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April, 2011

Dear Literacy Place for the Early Years Teacher,

Teachers at a recent writing workshop wanted to know: What is the difference between a 'mentor text' and a class sample?

As you are working with the Text-Type Writing Studies, you will see references to 'mentor' or model texts and to the construction of a class sample. Both are extremely helpful tools for improving students' writing.

The 'mentor text' serves as a model of the type of text that students will be writing in the study. These texts are familiar to the students because they were introduced during Read Aloud or Shared Reading sessions. Even Guided Reading texts can act as 'mentor texts'. While students are immersed in the reading of the mentor text, they begin to compare it with known types of writing. For example, prior to writing persuasive arguments, students in Grade 3 read the Shared Reading text, Three Easy Steps to Getting a Dog. As they de-construct the text in reading, they begin to realize how an author builds a convincing argument by thinking about both 'for' and 'against' sides. An effective practice is to note key elements you are discussing on an enlarged graphic organizer (e.g., what the author wanted, facts and opinions, counter arguments, addressing counter arguments). This immersion in the text enables students to become aware of the features, organization, and conventions applicable to the specific text type.

After de-constructing the text-type in reading, you begin the text-type writing study. During Modelled/Shared writing sessions, you plan and create a class sample with your students in the selected text type. These collaborative and highly-supported learning experiences help students to internalize the necessary skills and understandings to write an example of the selected text type on their own. A major goal of the whole-class portion of the project is to enable students to understand and discuss the text organization and language features of the text type explored. These discussions will demonstrate how much students have internalized and what extra support they may need. The modelling and reflective talk will also help students be successful when writing independently in the particular text type.

As the class sample is co-constructed with students, you work through the stages of the writing process. To begin, elicit ideas for writing and choose one as the whole-class topic. Using a large text organizer, gather all the information needed to write and then discuss with students the components of the text type. During the drafting of the class sample, write the text according to the information on the organizer; an important step for students to see. With the class, focus on the organization and text features of the writing type and decide on sentence structure and specific wording. The class sample is a powerful tool as it is used to demonstrate both revision and editing techniques. For example, during revision show students how to reread the text to confirm that all parts of the text type have been included, make changes to the draft, consider whether to add illustrations or labels, and use a checklist to assist with revisions. Thus students are able to employ similar strategies when revising their own texts. Once the class sample has been revised and edited, make a final copy and encourage students to evaluate the text.

The 'mentor text' and class sample demonstrate for students the reciprocity of the reading and writing processes. Both tools are imperative to enable students to 'read like writers and write for readers'.

Happy teaching,
Sue Jackson signature
Sue Jackson
National Literacy Consultant
Scholastic Education Canada