Turning Mentor Texts into Book Talks

After losing days of school due to snow, I’m in a familiar we’re-never-going-to-get-everything-done panic. I feel this way every winter. The fact is this: none of us have enough time with our students. We constantly feel the pull of more-to-do; we live in the tension of what we have to teach and what we want to teach.

Any time I can double-down and achieve two goals simultaneously, I get excited.

Though I am ashamed to admit this, the truth is that book talks are one of the things that frequently gets brushed to the bottom of the pile in my classroom. I know that they are important, and I am committed to growing readers in addition to growing writers, but if I need just five more minutes during class, the book talk is most often the item that gets cut.

Recently, I have been trying to find ways to streamline book talks so that they happen more seamlessly in my classroom. It hit me: a mentor text can be a little book talk!  If I can be more intentional here, I can achieve a few important instructional moments at the same time:

  • inspire and improve students’ writing through the use of mentor texts
  • entice students to expand their reading horizons into new topics, new genres, new writers
  • highlight the symbiotic connection between students’ reading lives and their writing lives
The mentor texts in our current study of narrative scenes with "book talks" at the bottom -- GONE GIRL, ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART TIME INDIAN, THE GLASS CASTLE, and FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS.

The mentor texts in our current study of narrative scenes with “book talks” at the bottom — GONE GIRL, ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART TIME INDIAN, THE GLASS CASTLE, and FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS.

Since I work hard to find engaging mentor texts, I want to build on that momentum and propel them into future reading. Here’s how I do it — on the bottom of each mentor text in our mentor text cluster, I add an image (of the book cover, the website logo, the author) and a little blurb. For a novel, it might be a short summary or teaser enticing readers to pick up the book and continue reading. For a poem, I might add some author biography. For an editorial or other non-fiction writing, I might include a little information about the writer, other recent articles by that writer that might interest the students, or topics that writer frequents.  My goal is simple: I want students to keep reading and to read new things.

Sometimes I will stop, draw students’ attention to the book talk blurb at the bottom of the mentor text, and chat a bit. Other times, I just leave it for them to read when they are ready. These built-in book talks don’t replace traditional book talk, but they add another opportunity to extend students’ reading and yet another level of meaning to mentor texts in our classroom.

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