I frequently use mentor texts in the classroom, and students find them incredibly valuable as exemplars for their own writing. But too often in the past, our experience with mentor texts has been "out of sight, out of mind." Students simply forget them over time. So how can we keep mentor texts forefront in students' minds?
For each exemplar text we study, whether it be a picture book, poem, article, or excerpt from a novel, I've posted a simple letter-size display card listing the book title, author, illustrator, genre, theme, notable text features, and a text excerpt (see example below). On a bookshelf adjacent to these cards, I've shelved all of the mentor texts we've already read, as well as those I intend to use in the near future. You can view my sample Mentor Text Display Cards for Picture Books, or Mentor Text Display Cards for Novels.
With just a few cards posted, already I've seen several benefits:
- During free reading time, students will return to these texts since they're familiar and meaningful.
- Students struggling to recall text features or literary devices will look to these cards for help.
- Students now make discoveries of their own in their independent texts, and some have even suggested book excerpts for future sharing. This, in itself, is revealing, because students are noticing features and literary devices that haven't been formally introduced through our other texts.
- The collection of cards serves as clear evidence of our classroom goal to create a common culture of literacy, while recognizing unique attributes of each text that we study.
Looking to the future, I see some other uses for these cards:
- Printed out, these cards can be inserted in the books they reference. That way, even if you choose not to use a book in a given year, a student can still benefit from the information the card provides.
- Individual cards can be saved as pdf files, and these can be digitally stored for student access. My own teacher website has an index that would work well with this concept.
- I chose to post my cards chronologically, since students will remember a book that was read "a long time ago" (two weeks ago!) and find it easier to reference if the cards are posted by occurrence. But I can also see posting cards closer to those shelves that they might reference. So my Fever 1793 card might be posted adjacent to the historical fiction section of my class library, and my Fellowship of the Ring card might be located near the fantasy section.
- As students read their own books, they can create their own display cards to illustrate the "take-aways" of their individual texts.
Need help teaching theme and theme statements? Check out this previous post. You can also check out my write-ups or activities for any of the following books or stories featured on the sample cards:
- The Fellowship of the Ring (Models for Writing from an Unlikely Source)
- The Honest Truth (Teaching Theme in Literature)
- Charles Atlas Ad (Why Do Some Ideas Survive While Others Die? at my Teaching that Sticks blog)
- The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (The Case for Slow Reading)
- Flipped (Metaphorically Speaking)