Using Mentor Text and Modeling to Teach Writing

Most writing curriculums encourage teachers to use mentor text and modeling in their writing workshop. Why? Because they are effective instructional strategies that promote student engagement and give students powerful tools to apply in their own writing. Learn about these writing strategies, why you should use them, and tips for teaching them in your classroom that will help even your most reluctant writers!

MENTOR TEXT and MODELING are both effective strategies to use when showing students examples of a writer's craft. That is why I chose to discuss them together.  Prior to using these strategies with a new writing lesson, provide students with an anchor chart explaining the meaning of that particular writing skill or writer's craft. Then use mentor text as well as modeling to show students how to apply the lesson in their own writing. Using both strategies will provide your students with two explicit examples.

First, let's look at the definitions of mentor text and modeling and why we should use them.

What Is Mentor Text?

A mentor text is a published piece of writing used when teaching a specific writing skill or craft to ultimately motivate students to write effectively.

"Mentor Texts is like having a literature expert and master teacher at your side all year long. Enjoy it, mark it up, make it your friend. You and your students will be energized and motivated as you savor richly constructed mentor texts and connect them to amazing writing opportunities." -Linda Hoyt

Mentor text should be used in teaching a writing lesson because the examples of quality writing from a professional writer gives meaning to the lesson. Looking at key skills featured in a published text is a powerful way to impact student writing.

What is Modeling?

Modeling is a way teachers show students how to apply a particular writing skill or craft by actively wrting their own example in front of the students.

Modeled writing should occur to provide another quality example for the students and establish good writing behavior in the classroom. Reluctant writers will learn to trust the writing process by watching their teacher write examples of the lesson and/or apply it to a class story.

"Teachers who repeatedly model and think aloud as they read and write explicitly show their students the mental strategies involved in constructing meaning."- TEA

Next, find tips on how to use these strategies and look at some examples.

How Do You Use Mentor Text?

If we want students writing an exciting story or an effective essay, show them a mentor text.

1.  Choose a mentor text that explicitly shows the particular skill you are teaching.


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2. Read the story out loud. Since you want your students focused on the writer's craft, reading out loud will help struggling readers stay on task.

3.  Ask students questions to comprehend the story. It is important for students to understand the story elements in order to identify and understand the writer's craft.

4.  Ask students to identify the specific skill or writer's craft from the lesson.  Reread what they point out together and ask them to think deeper.

5.  Discuss the example found in the story. How does the skill or craft relate to the story? Why is it a good example? Have questions ready ahead of time that is related to the lesson.

6. Highlight or write the example on chart paper. It will make it easy when you need to refer back to it.

How Do You Model Writing?

1.  Tell students your expectations.  Say something like, "Pay attention to my writing, because you are going to be doing the same thing!  I expect you to also write an example of the lesson."

2.  Only model the lesson from that day.  Don't overwhelm your students. The reason writing should be broken up into mini-lessons is to lessen the stress and writer's block. Take one step at a time!

3.  Be enthusiastic. If students see that you fear writing or aren't excited to write, they may emulate your feelings.  Say something like, "I can't wait to write today!"

4.  Think aloud. While you are writing, talk about it. Refer back to the anchor chart or mentor text. Explain why you are making the choices in your writing.

5.  Accept student input. Especially if you are writing an ongoing story, allow students to brainstorm ideas with you. You can pick and choose which ones will be best for your writing.

6.  Write where all students can see. Depending on the size of your group, model on chart paper or a smart board so all students can see you writing.

7.  It is ok to have it already prepped. Are you just as afraid as some of your reluctant writers? Are you afraid you won't be able to write effectively or brainstorm on the spot? It is completely ok to have your modeling not spontaneous. In all of my Interactive Writing Notebooks, I have the modeling already prepped for this reason!



Last, discover the best approach to using mentor text and modeling!!! 

I want to end by telling you an effective approach to using mentor text and modeling. The best way to teach writing is through Step-by-Step Mini-Lessons that build upon each other and scaffold through the writing process. With a writing prompt, teach mini-lessons in an order that works through the writing process. With each lesson, share an example of a mentor text and model writing by adding that lesson to a class story. Students should also apply it to their own writing prompt. It may take many weeks to write one story, but it will be worth it in the end! Students will learn all the writing techniques and gain confidence in their writing when they see a powerful final copy!

I hope you found these ideas helpful!  There is a grade level list of several mentor texts for each skill as well as modeling for all writing skills scaffolded through the writing process included in my writing program called Interactive Writing Notebooks.  HAPPY WRITING!

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