How to Reach Every Writer in the Room Using Current, Engaging Mentor Texts

By Allison Marchetti, Trinity Episcopal School, Rebekah O'Dell, Trinity Episcopal School 
Foreword by Penny Kittle

In Writing with Mentors, high school teachers Allison Marchetti and Rebekah  O’Dell prove that the key to cultivating productive, resourceful writers—writers who can see value and purpose for writing beyond school—is using dynamic, hot-off-the-press mentor texts.   In this practical guide, they provide savvy strategies for:

  • finding and storing fresh new mentor texts, from trusted traditional sources to the social mediums of the day
  • grouping mentor texts in clusters that show a diverse range of topics, styles, and approaches
  • teaching with lessons that demonstrate the enormous potential of mentor texts at every stage of the writing process.

In chapters that follow the scaffolded instruction Allison and Rebekah use in their own classrooms, you’ll discover how using mentor texts can unfold across the year, from inspiration and planning to drafting, revising, and “going public” in final publication. Along the way, you’ll find yourself reaching every writer in the room, whatever their needs.   “Our hope in this book,” they write, “is to show you a way mentors can help you teach anything you need or want to teach in writing. A way that is grounded in the work of real writers and the real reading you do every day.  A way that is sustainable and fresh, and will serve your students long after they leave your classroom.”

In depth:

This book was written to help you understand the potential that writing with mentors has for your students.

We've organized it into nine chapters that mimic the scaffolded instruction we use to support writers in our own classrooms, beginning with the teacher. As you look at the contents, you'll see that Chapter 1 offers a new way of thinking about mentor texts and the central role they can play in writing instruction. In Chapter 2, we explore what it means to be a teacher who puts her full faith in professional writers and leverages this faith as far as it can go in the classroom. We take you to our most trusted sources for finding mentor texts-sources that never tire and never feel old, sources we promise will excite both you and your students. Finally, we share our criteria for selecting the best mentor texts these sources have to offer.

In Chapter 3, we move into the classroom, offering a practical explanation of how a teacher might move from this trust in professional writers and discovery of rich texts to planning for instruction. In Chapters 4 through 8, we walk you through our work with students and mentors from the first day of school to the last-from the early stages of inspiration to the final moments of publication. We share lessons that demonstrate the enormous potential of mentors at every stage of the writing process.

Finally, we close with a chapter that explains why we teach with mentors at all, because it's the influence of writers that will endure long after our students have left our classrooms. With the help of mentors, we cultivate independence in our writers and help them build lasting writing lives.

You'll notice that chapters are punctuated with brief invitations (A Way In) to engage in the work your students will be doing or to think about your classroom and how the approach we're describing might work for you and your students. For these invitations, we suggest you reserve some space in your writer's notebook or find a small, separate notebook for the jotting and thinking you'll do over the course of this book.

Other chapters will engage you in some observational work: You'll listen as we "teach aloud," offering a window into our thinking as we search for, curate, and plan with mentor texts or talk to students about how to seek help and inspiration from the work of professional writers. And then you'll listen some more to the voices that really matter: the students'. You'll watch some of our students collect thinking, plan, play, draft, start over, write some more-with mentors at their side every step of the way. These students represent a wide variety of ability levels, from the most emerging writers to students who have always wanted to grow up to become writers, but they all have one thing in common: The quality of their writing has been markedly improved by the influence of mentor texts.

Although we've written this book with upper middle to high school-aged students in mind, the mentor text approach to writing instruction is relevant to a wide range of writers at all grade levels. In fact, mentor text instruction has traditionally occurred in the primary grades, well-documented in books like Katie Wood Ray's Study Driven, Ralph Fletcher's What a Writer Needs, and Ruth Culham's The Writing Thief. And while the texts we refer to are geared toward a more mature audience, the philosophy and organizational tools, as well as the ways of talking to students about mentors, are timeless and ageless. We have always taught by the mantra "Good teaching is good teaching," and we use elementary school materials all the time and adapt them for high school.