Using Digital Mentor Texts in Writing Workshop

I love using mentor texts to inspire and support writers in writing workshop.  Over several years I developed a collection of mentor texts (such as Those Shoes, The Waterfall, and Beekeepers for narrative writing) and folders of past student writing (such as A Disturbance in the Force and I Love Knitting! for opinion).  I had always thought of mentor texts as books, articles, or student writing, but a closing workshop at TCRWP’s Writing Institute led by Maggie Beattie Roberts (@maggiebroberts) really expanded my understanding of mentor texts.

The workshop shared how and why we could incorporate videos in writing workshop.  Roberts explained that we need to lean on kids’ digital literacy strengths as we teach writing.  She presented data from the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Generation M2 Study, which showed that kids have an extensive amount of media exposure and digital expertise.  Rather than pushing back against this, she suggested that teachers tap into students’ engagement with media by using digital texts as mentor texts. I absolutely loved her ideas and wanted to share what I learned with you.

What is a digital mentor text?  

A digital mentor text is a digital text that the class revisits throughout the year.  It acts just like a traditional mentor text, but consists of clips of media or digital material. Here are some examples shared during the workshop:

Narrative Mentor Text: “Modern Family” – Claire and Phil

Narrative videos help with character development.  If kids are struggling to include meaningful dialogue or actions, you can watch video multiple times and ask questions such as:

  • What did the dialogue say? How did the dialogue shape our understanding of the characters?

  • Watch video muted. Ask: What actions did the characters do? How did that change our understanding of the characters?

Opinion Mentor Text: Apple Ad:  Our Signature

When searching for opinion videos, it is helpful to look for ads.  Persuasive mentor texts usually make a specific claim, offer convincing support, and use precise  and sophisticated vocabulary to support the claim.  Some questions to use with students as you view an opinion mentor text:

  • What might a thesis statement be for this video?

  • How is it persuasive? What strategies does the video use to support claim? How does it use repetition? How does it use images? How does the order of the video matter?

  • What words did the video use to support the claim or idea?

Informational Mentor Text: National Geographic Shark Video

Informational videos often have certain expert tone to them, but the best videos also have engaging facts, comparisons, and mini stories to make them even more interesting. Some questions to use with students as you view an informational mentor text:

  • What idea does the video put forth about ____?

  • What are the moves the writers use to make ________ fascinating/terrifying/lovable?

  • What is the structure of the information? What order were the facts presented and why?

  • What images does the video use to support ideas?

Finding Digital Mentor Texts

Now that I have a little time on my hands, I’m starting to search YouTube to see which videos I might want to use as digital mentor texts in my 4th grade classroom this year.  The first one I really love is Bullfrogs Eat Everything.  It is such a great video–it is written in paragraph form, has great sentence structures (main idea and detail, compare and contrast), includes fascinating facts, uses elaboration, and the list goes on!

Do you use digital mentor texts? If so, I’d love to hear about your favorites! If you don’t and want to search for them with me, let me know and we can share our links!


Opening the Door

Inspired by TCRWP!

Inspired by TCRWP!

I have always loved writing, but found it incredibly challenging.  From middle school on, I loved sitting with my fingers poised over a keyboard, coaxing the ideas to flow.  It sometimes felt a little unwieldy, like preparing a dinner feast–so many little details and parts that need to come together, so much time spent stirring the pot, waiting for the dish to bake, but I loved the process and the outcome. Seeing everything suddenly form after spending hours revising sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph, omitting needless words was satisfying.

After college and graduate school, however, I stopped writing.  I rarely took the time to craft any writing unless I was applying for a grant or penning a letter to a friend.  I had thoughts about starting a class blog or even a teaching blog, but never got very far.

This year, after attending the Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project (TCRWP) Writing Institute, I decided to begin writing again after being inspired by Lucy Calkins’ opening keynote.  In her keynote, Calkins had three main points.  She said if we want to get results with students in writing, we need to:

  1. Go for it.  Don’t waffle.  If we don’t stick with something it work have an impact (much like a diet). We need to role play our way into the actions of a writer.
  2. Work with deliberateness towards challenging goals.  Learners benefit from having specific goals based on what they are already doing.  Having a strong relationship and knowledge of students is key and feedback propels the learner forward.
  3. Bring writing to scale at our school.  The relationships between teachers makes the biggest difference.  We need to venture into each other’s rooms, collaborate, and work together to create a community of writers and learners.

While these ideas were about the teaching of writing, they have implications and applications far beyond writing workshop–they apply to all learning and teaching endeavors both in and out of the classroom.  So, I am taking Lucy’s advice both inside and outside of the classroom.  Here’s my plan for personal growth:

  1. Go for it: I want to bring thoughtful writing back into my personal and professional life, so I am starting a blog
  2. My challenging goal: I aim to write 1-2 posts a week about teaching and learning sharing articles, lessons, tech ideas, websites, videos, artifact, quotes  (trying to bring in at least one outside source each time I post)
  3. Bring work to scale–collaborate and form a learning community:  I’m going to try to extend the scale of learning by collaborating both at school, within my district,  between districts, and across the internet using this blog, the kidblog I just started for my class, and twitter.

I’m opening the door, inviting you in to see the beginnings of the process.  I’m going for it, and I’m crossing my fingers that what emerges is interesting and, hopefully, delicious.