Reading and Writing Instruction: Paired Mentor Texts

(This is the fourth post about new resources acquired in NYC while attending the 2014 TCRWP June Writing and July Reading Institutes.  See previous posts for  a compare and contrast lesson #CCSS hereStand for Children here, and a book review here.)

Why Paired Mentor Texts?

Pairing mentor texts enables teachers to meet several lesson goals at once. Students who study the true facts behind a story make connections to the text and to history or current events. In addition, finding patterns and contrasts between  two genres can serve to better distinguish them in the students’ minds.

How can we maximize instruction?

Compare and contrast two texts  on the same topic in order to solidify thinking around characteristics or features of the text

Texts:  The Survivor Tree  – two different versions

The Survivor Tree:  A Story of Hope and Healing – 9/11 Commission (Available at the museum)

The Survivor Tree Inspired by a True Story bCheryl Somers Aubin, Illustrated by Sheila Harrington


What do you notice from the book covers?  Stop, pause and jot a few notes.

If you were to begin to form a theory about these books, what would it be?


Before this summer, I would have jumped right in, read this first page, and had students make note of what the author was saying.


I might have considered an “inquiry approach”  where I read this page with the book cover completed covered and asked the students: “Which book is this?” with follow up questions like,  “Why do you think so?” or “What is your evidence?”

BUT, it really isn’t about just being able to NAME this genre of text.  Instead it’s about noticing HOW the author used the techniques of the genre to meet his or her writing goals.  And viewing one text at a time is slow because of the lack of comparison and actually limits the amount of text that students are exposed to over the course of a year.


New and Improved Plan (thanks to wonderful learning and time to plan):

Let’s look again using the “Know/Wonder” format from Dorothy Barnhouse and Vicki Vinton’s, What Readers Really Do  Teaching the Process of Meaning Making.  We will begin by putting the first page of both books side by side.  Consider what you know after you read the first page from each book.  What information is the same? What do you still wonder after reading those first pages?



What do I “Know” after reading page one from both books?

Both pages include these specific words:  Gallery pear tree, World Trade Center, plaza, New York City, September 11, story

The first page one specifically says “Survivor Tree” while the second one says “over time, and with great care, she recovered.”

Structurally, the first page one consists of three sentences that are fairly complex.  The second page one has four paragraphs.


What do I “Wonder”?

I wonder if both books will actually be about “HOW” the tree survived and the fact that trees can be “resilient”?

Will the first book continue to be more factual and contain more information even though it says it is a story?

Will both books continue to have a lot of similarities in their information that will make it “easy” to compare those stories?

Will the second book read more like a story or narrative with the “tree” as the main character?

Does the use of a watercolor drawing help create the “feeling” of a narrative in the second text?

Which text already seems to have more “narrative” features?

Which one seems to have more informational features?

Why are both authors saying that they are telling a story?


Making predictions:

In this new and improved plan, the second stage will actually have us looking at the book covers.  Based on what we have seen on the two different page ones, which book cover goes with which page and why? (Claim and supporting details)  I believe this conversation will have a greater focus on the text and how the authors have begun their stories.  This attention to the author’s craft will help the readers grow in both their reading and writing.


Can you already tell which page belongs to which book?  What writing techniques helped you make that decision?
Which plan do you usually use with paired texts?
What other paired mentor texts do you have in your reading and writing instruction?

15 responses

  1. Oh my more books to buy! Fran, I love how these books allow you to highlight author’s craft in such a clear way. The craft is not only in the words but the art. Such a great way to give an access point for all students and tap into “tone” at the same time. Thanks so much for these texts and the beautiful know/wonder strategy work.

    1. Julieanne,
      I believe this could be done with many paired texts. What I did like was this could be a part of both “character” (resilience) as well as reading and writing for the beginning of the year. I can’t wait to talk to a couple of my teachers to see their response, because I am also thinking it might be a perfect way to introduce a couple of the writing techniques and goals pages. More on those later!

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. This side-by-side reading of paired texts is brilliant, Fran! So many opportunities for thinking! And it’s such a natural invitation to look at craft and structure. Like Julieanne, I’m off to amazon! And having just taken a second look at the cover, I see that one is “inspired by a true story,” which might mean the author makes purposeful decisions to veer from the facts to convey her message, which would also be fascinating to think about. Thanks!

    1. Well, the credit for pairing texts – it was about wolves – goes to the brilliant Mary Ehrenworth and June Writing Institute. It makes so much sense on so many levels. (But the odd thing was that I had picked up both books the Saturday before! Spooky – odd!)
      You are welcome!

      I appreciate your comments!

  3. P.S. Might be a great thing to share at NCTE!

    1. How ideas grow and become instruction through brilliant thinking / conversation by many!!

  4. Once again, Fran, you have my mind whirling. Then I think, “Oh poor kids that have come before… Now I know what I could have done for you!”. Thanks for always being a sharer of great things.

    ~Ali Buzzell

    1. Ali,
      I am definitely NOT saying I taught this perfectly before! But now that I know better, I am sharing this with teachers everywhere!

      We CAN and MUST do better and have higher expectations for ALL our students!

      Thanks so much for commenting!

  5. […] Reading and Writing Instruction – Paired Mentor Texts […]

  6. […] (Check out a previous post about The Survivor Tree in “Reading and Writing Instruction:  Paired Mentor Texts“) […]

  7. Fran, thanks for sharing! Your post reminds me of Mary E brilliantly reading aloud Rose Blanche and Angel Girl at my Reading Institute this summer. I’m adding Paired Readings to my classroom “to do” list!!

    1. Sally,
      I love being mentioned in the same sentence as Mary E – I’ve learned so much from her! So much value in paired reading!

  8. […] This is the fourth post about new resources acquired in NYC while attending the 2014 TCRWP June Writing and July Reading Institutes. See previous posts for a compare and contrast lesson #CCSS here, Stand for Children …  […]

  9. […] I’ve written about mentor texts here, here, here, here, and […]

  10. […] Reading and Writing Instruction: Paired Mentor Texts […]

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