Mentor Text Countdown Finale: Hear from Our Students!

Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 10.56.45 AMFor the past ten weeks, we have been sharing some of our most popular posts about mentor texts as we get ready to share our first book, Writing With Mentors, with the world on September 3!

(You can order it here or here — an Amazon even gives you a sneak peak inside!)

But, it’s one thing for us to tell you that mentor texts work and quite another for you to hear it from our students.

Maybe you’re still on the fence about this mentor text thing. Perhaps it sounds good, but you don’t see it working in your classroom, in your context, with your students.

Well, let our students convince you.

These students are 8th, 9th, and 12th graders who were all given the same prompt:  Describe how mentor texts have impacted your writing.

Here’s what they had to say:

Thank you so much for joining us this summer in our mentor text countdown! Next week, on August 20, our Tweet-a-thon begins! In addition to sharing and receiving scads of mentor texts, you might also win a copy of (you can pre-order it now!) WWM Tweetathon


Summer Mentor Text Countdown Week 7: Ways to End (or Begin) a Year of Writing with Mentor Texts

We have been sharing Moving Writers’ most popular posts about mentor texts as we move toward the September release of our book, Writing With Mentors.

(Want a tiny sneak peek at the contents of Writing With Mentors? Check out our Table of Contents and a couple of reviews on the Heinemann site!)

Last week in our Summer Mentor Text Countdown,  we shared two different approaches to introducing students to mentor texts in the very first days of school. This week, we bring you a post for the opposite end of the school year — a look at using mentor texts to wrap up year of writing.

Now, while we originally posted these mentor text-inspired activities as an end-of-year finale, they would work equally well for beginning of the year mentor text activities with older students or students who have worked with mentor texts in the past!

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Summer Mentor Text Countdown Week 5 – Mentor Sentences to Boost Student Writing

As you saw two weeks ago with our post about using mentor texts for Notebook Time, mentor texts can be large or small.  Even a tiny mentor text can have spectacular results for student writing. Mentor sentences can be a great way for both you and your students to wade into the waters of mentor text study!

This week in our mentor text countdown – a pre-launch blog party of sorts for our book Writing with Mentors, which will be released September 3 and is available for pre-order now! – Allison shows 5 rich mentor sentences that will have your students writing more sophisticated analysis!


5 Mentor Sentences to Help Students Write Better Analysis

Photo by Alan Cleaver via Flickr

If you haven’t checked out Rebekah’s series on analysis, stop what you’re doing and go read about her brilliant work with her IB students! I’ve never been more excited to teach analysis than after reading her thoughtful blog series.

I’m going to piggyback on her posts and share something that I have found useful in the teaching of analysis with my ninth graders: using mentor sentences to help them articulate their thinking about a text.
Like Rebekah, I, too, am searching for ways to make literary analysis a richer experience for my young writers. While my students are working on a fairly traditional literary analysis of a poem right now, I have been able to complicate the simplistic formula they have been trained to use for far too long (5 paragraphs, claim as last sentence in introduction, sentences that start with the phrase “This quote shows that…” and so forth ) by sharing ways that professional writers have written about themes, symbols, and diction.
Below are five sentences culled from New York Times book and poetry reviews that students can easily adapt to their own writing.
Mentor Sentences for Writing about Theme:
1. Art — its creation, its importance, its impact on identity and freedom — is perhaps the central theme of “I’ll Give You the Sun.” The book celebrates art’s capacity to heal, but it also shows us how we excavate meaning from the art we cherish, and how we find reflections of ourselves within it.
From New York Times review of I’ll Give you the Sun by Jandy Nelson
2. One of the great themes that threads its way through Toni Morrison’s work like a haunting melody is the hold that time past exerts over time present. In larger historical terms, it is the horror of slavery and its echoing legacy that her characters struggle with. In personal terms, it is an emotional wound or loss — and the fear of suffering such pain again — that inhibits her women and men, making them wary of the very sort of love and intimacy that might heal and complete them.

From New York Times review of Toni Morrison’s God Help the Child

Mentor Sentence for Writing a Brief Summary of Text:
3. After reading Pam Muñoz Ryan’s enchanting new novel, you’ll never think of a harmonica the same way again. In “Echo,” a harmonica travels across years and over continents and seas to touch the lives of three embattled, music-obsessed children — and, quite possibly, save a life.
From New York Times review of Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan’s
Mentor Sentence for Writing About Symbols:
4. “No one could give it back/ because it was gone,” he writes, and the “it” could refer not only to the gun but also to something larger: his youth, his innocence, and whatever else he left in Iraq along with his weapon.

From New York Times review of Kevin Powers’ new book of poems
Mentor Sentence for Writing About Diction:

5. The poem ends:

until they come before you

like dead things, saddled with flesh,

and you above them, wounded and dominant.

The key word here is “dominant,” which is Glück’s way of pointing out the covert will to power in the traditional Romantic nature poem (to see ourselves reflected in nature is to make nature our servant).

From a New York Times review of Louise Gluck’s Metamorphoses

In addition to helping students avoid formulaic writing, these mentor sentences can also help students write about complicated ideas more clearly. For example, one of my students is writing about the poem “First Love” by Carl Linder. Here is a sentence from the rough draft of his first body paragraph:
The poem contains symbols that show the ups and downs of life. Linder stated,  “and I could read / every crack and ripple / in that patch of asphalt” (5-7), was Carl Linder saying that he understood life. The asphalt was the crazy life of high school kids, and most kids can’t understand life then, but he understood. He knew how to get around the rough patches and stay in the good.
The student wants to discuss the symbolism of the asphalt, but he struggles to do so in a clear, succinct manner. If this writer were your student,  you might show him in a conference how others have written about symbols — pulling the sentence from the review of Powers’ work — and then help him “put the first words down” so he is able to continue on his own. Putting the first words down might look like this:
“I could read / every crack and ripple / in that patch of asphalt,” Linder writes, and the “asphalt” could refer not only to…
Noticing that your student wrote “Linder stated,” in his original draft, you might take a moment to point out that writers use the literary present (“he writes”) when writing about literature as if the events in the text are happening now. You might also point out that writers often make suggestions (“and the “it” could refer not only…”) about the meaning behind a symbol rather than asserting what a poet means (“…was Carl Linder saying that he…”).
One great mentor sentence can go a long way in a conference with a student writer struggling to articulate his thinking.
What are your favorite mentor sentences to use to teach different aspects of student writing? If you share them with us, we will happily load them into our Mentor Text Dropbox for all readers to use! Respond in the comments below, connect with us on Facebook, or tweet us @allisonmarchetti @rebekahodell1.

Summer Mentor Text Countdown: Week 4

We are sure that Flannery O’Connor would agree that like a good man, a good mentor text is hard to find. And, like you, we don’t have hours and hours to devote to the search. We need a short-hand, a fast protocol, some never-let-you-down sources.

In Writing With Mentors, we devote all of chapter two to how we find mentor texts, how we know they are keepers, and how we organize them for future use. This week, in our countdown of our most popular mentor text posts, we share some of the ways technology makes finding and organizing mentor texts easy for us. We even share some of those go-to sources that always yield something great.

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Moving Writer’s Mentor Text Countdown: Week 2

Over the next few weeks, we are preparing for the publication of our book, Writing with Mentors, by sharing our most popular mentor text-related posts over the last two years.

This week, we are sharing “Questions to Help You Choose Mentor Texts”. Finding the right mentor texts can be daunting in a world full of words, but asking yourself a few strategic questions can make the tasks easier, more fun, and give you a systematic way to approach the process!

We’ve also added a new way that you can connect with us and join the Moving Writers conversation — we’re on Facebook. Like us on Facebook (!


Questions to Help You Choose Mentor Texts

(March 2015)

Do you remember Captain’s Choice? Those moments standing on the field during gym class as the boys and girls carefully selected players for their teams? We can still see their eyes darting back and forth as they sized up their potential teammates. For some of them it was – and still is – serious business. They had real selection criteria.How fast is she? How much experience does he have? How many goals did she score last week?  For some of us, it was a painful experience. But looking back, we don’t begrudge them. We realize now they were simply trying to build the best possible team.

We think about these boys with a smile now as we select mentor texts to support our current study. Like them, we mean business. In a world full of mentor texts, we have to choose the ones that will best engage and inspire our students and move them forward in their writing. The ones that will give them a vision of the writing they’re about to do — and a text to shepherd them during the writing of it. And like the athletes of our fifth grade gym class, we can’t risk choosing the wrong text and losing our students along the way. So we have some selection criteria, a series of questions that we ask of potential texts, as we go in search of the best models for our writers.

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How To Use the Chart

Gather a few texts that you’ve come across in your reading. The questions are ordered from most to least important, so, beginning with one text, ask of it the first two questions in the left column. (The questions in the follow-up column are designed to give you more information about the primary questions or help you probe the texts more deeply.) These questions will help you do a first-round vetting. If your mentor text does not pass the engagement test and the highlighter test, it’s probably not going to work for you and your students. Next you should consider accessibility, length, and the writer’s larger body of work. Running each mentor text past these questions will help you select a strong cluster of texts for your study.

The topic of selecting mentor texts comprises a good portion of Chapter 2 our book due out in September! We can’t wait to share it with you. In the meantime, please feel free to share your process for selecting mentor texts, and as always, forward any mentor texts you’d like us to add to the Dropbox our way. You can reach us through the comments below, on Twitter @allisonmarchetti @rebekahodell1, and on Facebook (