May 30, 2021: The Power of Mentor Texts
I often use Mentor Texts with my students when we are working on specific writing techniques or skills. Mentor Texts are pieces of writing taken from quality published works, and using them as a model to practice that technique ourselves. It may be a sentence. It may be a paragraph. It may even be a longer piece of text.
In the classroom, mentor texts can be used to teach everything from how to use specific techniques like appositives or alliteration, to how to structure a convincing argument. They are fun ways to analyze writing, learn grammar, and strengthen our own skill.
As a teacher and a writer, I firmly believe we cannot use something effectively in our own work if we are not able to recognize it in the work of others. This is why I believe that using Mentor Texts is not just for student-writers. Being able to recognize, deconstruct, and mimic writing techniques and skills is a great way to grow as a writer.
So what are some ways that we, as authors, can and should use mentor texts to strengthen our own writing?
First- the Big Picture:
- Study the work of those who are successfully published in your genre.
o We all know that there are techniques and skills that are genre specific, so read as much as you can within your genre. Select one piece of work you particularly admire and read it multiple times. The first time to get the feel for it. The second, to understand the structure, the flow, the plot, the nuances. Then a third time to examine those techniques that make the book successful.
Next- think about your specific needs as a writer. What are your weak areas? What kinds of feedback have you gotten in critiques of your work? Creating conflict? Authentic dialogue?
- Select some pieces of text that you think demonstrate that successfully.
o Take it apart. Analyze it deeply. Study it. Mimic it. Practice and practice.
Using Mentor Texts is NOT to mold you into a clone of another writer. It is NOT to dilute your voice or your uniqueness as a writer. It is NOT to influence the presentation of your ideas.
Therefore, I recommend only using Mentor Texts when you are working on your general skills as a writer. Kind of like the research stage of the writing process. What we do prior to actually beginning the drafting stage.
Once a writer starts to work on drafting their story, Mentor Texts are put away. The focus is your own writing and the story you are telling. I also steer clear of doing much reading in the genre in which I am drafting, as I do not want to be influenced by the style of another author.
Using a Mentor Text to work on a specific writing skill can be like having a personal writing coach. And there are so many great ones out there!