Writing is a challenging task, and for many children it can be difficult to know where to begin. The use of mentor texts – books, stories, poems, articles, etc. written by professional writers – selected as models can provide young authors with a much-needed boost.
To begin, ask the child to select a text he really enjoys. (Or, if the child must complete a homework assignment, try to find a piece of writing that is similar to the goal of the assignment.) The student should reread the text and consider what makes it so appealing. Some children may need assistance in pinpointing the particular aspects of a text that make it so great – good word choices, flowing sentence structures, plot pattern, etc.
Once the student has generated some good observations, it’s time to get writing. She shouldn’t copy the ideas in the mentor piece, but rather should focus on trying to use the same elements she admires in it. For example, use of specific words that professional author included can make a piece more lively and vivid while simultaneously teaching vocabulary. Using someone else’s sentence structure to express a student’s own ideas will expose her to different ways to construct and join phrases and allow her to experiment and branch out as a writer.
Modeling writing from mentor texts is effective because it can liberate students from writer’s block and promote learning by doing. Pieces written with inspiration from models will be of higher quality than pieces written independently, and students are likely to retain the lessons they learn about good writing because they’ve had the opportunity to practice them.
Imitation is the highest form of flattery, and it can also be a great teaching tool.