Teaching grammar using an English textbook can be dry and dull. If you want to engage students while improving their grammar and challenging them to try more creative elements, using mentor texts is perhaps the best approach for both the teacher and the students.
What is a mentor text?
A mentor text is a book that both the teacher and students reference as an example of good writing. The examples from mentor texts are not for students to copy. They are a model for writing style and craft.
How do I find mentor texts?
Most of the mentor texts I find come from teacher recommendations or something I am personally reading. When I know that a new concept is coming up, I will reach out to the other teachers (or search through teacher blogs) to find mentor text recommendations. Also, as I am reading for enjoyment or previewing a book that I will be introducing to students, I will take note of things that I see while reading. I share a few resources here that include text I use to serve as a mentor for student writing.
I take notice of the author’s writing style, their use of figurative language, the way sentences are structured, and the rhythm of the written text. Most texts have multiple concepts to use as expert writing examples for students.
Sticky notes and composition notebooks are great tools to gather information for reference later in a mentor text.
How to use mentor texts in a high school classroom.
First, it is important to know student outcomes before selecting a mentor text. Based on the lesson or workshop outcome, the selected text should be a clear example that students can apply to their writing.
Next, you need to be sure that you select a text accessible to most students. If the text is too challenging, students may get caught up in the vocabulary and not understand the concept you are teaching. If the text is simple, the students may be confused about how to apply it to their own writing.
Finally, allow students to discuss and engage with the text. Student discussion is the best part of using a mentor text for the writing process. It gets students away from reading quick short stories and shows writing styles in longer literature collections. When students can discuss and exchange ideas, they become more interested in their writing. It is no longer learning from the teacher. They see the concepts in practice.
Using mentor texts to teach grammar
Teaching grammar using mentor text can be fun and engaging for students. Not only will they have a chance to see well-written texts, but students can also be critics and reviewers of the author’s work as they apply their understanding of grammar. Here are some ways to use mentor texts to teach grammar in high school:
When you find yourself short on time but need to be sure students can construct sentences correctly, use a mentor text to show them how. A mini-lesson using mentor texts shows students the outcome they need to reach instead of just telling them. The class can deconstruct and reconstruct the sentence to see how the meaning and structure change.
- Re-teaching tool
If a student or student group is not yet completely mastering the correct application of a grammar rule, a mentor text would be a great way to illustrate it. Identify some examples in text students are using or bring in a short passage from a similar text. Allow students time to review how the author uses the correct grammar structure and then have them apply it to their writing.
- Review/Conferencing Reference
The workshop model works so seamlessly by using a mentor text. You can review mentor text during writing conferences to provide students with feedback on their grammar. Reviewing grammar during conferences will reduce the reteaching time needed while ensuring that students see the correct grammar structure.
- Grammar Challenges
When students are shy about trying new things in their writing, I turn to mentor texts. Students are challenged to try out something they see used in a mentor text. Specifically, with grammar, students are challenged to vary the structure of their sentences, adjust the tense of their subjects and verbs, or try different adjectives. I also use this time to encourage students to get creative with their word choice and descriptive language. These challenges help students feel more confident as they try new things in their writing.
Resources for teaching grammar using mentor texts
Here are a few recommendations for mentor texts that you can use to teach grammar in your high school classroom:
Amy Tan’s personal narrative “Fish Cheeks” provides students with an excellent opportunity to delve into juxtaposition and imagery and the complex feelings involved in cultural learning. Use this mini-unit to hone in on student understandings of imagery and to practice writing skills.
In this bundled resource, you will receive workbooks for all acts of Romeo and Juliet. Using this bundle and each act of the play, you can encourage students’ use of figurative language, humor, foil, and other literary devices.