Mentor Texts

I’ve been talking for a long time about writing a book with my mentor, Jane Hancock–the Goddess of English teachers, the writers workshop and all that is righteous in a language arts classroom.  Anyway, we’ve been getting nowhere.  The biggest issue with writing about mentor texts is that you would need the permission of tons of authors to use their material.  As it is, I’m wondering when I’ll get a threatening note to take something off of this site.  On that note, for now, I am positing these mentor texts on my website.  Please be aware that there are mistakes.   I copied many of these from other people’s websites.

Without further disclaimers, here we go.

A list of my favorite writing starters, to get students writing.

(Starting this little by little. Many more to come.)

Great Piece for Socratic Seminar

Jesus Colon, Little Things are Big

  1. Students write about their passion

I Live in Music by Ntzoake Shange

2.  Sherman’s Alexie writes of unwritten rules. Students in my classes write about such things as unwritten rules for freshmen, unwritten rules for first dates, etc.

Part-Time Indian, Unwritten Rules

3.   One of the all time favorite mentor texts for teachers, Ray Bradbury opens up Martian Chronicles with a beautiful description of time.

The Martian Chronicles–Time

5.  Sandra Cisneros provides so many good models from House on Mango Street.  Here are two of my favorites:

My Name by Sandra Cisneros

Papa Who Wakes Up In The Dark by Sandra Cisneros

6. Bright Lights, Big City by Jay Mcinerey describes drug action in a poetic second person voice.  Many of my students immediately want to write stories in this style, after reading this piece.

Bright Lights, Big City by Jay Mcinerey

7.  Here’s a fun poem by Shel Silverstein, students describe their own messy or extremely neat room.

Messy Room by Shel Silverstein

8. Too much fun.  This if from Technically, It’s Not My Fault: Concrete Poems by John Grandits

15. Footnote Thank you

9.  This is a wonderful writing starter–Danley  speaks of  real, everyday heroes

Here’s the poet performing:

link to the writing:  Superheroes by Gayle Danley

10. “If I Should Have a Daughter” by Sara Kay.   Students write about what kind of parent they will be.

Video of poet performing:


link to writing. If I should have a daughter by Sarah Kay

11.  “ABC” by Robert Pinsky.   I’m always amazed that student love writing in this form.

Text of Poem:  ABC by Robert Pinsky

12.  “This Is Just To Say” by William Carlos Williams. A simple yet elegant poem on swiping someone else’s food from the fridge

This Is Just To Say by William Carlos Wiliams

13.  “Knock Knock” by Daniel Beatty.   A great performance.  A great spoken-word poem.  Linda Christensen in “Reading,Writing and Rising Up,” deserves all the credit for this idea and In her book she is far more articulate on the lesson plan.  Students imitate the part in Beaty’s poem where he imagines writing a letter to his father, where he tells himself all the things he wished his father would have taught about the world he is about to enter.

As a boy I shared a game with my father
Played it every morning ’til I was 3

He would knock knock on my door
And I’d pretend to be asleep
’til he got right next to the bed
Then I would get up and jump into his arms
“Good morning, Papa.”
And my papa he would tell me that he loved me
We shared a game

Knock Knock

Until that day when the knock never came
And my momma takes me on a ride past corn fields
On this never ending highway ’til we reach a place of high
Rusty gates

A confused little boy
I entered the building carried in my mama’s arms
Knock Knock

We reach a room of windows and brown faces
Behind one of the windows sits my father
I jump out of my mama’s arms
And run joyously towards my papa
Only to be confronted by this window
I knock knock trying to break through the glass
Trying to get to my father
I knock knock as my mama pulls me away
Before my papa even says a word

And for years he has never said a word
And so twenty-five years later, I write these words
For the little boy in me who still awaits his papa’s knock

Papa, come home cause I miss you
I miss you waking me up in the morning and telling me you love me
Papa, come home, cause there’s things I don’t know
And I thought maybe you could teach me:
How to shave;
How to dribble a ball;
How to talk to a lady;
How to walk like a man

Papa, come home because I decided a while back
I wanted to be just like you
But I’m forgetting who you are

And twenty-five years later a little boy cries
And so I write these words and try to heal
And try to father myself
And I dream up a father who says the words my father did not

Dear Son

I’m sorry I never came home
For every lesson I failed to teach, hear these words:
Shave in one direction in strong deliberate strokes to avoid irritation

Dribble the page with the brilliance of your ballpoint pen
Walk like a god and your goddess will come to you
No longer will I be there to knock on your door
So you must learn to knock for yourself
Knock knock down doors of racism and poverty that I could not
Knock knock down doors of opportunity
For the lost brilliance of the black men who crowd these cells
Knock knock with diligence for the sake of your children
Knock knock for me for as long as you are free

These prison gates cannot contain my spirit
The best of me still lives in you
Knock knock with the knowledge that you are my son, but you are not my choices
Yes, we are our fathers’ sons and daughters
But we are not their choices

For despite their absences we are still here
Still alive, still breathing
With the power to change this world
One little boy and girl at a time
Knock knock
Who’s there?
We are


Beaty’s Performance

14. In High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, the narrator is obsessed with making lists of his top 5.  Here a few from the film.  In class we write our top five dream jobs.

Examples from the film with John Cusak:

From the book:

top five dream jobs


Another great one from Linda Christensen.  Students write about unnoticed workers of whom we never seem to take notice of..


Martín Espada

Jorge the Church Janitor Finally Quits

Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1989

No one asks
where I am from,
I must be
from the country of janitors,
I have always mopped this floor. Honduras, you are a squatter’s camp outside the city
of their understanding.

No one can speak
my name,
I host the fiesta
of the bathroom,
stirring the toilet
like a punchbowl.
The Spanish music of my name is lost

when the guests complain about toilet paper.

What they say
must be true:
I am smart,
but I have a bad attitude.

No one knows
that I quit tonight,
maybe the mop
will push on without me, sniffing along the floor
like a crazy squid
with stringy gray tentacles. They will call it Jorge.


Stephen King’s On Writing: Always great for examples