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From the Classroom: Personalized Mentor Texts to Inspire and Elevate Student Writing with Independent Reading Books

This month’s From the Classroom post comes from Lauren Heimlich Foley, a 7th grade English Language Arts teacher at Holicong Middle School in Central Bucks School District. If you feel inspired after reading Lauren’s post on mentor texts, please comment below and also consider sharing your own favorite lesson here on the blog. Click here to learn more.


GRADE / SUBJECT

7th Grade English Language Arts

LENGTH

Approximately 20-25 minutes occurring throughout the school year

PURPOSE

Last year, I devoured The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini: his books became a constant source of inspiration—fueling my writing, providing minilesson examples, and driving book talks. When I shared Paolini’s ideas, style, conventions, and craft with my students, I modeled how to “read like a writer,” and in turn, my seventh graders began noticing and emulating the way the authors of their Independent Reading Books wrote.

During one writing conference, Caleb declared, “I want to experiment with one-word sentences like in Hatchet.” Skimming the book’s pages, he pointed out “Divorce” and “Secrets” and explained, “Gary Paulsen uses these words to build questions, mystery, and suspense for readers.” The next day he shared his mentor text and revisions with the class as our minilesson. Caleb’s final poem highlighted five words: “Victory. Freedom. Peace. Unity. Hope.” In his reflection, he stated, “The best part about [Paulsen’s] writing is the one-word sentences he adds in. It creates emphasis on the words. I [accentuated] the words of what the [Allied] soldiers [on D-Day] are fighting for because to them these words are really important.”

Intrigued by the power of personalized mentor texts, I considered ways to foster independent reading as a writing tool and dedicate instructional time to observing word choice, voice, sentence fluency, and other stylistic decisions in students’ individual books. Additionally, I wanted to create more opportunities for students to teach one another, take charge of their learning, play with writing, consider risks, and become stronger readers and writers.

NOTE: This lesson can be adapted to use with any text:

  • Fiction, nonfiction, or poetry
  • Whole-class, book club, or independent reading
  • Any age and reading level (picture book, YA novel, or adult book)

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