153: 6 Powerful Mentor Texts for Secondary ELA

Are you ready for mentor texts your students sit up and pay attention to? That’s what today’s episode is all about. I’ve invited five special guests on to share their top favorite mentor text with you, and I’m so excited!

Each of these creative education thinkers will bring their own take on the power of mentor texts, exploring children’s books and YA novels, poetry and podcasts, student work and video. By the end of this show, you’ll be thinking in a totally different way about how you can use mentor texts to help your students grow as creators, and I have a feeling that YOU’LL be feeling pretty excited too.

As you listen, each guest will introduce herself, share her favorite mentor, and then let you know where you can learn more, then I’ll pop back in at the end to share the last one. I hope you’ll enjoy this special collaborative episode!

You can listen in below, click here to tune in on any podcast player, or read on for the full post.

#1 Mentors beyond the Printed Page, with Angela from Make Writing Studios

This Is a Generic Brand Video, by Dissolve from Dissolve on Vimeo.

Here’s what Angela has to say about this mentor text:

“Writing is so much bigger than written words alone! I love using street art, billboards, podcasts, commercials, photographs, videos, infographics, comics, zines, and even nature to demonstrate what compositions are and how arguments, stories, and informational texts are offered to us all day long through unexpected modes and outlets. Make time to look for Kendra Eash’s This is a Generic Brand Video, and invite the young writers and designers in your world to think about how writing is the use of image, sound, gesture, alignment, and even vibration.”

If you’d like to learn more about how to bring multimodal composition into your own classroom (check out the pictures below), Angela has left a TON of free lessons, units, starter sets,  resources, tools, and mentor texts right here for you: https://linktr.ee/AngelaStockman.

Connect with Angela on Twitter @AngelaStockman.

#2 Mentors with Passion, with Amanda from Amanda Write Now

Here’s what Amanda has to say about this mentor text:

“My favorite modern mentor text is any text written by a passionate student. These students are sometimes my own but they can also be students I’ve never met before. One of the most powerful mentor texts I’ve used to model voice and passion in writing was in the form of a video capturing a 7th grade girl’s middle school experience. The assignment this young girl was given was to write a monologue about something she was passionate about. She wrote from the heart and told her truth. When students can write from their heart and share their truth confidently, they can do anything they set their minds to.”

See the video here.

Check out Amanda’s website here.

#3 Children’s Books as Mentor Texts, with Melissa from The Reading & Writing Haven

What Melissa has to say about this mentor text:

“Picture books are one of the most powerful mentor texts at our fingertips, and I don’t think we leverage them enough. Even (and especially) with older students, picture books often have just as much depth and complexity for discussion and analysis as a novel. That’s why picture books are my favorite, go-to mentor texts

It’s hard to pick just one picture book because there are so many amazing works of art, but for the sake of recommendation, I adore When I Draw a Panda by Amy June Bates. The author skillfully weaves together a beautiful theme and the power of captivating aesthetics.

The front pages of the book include rigid, step-by-step directions for how to draw a variety of animals and images “perfectly.” These same images frame the end of the book, but here, the perfect step-by-step instructions are scribbled all over, symbolizing that there is no one right way to draw. 

In between those bookends, the story follows a child who chooses to color outside the lines, to embrace her own style, and to bring her imagination to life. When I Draw a Panda is threaded with the message that the power of creativity and an independent spirit are to be celebrated.

Specific teaching opportunities for this book as a mentor text might include:

  1. Using it to introduce sketchnotes. There’s no fear in drawing!
  2. Analyzing how a poet can craft a stronger voice by playing with word and line arrangement.
  3. Studying the use of dialogue, sentence structure, and parallelism.
  4. Evaluating how word choice impacts mood and tone.
  5. Identifying how oxymora can be used to provide contradictions between ideas.

And more! Try introducing this mentor texts to your students as a general interactive read aloud, and you’ll be amazed at how often you can refer back to it to study specific ELA skills and concepts. There’s something magical that happens when we read picture books in the classroom. I hope you cherish this book as much as I do.”

Discover more great read-alouds from Melissa here.

Follow Melissa on Instagram @readingandwritinghaven.

#4 Jason Reynold’s Long Way Down as a Mentor Text, with Christina from The Daring English Teacher

What Christina has to say about this mentor text:

“I love using Jason Reynolds’ verse novel Long Way Down as part of the poetry unit that I use in my sophomore English class. At first, when I tell students that we are going to read an entire novel written in poem-form, students groan and complain. However, it only takes the very first poem of the book, and the students are hooked. There are two mentor text activities I assign with this novel – and both revolve around using Reynolds’ form as a mentor text for students to write their own poems. The first poem I use is “My Name Is,” and I have students begin writing their own name poem on the first day we start writing. Modeling Reynolds’ form, student write a poem about themselves. I am always so shocked to learn more about my students in the second semester of the school. The second activity is using Reynolds’ poem BEEF as a mentor text. With this activity, I have students, once again, model Reynolds’ form, to write their own extended simile poem. I absolutely love reading what they come up with.”

Check out Christina’s blog post filled with ideas for Long Way Down here.

Follow Christina @thedaringenglishteacher on Instagram

#5 Powerful Poetry as a Mentor Text, with Amanda Cardenas from Mud and Ink Teaching

What Amanda has to say about this mentor text:

“Shane Koyczan’s poem “How to Be a Person” is my go-to mentor text for resetting after a long break or establishing classroom culture.  As a writing mentor, I like to use this poem to showcase the possibilities for structure in a poem:  in this case, the poet uses a list, and it’s an easy to imitate structure that makes writing poetry feel more accessible for students.”

Check out the step-by-step over on Amanda’s website right here.

Follow Amanda on Instagram @mudandinkteaching

#6 Using Podcasts as Mentor Texts, with Betsy from Spark Creativity

Hey, it’s me, Betsy! I’m back! I’ve created so many podcasting projects over the last few years, and I always start in the same place, with inspiring, or hilarious, or weird, or fun, or wacky podcast episodes as mentor texts. I want students to understand some of the moves podcasters make before they hit the record button, and the easiest (and most interesting) way to do that is by playing podcasts for them and then considering which moves are worth trying.

For the vocabulary podcast project pictured above that I recently designed for The Lighthouse, I picked four really different, super short podcast episodes that are all trying to teach new words in different ways. As they listen, students can think about which moves they like and which ones they definitely don’t.

Do they like Vocabulary Vera’s hilariously over-the-top accent that makes you laugh (or maybe cringe, depending on your age) the moment you turn it on?

Do they like how Dictionary.com uses literary examples?

Do they like how the BBC explains the connection between many words through a single prefix?

Do they find Merriam-Webster’s explanation incredibly boring? (Ha, or is that just me).

Which podcast has the best music? The best listener challenge?

After listening to several podcasts while thinking like a podcaster, students can begin to imagine what they want (and equally important, what they don’t want) for their own podcast style, tone, structure, and content. Same goes for examining podcast covers, show notes, and music.

By the way, if all this talk of student podcasting has you itching to start a pod project in your classroom, I’ve got good news!

Next month I’ll be hosting a fun and free online PD, Camp Creative, with your easy roadmap to student podcasting. So if you’d like some help with all the details, just sign up below to join us June 13-15.

Each day’s tips, tricks, and curriculum will be delivered straight to your inbox, easy peasie.

You’ll discover the best headache-free tech, get done-for-you curriculum to jump into your first project, find out where students can get music and design covers that won’t break copyright, and even get my favorite hack for quicker podcast grading.

Almost five thousand teachers are already enrolled (FREE), so sign up below to join us around the campfire and invite a buddy on your teaching team! You’ll also get my Friday emails full of teaching ideas and helpful curriculum for as long as you want ’em.

So now you’ve got six fun ways to explore more modern mentor texts for your classroom. I think I can speak for all of us today when I say if you try one of these out, we’d love to hear about it. Share what you’re up to with us and tag us over on teachergram, we’d love to know how your mentor text explorations turn out!

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I'm Betsy

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