Mentor texts are a valuable learning tool for writing lessons, especially persuasive writing. Students often have lots of exposure to narratives and expository/informational literature, but not as much familiarity with persuasive texts. Exposing students to persuasive mentor texts adds so much to your writing lessons.
A persuasive mentor text can show our students how to write well, not just tell them how to write. Students learn better when they have a model or example to follow. When you use great mentor texts to use in your classroom you are giving your students some of the best authors to emulate. Students are more willing to try new things and take risks after seeing what techniques authors have used and then trying them in their own work. It can also support us as teachers when we want to teach new things because we have a great model to support our lesson.
Mentor texts show our students what writing looks like in the real world. Have you ever had a curriculum that wants you to dive so deep into writing that the lessons are long, boring, and everyone is lost? I have. Sometimes curriculums complicate writing too much. When we see what students need to know in the real world it can help us create better lessons to have more successful students.
One thing I have come to believe over the years is that sharing is the most important step of the writing process. Students need to share their writing and hear other people’s writing. A persuasive mentor text is a great way to share excellent writing with your students and build a writing community that shares writing. We need to connect our classroom communities with a larger community of writers.
How to Pick a Persuasive Mentor Text
I always loved the idea of teaching with mentor texts, but I’d often felt like I wouldn’t be able to find a good persuasive mentor text to support my lesson, so instead, I’d avoid it. There isn’t a perfect mentor text out there, but there are lots of good ones, and finding them doesn’t have to be as hard as you think. Here are some things to consider when you are looking for a persuasive mentor text.
What is your purpose? Why are you showing students a mentor text? Here are a few things that could be your purpose: teach a specific writing technique, show students what type of writing they will be working on, inspire and engage students, or show students more than one way to write something.
In persuasive writing a few things that might be your purpose are teaching a hook, stating a thesis or claim, using evidence, addressing counterarguments, creating a call to action, or looking at persuasive words.
- Determine Your Audience
Task, purpose, and audience are an important part of writing and teaching writing. Who are you trying to teach with this mentor text? The persuasive mentor text you pick could be meant to teach the whole class, a small group, one student, or another teacher. Your mentor text needs to be a book that will help support your audience.
- Search for a Persuasive Mentor Text
You will develop places that you will go to for a persuasive mentor text when you need one. Once you know the purpose of the text and who it’s for you can start your search for the right one. We will talk about where to search for persuasive mentor texts in a few minutes.
- Engage Your Audience
Pick a persuasive mentor text that will engage your audience. An engaging mentor text will usually have some of the following qualities, but not all of them. These qualities are meant to give you an idea of what to look for when you want an engaging persuasive mentor text.
- Fresh off the press. Newer books often speak to kids in a modern way.
- Relevant to your purpose. We talked about purpose above.
- Your students can read and understand it.
- Well written using strong structure and great language.
- Teacher Approved
The mentor text you pick should be one that you find inspiring and engaging. It should be a book that you think is good and your students will learn from. It’s hard to teach from a book you don’t believe in. It’s hard to teach using a book that will not meet your unique group of students’ needs. It doesn’t matter how many other people or websites say a book is a good persuasive mentor text if you don’t think it’s good too.
Where to Find a Persuasive Mentor Text
The thing that I find the most difficult about finding persuasive mentor texts is where to look. I don’t have time to go to the library and read all the books to find what I’m looking for. It’s not feasible. There are so many options of places to look.
A focused Google search can help you find mentor texts. Sometimes it can take a lot of sifting to find a persuasive writing text that matches your purpose. Don’t forget to check the images tab when you search.
Once you have a decent list of books to consider you can read through a few of these to see if there is one that would work well for your class and purpose.
- Social Media
Teachers love talking about books. Search social media using hashtags and see what you find. Ask in your social media communities, like Facebook groups, and see what answers you get. Lots of teachers on Twitter are talking about mentor texts so don’t forget to check there too.
- Your Library
Whenever you are searching for mentor texts, reading books to your class, or talking with other teachers you are bound to come across a lot of great ideas, even if they aren’t right for your current lesson. Files these ideas away into your own mentor text library. Download them, bookmark them, print them, and record them on a spreadsheet so you have your own library of mentor texts.
- Check Award Winners
There is The Master Review which is a short story award. You can check Pulitzer Prize books or the Caldecott Medal. These sites have lots of great literature, but they might not be right for what you are teaching your students. Again this is a good place to start your search
Students can learn a lot from their peers. Keep work your past students have written to show your future students. You want great writing and writing filled with mistakes. Your students can learn from both. Be sure to keep the names anonymous though. My students have always loved reading works from my past classes. If you don’t have anything from past students or are going into your first year of teaching then you can ask other teachers in your building or your social media groups to help you out.
I love teaching poetry in my classroom because I find that it helps my struggling writers be successful. It also helps me to focus on a specific skill my students need to learn without writing an entire paper. Reading great poetry can mentor students in specific skills without reading an entire book. Poetry can be a great persuasive mentor text if you can find one that meets your purpose and audience.
- Ask the Librarian
You tell students to ask the librarian and you should too. Librarians have read so many books. They would probably be able to pull 10 books off the shelf for you by lunch after you send a quick email. Also, I live in a small town and can email my town librarian with questions. If you are able ask them for books too. You will get two perspectives filled with great ideas.
How to Teach With a Persuasive Mentor Text
Now you know how to pick a persuasive mentor text and you know places to look to find one that works for your class. But there is more to teaching with a persuasive mentor text than reading it. Let’s take a look at some of the steps you should follow to help you teach with a persuasive mentor text. You don’t have to do every single step if your students don’t need you to, but some of these may be the reason you haven’t seen the results you want.
- Determine If Your Students Can Write a Paragraph
I usually taught persuasive writing about halfway through the school year, so I already knew my students well. If you are teaching persuasive writing at the beginning of the school year you will want to be sure that your students know how to write a paragraph before you dive into mentor texts.
- Define Unfamiliar Vocabulary Ahead of Time
Mentor texts are not reading lessons, they are writing lessons. This is not the time to have your students struggle with vocabulary to improve their reading skills. Your goal in using a mentor text is to model and teach students about writing. They will not be able to focus on learning the author’s craft if they are struggling with the vocabulary.
- Read the Piece Out Loud (and Individually)
Reading the persuasive mentor text out loud and individually will help to make sure your students understand the text and can move on to the analyzing phase where they will work on a particular skill. Having students read a mentor text themselves can help increase their understanding. You can decide if they read individually or out loud first.
- Review the Content Then Dive into How it’s Crafted
Your students need to comprehend the text before they work on analyzing. This is not a reading comprehension lesson, but you do want to make sure they understand what is happening in the text before they analyze how the author crafted it. You may even decide to combine steps 3 and 4. During the first read have students answer some basic comprehension questions and then during the second read discuss how the author structured the story.
- Tell Students What They are Trying to Recognize and Learn
When students are learning a new skill you need to tell them exactly what they are trying to learn and should look for. Chances are your students won’t be able to recognize the skill you are working on teaching them through mentor texts, which is why you are teaching them. Take time to give some explicit instruction around what you would like them to learn.
- Use Specific Words, Sentences, or Phrases
When you are asking students questions about the persuasive mentor text be as specific as possible. Ask something like “What about the sentence ____ makes you want to give the boy an iguana?” That way you are asking about a specific sentence and it will help your students think and learn without being overwhelmed. Some questions will be broader, but having a least a few specific ones will help your students succeed.
- Share Multiple Examples of the Skill You Want to Teach
Use multiple mentor text examples of the skill you want to teach your students. You may work on these mentor texts over several days or use the jig saw method to have your students break up the work. Having your students see the same skill used by several authors could help them understand it better.
- Repeat and Review
Your students will need time to learn the skill you are focused on teaching. Take time to go back to the mentor text, repeat the lesson, and review it as much as needed. This will improve their understanding several times over.
- Model the Specific Technique You are Teaching
Modeling is one of the strongest teaching methods available to teachers. We should always model the skills we are trying to teach to our students. You just showed them some great examples from real writers in the mentor texts. It’s difficult for students to see what a mentor author did and then translate that example into something they can do themselves. Talk through the process of how your are implimenting what the mentor text did to show your students how. They will see that it will take some work to understand the focus skill and apply it to their work.
Have your students practice the skill you want them to learn a lot. This means you might give them several short paragraphs to write over several days that are just practice, they don’t need to develop it into a full essay or a full grade. Give them time to write, mess up, and practice the skill they are learning without the pressure of a full grade.
- Provide Feedback
Student writers need feedback often. They will learn more from in-the-moment feedback than a grade on a paper. Take time to conference with students during all their practice writing. Tell them when they are using the focus skill well, where they can add it in more, and ensure they understand it fully.
Persuasive Mentor Text Favorites
If you need a good starting list of persuasive mentor texts then here is a list for you. I love to hear what else you would add to this list down in the comments. If there is a particular skill you teach with a mentor text I’d love to hear that as well.
Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters From Obedience School
The True Story of the Three Little Pigs!
Don’t Feed the Bear
King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub
Can I have a Stegosaurus Mom?
Lincoln Tells a Joke
I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato
What’s With This Room
Can I Be Your Dog?
My Lucky Day
A Pig Parade
Click, Clack, Moo Cows That Type
Eat Your Peas
I Wanna Iguana
Dear Mr. Blue Berry
Hey, Little Ant
Final Tips About Teaching With a Persuasive Mentor Text
Make sure you give your students plenty of time to practice the writing skill you want them to learn. Persuasive writing is more advanced than the other writing they have been doing so far. You can help your students succeed in persuasive writing by giving them lots of time to practice and mess up. Model what they should be learning often. The more they see the process the better they will do using it. It takes time for students to move from reading to seeing a lesson in a text, and to apply that lesson in their work. Be patient with your students and celebrate progress.
Here is Your FREE Prompt for Writing Poetry
I know that you needed a prompt to help kickstart your students’ writing. Here is an entire lesson for FREE. My Our School Poem guides students through using sensory language to describe their school. The step-by-step directions guide your class through the writing process with all the necessary worksheets making this the perfect lesson for your classroom.