You’ve been working on that next “great American book” and you have visions of royalties, movie and television rights, book signings, and interviews. Little did you know that somewhere, in some classroom, in
, a teacher is using your book
as a mentor text. Anytown, USA
I recently went through my childhood notebooks that I had saved. As I read my heartfelt outpourings, I chuckled and groaned at the different accents I had given my characters. I had unwittingly used The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett as a mentor text, a piece of literature used to teach writing. Upon further reflection, I have to thank my fourth grade teacher Mrs. Smith for introducing me to the book. She gave it to me as a Christmas gift, and we discussed how a writer changes tone and word choice to reflect different speakers.
Using a mentor text is one of the best practices to teach a student writing. Teachers select text based on whatever skill or genre they are focusing on. If it is a lesson on ideas, Dr. Seuss’s And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street can give the class springboards using everyday objects. Voice can be taught with books like Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems. Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes has excellent examples of word choice.
Children’s books are not the only source for mentor texts. I had recently participated in the Northwest Indiana Writing Project (NWIWP). Everyday a different fellow would read a selection of their choosing that could inspire a writing lesson. These are a few of the ideas I took back to the classroom. Poetry is a source for sentence fluency and word choice. Biographies, autobiographies, and informational books can be used to teach organization and how to narrow down ideas. Science fiction, mysteries, and other genre-specific texts are essential to teach story structure. Voice can be taught with graphic novels and editorials.
As students go back to school, they unpack their freshly sharpened pencils and crayons and crack open their books. As teachers go back to school, they unpack their freshly sharpened lesson plans and crack open their mentor texts. Your book might be one of them.