How to Use Mentor Texts to Improve Student Writing

Mentor texts are a useful way to help your students become better writers. By showing your students examples of good writing, they begin to understand the mechanics of writing and they are inspired to write better on their own. When students are shown examples of good writing and then try to emulate the writing, they become better writers.

4 Tips for Teaching With Mentor Texts

  1. Choose a short piece of text that is no longer than four paragraphs. Read the piece out loud and then give students time to read it on their own in class. Students of all ages can benefit from hearing a text read aloud. Students who struggle with writing often struggle with reading as well. By modeling how a text should be read and then having students read on their own, they get a deeper understanding of the content.

  1. Students should have a clear understanding of what the text is about before analyzing how the author crafted the sentences and paragraphs. Discuss the intended audience as well as the main point of the text and supporting evidence that the author provided.

  1. Now return to the text and look for techniques that the author used in writing the piece. You can do this through leading questions to help the students think critically about the text. For example, you could ask “How does the author grab the reader’s attention?” Then study how the author crafted the opening lines.

You can also ask them to notice the length of each sentence. Discuss how varying the lengths of sentences inside of a paragraph makes the writing more interesting. Here, you could also show an example of the same paragraph written with sentences of all the same length to demonstrate how writing without variety in their sentences makes the paragraph less engaging.

  1. Now your students are ready to give it a try. Have them borrow a line from the text and then rewrite it using a subject of their choice. Again, this should be modeled first, so that they understand how to use mentor texts to improve their writing.


          For example, you might choose the following line from a mentor text:

          Finally, the darkness fades to dawn, and the sun rolls before us like a wagon      


         Model how they could rewrite this sentence using the same structure and literary

         devices. You might rewrite the sentence in this way:


          Finally, the rooster crows, and the sun rises over the horizon like a ball of fire.

          After your students rewrite their sentences, you might ask for a few volunteers to

          write the mentor text as well as their new sentences on the whiteboard.

Learning to write well takes practice. Mentor texts are an effective way to show your students examples of good writing. When students practice writing by emulating moves that authors make, their writing improves. Make mentor texts a part of your weekly curriculum. Your students will benefit from analyzing examples of effective writing as well as using the text to craft their own sentences. When students are exposed to mentor texts as examples, they become better writers.