Mitch Scott


Return to: ETAP 623 Fall 2019 (Zhang) | Authentic Text as Writing Mentors

About me

Mitch Scott Profile Picture.jpg

I was a secondary ELA teacher for 8 years. I had several summer jobs and side hustles during that time, but the most compelling was item writing for Ed Tech companies. That freelance experience led to my current position as content specialist for an education publisher. However, my ultimate goal is to move into curriculum or educational resource design.

I enjoy hiking, cooking, and gaming. My wife and I just had a baby girl, so we're very excited to share our hobbies and love of reading with her.

My Topic/Purpose

My Mini-Course will demonstrate the value of using of authentic literature as mentor texts in writing instruction and coach participants on how to select and use texts with their classes. Topics will include:

  • What is genre-based pedagogy and how does it support writing instruction?
  • How do we analyze genre as a writer, and how do we coach students to transfer the skill to new texts and genres?
  • What should we look for when selecting a mentor text?
  • How do mentor texts fit within a thematic or genre-based unit's alignment?

Learning Outcomes

The purpose of this course is to emphasize the value of authentic texts as writing models and to enable participants to apply these strategies in their own classroom. Participants will be able to:

  • Describe the tenets of genre-based pedagogy and their application in writing instruction (Remembering)
  • Identify signifying features of genre (Understanding)
  • Compare and evaluate "student models" versus authentic "mentor texts" (Analyzing)
  • Appraise a text's value as writing mentor within an aligned unit and task (Evaluating)
  • Design or improve a unit plan around mentor text(s) using backwards design (Creating)
  • Create learning activities to model, practice, and apply transferable genre analysis skills (Creating)

Needs Assessment


A mentor text is “a piece of writing that is observed and analyzed so that students may attempt to imitate one or more linguistic functions” (Almeciga and Evans, 2014). While contrived model essays have long been used in classrooms and text books, authentic mentor texts exhibit strong examples of linguistic function, the social contextualization for those functions, and allow students to “combine components of reading and writing” by using the same content to reinforce both reciprocal processes. For learners of English as a foreign language, there is much emphasis on the social contextualization of language. Munby advocated for “exploring ways in which to expose language learners to these sociocultural rules of language use” because there are “culturally defined aspects of both spoken and written forms of language such as genre, style, syntax, collacations, and so on which are constructed, defined, shaped, and determined by the social use of the language” (Almeciga and Evans, 2014). Even when working with native English speakers, Perin noted academic unpreparedness in university students and advocated for an instructional approach that seeks to “combine the components of both reading and writing through the use of authentic materials that directly relate to the academic needs and interests of the students” (2013). For their purposes working with EFL students, Almeciga and Evans highlight the gaps in organization and cohesion of the text, idea development and content clarity, and sentence fluency, for which they borrow Deiderich’s definition: “write sentences in many forms to fit the mood, make the meaning clear, to flow into the surrounding sentences, or to make a point stand out.” However, these criteria are found on almost all process writing rubrics, including the 6 Traits of Writing model, and ELA or literacy teachers who serve both native English speakers and ELLs will recognize these as problem areas.

Research by Oczkus (2012) and Robb (2011) indicate that the use of authentic mentor texts may be used instructionally to address the exact gaps identified here. If teachers were to utilize multiple examples of the same genre, whether as a unit of study or spiraling across units, that immersion allows students to “develop an internalized sense of why an author would select a particular genre for a particular purpose, the power of a particular genre to convey a message…” (Dorfman and Cappelli, 2007). The research on this topic indicates an understanding of the issue spanning back decades, with much initial research occuring in the 1970s. However, the 2007 Dorfman and Cappelli paper seems to be a landmark in the field (it is cited in nearly every contemporary paper), suggesting that widespread knowledge around or practical application of authentic mentor texts has not gained ubiquity despite the historical interest.

What is to be learned

Participants will learn how analyze and select texts for use as writing "genre mentors" during process writing tasks. The goal is that teachers will get "double duty" out of these selections because they can function as rich, authentic texts for reading analysis as well as exemplary models for writing within a genre.

Analysis of the Learner and Context

The Learner

The literature review highlighted that on top of the benefits of authentic mentor texts for writing instruction generally, there is interest and evidence specifically in the application of this methodology for ELL or EFL students. As a result, the information in this course will be valuable to any public school ELA/Reading or Social Studies teacher. However, certain writing tasks in Math and Science with highly specialized genre expectation (lab reports, theoretical proofs, journal articles, etc.) will benefit from authentic writing mentors.

Context for Instruction

Participants will access this mini-course online, in the location of his or her choosing. Delivery of the content will require the use of a computer and a stable internet connection. Because the performance task is designed to be relevant to and reflective of the participant's current curriculum, participants should also gather a unit outline or list of texts used during the school year.

Performance Objectives

Course-level outcomes:

  • Participants will be able to identify and analyze signifying features of genres in order to select high quality, authentic texts to serve as mentors in writing instruction.
  • Participants will be able to use backwards design to align assessment, materials, mentor texts, and strategies throughout the extended writing task.
  • Participants will be able to communicate generalizable genre analysis skills to students, during both reading and writing instruction, in order to foster wider curriculum and unit alignment.

Task Analysis

Prerequisites: Participants are expected to enter the course with...

...experience in creating lesson and unit plans

...a pre-made or prospective unit plan which includes a process writing task

Unit 1: Genre-Based Pedagogy

  • Participants will read scholarly texts on the principles of genre-based pedagogy
  • Participants will identify and evaluate the distinctive features of various genres

Unit 2: Mentor Text

  • Participants will define "Mentor Text"
  • Participants will reflect on the qualities to look for in an authentic mentor text

Unit 3: Preparing for Unit Planning with a Mentor Text

  • Participants will compare unit development based on theme v. genre
  • Participants will develop a writing task and rubric for a unit or select a writing task and rubric from a pre-existing unit plan.
  • Participants will evaluate texts within the unit to serve as a writing mentor.
  • Participants will review strengths and weaknesses of whole text instruction of mentor text, chunked instruction of mentor text, or a combination of both.

Unit 4: Unit Planning with a Mentor Text

  • Participants will map the introduction of the mentor text and placement of the writing process within unit pacing.
  • Participants will confirm alignment between unit essential question, writing task genre, writing task rubric, and mentor text.

Unit 5: Generalizable Language and Transfer

  • Participants will review scholarly material on generalizable language and transfer.
  • Participants will develop lesson plans to model genre analysis through the mentor text.
  • Participants will create activities to allow for scaffolding practice of genre analysis
  • Participants will reflect on how to encourage students to independently apply genre analysis of mentor texts.

Curriculum Map

References and Resources

Dorfman, L. R., & Cappelli, R. (2007). Mentor texts: Teaching writing throughchildren’s literature, K-6. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.

Escobar Alméciga, W. Y., & Evans, R. (2014). Mentor texts and the coding of academic writing structures: A functional approach. HOW, 21(2), 94-111.

Oczkus, L. D. (2012). Best ever literacy survival tips: 72 lessons you can't teach without. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Perin, D. (2013). Literacy skills among academically underprepared students. Community College Review, 41(2), 118-136.

Robb, L. (2011). Thirteen for thirteen-year-olds. Instructor, 120(6), 36-38.