Write What You Expect Students to Write: Importance of Modeling Writing Pieces and Reading Responses
Updated: Nov 17, 2019
Those who are familiar with Reading and Writing Workshop know about the concept of using mentor texts. A mentor text is used to teach a skill for students to eventually apply to their own reading or writing. One can read anything, really, that is written by authentic writers that could help guide students with their reading and writing. The idea is that students are viewing actual writing to see how good writing is done.
Many times, teachers show students sample essays or writing pieces written by other authors or students. These are great! However, I feel, in addition the ones I just mentioned, it is imperative that WE, the teachers write what we expect students to write.
I also feel this is important in Reading Workshop, too. We consistently expect students to write detailed reading responses. We need to use OUR reading to model how to write what we expect of them.
It builds better relationships with students and shows that you are a writer, too! Students will feel more connected with you since you are going through the process, too. It builds trust. I always say to them, "I do what you do!". When they see you writing in front of them, sometimes off the top of your head, it is more realistic rather then printing or displaying prewritten text. When it is your writing, you can discuss the process you went through to develop your piece.
We all have different writing units. For me, I do narrative continuation stories, research and literary essays, and fantasy writing. For each unit, I go through the exact same process they go through. Also, I go through the whole process before the unit just to get a sense of where it's going. During my mini-lesson, I will brainstorm right in front of them. Even though, yes, I already know what I am writing, I pretend I don't!
When it comes down to actually writing the piece, I break each piece of the story or essay down and right it in front of them. For example, I will just model the exposition for narrative, then rising action, and so on. Sometimes, I ask them for ideas of what I could add or fix. I "mess up" on purpose. I am sure that it is not perfect right away. Once they get into the flow, sometimes I will have a section prewritten, but I will have them highlight for specific things (in an essay, highlight my evidence one color and my elaborations another).
This is also important during the revision stage. I go back to my rough draft and I apply a specific revision skill to it. For example, I teach them how to tag dialogue and add descriptions with dialogue. We will look at a published mentor text to see how it's done, then I go back to mine and add some. Then they go back and add to theirs!
I think a lot of teachers don't realize this applies to reading, too! I always use a short story or excerpts from a book as my mentor text to teach reading skills. We read it together and apply skills using that as our guide.
If I want my students to make inferences with their books, I make inferences with our shared mentor text. I do the actual reading response I'd expect of them. In 6th grade, they need guidance; a lot of times, especially in reading workshop, it's VERY open-ended. I've decided that doesn't work for my kids and they need more structure with reading responses.
The responses will vary from skill to skill and unit to unit. Sometimes it's a chart. Sometimes it's sticky notes. Sometimes it's a paragraph. Sometimes it's labeling. Either way, I write what they write with the shared text.
Luckily, my students are 1:1 with Chromebook. If you have the ability to do this, it makes modeling writing SO MUCH easier. I used to have the big easel with markers. Writing in front of the students dragged on and took so much time. Digitally, you can type right in front of them as you go.
I have a Promethean Board with a small, rolling desk in front of my classroom. I also have a wireless mouse and keyboard. In front of that, is a mat for my students to gather for the lesson. (The picture above shows this setup). It still has the workshop feel, while going digital.
I also use digital notebooks that are set up ahead of time that gives students templates for reading responses and writing. When I model, I fill in the SAME notebook they have, and add it to Google Classroom for them to revisit as needed.
Check out all of my digital materials here!
If you want students to write something a specific way, you need to show them how it's done. It's just like in Math; you have to show them each step. The best way to do this is to write, too!