Features and Benefits

What Do We Mean by Oral Mentor Texts?

Of course, there are myriad wonderful ways to use oral storytelling in the classroom. We want to make clear the distinctions between the method we propose—using a teacher-crafted story of a shared class experience as a mentor text—and the many other kinds of storytelling. Teachers often think of storytelling as simply retelling a story that was either read aloud or read independently. This kind of storytelling might include dramatization of the story. Story retelling helps teachers determine whether students can grasp the main idea of a story and describe the main events. In other cases, storytelling can mean asking students to retell a family story, the kind of story that can be passed down from generation to generation. With our method of storytelling, a teacher-written shared classroom experience resembles a family story so that it speaks to a student’s own experience. The difference, however, besides being the story of a shared class experience, is that we build the story so that it is repeated the same way across retellings.

While students do perform the class oral story, the story is teacher-composed, based on a shared class experience, and stocked with specific skills and craft moves that will support students in their current reading and writing work. Our stories are literally designed to be oral mentor texts. Built deliberately by the teacher, the stories teach, reinforce, and practice identified skills and strategies. Once practiced and performed, students internalize the story so that it lives in their memories as a mentor text for both reading and writing. The story belongs to the students, remaining with them forever and lighting the way whenever they get stuck.

From the Forward by Lester Laminack:

Oral Mentor Texts: A Powerful Tool for Teaching Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening harnesses the age-old power of storytelling within whole-class “oral mentor texts”—teaching texts that students practice and internalize, a host of mentors in common, always on hand to support their reading and writing throughout the year. Connie and Sherra give us a clear, logical, elegantly simple process for creating oral mentor texts in the classroom to use alongside printed mentor texts to guide and support literacy instruction. They start by selecting a moment the entire class has shared. Next they write it down, carefully embedding craft details and teachable content they will form lessons around. Finally they incorporate it into their literacy teaching as an oral mentor text. As students internalize and retell the story, Connie and Sherra use it to teach craft techniques and skills—leads, endings, dialogue, vocabulary, summarization, inferring, as well as listening and oral-language skills, to mention just a few.

Oral mentor texts are personal, accessible, and intimately understood. They are stories of a shared experience tucked into the pockets of each child’s heart and soul. They become the security blanket, the familiar and trusted resource that informs and influences each child’s knowledge of story grammar, structure, purpose, word choice, sentence variation, tone, and voice. They are with each student every day, all day. They influence how children approach printed mentor texts and how they construct their own writing.

Oral mentor texts offer something fresh and accessible in this era of increasing demands as we struggle to ensure that our students can access learning in ways that honor their humanity. While creating a level playing field may be beyond our reach, we can and we must create some common ground for all students. Connie and Sherra build on traditions of sound practice and common sense to develop patches of common ground from which our students can move forward in their learning journey.