Mentor Texts to Maximize Achievement!

If you are like most public school librarians, you might be looking to optimize the time you have with your students with meaningful lessons that connect to the classroom curriculum, or help target grade-level concerns identified via testing. Well, using mentor texts to help introduce a new way of writing, to make inferences, to teach questioning, or to connect a narrative biography to a fictional literary character could be the answer you’ve been looking for.

With limited class time, a picture book can transform any lesson from just an old fashioned story time into an in-depth meaningful lesson that connects back to their classroom curriculum. My fifth grade classes are departmentalized and one of the ELA classes utilizes our state-crafted curriculum. So, I collaborate with teachers to help students draw additional connections that enhance their learning and their writing. One example is when I use Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull. This is an excellent example of how a biography picture book can help students draw parallels to the fictional character Esperanza from Pam Munoz Ryan’s book Esperanza Rising which is part of the classroom state curriculum.

Using stories like Mr. Marlowe’s Mouse as an example of a personal narrative with foreshadowing allows me to support that skill instruction. Mr. Marlowe’s story about his promotion and his decision to  treat himself to a live mouse for lunch will provide students with an example of a snapshot of one day—one event or one milestone—that their teacher is asking of them to provide in their own writing.  Students love to tell a good story, but when asked to write a personal narrative they seem to struggle with how to put it down on paper. As a librarian you can use this entertaining picture book to show students how details, conversation, and sequencing are important when piecing together their own personal narrative.

With older students, we also can model using “think marks,” a teaching technique where students are asked to note, or mark, varying ideas, reactions, responses, and things they question, or are “thinking about” as they read a text. This technique transforms a passive reading model into an active reading model where students read and react with the story, thereby helping them get to deep meaning. With limited time, I choose to pick mentor texts like Crow Call by Lois Lowry. Students are being asked more and more to look for the deeper meaning and this story is an excellent way for them to see why it is so important to pay attention to the little details and inferences that the author is trying to make. I have students make predictions about this book before I read it aloud. They record notes via think marks and share their ideas with each other. The heartfelt story draws the students in, and it surprises them when the story really has nothing to do with crows—or calling them for that matter.

With younger students you can use the book Where Do Balloons Go? An Uplifting Mystery by Jamie Lee Curtis to begin teaching students how to formulate research questions. The book will help encourage students to share their own “heart wonders” which lead to great discussions and writing opportunities back in the classroom. In the library it can serve as a springboard into developing “I wonders” that can be answered through the research process.

About the Author

Andrea Williams is a library media specialist at Wood Road Elementary School in Ballston Spa, NY. She has more than 20 years teaching experience in both Virginia and New York. Andrea enjoys working with her students on research projects, enhancing their classroom instruction, fostering a love of reading, and creating lifelong learners.

MLA Citation Williams, Andrea. "Mentor Texts to Maximize Achievement!" School Library Connection, March 2016,

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Entry ID: 2006489

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