Mentor Texts for Teaching Writing

Using the right mentor texts has really boosted my success in teaching writing. In this post, we’ll discuss what mentor texts are, why they’re important, and how to use them effectively in your middle school classroom.

Various mentor text examples with the text How to Use Mentor Texts to Teach Writing

A good mentor text floats my boat, tickles my fancy, and ruffles my truffles.

It’s true. These handy little lifesavers are my secret to engaging my students, provoking deep thought, and fostering their love for language.

Now, I can’t wait to share with you how using mentor texts can transform your classroom too!

And be sure to hang around for the part where I tell you how to make them FUN, as well as the NUMERO UNO mistake many writing teachers make with mentor texts.

What exactly are mentor texts?

Mentor texts are pieces of writing that serve as a guide or model for students to imitate and learn from.

They can be picture books, novels, essays, speeches, student-written exemplars, or even a student’s own writing from a previous year. They’re any text that is used by a teacher to guide and inspire their students’ learning.

Why are mentor texts important?

Mentor texts are examples of exemplary writing that you use to guide students in their writing. They offer students a tangible example of what good writing looks like. When students are struggling with a new skill and see it in action, it can help them better understand how to use the skill.

By analyzing the work of others, students can identify writing techniques and apply them in their own writing. They also help students to develop a taste for great writing. This boosts their motivation and confidence.

What makes a good mentor text

A good mentor text should showcase the specific skill you are teaching.

For example, if you are teaching students how to use metaphors, the mentor text you choose should include clear examples of metaphors. Additionally, a good mentor text should be age-appropriate, engaging, and well-written.

I’ve found that no matter which writing genre you’re teaching, the best mentor text is one that has the same structure you’d like students to achieve, but is slightly above your students’ current writing level. This strategy challenges students to reach beyond their comfort zone, enhancing their writing skills while demonstrating exactly what you expect your them to write.

This is why I include several mentor texts in every one of my writing units.

mentor texts examples

You might like these 5 Super Helpful Tips for Teaching Writing in Middle School

How to use mentor texts

First, I’ll tell you the basic way. Then we’ll have some fun with mentor texts.

The basics of using mentor texts

1) Identify the text, author, and the craft you’re teaching.

2) Read the text aloud.

3) Have students do a pair and share to describe how the author uses that craft.

4) Share findings with the class.

5) Model how students can use the craft in their own writing.

Having FUN with mentor texts

If you want a really engaging and empowering way to use mentor texts, do this.

    • Find a few sentences from an author your students are already familiar with. It’s best if you choose an author your students absolutely love and respect. We’ll call the author Fabulous Writer Paige Turner.
    • Keep this part a secret. Make sure that Fabulous Paige Turner is NOT using the target skill in that part of the text.
    • If you’re teaching descriptive language, select part that doesn’t include any. If you’re teaching how to use evidence in argument writing, find a paragraph that doesn’t include researched evidence.
    • Tell students you’re going to see how Fabulous Paige Turner uses, let’s say, similes in the text. Start to read that passage aloud.
    • Fumble a bit. Then stop. Look puzzled. Embarrassed even.
    • Mumble that you’re sure Fabulous Paige Turner used similes here…but…
    • Ask students if they observed anything surprising. Most likely, they’ll notice Paige didn’t use similes.
    • Ask them if they can find a spot where she could have used one.
    • I guarantee they’ll have ideas. Now ask them to revise her work.
    • Make a HUGE deal of the fact that you cannot believe your students are revising Fabulous Paige Turner’s work. And they’re even and doing a better job than she did.

I guarantee that your students will feel like simile superstars!

Avoid this mentor text mistake

A colossal mistake – I’m talking on the scale of forgetting to call your mother-in-law on her birthday – is not utilizing student-written exemplars as mentor texts.

Those shiny pieces of writing your students churn out? They’re gold mines that provide relatable and achievable examples.

Student-written exemplars can also boost students’ confidence, as it highlights their peers’ success and inspires them to strive for the same level of excellence. This method of teaching also fosters a collaborative learning environment where students learn from each other and grow together as writers.

If you don’t have any to use, then write some yourself, and make sure they’re worthy of an A or A+. They’ll be perfect models of what you expect, while making the task seem less daunting to your students.

More tips for using mentor texts

Here are some additional tips for using mentor texts to save time and effectively teach writing skills:

Keep the focus on writing:

  • Point out instances where the author demonstrates writing skills like small moments, strong leads, or exceptional dialogue.
  • Avoid deep discussions about the plot and refrain from asking comprehension questions.

Select relevant portions:

  • Choose a specific section that exemplifies the skill you are working on.
  • Excerpts from novels can also be used as mentor texts.

Maximize reading time:

  • Read the passage during a dedicated reading session or as a fun read-aloud activity.
  • Refer back to the sample language or examples from the mentor text during the writing process.

Be flexible with usage:

  • Mentor texts do not need to be used every day.
  • Reuse the same mentor text multiple times to reinforce learning.

Provide a roadmap for students:

  • Remember the bottom line. The goal of a mentor text is to show students what good writing looks like and how they can emulate it.

Incorporating mentor texts into your ELA lessons is a win-win! Your students gain real-life writing examples, sharpen their skills, and have a blast experimenting with different styles. So go ahead, include mentor texts in your lesson plans and watch your students’ writing soar to new heights! ✍️📚

How to Use Mentor texts