Start a Mentor Text Routine in 3 Easy Steps

How I Kickoff My Mentor Text Study Routine!

mentor texts

Sometimes the hardest part is knowing where to start. I want to start writing individual posts each week, so that people can follow along with my mentor text routine. It can be daunting looking at all my materials for the first time and thinking:

“How do I find time to read all of these books?”

“How do I teach kids to read like writers?”

“Where do I put this into my curriculum or pacing guide?”

“Can I really teach grammar with books on my shelves?”

The answers to these questions aren’t always easy, but they are possible. We have to make time to show our kids that books have the power to unlock the world of writing in front of them. We have to dedicate space in our own lives for reading because it is one of the greatest forms of self-care. We have to reconfigure our pacing guides to use these resources because we have to prioritize what matters. Figuring out what matters to me as a teacher has always been the struggle. I know without hesitation that the use of mentor texts has changed the way I do business in my classroom. Last year was a road trip of trials and errors, but those experiences and that time spent researching mentor texts was so worth it. Now, I also wanted to share what I am doing in my classroom to help lighten the load on others.

Here in this post, you have the very first lesson I am going to start with on the upcoming Monday. This is the first mentor text routine lesson of the year. I have made some revisions to how I did my mentor text work from last year. Instead of using it as a daily warmup, I am doing Mentor Text Mondays where we do all three steps of the mentor text process in a single day. I went back and forth on this decision so many times. I liked the focus for the entire week, but I also was teaching in isolation in some parts of the routine for students. I will still have to consider those students absent on Mondays, but I think this will get easier as the year goes on for all students in general. The bulk of the work is deciding what texts to use and what skills to teach. Please go to the Writer Resources Page to make a copy of my Google Slides Book Talks and Grammar Sequence work. Trust me, this will save you some time if you are finding yourself overwhelmed with planning. Think of this post as a guide or template for how daily instruction could work. Then, I would love to invite you to try it out in your own classroom.

The Big Game Plan vs The Little Game Plan

The big end result of all of this work should be the transfer of the skills learned throughout the mentor text routine into students’ other writing projects on all days of the week. This is big goal, isn’t it? The study of mentor texts should help facilitate the acquisition of skills in all writing projects. I find the greatest opportunity for this to be in the end of marking period review at the end of each of the six weeks. While I have six weeks in the first marking period, I am only doing four rounds of mentor text work (not 5 or 6) due to beginning of the year expectations, review, and testing. I think this application would also work with someone starting out with this routine. Try to do it four times. The skills I wanted to work on in the first six weeks are:

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Therefore, my end of the marking period assessment would look at capitalization, identifying simple subjects and predicates, and finding verbs.

The little game plan is the day-to-day plan I make with my students. I love the little game plan because it involves me hyping up one individual book, and then helping my students look for patterns or rules in the author’s writing. This is the micro-focus I will take regarding each book and each selected skill. My daily mentor text routine has three easy steps:

  1. Book talk the book

  2. Notice and name the writing move or strategy

  3. Imitate what the author is doing/Write like an author!

At each step of the process in this post I will stop and show you some things I consider when I plan for that part of the lesson. These considerations come from the questions and experiences from teaching the mentor text routine to sixth graders. I teach these lessons to students with third-grade level reading and eleventh-grade level reading. The results are the same, but you may have to adjust the strategies for your content and level. These considerations are not meant to be overwhelming, but I want to share what has worked for me along the way. I have also broken them down in terms of estimated time. When I was doing mentor text work daily it took 5-10 minutes each day. Because I am dedicating one day to this practice, I am estimating it will take 20-25 minutes.

Easy As 1, 2, 3

Step 1: Book Talk (5 minutes WHOLE GROUP)

Step 1 is all about the book talk! I make sure I have copies of the book available for students. You can have anywhere from 1 to infinity, but it does get dicey and frustrating when students want more books than what you have available. We created waiting lists last year when I had more students than copies. My dream is to have all the copies my students could ever want available someday. I am not sure if this is ever going to be a reality, but hey, I can dream. Because I have 5 classes, a good goal is to have at least 5 copies on hand to lend to someone each hour. This will create the lending cycle for all hours of my classes.

My first mentor text of the year is Ghost by Jason Reynolds. A book talk is simply talking about the book in a way that may make another person pulled into the description. The goal is for them to want to read the book or to find something in your description that appeals to them or pushes them away. Readers know what they want to read and what they don’t want to read. This is the most basic level of reading appreciation: the ability to choose. I always cover the opening scene, the opening line, my favorite quote, and what I loved about the book. I also include book trailers. YouTube has hundreds of these for hundreds of titles. I have included the Ghost Book Trailer below my book talk slide. Kids LOVE book trailers. If they are having a hard time accessing the information you are sharing through verbal means, you are helping to appeal to them through visualization. I sometimes will have the author talking, a book recap or reenactment, or sometimes a photo resource to get kids hooked on what may be inside the book.

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Step 2: Notice and Name the Author’s Move(s) (10 minutes WHOLE GROUP)

This past summer, I focused the bulk of my revision and reflection on step 2 of this process. I had students copying down the passage on the board before we started the routine. In theory, this was fine. However, I thought it was taking up too much time. I want them looking at passages and learning to read them like authors. I made a handout for Monday, and I will continue to help facilitate this process as an experiment on the usage of time. They will keep this handout (and all handouts) in their class binders. I wrote out the passage for them, and I left room around the passages so they could take notes or make annotations. We will do this together on the first day. Here are some examples of beginning of the year noticings I can expect on Monday:

“They both have a period.”

“They both start with a capital.”

“They both talk about world records.”

“The first one is gross.”

These noticings are all expected and valid. Now, the goal of the lesson is for them to notice two main things: 1.) The names of the people are capitalized and 2.) The subject of the first sentence is Andrew Dahl and the subject of the second sentence is Charlotte Lee. If I have to, I will help them see these “moves” in Jason Reynold’s writing. I like to look at it like EVERYTHING else they notice are like sprinkles on a cake. Students have been trained to read for understanding and content. They will always notice what the sentence is about first-not how it is actually written. These “reading like a writer” observations will come in time when students are able to align their observations with the six traits of writing (Voice, Ideas, Organization, Sentence Fluency, Word Choice, and Conventions). The handout that I used this week is below, or you can grab it on the writer resources page.

Step 3: Write Like an Author! (5-10 minutes INDIVIDUAL/PARTNERS)

Break out the journals! I love this part. I always provide a frame for students to use for their writing. I find that they don’t need the frame as the year goes on, but my striving writers like the support of not being wrong, particularly at the beginning of the year. I show them my sentence I wrote, I offer them a frame, we write an example together, and then they write their own example. Last year, my students wanted to act out their sentences after they wrote them. This acting part of class was hilarious and engaging. I encourage anyone to use this theatrical tool as well. They keep these sentences in their journals with the “writing moves” we went over that week.

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I like to scaffold the sharing part of mentor text work because students may not be familiar on how to share. After we share with partners, I ask for whole group sharing. Some calls for responses sound like:

“Who thinks they wrote a better sentence than Jason Reynolds?”

“Who thinks they have a great published author sentence?”

These invitations for sharing show kids that they can be authors, too. We should take any chance we can get to be encouraging and empowering to our students. You would have been amazed at the number of hands that went up in my classroom after the first day of asking these sharing questions. Engagement is contagious and impactful when it makes us feel like we can do anything.

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In an ideal setting, students would keep all mentor sentences in their journal, we would review skills at the end of each six weeks, and we would have accumulated skills over the entirety of the year. This periodical review could also be reinforced with direct grammar instruction or usage of programs like NoRedInk to help facilitate content knowledge. For this particular lesson, I am going to assign an NoRedInk practice module for capitalization where they will focus on capitalizing titles, seasons, historical people and events, buildings and schools, names and social titles, family titles, nationalities, ethnicities, and book titles.

Writing Mindset Reflection: What is the FIRST lesson you do with mentor text for the year? How do you teach kids how to “notice” writing or read like writers?