Finding Success With Common Core Reading Using Mentor Text

Minds in Bloom is excited to have April Smith of Performing in Fifth guest posting today! This post is packed with great ideas on using mentor text. Enjoy!

If you teach writing, you've invariably used, or heard about, mentor text. Mentor text is a book that you use to show your students examples of excellent writing, which they can then go imitate in their own writing. Mentor text is often in the form of a picture book, because students can easily relate to them. As a language arts teacher, I was skeptical when I was first approached with the idea using mentor text in my writing instruction. I had many concerns, including the fact that the mentor text I was given to use with my 4th-6th graders was at a 1st grade Lexile level. After years of checking the Lexile level of everything we read, I was worried that these texts wouldn't be useful for my students. After my first year using mentor text, I was sold on the idea. My students were more interested in writing, and their writing skills drastically improved.

Why is mentor text so effective?

  1. Mentor text is engaging. There's nothing more exciting to a 5th grader than when you pull out a pack of stickers or a coloring sheet. Students feel the same excitement about picture books. 
  2. Mentor text is understandable. Even my struggling readers understand the words and concepts in mentor text. 
  3. Mentor text is efficient. It allows me to model a difficult standard in a 25 minute mini-lesson. 

Once I realized how successful mentor text was in my Writing instruction, I asked
myself, "How can I used mentor text to improve my Reading instruction?

In Reading, I realized that mentor text can be used to show students excellent examples of all the story elements. After hearing that many teachers were struggling with the new Common Core standards, I realized what an amazing resource mentor text can be to help make the standards more understandable.

How do I choose mentor text?

The best mentor text gets students interested. My absolute favorite for the upper grades is Train to Somewhere by Eve Bunting, a historical fiction book about orphans that travel by train to find new families. I read this story with my 4th, 5th, and 6th graders each year, and they've always been on the edge of their seats waiting to see if she is adopted. The best thing about mentor text is that you can reread it throughout the year, teaching a new standard each time. I can model 6/9 of the Common Core Reading Standards for Fifth grade with just this one mentor text. Find a book that you love, and your students love, and find out which story elements are apparent in it. You'll be surprised by how many standards you can fit into one mentor text! Remember that the author's craft connects reading and writing standards, so you can reuse mentor text in both subjects!

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.5.1 - Inferencing
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.5.3 - Compare & Contrast Characters
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.5.5 - Text Structure
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.5.6 - Point of View
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.5.9- Compare & Contrast Books in Same Genre

I can model each of these standards using a mentor text, and then facilitate while my students apply what they've learned to reading literature in their lexile band. Because they have a good example of the standard in a mentor text, they can easily transfer that knowledge to more difficult reading.

Can I use mentor text with my current curriculum?

Yes! Mentor text can be easily paired with your curriculum. I use a mixture of mentor text, Harcourt curriculum, and my Interactive Reading Notebooks. Mentor text is an important piece in my ELA puzzle. Once you find a few good mentor texts, you'll find yourself using them over and over again!

Mrs. Smith teaches 4th-6th grade ELA and Math throughout her career. She strives to make learning enjoyable for all of her students using high-interest activities like Interactive Notebooks and Project-based learning. You can read more about student engagement on her blog - Performing in Fifth, or download here free Project-based Learning pages from her Teachers Pay Teachers store.
Font credit: KG Fonts


Diane said...

I would love to see a list of mentor texts that you would recommend for 5th grade. Also, I could not find the free "project based learning pages" on TpT.

Mrs Smith said...

Hi Diane!

I use the following mentor text for 5th grade:

Mentor Text Used for Literature Standards (You may substitute with another book you have)
Baseball Saved Us
Passage to Freedom
Grandpa's Teeth
Train to Somewhere
Poetry for Young People
My Rotten Red-headed Older Brother
Voices in the Park

Mentor Text Used for Informational Standards
Lives of the Scientists: Isaac Newton by Kathleen Krull & Kathryn Hewitt
Hope and Tears Ellis Island Voices by Gwenyth Swain
Freedom Heroines: Elizabeth Cady Stanton
A River Ran Wild By Lynne Cherry
The Transcontinental Railroad by Gillian Houghton
To the Golden Mountain by Lila Perl

My FREE project-based learning can be found here:

Have a great Back to School Diane!

Jennifer Larson said...

Great post! I agree that picture books are really effective tools for upper grade classrooms! When I moved from teaching 2nd grade to 4th and 5th, I found so many books from my lower grades library that I could use with my older kids. Love this idea!

Stacy said...

Great guest post!! I always knew I loved mentor texts, but now I know why!

Anonymous said...

Any suggestions for texts that would be great to use for 4th grade?

Heidi F said...

This is a great post, but I have never been formally trained in mentor text use and mini-lessons. Do you have any resources you would suggest for me to grow professionally in this area?

Pam Olivieri said...

I agree with mentor text too! I especially use them with all my writing mini-lessons!!!!
Rockin Resources

Mrs Smith said...

I use the following mentor texts with my 4th graders: Mentor Text Used for Literature Standards
The Stranger
Miss Malarkey Leaves No Reader Behind
Train to Somewhere
Favorite Greek Myths
Poetry for Young People
Greek Myth Plays (Scholastic)
Voices in the Park
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

Mentor Text Used for Informational Standards
A Child’s Introduction to Art: by Meredith Hamilton and Heather Alexander
The Greek News By Anton Powell
Survivors: True Stories of Children in the Holocaust by Allan Zullo
A Warmer World By Caroline Arnold
To the Golden Mountain by Lila Perl

Mrs Smith said...


I have a free download in my store for RL4.4 that has the mentor text and directions for using it:

If you're interested, I also have all of the 4th, 5th, and 6th grade standards with mentor text and directions for sale in my store. :)

Feel free to e-mail me with any questions as you are trying mentor text in your classroom!

Luv2teach said...

Informative post...What about mentor text that address the standards for third? I would love and appreciate a list of resources that you recommend. Mrs. R

Teaching Resources

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Pin It button on image hover