Selecting Mentor Texts
With so many books filling the shelves of bookstores and libraries, how do we begin to select the right mentor texts for our mini-lessons? The truth is, there isn’t just one right text that will do the trick. As Katie Wood Ray explains in Wondrous Words, writing style is individual but it is not unique. In other words, a close look at the writing of many different authors reveals that authors use the same techniques or crafts. As we begin to “read like a writer” we notice that there are more similarities than differences. While there is not one right mentor text for each craft we hope to teach, some texts are obviously more effective than others. Below is some criteria that can aid in selecting mentor texts (Nia, 1999 and Wood, 1999):
- Picture books and other short pieces are ideal for mentor texts.
- You have read the text and you love it.
- You and your students have talked about the text as readers first.
- You find many things to teach in the text:
- Ways with words; powerful language
- Interesting structures
- Interesting ideas or writing concepts
- You can imagine talking about the text for a very long time.
- Your entire class can have access to the text.
- Your students can read the text independently or with some support.
- The text is a little more sophisticated than the writing of your best students.
- The text is written by a writer you trust.
- The text is a good example of a particular kind of writing (genre).
- The text is of a genre you are studying.
- It has background information included.
- It reminds you of other texts.
Ultimately we want to be able to select our own mentor texts, but when we’re just getting started, it is helpful to have some lists to rely on. See mentor text websites and professional books for resources that list quality mentor texts.