Easing into Mentor Texts


I am the queen of wanting a do-over.  I will probably say this a million more times before we get to June.  The truth is, I teach Seniors.  Senioritis may be a made up excuse for laziness and longing for Summer, but I think it’s starting to rub off on me!

When I’m feeling like February is never going to end, like my students are better off with a Sub for the rest of the year since I’m teaching them NOTHING, or like I need an IV of caffeine just to function as a normal–forget about extraordinary–human, I turn to my wonderful colleagues on this blog.

Last week, Lisa taught me that great teachers don’t wait for a new school year to make changes.  This struck me especially with my current, slightly flawed approach to PD books.

Writing with Mentors wrecked my Christmas Break, in the best way.  I ordered it out of curiosity, hoping I could implement some practices here and there with my new batch of Creative Writers.  Instead, I found it whispering answers and solutions to all of the buzz-worthy issues that haunt teachers in their dreams of evaluations and students moving on and forgetting about their class and everything they taught forever.

Mentor Texts offer ways to differentiate, they offer real-world/relevant writing situations, they require readers who not only appreciate a text, but closely analyze and pick it apart, they offer engagement.

However, just because something is offered, doesn’t mean it comes naturally.

I could have let the overwhelm of such great and fundamental teaching ideas squash my ambition to the point that I would table it until my “do-over” arrived.  Lisa reminded me that small changes are best, and are mandatory.

This idea was 100% from Writing with Mentors, but I was so astounded at the products my students came up with, I had to share the success!

Mentor Text: It’s Complicated: The American Teenager

Objective: Students will be able to articulate the difference between reading like readers and reading like writers, and will imitate craft moves to create their own product.


These blew me away.



The first thing we did was read like readers.  We perused the website, evaluated, reacted.  Then we read like writers.  I asked them, “How did this author go about developing these pieces?”  They noticed some specific moves, such as conversational language.  After we talked a bit, they really started to dig in.

“It seems almost like she recorded them speaking and then typed from that.  How else could it sound like real talk?”

“She must have asked them what they fear the most, and what they believe in.”

From simply studying the mentor text, we found our form, tone, and interview questions.  After they interviewed a partner, I let them go “out into the wild” to take pictures.

I literally just told my students to “go.”  I gave them some guidance, but mostly when they asked me about a specific requirement, or how I wanted something, I would usually say, “What does the mentor text do?”

This gave me a great diagnostic as their very first assignment, and allowed students to get to know each other as they got to know how our class is going to work.

I was so happy with this process and product, and I was especially happy that I could steal it from someone smarter than me!  Sometimes the best ideas are the ones we steal from our colleagues.

How do you introduce your students to mentor texts?  What works?  What doesn’t work?

Jessica Paxson is an English IV and Creative Writing teacher in Arlington, TX. She also attempts to grapple with life and all of its complexities and hilarities over at www.jessicajordana.com. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram @jessjordana.


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