“With a room full of authors to help us teach, teaching writing doesn’t have to be so lonely (Katie Wood Kay, page 150, Wondrous Words).”
Mentor Text and Touchstone Text are synonyms in some circles and different words in some classrooms. Both are correct in professional literature in my experience. Teachers might want to define the words in their own classrooms with students. Janet Angelillo in her book, A Fresh Approach to Teaching Punctuation, has clear, student-friendly definitions.
Janet writes, “Mentor Texts refer to single books, poems, or an author’s larger work that children, as individuals, decide to study. Therefore, it is possible for each child in the class to have a different mentor text or mentor author. A child might take on one book by Patricia Maclachlan as a mentor text or might study all of Maclachlan’s work as a mentor author.
Touchstone Texts refer to classwide texts that are used again and again in the classroom by the teacher and students for whole-group conversation and instruction. There are usually only 2-3 touchstone texts in each genre for a class. They are loved and known by all and help create a common conversation (page 63).”
Criteria for Picking Touchstone/Mentor Text
In Units of Study in the Writing Workshop, Isoke Nia lists 10 ways to find them. The 10 ways are also listed in The Reading Teacher. The Reading Teacher, 61(5), pp. 411–414, DOI:10.1598/RT.61.5.5, Touchstone Texts: Fertile Ground for Creativity, Irma Sturgell. I use these as guidelines to choose our touchstone text for the feature article study.
Selecting Touchstone Texts
1. You have read the text and you love it.
2. You and your students have talked about the text a lot as readers first.
3. You find many things to teach in the text.
4. You can imagine talking about the text for a very long time.
5. Your entire class can have access to the text.
6. Your students can read the text independently or with some support.
7. The text is written by a writer you trust.
8. The text is a little more sophisticated than the writing of your best students.
9. The text is a good example of writing of a particular kind (genre).
10. The text is of the genre that we are studying.
Wondrous Words: Writers and Writing in the Elementary Classroom (1999) Katie Wood Ray suggested using touchstone texts as part of a teacher developed writing workshop and selecting texts that meet this criteria.
1. Have background information included.
2. Have a writing concept that is interesting.
3. Remind readers of other texts.
4. Are crafted with interesting structures.
5. Are full of crafted ways with words.
6. Are ones in which writers take risks
I encourage teachers to choose 3 or 4 books that they use as their mentor text or touchstone text. In the book. Wondrous Words, by Katie Wood Ray, she has a chapter called, “Books I know and Love.” Ray’s list of books helps us being collecting our favorites. Often our students love certain books and willingly reread them. The idea of a touchstone text is that we reread a text for numerous teaching points in the classrooms. The students begin to refer to the author as a mentor or teacher. The student learns reading strategies and writing strategies from this mentor text.
Reading Lessons with a Touchstone (Mentor) Text
Most teachers purposely teach several reading lessons so that the whole class is familiar with the mentor text. It usually works best if all the students have access to the text read. For example, on day one the comprehension / reading lesson teaching point might be for adjusting predictions. On day two the comprehension / reading lesson teaching point might be summarization. On day three the comprehension / reading lesson identify how the character’s feeling changed throughout the selection. These three teaching points are examples of many possible teaching points based on state standards and students’ needs. By the end of the third day, the students are comfortable with the story and know it well enough when the teacher begins to use it as a touchstone / mentor text. The students start reading like writers – noting the how the author used words to convey meaning.
Writing Lessons with a Touchstone (Mentor) Text
The teacher refers to 1 of the 3 or 4 touchstone texts during a conference. The touchstone text is familiar to the students due to the previous work. The teacher marks writing teaching points with sticky notes throughout the book before sitting down to confer with students. This assists with the touchstone text conferences between the students and teacher.
As the teacher notices what the student is doing in a piece of work, the teacher comments on the writing giving feedback on the positive things. “I see that you have ________. You also _________.” “You have done some smart things as a writer, such as _______.” Next, the teacher names something specifically the child could work on that the touchstone text author does. The teacher is using the literature in the book to model the specific teaching point. The teacher is teaching the kids to read like a writer. The teacher is careful to pick literature that is within the the range and similar to what kids can do. During a touchstone text lesson the teacher points out how the author used the craft technique that the teacher wants to teach. Then the teacher asks the student to notice the craft technique on another page that the teacher is teaching. Finally the student applies it immediately in their own writing so the student can try it out with the teacher assisting as needed before the conference ends and the student is on their own. As the students start to imitate the writing moves that the author uses in the textstone text they gain confidence as writers. “This is a compound sentence like author, ____________, wrote. You could write a compound sentence too. Let’s look at how the author wrote and use it as a model [ sentence comma conjunction sentence endmark ].”
The Teacher’s College recommends this activity for A Touchstone Text:
The activity has several purposes: (a) to relate the text (narrative, informational, expository) to poetry; (b) to determine important information, main idea; (c) to foster accountable talk among students; and (d) to practice expression and fluency.
(1) Before reading the touchstone text again, give each child a sticky note with the instructions to write down the one line or phrase from the touchstone text that made the biggest impression on him/her (an “ah!” “oh!” or “aha!” moment) – a sentence or phrase that stood out. They write the exact words from the text.
(2) Read the story to the class again.
(3) Have children “turn and talk” to a neighbor about their line, how it affected them, and how the author accomplished that effect.
(4) Then have the children stand in a circle around the room and read their lines. The first child reads the title of the book and the book’s author. Then he/she says: “a poem by _______(class name)” and then reads his/her line/phrase. Continue around the circle with each child reading his/her chosen line/phrase.
(5) You can then write the poem on chart paper to display in the room. It becomes a poem of the book.
Having a special place in the classroom for the touchstone text or mentor text is important. Some teachers reserve a bookshelf or a basket on a bookshelf for the books. It key that the students go back and re-read the book. If the students revisit the book, it is similiar to visiting an old friend. The students remember the writing and reading lessons that the teacher has taught along with the wonderful story line the author wrote.
How this plays out in a classroom is written about here:
and a video example here: http://www.learner.org/workshops/writing35/session3/sec2p2.html
Mentor Text book list to teach reading strategies http://www.mauryk12.org/Literacy/Mentor%20Texts.htm
Touchstone Book List with Teaching Points listed here: http://teachers.mpcsd.org/cbrewbaker/Brewbaker/TouchstoneWishList.html
List of books to teaching writing strategies: http://www.mauryk12.org/Literacy/Mentor%20Texts.htm#Touchstone%20Texts
The Teaching Point: A text (or part of a text) can use a repeated phrase as a transitional device at the end of sections of text vignettes, descriptions, or ideas.
Ralph Fletcher writes about the Recurring Lines…
Fletcher compares recurring lines to rolling a snowball. The line gains power and weight as it gets repeated. Such lines can give cohesion to the piece and leave the reader with a sense of closure. Repeated Phrase As A Transitional Device Book Suggestions:
Gifts. 1997. Phyllis Limbacher Tildes.
Grandpa Never Lies. 2000. Ralph Fletcher. Illus. by Harvey Stevenson.
Making the World. 1998. Douglas Wood. Illus. by Yoshi and Hibiki Miyazaki
Mothers Are Like That. 2000. Carol Carrick. Illus. by Paul Carrick.
On the Same Day in March: A Tour of the World’s Weather. 2000. Marilyn Singer. Illus. by Frane Lessac.
What a Wonderful Day to Be a Cow. 1995. Carolyn Lesser. Illus. by Melissa Bay Mathis.
Professional Development Resources
Calkins, Lucy. 2003. Units of Study for Primary Writing: A Yearlong Curriculum. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Collins, Kathy. 2004. Growing Readers: Units of Study in a Primary Classroom. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.
Laminack, Lester. Learning Under the Influence of Language and Literature: Making the Most of Read-Alouds Across the Day. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Mere, Cathy. 2005. More Than Guided Reading. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.
Miller, Debbie. 2002. Reading with Meaning: Teaching Comprehension in the Primary Grades. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.
Routman, Regie. 2000. Kids’Poems: Teaching First Graders to Love Writing Poetry. New York: Scholastic.
Ray, Katie Wood and Lisa Cleaveland. About the Authors: Writing Workshop with Our Youngest Writers. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.