Saturday, July 13, 2013

Reading Like a Writer

So I was in Hobby Lobby last night and was stopped dead in my tracks when I saw this...
It seems like I had been transported to the North Pole instead of Racine, Wisconsin...

Christmas???  Already??? 

I know it's because there are a lot of crafters out there who need these supplies to get ready for this big holiday...which is still six months away...but I have barely gotten through the 4th of July yet.   Oh well...

Yesterday I wrote about using mentor texts in the revision stage of writing.  If you missed that post, scroll down or you can click here

Using mentor texts in writing is one of the best things you can do! Why not teach your students to learn from an expert?   As a teacher, using mentor texts in your writing instruction is like having a writer-in-residence and a teaching partner in your room.  You never have to be alone in the teaching of writing again!

If you stop to really think about it, everything we have learned in life, we have learned from someone else -- riding a bike, knitting, baking, driving a car, writing a blog :).  Writing should be no different!  We learn from the authors of the books we've read, the experts that have come before us.

Many of us have used mentor texts -- but usually at the beginning of the writing process.  I am advocating for bringing in mentor texts during revision

Why revision?  Because the when students draft, they are not producing their best work. They are just getting their ideas down on paper.  In revision, students are given the opportunity to improve their writing, make it better, make sure it says what they want it to say.

Think about how we revise our lives....If we try a recipe and it doesn't work, we may try it again.  When we craft, each time we make something it gets better.  In sports, we practice and repeat to help our game improve.  Kids play video games over and over to get a better score.  Our life is one big revision, isn't it?

Just reading a mentor text is not enough.  You need to teach your kiddos how to read like a writer

Here are some suggestions:

  • First, a text should be read a time or two for comprehension.  Kids need to understand the story so they can free up their brainpower for looking at the writing in a different way. 

  • Next, students will need to be taught to put on a different pair of reading glasses, so to speak, so they know they will be looking at the "how" of the writing, not the "what."

  • Teach students to slow down and reread many times, looking at the "how."  Rereading is very important!

  • Focus on a small part of the reading.  For my activity for my presentation, I passed out a bunch of picture books and I asked the group to simply focus on the introduction.  They went around the table and read the first line of each story out loud then talked about what they saw.  Patterns started to emerge here.

  • Develop a common vocabulary for the things you see.  If you see that several authors are beginning their writing by talking about interesting details about a character, call it 'character development' or something like that.

  • Discuss how this technique helps you as a reader -- does it create a certain mood, set a tone, help you make a connection, etc.

  • Talk about how students can apply what they've read to their own writing. This is very important because students need to be able to see how their mentor text can help them improve their writing.

  • Encourage them to be purposeful in giving it a try!

For my presentation, we focused on introductions because I feel they are one of the most important parts of writing.  You need to snag your reader into your writing or they will walk away.  Also, many students really struggle with introductions, and it paralyzes them so they don't write.  Using mentor texts is a great way to get them started.

Here are some other techniques you can use mentor texts to discover:

  • Use of figurative language
  • Sentence structure -- use of fragments, many one-syllable words in a row, etc.
  • Repeating words and phrases throughout
  • Use of dialogue
  • Humor, facts, tension, etc.
  • Character development
  • Strong endings (Note that "The End" are not the last two words in most stories :)
I hope you will give using mentor texts during revision a try!  Because this was my own presentation, I have lots and lots to say (in case you couldn't tell!).  If you have any questions or need more resources to read about this topic on your own, just let me know!

Have a great Saturday!


  1. What a wonderful post!!! You have me all hyped up and ready to teach some writing. I am all about using mentor texts, but you have given me a new view on the topic!!

    Dare to be Different - Teach!

  2. LOVE these ideas! I am trying really hard to get better as a writing teacher and just love your thoughts. I would love direction to any additional resources you may suggest, so if you don't mind sharing at I would be thrilled!

  3. It sounds like you are lovin' the Writing Project. I participated a few years back and it was, by far, the best class/PD I've ever done! I was so energized and full of new ideas when I left. Please keep sharing what you are learning! I love the idea of using mentor texts during revision and spending less time on drafting. We typically wear kids out during the drawn out drafting phase, so it's no wonder they don't want to revise. They are so over their pieces by then! Thanks for the insight. You led me to an A-Ha moment!

    Renee J
    Growing a Teacher

  4. Thank you for the last two posts on revision, and thank you for suggesting a resource to check out. To me, revision is one of the trickiest things to teach children. We are always working on not trying to just finish, but to make the writing the best you possibly can make it. I wholeheartedly agree that mentor texts are one of the best ways to do this.

    Fit to be Fourth

  5. This is a very helpful post - I have really enjoyed reading all of your National Writing Project posts!
    Grade 4 Buzz

  6. I love your suggestion of a different pair of reading glasses. :). I actually have 2 different pairs without glass in them. One is for fun reading and is colorful and spunky, the other is plain and black. I use them for exactly this purpose. :).

    Creating Lifelong Learners

  7. What a wonderful post! I use mentor texts everyday for reading and writing, but I love revisiting the text for revision. Tie it all together! Thanks for sharing!
    Head Over Heels For Teaching

  8. This is another awesome post! I love all of your ideas and hope to implement them next year. I like the point that you must read the text twice. I think our students need concrete examples. We need to "show them, not tell them" as well

  9. I second almost everything above - this post is great!! I just completed the National Writing Project's Summer Institute and L-O-V-E-D it! Can't wait to use some of the ideas you've shared here. I am your newest follower ;)
    The Sweetest Thing
    Follow me on Bloglovin'!

  10. What an awesome post!! I have really been pinning a lot more mentor texts lately and can't wait to give some more of them a try! Thanks so much for linking up, Jennifer! :)
    Fourth Grade Flipper

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  12. I have definitely noticed the Christmas creep in craft stores is starting earlier and earlier every year. Anyway, this is an awesome post! I am going to try to implement some of these suggestions to help my students out when I start substitute teaching this year! Thanks for the tips!


  13. I've been reading up on the use of mentor sentences a lot this summer through Jeff Anderson's books. Interesting to hear more on your take of using them during the revision process.

    Teaching Tales Along the Yellow Brick Road


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