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Inside Writing Communities, Grades 3-5

Program 5: Reading Like a Writer

The relationship between reading and writing in the intermediate classroom is explored. The program demonstrates ways in which reading inspires students and helps them learn the craft of writing, including the use of touchstone and mentor texts.

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Watch the 30-minute video “Reading Like a Writer.” If you prefer to watch the video in segments, you can stop at the times suggested below or use the Video Guide (PDF) — a detailed outline of the video — to help you determine places to stop for discussion.

Answer the questions that follow each segment, jotting down your answers in your notebook or using them as discussion starters.

Using Literature To Teach a Craft Lesson

In the first segment, Lindsay Dibert uses excerpts from several children’s books to teach a craft lesson on leads. (Stop after Lindsay’s student/teacher conference. You will find this image at the end of the segment, approximately 14 minutes into the video. )

  • What criteria has Lindsay used to select the leads included on her handout?
  • Lindsay’s students meet in small groups to reach consensus on their three favorite leads. How does this teaching strategy enhance the students’ learning about writing craft?
  • Using the published leads as models, the students write several alternative leads for their personal narratives. What does this activity teach the students about writing and revision?
  • Think of at least one other writing strategy you could teach using excerpts from children’s literature, and share your ideas with your colleagues.

Lindsay Dibert: Lesson Background (PDF)

Introducing Touchstone Texts

In this segment, Isoke Nia talks about the importance of “touchstone texts,” texts teachers use to illustrate and model writing, and Latosha Rowley introduces two touchstone poems to her students and reflects on her choices.  (Stop after Latosha’s interview about touchstone texts. You will find this image at the end of the segment, approximately 21 minutes into the video. )

  • What teaching strategies does Latosha use to introduce the Langston Hughes poem “Mother to Son” and “Purple” from the book of poetry by Nikki Grimes, Meet Danitra Brown? How do her third-graders respond to the poems? In your opinion, what makes these poems appropriate (or inappropriate) writing models?
  • What “teachable items” does Latosha focus on in the poems? Identify one or two other examples of writing craft in the poems that could become the focus of a mini-lesson.
  • Think about a specific poem you have introduced to your students. Would this poem be a good touchstone text for a unit on writing poetry? Why or why not? In your notebook, jot down a list of possible criteria for choosing touchstone texts, and discuss your criteria with your colleagues.

Latosha Rowley: Lesson Background (PDF)

Working with Mentor Texts

In the final video segment, following Isoke’s comparison of touchstone texts and mentor texts, Silvia Edgerton confers with one of her fifth-graders about a draft he is working on and then reflects on the conversation. (Play to the end of the program.)
  • How does Silvia’s student demonstrate his understanding of the use of mentor texts? How could touchstone texts help students learn to use mentor texts more effectively?
  • Think about Silvia’s questions and responses during the conference. How does she reinforce what the student has learned about imitating and adapting craft moves from other writers? What does her subsequent interview reveal about her approach to teaching writing?
  • Consider your own students. What strategies could you use to help your students find appropriate mentor texts?