Mentor Texts in the Classroom: A Storytime Collective by Carter Higgins


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Carter and I share a love for books, the Braves, and Virginia. She is a librarian, and I’m a soon-to-be-librarian, so I particularly loved this post about how she uses mentor texts in the library. Carter is an amazing champion of books and this post is no exception. 


You know when you first wake up and you’re a little bit groggy and still figuring out that what just happened was a dream, but man, wasn’t it awesome to be the boss of an all you can eat gelato factory?

That’s kind of how the first few moments of summer are.

A school year is this magical whirlpool of exhaustion and events and learning and loving. The start of summer feels a little bit like rubbing the sleep out of your eyes. And finally—finally, there’s a chance to remember that incredible dream and relive all of the best parts.

Here are some of the best parts.

As a librarian, I use mentor texts a bit differently. For us, they are building blocks for community. For sharing. For gathering together. 5th period on Mondays in June looked a lot different than 5th period on Mondays in September, and that’s thanks to living and breathing and experiencing stories together.

So I wonder: what text will make us laugh? What text will make us squirm with fear or delight in its charm? What text will they want to read to their moms and dads and pets and baby brothers? What text will be the ones that these kids hold dear when they are thirtysomethings?

Here’s what we loved. Here’s what transformed us from a bunch of people just sharing a room with white brick walls and dusty shelves to a bunch of people living and breathing the same spectacle of story. Any of these books will transform a bunch of wigglers or a not-quite-there-yet community into a storytime collective.


The Story of Fish and Snail by Deborah Freedman


Fish is brave. Snail is scared. These friends are patient with each other, and there’s always room for both pirates and kittens. And hopefully, there’s always a friend you can borrow a little bit of brave from.


I Don’t Want to Be a Frog by Dev Petty and Mike Boldt


Sometimes, you just have to be what you are because you can’t be what you’re not. Good thing someone’s always there to hold your hand and remind you of that. In the book, it’s a dad-frog. During school, it’s me to them and them to each other.


Rude Cakes by Rowboat Watkins


This tiny pink cake probably takes up some shared space in the souls of all of us: he’s rude. What he doesn’t see coming is who really sees through that, and thanks to a gentle bunch of Cyclopses, we get a taste of that little rude cake making a sweet change of heart.


The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat


If you haven’t read this one to a room full of small people, wish your summer away so you can get back to the classroom. The empathy that spills out of kids as they experience Beekle’s sadness is palpable. (And a cute little bum-bum never hurts.)

These mentor texts, these experiences, reminded both me and my 5th-period-on-Monday friends of four beautiful things, all year long.

Be brave.

Be you.

Be silly and willing.

Be friends.

CarterHigginsheadshotCarter is a librarian at an independent K-6 school in Los Angeles, California. (Like Marcie, she’s a Virginia girl at heart, though! Go Braves!) She writes about picture books and graphic design at her blog, Design of the Picture Book, and she’s counting down the days until both her middle grade novel and picture book debut. Be on the lookout for A Rambler Steals Home (HMH, 2016) and Everything You Need For a Treehouse (Chronicle, 2017). You can find her on Twitter @carterhiggins.


Mentor Texts in the Classroom: Fiction and Nonfiction Tips by Suzy Leopold


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Suzy Leopold is back talking about using mentor texts in the classroom. If you missed her post on Tuesday, go back and read about how she uses mentor texts as a writer too. 


Mentor Text Definition

Mentor texts are books and literature that students can read, relate to, study, and reread again for a variety of instructional purposes.


Why Do I Use Mentor Texts in the Classroom?

Mentor texts:

  1. Provide models for students to make the reading-writing connection.
  2. Have the power to help a student grow as a writer.
  3. Encourage students to connect to new reading and writing strategies.
  4. Provide models for students to imitate.
  5. Demonstrate the importance of choosing words wisely in their writing.
  6. Stimulate creativity and interest


A Favorite Mentor Text

oak tree grows

As An Oak Tree Grows

Author and Illustrator G. Brian Karas


From a single perspective, the life of a magnificent oak tree is shared from 1775 to the present. Not only does the oak tree change and grow throughout the many seasons, the surroundings change and grow throughout the life of this oak tree. Progress with transportation and communication become new and modern, while other things hardly change at all.


Many nonfiction books are written with facts and information. The newly published nonfiction books that guide my students with their writing are fresh and engaging. Sometimes referred to as creative nonfiction, these books capture and hook the reader telling a story. Back matter is a special feature: Author Notes, Resources, Facts, and Bibliographies. This fresh look is based on education reforms known as Common Core.


An Oak Tree Grows models a timeline for students, as they too, create their own stories using timelines.


A timeline is an excellent graphic organizer that represents chronological events in time. There are many types of timelines that can be used based on the grade level and the subject of study.


A Timeline Graphic Organizer

 seed timeline

Documenting a timeline for a seed.


Growing a seed takes time and care for it to become a healthy plant.

  1. Pour warm water on a small peat pellet and watch the pellet expand.
  2. Plant one or two seeds inside the opening of the peat pellet.
  3. For best results, create a green house using a tray that has a dome shaped plastic lid. Plastic wrap loosely placed over a seed tray can also be used.
  4. Once the seed has sprouted transfer the entire peat pellet and the growing seedling into a peat pot, adding some rich potting soil.
  5. Water the plant gently and place in a location with indirect sunlight.
  6. Observe and watch the growth of the plant.
  7. Document the information on a timeline for the plant.



Using a timeline as a visual can support a reader and a writer to be a better reader and a writer.


A timeline can be used for short periods of time or for many years depicting change, growth and facts from the past to the present.


A Quick Tip on How to Use a Mentor Text for a Fiction Picture Book

boomer goes to school

Boomer Goes to School

By Constance W. Mc George

Illustrator Mary Whyte

boomer's big day

Boomers Big Day

By Constance W. Mc George

Illustrator Mary Whyte


Whole Pizza or a Slice of Pizza Metaphor

Writing is like a pizza.

Writing is a process, without one-size fits-all answers, evolving and changing as we write.


  1. Draw a circle on a piece of paper depicting a pizza.
  2. Write My dog Boomer on top of the circle.
  3. The entire pizza represents My dog Boomer.
  4. If I begin writing, my focus will be on the whole pizza focus. That means I will  write everything about Boomer.
  5. Writers take one more step. They write about one slice of the pizza.
  6. Writing a slice is about one event about Boomer. A slice of pizza might be about the day Boomer snuck into the house during a thunderstorm or the day Boomer ran away.
  7. Write about the one event in time. The story can be fiction or nonfiction. Writing about one action or experience is writing like a pizza; one slice of pizza at a time.



Sometimes we begin writing or researching and realize our focus may still be too wide. It may be time to narrow it some more. Time to write about a smaller slice of pizza.

Sometimes we may need to widen the scope. Time to write about a larger slice of pizza.

Sometimes we have to change our focus completely.

headshotI am a wife who is adored by my husband, Perry. We are proud parents of five boys and three daughters in law. Pa Perry and Oma Sue [grandparents] enjoy spending time with their seven sweet, smart grandkids, who reside in Texas.

I am an educator of hundreds of students, throughout the years in San Antonio, Texas, from preschool through eighth grade. I also taught at the college level at The University of Incarnate Word College. Additionally, I planned and presented many workshops for administrators and co teachers on staff development days. The highlight of my career was reading and writing with ELLs [English Language Learners] from various countries, including Sweden, Cambodia, Thailand, Germany, Columbia, Mexico and many more. I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education, a Bilingual certification, Reading Recovery certificate, and a Master’s of Science in Reading.

Currently, I read and write with kids in our community. I provide after school and summer school lessons with Mrs. Sue for six elementary aged students.

I am on The Write Team for a local newspaper, Carlinville~Macoupin County Enquirer~Democrat. The articles I write are about the importance of literacy. For example, two articles published were, Reading Should Not Take a Summer Vacation and Make this School Year the Best Ever by Planning Ahead.

My husband and I are organic gardeners on the Illinois prairie, who enjoy cooking and baking for family and friends. I am a reader and a writer. I am a painter of acrylics & watercolors and a creative crafter. I am a cyclist on a pink Marin Portofina. I am a walker and an occasional 5K jogger. Leaving the world a better place is important to me, so I read, write and create every day.

Mentor Texts in the Classroom: Pet Projects by Lynne Marie

Please welcome author Lynne Marie to our Mentor Texts in the Classroom series. Teachers are always looking for new ways to help kids tell their own stories. Pet stories often make their way into student writing. What better way to help students become better writers than to introduce them to some mentor texts about pets. 

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hedgehogA growing number of authors/writers rely on “Mentor Texts” as research for their current writing projects, whether fiction or non-fiction. Mentor texts can inspire a new or different idea, illuminate a genre, exhibit a style, teach facts, demonstrate the way a theme is handled, express the ways a story can be told or show what has been done before and need not be redone. The same is true for using Mentor texts in the classroom.

There are many ways that I have used picture books to teach students of all ages about writing. Picture Books work well because you can get a complete point across, completely from beginning to end, in a fairly short amount of time. However, the best way to teach about writing is to begin at the beginning.

Every story starts with an idea. If a writer or student is stumped about what to write about, all he/she needs to do is pick up a book. Any book can be used as an example for potential methods of finding their own ideas OR taking an old idea and freshening it up to make it appear new. For the purposes of this post, we will assume our writer wants to write about wanting a pet – a story that has been told time and time again, and is perhaps old and overdone.

Take a look at these “Pet Projects” and see how pairing an idea that has been done with something that is different, new, or unusual, turns into a whole NEW idea!

me want pet1. ME WANT PET by Tammi Sauer. Pictures by Bob Shea.

This author takes the universal problem of a child’s desire to own a pet, and shakes it up by adding a main character who is a Cave Boy, which opens up a stone age of new and exciting pet possibilities! Can you say Saber-toothed Tiger?

snow dog

2. SNOW DOG SAND DOG by Linda Joy Singleton. Illustrations by Jess Golden.

This author takes on a similar problem, but her Main Character is allergic to dogs, so must find creative ways to “make the best of a sneezy situation.

princess peepers

3. PRINCESS PEEPERS PICKS A PET by Pam Calvert. Illustrations by Tuesday Mourning.

Again, here we have the usual dilemma of our Main Character wanting a pet. However, combine that problem with a Princess who is nearsighted and loses her glasses, and we have medieval mayhem and lots of fun illustrations!


But those are just a few successful TWISTS on what have might have seemed like an overdone story line of a Main Character wanting a pet – here are some more….


gilbert goldfish i wanna iguana







my pet book
prudence wants a pet







jacob oreilly









Now that you’re done reading this post, challenge yourself to pair an overdone plot or subject with something unusual or rare and see what you or your students come up with!

Of course, using a picture book to teach idea inspiration is just one item at the top of the list of how Mentor Texts can be used in the classroom. Be sure and check back here for more ways!



Lynne MarieLynne Marie is a New York Girl living in a Florida World. She loves anything any everything Disney, Broadway, European History and the Everglades. She’s an avid picture book reader and the author of Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten, published by Scholastic, and a Travel Agent. Please visit her on Facebook:

Poetry Mentor Texts: Snoozefest by Samantha Berger



By Samantha Berger

Illustrated by Kristyna Litten

Dial, 2015

Snoozefest is a delight! Berger had me at the title: Snoozefest! I think the thing that delighted me (and would delight younger readers) is the word combinations. Snoozefest, Nuzzledome, naptacular, even the character’s name, Snuggleford Cuddlebun, play with sleepy language. There are also fun words in the illustrations. Snuggleford is a sloth who attends a sleeping contest, or Snoozefest, and it’s quite a celebration of sleep. This book is full of sleepy, snoozy language. The rhythm and rhyme makes it fun to read.

This book would be good a mentor text for:

* Word Play (especially puns)

* Alliteration

* Descriptive language

I’d highly recommend listening to Matthew Winner’s podcast episode with Samantha Berger, where she gives lots of inside scoop on Snoozefest and her process.

Other Poetry Month Posts

Some Bugs

Raindrops Roll

A Rock Can Be…

Poetry Mentor Texts: A Rock Can Be by Laura Purdie Salas

a rock can be

A Rock Can Be…

By Laura Purdie Salas

Illustrated by Violeta Dabija

Millbrook, 2015

On Tuesday, my students and I had a Skype visit with Laura Purdie Salas. Just hearing her talk about her process was so encouraging to all of us. In preparation for her Skype visit, we studied Laura Purdie Salas’ work. We wrote poems using her books  A Rock Can Be, A Leaf Can Be, and Water Can Be as our mentor texts. We’d been studying weather, so students wrote their poems as “A Cloud Can Be…”

One of the things I love about Laura’s series of books is that she captures the beauty of poetry, nuance in language, and still manages to teach facts in a subtle way. The back matter in each of her books can be used to connect the poem to standards in Science.

Each spread follows the pattern, “A rock can be…”

My favorite spread is:

“Lake skimmer

Building trimmer”

This book would be good a mentor text for:

* Word Choice

* Rhyming words

* Specificity

* Word Play

Here is my poem using Laura’s form as a mentor text. 

A Cloud Can Be…

By Marcie Flinchum Atkins

Inspired by Laura Purdie Salas’ Can Be … books

A cloud is a cloud—

It’s water, air, dust

When weather starts changing

It’s the clouds that we trust.

A cloud can be a…

Sleet maker

Snow shaker

Sun shader

Star fader

Shaper shifter

Dust lifter

Drizzle downer

Garden drowner

Storm grumbler

Tornado rumbler

Sky crawler

Rain hauler

A cloud is a cloud

Droplets above sea

When clouds tumble-bumble

A cloud can be a…

Rainbow revealer

Moon concealer

Hail pelter

Thunder belter

Swimming spoiler

Plan foiler

Lightning dasher

Party crasher

Balloon catcher

Dream hatcher

A cloud is a cloud—

Look up and see

Now go and discover

What else it can be.

Check out my other posts about Laura Purdie Salas’ work:

Water Can Be.. and A Leaf Can Be…

Laura also has new poetry collections available. I had the privilege to write the teachers’ guide for RIDDLE-KU.

RiddleKu Cover

Other Poetry Month Friday posts:

Raindrops Roll

Some Bugs

For more poetry resources, check out this page.

Poetry Mentor Texts: Some Bugs by Andrea DiTerlizzi

some bugs

Some Bugs

By Andrea DiTerlizzi

Illustrated by Brendan Wenzel

Beach Lane, 2014

Some Bugs is one of those books that completely absorbs the reader in it’s fun but spare language. It’s a brilliant 94 words! Like Raindrops Roll, it’s one I typed up because I wanted to study the text. Not only does this text introduce different types of bugs to the youngest reader, it also invites older readers into the illustrations and rich language.

Mentor Text Writing Skills:

* Word Choice

* Vivid Verbs

* Rhythm

* Rhyme

* Spare language

* Specificity

I also featured Some Bugs in a nonfiction poetic picture book post recently.

Poetry as Mentor Texts: Raindrops Roll by April Pulley Sayre

April is poetry month. Every Friday in April, I will feature a poetic picture book that can be used as a mentor text for writing. For past Poetry Month resources, check out these resources.

raindrops roll

Raindrops Roll

By April Pulley Sayre

Beach Lane, 2015

I can’t say enough good things about this book! I have recommended it to everyone. I have read it multiple times. I’ve typed out the words because I wanted to savor and study the language. At only 103 words, it’s a masterful work! And photographs are absolutely stunning.

I’m a big fan of April Pulley Sayre and this book might be my favorite of hers yet. This book can be used to teach the water cycle to primary students. But it can be used at ANY age to help students study poetic language.

Mentor Text Writing Skills:

* Word Choice

* Specificity

* Spare language

* Rhyme

For another post where I featured poetic mentor texts, see this Nonfiction Poetic Text post. 

Mentor Texts in the Classroom: A Second Person Point of View Writing Challenge

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I love it when my day job and my writing life merge together–when research and studying in one feeds the other. I was working on a post for ReFoReMo on second person point of view (which you can read here) in my writing life. In my teaching life, I was preparing for an upcoming mentor text book study meeting using Georgia Heard’s Finding the Heart of Nonfiction.  I wanted to use some nonfiction mentor texts in a short lesson in science class.

NF collage

I utilized some nonfiction picture books that were written in second person point of view. I read snippets of some of these books as mentor texts and my students and I talked about features of second person point of view. Because we were studying some tricky concepts in electricity (insulators, conductors, series circuits, parallel circuits, open circuits, closed circuits, and more), I wanted to see how well students understood those concepts.

I asked students to pick an electricity term and write a short piece that gives facts about that term using second person point of view. Example: If you were an insulator you would slow down electricity.

Right away we applied our newfound writing technique (second person point of view) to our content knowledge (electricity). Students wrote a few sentences, a paragraph, or even a page. But I quickly was able to find out two things: 1) Do they understand the electricity concept and 2) Were they able to apply the point of view lesson.

The results were fascinating. Students eagerly shared. Their examples were full of voice, full of knowledge, and mostly clearly understood how to write in second person.

It was a quick and easy way to utilize nonfiction mentor texts and a quick way to do some cross-curricular nonfiction writing.

This took less than one class period to implement and it could be done in any content area.

More Resources:

Second Person Point of View Primer and Examples for ReFoReMo

Printable PDF Bibliography of Second Person Point of View 

Mentor Texts in the Classroom: Learning to Write from Writers by Karen Drexler

I always learn from other teachers. When I hear about what they are doing in their classrooms, especially when it comes to mentor texts, I start writing down the books they use and how they use them. Today I’m excited because Karen Drexler introduced me to a new book that I’d never read before, The Sleeping Porch. I can’t wait to get my hands on this mentor text. 


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I first heard about mentor texts when I read the book About the Authors: Writing Workshop with Our Youngest Writers by Katie Wood Ray. I read the book cover to cover. I wanted to do the same kind of the work that she was doing using picture books as the framework for Writing Workshop but I was a Reading Recovery teacher at the time, and didn’t have my own classroom. So I shared the book with my friend and colleague who taught first grade and got her as excited as I was about doing some real writing with our first graders. I then persuaded my principal to let me carve out some time to co-teach Writer’s Workshop with her in her first grade classroom and we gave it a go. It became the most favorite part of our day! The difference it made in the level of excitement and the quality of the writing was tremendous. I can’t imagine teaching writing without using mentor texts.

A mentor text used in writing workshop becomes a text that students have heard many times. We might revisit a text at different times for different purposes but as the students listen to me read, they are listening as writers and thinking about what craft or idea they can emulate in their own writing.

I begin the year with writing personal narratives and most of the pictures books I use for that unit are new to my students. The purpose for reading these books initially is to help them understand that writers get ideas from their own lives. I’ll read Thank You, Mr. Falker early in the unit and explain how that story was inspired by Patricia Polacco’s own struggle with learning to read. Later on, they will recognize the little girl in the story My Red-Headed Rotten Older Brother and come to understand how that story might have begun as a memory from Patricia’s life. I don’t tell them who the author is and I wait to see when the light goes on and they recognize the illustration as the same little girl from Thank You, Mr. Falker. It’s always a fun moment to wait for and I am never disappointed. My young writers realize they might have a story of sibling rivalry from their own lives.

I know that in my building, third grade is the first time my students will be asked to think of small moments as the seeds for their personal narrative writing. I need to provide them with as many examples as I can so they can begin to envision the small moments in their own lives. It’s a difficult concept for them because they want to tell about event, after event, after event. I’ll read Fireflies by Janet Brinckloe, The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant and All the Places To Love by Patricia MacLachlan. The students use these examples as springboards to their own ideas about moments in their own lives. They bring their Writer’s Notebooks with them to the carpet and as I close the book they start a list of ideas that come to them.

sleeping porch

I try to use picture books that touch me, books I love to read aloud over and over and that I know I can go back to for examples of writing craft when the time comes. This year, my group was having difficulty finding that “just right” seed moment so I went hunting for more titles to help them generate ideas based on family memories. I found a little gem called The Sleeping Porch by Karen Ackerman. It’s about a family that moves from a small apartment to a fixer-upper and find they have to sleep on the porch to avoid a leaky roof during a rainstorm. It is written in the first person and accompanied with soft, gentle illustrations. I think it helped my writers to recognize the value in their own family stories and as I looked away from the book, I could see the sparkle of ideas happening right there in front of me.   That’s when I know it’s time for me to be quiet and let them go write.

Karen Drexler is a teacher in the Trinity Area School District, Washington, PA


Mentor Texts for Teachers 2015: Guest Posts

When I did my list of most popular blog posts in 2014, I noticed that six of the ten posts were mentor texts posts. I want to bring more mentor texts posts to you in 2015.

I’m inviting other teachers and librarians to post about how they use mentor texts with students. I hope their insights will be helpful as you explore mentor texts in the classroom.

These posts will be on Thursdays (1-2 times per month). Teachers will provide tips and ideas for using mentor texts successfully.

If you are a teacher who uses mentor texts in the classroom, and you would like to participate as a guest blogger, e-mail me (marcie AT marcieatkins DOT com) and I will put you on the schedule.Image for posts--mentor texts in the classroom