Skip to main content

Using Mentor Texts

By now, you have all heard me mention my celebrity crush, Kelly Gallagher.  Unless you are an English teacher, you have probably never heard of him.  He is both an English teacher and an author of numerous books about teaching reading and writing.  Although I have never met him in person, he has been my mentor and inspiration for the past few years.  

One of my favorite books that he has written is Write Like This.  This book encourages teachers to provide mentor texts  to guide  student writing.  He argues that students need good writing to emulate.  I agree!  Over the past few weeks I implemented one of his lessons and am pretty excited with the results. 

 One of the writing types that seventh-graders must learn is the informational essay.  Last year I had students pick a teen issue from The Outsiders to research and write about.  I had about 40 essays on child abuse, 50 on smoking, and another 30 on peer pressure.  You get the picture!  Let me tell you, grading those essays was like a root canal without Novocain.  Not only did I read the same thing over and over again, but the students were not truly excited about what they were writing about.  

This year I used Gallagher's idea of using the column "Who Made That?" which appeared in the New York Times as inspiration for my students.  I started off by reading an example I thought my students would like-"Who Made the Slip and Slide"? After we read it, we talked about what the writer DID in his piece?  We discussed the following:

How is the piece organized?
What is the purpose?
Are there graphics or pictures?
What kind of information is included?
Does the writer reference or quote experts?
How does the writer begin and end?
How long is it?
What kind of language does the writer use?

For homework, student had to write down fifteen topics that they might be interested in finding out about.  The next day while they were working on something else, I circulated around the room and highlighted my favorite three on their lists.  I highlighted topics that I thought would be most interesting to research but also took into consideration each student's personal interests.  Of course, the ultimate decision was theirs!

After they chose the topic, I spent some time talking about credible sources, as well as teaching them to do a specific  search on Google for educational domains.  Eventually they had to print three or more articles on their topic and bring them to class.

In class, I gave them this note taking handout.  We agreed on the focus questions to write in the boxes. I then modeled  note taking for them on the screen.

Once they were done with their notes, it was time to look at another mentor text.  This time I chose "Who Made the Windshield Wiper?"  Following the reading, I went through the same procedures as with the Slip and Slide piece.  

I gave them quite a bit of time to read the articles, take notes, and ask me questions.  A few of them realized an article they chose was not appropriate for the assignment and needed to find another one.

Eventually they began writing their essays. I taught them how to introduce their sources using this handout.  They were required to use the sentence starters in their essays.

Finally, they submitted them to and eventually published their work to our classroom blog! I actually loved reading these essays!

Here are a few of my favorites:  

Popular posts from this blog

Bottle Flipping

Last week someone posted article on Facebook about the newest trend with middle schoolers-bottle flipping.  If you haven't heard of it, you probably don't teach middle school or have a child in middle school! Consider  yourself lucky! If you know about it, then you also know it's annoying as heck.  Kids (usually boys), toss a partially filled water bottle into the air so that it flips in midair.  The goal is to have the bottle land upright.  This year I have had to ask several students to put their water bottles away because they wanted to flip them.  I know,  I'm mean!  

After reading the Facebook article I thought, "Hey!  I bet I can incorporate this into a lesson somehow."  Using my Oreo lesson as a model, that's just what I did.  First, I found two different articles about bottle flipping.  I went through both looking for key vocabulary words.  I then typed out the sentences with the words and created an activity where students had to guess the definit…

Oreos in China and Read 180

A few years ago I read an article about what happened when Kraft introduced the Oreo to the Chinese in 1996.  It was not a success.  The Chinese thought the filling was too sweet-the cookie too bitter.  Kraft almost pulled the beloved cookie off the shelves. Instead, they began a quest to find out how to make the Oreo appeal to the Chinese. Enter the green tea Oreo, the mango Oreo, and an Oreo in the shape of a straw (not sure that still qualifies as an Oreo).  The revamped Oreos were a huge success! I found the article fascinating and decided to design a lesson around  it to share with my students.

First I showed them a news clip from CNN about the topic. Then, I taught them a few vocabulary words that appear in the article using Kate Kinsella's method.  Next, we read the article together and marked the text. I did a think aloud as I read aloud to them.  After that, students created a T-Chart listing the ten most important words in the text, as well as five main ideas from the tex…

Making Comments on Student Writing Meaningful

As any English teacher knows, we spend countless hours grading and commenting on student work.  What I realized after a few years of teaching was that many students did not read my comments at all; they just looked at their grade. Some didn't even look at the rubric!   However, many students valued my feedback and relished every comment.  I felt as though I was wasting my time on more than half of the essays.   As evident from the next essay the students wrote, the majority of the students did not heed the advice I gave in the previous essay.  I came up with a solution!  Using Google Forms, I created a detailed survey for my students to fill out about the comments they received on their writing.  I will include pictures of various questions and answers.  Better yet, I told them that all responses would be read and a graded  for the thoughtfulness.  I had a sub that day, so I created a link to the form in my daily blog post for my class!  SO easy!  Students were forced to go back t…