Much has been written in recent years about how teachers should find a couple of good mentor texts that they love and just use them repeatedly, for a variety of purposes. I’ve always been a teacher who reads a lot of different picture books to my students, each for a different reason.
This year I decided to experiment with what I had read and heard from people much smarter than me—Ralph Fletcher, Lester Laminack, Katie Wood Ray (just to name a few). It became my mission to find picture books and short texts that I love and could use as mentor texts in reading workshop, writing workshop, and word study.
The first step in the process was to narrow down the books that I loved and wanted to share with my students. After gathering several books, I began to reread them with purpose: how could these books that I love serve as mentor texts for my class workshops? The two books below show my early thinking on the concept of core mentor texts.
Saturdays and Teacakes by Lester Laminack
The number one reason to read this to students is for the enjoyment of the story and the beautiful illustrations that capture the love between a little boy and his grandmother. It is just a wonderful story.
This would also be a great book for inferring. I asked my class to infer the time period in which the story takes place. They had to use text evidence from text and pictures and their background knowledge to make their inferences. Lots of wonderful conversations ensued.
A third use for this book is to teach onomatopoeia. This story is full of wonderful sounds that have been written as words.
Yet, another use for this book—using the dialogue to help us understand the motivations of a character (an important state indicator in my neck of the woods).
The author’s word choice is wonderful. This book is full of beautiful words. Words and phrases such as, “Mammaw pinched another taste,” “I gobbled mine down like a hungry dog,” “leaving row after row of fresh stripes on the lawn,” and “sunlight poured through the windows like a waterfall” cry out for rereading. An introduction to similes would also be a good use of this book.
Many of these lessons could be applied to both reading and writing workshop lessons. That’s the beauty of great writing.
Marshfield Dreams by Ralph Fletcher
The best reason to read this book is to share some lovely and well-crafted short stories with children.
The first time I used this book beyond the pure enjoyment stage was as an introduction into small moment writing. The short stories, “Statue,” “First Pen,” and “A Pox Upon Us All” are perfect examples of how an author can take a small moment in time, and write about it.
I have used all three of those stories in inferring lessons as well. How did Ralph feel in each story? Infer, using background knowledge and specific examples from the text. It’s amazing how well students can do when the text is as “contained” as these short stories are.
This book is also a great mentor text for someone who might like to do a sequenced group of short stories.
Saturdays and Teacakes and Marshfield Dreams are books I love and have reread on my own and with students. They work for me as mentor texts because I do love them so. That being said, they might not work for other teachers.
The challenge for each one of us is to think about the books we absolutely adore, and then think of how often we can bring those books into our classrooms as mentor texts for our students. We don’t need a million (okay, slight exaggeration) different mentor texts, but we do need a couple that we love. Those are the books we need to share with students as wonderful stories first, and then bring them back as rereads when we need good mentor texts. That’s how we can develop a small set of core mentor texts.