Techniques to Teach Writing Effectively: Using Mentor Texts

Last week we discussed the second part of an article posted on Education Week’s website about how to teach writing effectively, especially for English language learners (ELLs). This week we refine our discussion of how ELLs can use their growing knowledge of English together with mentor texts to become effective writers.

Herself an ELL, Anastasia M. Martinez is an English-language-development teacher in Pittsburg, California, who didn’t find her academic voice or develop her individual writing style until she was in graduate school and encountered numerous journals, articles, and other academic texts. Now a middle school teacher of multilingual learners, she always provides a model text related to the prompt or topic the class is exploring.

How to use mentor texts

A mentor or “model” text gives students a starting point for their own writing, making the process less scary and eliminating getting stuck on the first sentence.

Before introducing a model text, Martinez creates a “do now” activity that turns the students’ attention to the topic of the writing while also creating a relevant context for the text they will create. Next, she covers the lesson’s objectives, and, finally, she introduces the model text. The class uses prereading strategies to analyze the text, including the title, images, and how long the piece is, and either she reads the material to the class, or the students read with a partner, thinking about the main ideas presented. Which option she chooses depends on the overall reading level of the class.

The students share their ideas about the reading with a partner and then with the whole class; the multiple reengagements help students become more familiar with the text, as well as help students build reading fluency.

Deconstructing the text

The next important step is guiding the students through each sentence and paragraph of the mentor text, a process called deconstruction. Everyone shares their ideas about the meaning of what’s on the page, which they then annotate using different colored highlighters. Color coding helps students recognize similar parts of the model text, which they can link together to construe meaning. The colors also serve as a check for the students to determine if they used all parts of the writing based on the colors.

Inevitably with the ELL population, there will be unknowns, such as “big words,” or academic vocabulary. Martinez boxes these in the text, and questions about why the author used that word or phrase in the text. When students do their own writing, they can incorporate these new words into their own writing, a process that enhances their vocabulary and language skills.

Model texts aren’t solely used for ELL students; they’re an essential part of the writing process in any content-area class at any level. They provide the foundation upon which students can build their unique writing skills, tone, and voice.


To read part 1 of this blog series, click here.


To read part 2 of this blog series, click here.



[1] Ferlazzo, Larry. (February 16, 2024). “How to Help Students with Their Writing. 4 Educators Share Their Secrets.” Education Week. Retrieved from


Author: AceReader Blogger

The AceReader blogging team is made up of specialists in a number of different areas: literacy, general education, content development, and educational software. For questions about posts, please submit them in the form below. For suggestions about blog topics, please email them to

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