won’t magically work for all students unless you work in partnership with the book. Your skill as a mentor and guide to your students will help them see the principles of the text that you hope they’ll replicate, whether it be creating conflict in writing, understanding motive while reading, or visualizing fractions in math! Many mentor texts provide excellent examples of multiple skills. A good mentor text lends itself to multiple applications and is often interdisciplinary as well.
Why Use Mentor Texts?
A lot of learning focuses on what to do and what not to do. We encourage students to do their best and we point out mistakes. We hand out sheets with errors and mistakes and challenge our students to find them, encouraging the thrill of discovery, close reading, and good detective work. A mentor text takes the emphasis off of the student’s immediate efforts and instead creates an exemplar. Now students have a text to use as a measuring stick for their own work, not just to do better than, but to aspire to. Mentor texts not only provide examples of skills you want to teach, but they also provide high-quality examples that you feel at ease using, knowing you can provide the best for your students.
How to Select A Mentor Text
Obviously, mentor texts will differ depending on student needs, class, and the concept you wish to teach. However, all mentor texts should get a resounding “Yes!” when you ask yourself the following questions:
Does it showcase high-quality writing? This doesn’t mean that every text needs to be an award winner or awash with literary gems. A simple book for a simple concept aimed at young students can still be a work of quality that you can confidently recommend to parents, students, and other staff.
Do I love it? Do you love the book? If it’s a literary masterpiece, but you can’t fall in love with it, your enthusiasm and passion will not ring true. Students will see right through it. Choose mentor texts that your students will love, and that you love, too!
Will it be engaging to my students? Will this mentor text engage your current group of students? What worked last year might not work this year. One group may have grasped a skill quickly and would find a mentor text that you loved last year to be repetitious.
Does it work in my timeframe? A lengthy novel may be the perfect way to delve into climax and falling action, but it won’t fit into a class period or two. Choose a mentor text that will fit into your time constraints and add to your lesson instead of becoming an entirely separate one!
Using Mentor Texts In Each Major Subject Area
Showing an example of quality literature might seem a natural pairing with ELA or writing. However, the concepts in a mentor text can be applied to any subject; it’s simply a matter of finding the right story to supplement the lessons you’re teaching. Students of all ages love a good tale to inspire and teach them. Take a look at ways you can use mentor texts in every subject!
You may initially reject mentor texts for math, since reading about a skill won’t give your students the practice they need to master it. However, some students grasp content differently. The use of colorful picture books and descriptive language can help auditory, visual, and linguistic learners grasp mathematical concepts that might otherwise elude them.
Here are a few suggestions to help you visualize how a mentor text can merge with your math lesson:
- Teaching division with remainders to your third and fourth graders? Help them with catchy poems and clearly illustrated groupings—and those left over, with A Remainder of One by Elinor J. Pinczes.
- Ready to tackle that most tricky of areas, the circle? Enjoy the tale of Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi by Cindy Neuschwander to help your students (even middle schoolers) understand how pi unlocks the “magic formula” and helps mathematicians find the area of circles.
- As with all mentor texts, you want to have concrete examples for your students to look back on when they need to replicate a skill. A good math mentor text will give you talking points, such as “Remember, what Sir Cumference learned about all circles? What is the magic number that equals pi?” Students will embrace math concepts and create strong connections to them through stories and characters.
As with math, you might initially think mentor texts aren’t for a hands-on subject like science. For some students, even the most creative and experimental science classes fail to help them understand the point of a particular process or the end result of scientific inquiry. If you’ve ever had a student ask you how they’ll use the rock cycle or why they’ll need to know the difference between a monocot and dicot in “real life”, you know what I mean. Mentor texts in science can help bring home the meaningful context of science in our world as well as teach important scientific concepts in a relatable way. Stopping for a good story also increases the likelihood that your point won’t get lost in the hustle and bustle of hands-on work. Lastly, there are types of scientific writing like research reports, hypothesis, and inquiry-based project outlines with which you’ll want your students to become familiar. What better way than with clear, quality writing?
Here are a few suggestions to help you visualize using mentor texts with your science class:
- Consider using Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm to help students understand the impact of events that happened eons ago, understand how coal and oil are formed, and most importantly, understand how our use of them is changing the world.
- You might have students who feel that your units on plants, soil, or botany don’t matter in their modern, urban world. You might have students who clearly realize the impact of growing food to feed a hungry world. Either way, help students see how botany makes a difference in the world with In the Garden with Dr. Carver by Susan Grigsby.
Historical fiction leads to wonderful mentor texts for any time period or topic you teach in social studies! Using a mentor text in social studies can help make the characters come out of the distant past or an obscure and unrelatable moment into the immediate world for students. A good mentor text helps students not only understand historical context, but also the emotions and struggles of the people of the era. This might be especially beneficial if you have students who have only experienced freedoms and privileges already granted in a progressive country. They may not understand the fight for change or the oppression that has already occurred to give them the life they live today. In addition to understanding different time periods and major events, a good mentor text can help students understand different cultures and ethnicities. Social studies is a rich ground for mentor texts.
Here are a few suggestions to help you visualize using mentor texts with your social studies class:
- The Composition by Antonio Skármeta is a powerful tale about life under a dictatorship. Children might be forced to lie to shield their parents who are doing the “right thing” even when that goes against what the government considers to be the right thing. The book will help students grasp the choices even children must make to fight oppression.
- Encounter by Jane Yolen is technically fictional, but it’s based on Columbus’ conquest and told from the perspective of a young indigenous boy. The tale offers perspectives that some children may not be aware of when they learn about Europeans coming to the Americas. This book would pair perfectly with…
- Plague!: Epidemics and Scourges Through the Ages by John Farndon, to help students realize the historical (and scientific) reasons why Europeans were desperate to find and explore a new world.
Using mentor texts while teaching reading is a natural choice. Reading good literature that has stand out lessons and examples of skills good readers need is a part of your daily curriculum anyway. Make sure you make the most of your reading time by using mentor texts that model reading concepts like metacognition, summarizing, identifying character traits, identifying conflict, inference, and many more.
Here are a few suggestions to help you visualize using mentor texts with your reading class:
- Going Home by Eve Bunting is a joyous tale of a family’s journey home for Christmas in their Mexican village. Students can clearly practice summarizing the story events in order, but also the main points and lessons Carlos learns about the meaning of home.
- Babushka’s Doll by award-winner Patricia Polacco will have your students gasping and giggling while gaining skills in inferring, sequencing, and retelling.
- Finally, for that truly challenging topic, metacognition, you’ll fall in love with The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin by Julia Finley Mosca. Not only will it help students think about their own thinking, it may help them understand why the world needs all different kinds of thinkers!
Mentor texts support writing in the best way! We spend a lot of time teaching children what to avoid when writing, but mentor texts show them masters of their craft. There are so many wonderful ways to use mentor texts to encourage young writers and to model the great writing they should aspire to. As with reading and math, there are many facets that need to be addressed when creating a skilled and proficient student. Use mentor texts to show students great writing skills that even adult writers still struggle with, such as creating strong plots with good pacing, building multi-dimensional characters, and conveying the author’s purpose.
Here are a few suggestions to help you visualize using mentor texts with your writing class:
- To teach author’s purpose, you can’t beat Thank you, Mr. Falkner by Patricia Polacco. Students need to identify whether an author writes to entertain, to inform, to explain, or to persuade, but they also have to observe how the author conveys that purpose in their writing. Polacco’s voice is so clear and her intention is so obvious that your students will be inspired to tell a tale of their own, one with a purpose that comes shining through.
- Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman creates a strong, shining character, the titular Grace. She’s got dimensional qualities that pop her off the page. Inspire your writers with Hoffman’s style so that they’ll be ready to create their own strong characters.
- Lastly, teaching writers to write a strong, compelling, and well-paced plot is tricky. Your students of all ages will have a great guide using the mentor text, The Night I Followed the Dog by Nina Laden. This plot builds in perfect sequence with a steady, believable pace, but is never dull. You’ll be laughing, gasping, and waiting to see what happens—a true mentor text for writing a plot that pulls you in!
Are you ready to read?
After reading these tips for using mentor texts in the classroom, we can’t wait to hear what gems you’ve discovered and how you plan to use them! Share them with us on our social media!
Reward your learners with these rockin’ mentor texts: AMAZON SUGGESTED LIST
See more Mentor Text blogs: MENTOR TEXT BLOGS
Keep rockin’ it!