Friday, September 16, 2016

For The Love Of Mentor Texts - Jennifer Laffin

Welcome to another guest post in my series For The Love of Mentor Texts here at Teach Mentor Texts. I love to talk about the power of mentor texts to impact our writing but I'm thrilled to have friends share how they use mentor texts for a fresh perspective. Today I'm excited to share thoughts from Jennifer Laffin who blogs at A Sweet Writing Life. I hope you are as inspired by her ideas as I am!

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In the summer of 2011, I took part in the National Writing Project’s Summer Institute at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee. Those three weeks were heaven on earth for me as I wrote, researched, and learned about the best practices in teaching writing. I came to the Institute knowing very little about teaching writing, but I was like a sponge, ready to soak up any and all wise words.

I had to choose a Teacher Inquiry Project to research during the Institute. After mulling over hundreds of topics (literally hundreds because I knew very little about teaching writing), I decided to spend my time learning about using mentor texts in the writing classroom. Mentor texts combined two things I loved -- reading and writing.

That choice, to research how to use mentor texts in the writing classroom, was the best decision! It was the toehold I needed to launch me into this beautiful world of teaching writing. Before the Institute, I hadn’t even heard of using a mentor text in the writing classroom. Now, I can’t teach writing without one.

There are many reasons why mentor texts help make teaching writing easier, but here are a few of my favorites:

Mentor texts can be used for all phases of the writing process. They can spark an idea, help with revision, and show us how conventions make writing strong.

Mentor texts show us some cool writing tricks. Including the Power of Three (listing three details in a row), varying sentence length for effect, or varying your first line are just a few ways mentor texts can support student writers.

Mentor texts help us teach some writing elements that are difficult. For example, take character development. Many young writers create rather flat characters. However, after studying how an author develops a character, these writers can change their character into one that has life.

Mentor texts are a great way to teach conventions within the context of writing. Do you have students who don’t capitalize the letter “I” or the first word of a sentence? Are run on sentences running rampant because your writer forgot how to use a period? Is the writing missing paragraphs, making it very difficult to read and follow? Pull out a mentor text for a quick study of how the author used these conventions to make the writing easier for the reader.

Any book can be a mentor text. You don’t necessarily need a special title to get the job done. Read through your favorite picture book and point out some things you notice that your student writers could pull into their own writing. Soon, your students will do this on their own.

With a mentor text, you never have to teach writing alone again. Think of all those experts that are just waiting in your classroom library for their chance to help!

Don’t know where to start? The Writing Fix website has an amazing bibliography of mentor texts and lessons to accompany them.

If you aren’t already using mentor texts in your writing classroom, I hope you will give it a try!

A giant hug to Jennifer to stopping by to share her love of mentor texts!

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