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How Mentor Texts Can Help Writers Discover a Creative Process

by Rose Cappelli

Toad put his head very close to the ground and shouted, “NOW SEEDS, START GROWING!”
Frog came running up the path.
“What’s all this noise?” he asked.
“My seeds will not grow,” said Toad.
“You are shouting too much,” said Frog. “These poor seeds are afraid to grow.”

                                    -from Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel

I guess you could say mentor texts are my thing. I’ve read hundreds of picture books and middle grade novels to mine strategies teachers can use to help students understand the structure and craft of writing. I’ve also used them extensively to help students find ideas for writing. One way is to encourage students to make connections to their own lives. A book like Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes might spark a story about a favorite pair of red boots, or a favorite teacher, or a time they felt bad about the way they behaved. I also make sure to include information from author’s notes in read alouds to help students better understand where ideas come from. For example, Sandra Markle based her story, Toad Weather, on an annual toad migration.  Books like Ralph Writes a Story by Abby Hanlon and One Day, The End: Short, Very Short, Shorter-Than-Ever Stories by Rebecca Kai Dotlich are new favorite mentor texts that I use with students and recommend to teachers that demonstrate how stories can easily come from our everyday lives if we are willing to keep our eyes and hearts and minds open to possibilities. Before a story there has to be an idea. But, how can we use mentor texts to help students take that idea to the next level? How can we help them create a story, rather than a recount, that springs from everyday experiences? How can we help them nurture an idea and let it grow into the most wonderful story only they could write? Read more