|Authentic Texts Are Best!
Authentic texts used as mentor texts are pieces of children's literature that contain model examples of English language arts (ELA) skills within their writing. By authentic children's literature, I mean that the texts were not specifically made for instructional purpose. These texts are all or part of a children's book and are usually considered strong in literary merit. Teachers look for these model examples of writing in order to use the authentic texts to explicitly instruct specific ELA skills. Those of us who were 'trained up' during the Whole Language phase of reading educational theory, do it like second nature (whole language debate best left fettered for now!).
What are some important things to know when using authentic texts to mentor English language art skills?
Front-load the vocabulary: As I read any new children's literature selection, I note words that may trip up my students and words that are disciplinary (unique to the topic). Before we begin the text selection, I always give a quick overview of the new words (with an example and visual if possible).
Read the beginning and the example section(s) of the text aloud: In the case of novels... I find it important to begin by reading the first chapter or so aloud. It helps lock fluent language in their minds and engages them in the text. In the case of picture books, regardless of age, I typically read the entire text. Then, when the time comes to highlight the instructionally selected section of text, I reread the text - or sometimes I have a volunteer student reread the text selection. Either way, the ELA example section needs to be heard and seen by all.
Check comprehension after you read and before you use the text to teach: Before you begin using the text as an explicit teaching example, make certain that the students understand what they have read. As I always say, "comprehension is king."
Create an anchor chart: If the text selection is used as the first time you are teaching a particular ELA skill, use the selected text to create a reminder of the lesson on an anchor chart. You can refer back, and add, to the anchor chart as the year progresses and the students gain more experiences with that skill.
Keep "reading" journals: Have the students make note of the skills and the books used as mentor examples. You can refer back to these, like the anchor charts, and they are super fun to review at the end of the year. Students will be amazed at all of the books you've read together (I have a very specific way of keeping reading journals, but that's a post for another day)!
How does one select the best authentic texts to use as mentor texts?
Multiple Examples: The best mentor texts contain multiple examples of a specific skill. It's not enough to choose one sentence that uses a preposition to teach prepositional use. The text you select for that skill needs to have multiple examples of various prepositions and, according to developmental level, multiple ways of use.
Consider Literary Merit: Just because a book has multiple examples of an ELA skill doesn't make it a good choice. Solid writing skill matters. Story, plot, structure, characterization.... all the great writing requirements need to be there too. Strong readers and writers grow from simply hearing and internalizing proper language use.
Consider Diversity: Students need to see themselves and their friends represented in your example. American literature tends to lean white and Christian. This is a very important consideration; choose a broad range of authentic literature in order to expose all students to many cultures, races, ideas and beliefs.
Anyway.... I just thought I would give my two cents on using authentic texts since Reading Rumpus is pretty-much completely built around the idea that kids learn best from authentic texts!
Quick Note: Authentic Texts and Mentor Texts are different from Source Texts. Authentic means real world selections (books, novels, and maybe source texts). Mentor means they can be used to teach explicitly from because they contain model examples of ELA skills (books, novels, and maybe source texts). Source Texts are examples of writings that are sources of information for various disciplines, typically the sciences and social studies. Think of the Constitution when you think of source texts :-)
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