Margin Notes

Mentor Text Flip


In my earlier days as an educator, my writing instruction was driven by the form. I assigned writing that fell into very specific categories and, if I am totally honest, this was almost exclusively the kind of writing only found in school. That meant that, since the writing didn’t exist in the real world, the only samples, if any, I had to offer were written by previous students.

Fast-forward and my process has completely flipped. Now I find myself always on the look-out for mentor texts that I can use with students when I work in classrooms or in workshops with teachers (or in my own writer’s notebook). Sometimes I get so excited about my finds that I email a teacher and invite myself into their classroom!  Now, I look at a text and think, “This would be an amazing example of a way for students to write memoir/reflection/analysis/etc.”  Our Provincial Writing Achievement Standards include writing forms, so I often find myself collecting examples to show how those forms live in the world outside of school.

What has changed my approach?

  • I started writing and keeping a writer’s notebook. Writing is hard and when we do it ourselves, we are much more responsive and empathetic as writing teachers.
  • I read Study Driven by Katie Wood Ray. This is one of my most-used professional resources. Wood Ray provides a framework for creating genre study units that are based on exploring mentor texts, asking ourselves how they work, and then creating our own approximations.
  • I realized that internet brings a zillion mentor texts options to our fingertips.
  • I joined Twitter. I find some of my best mentor texts thanks to my Professional Learning Network (PLN), the educators I follow on Twitter.

Here are a few examples of texts I’ve have found recently that I am excited about trying out in my own notebook or with teachers and students:

Significant Digits is a daily digest of the numbers tucked inside the news.”  I can see this structure being used for personal writing (My Life by the Numbers or My Reading Life by the Numbers) or for non-fiction writing (The Significant Digits of _______).

Story of a Thing is a series of interviews by Emily Spivack, author of Worn Stories, in which people discuss their prized possessions.  This could be a lovely alternative to traditional memoir writing.

In Letter of Recommendation, writers celebrate their favorite, often overlooked, things.  Wouldn’t this be a great way to get to know students early in the year, and for them to get to know us?

There are so many fantastic possibilities out there when we start to think about the writing that exists in the real world, that our students are reading outside of school, and how we can incorporate them into our writing curriculum.

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