Crafting Texts: Using Mentor Texts

This is the first post in a series which goes deeper into the new VCE English and EAL Crafting Texts outcome. Each post includes some discussion of the Area of Study along with practical lesson ideas. Even if you’re not a VCE English teacher, you’ll find this post useful if you use mentor or model texts when teaching fiction and nonfiction writing.

The new Crafting Texts outcome offers students an exciting opportunity to move beyond the typical analytical forms from the VCE. In fact, along with the personal response, it is further evidence that VCAA has acknowledged the imbalance in text types in senior English. Personally, I’ve enjoyed seeing all of the suggestions for mentor texts and ideas from English teachers across the state.

I’ve written previously about choosing mentor texts. If you’re still undecided on your Year 11 texts, check out the following post.

I also wrote a post last year as part of a series exploring the VCE Study Design in detail. If you want a high-level overview of mentor texts and ideas, then check out that earlier post:

What are mentor texts?

In this post, I’ll be discussing the practical application of mentor texts: how we use them, why we use them, and some strategies for teaching with mentor texts in senior English. These methods can of course be applied throughout the curriculum: using mentor texts works well in many units in 7-10 as well as senior English.

First of all, a quick refresher on what the VCAA considers a “mentor text”:

“The mentor texts can include short stories, speeches or monologues (with transcripts), essays (comment, opinion, reflective, personal), podcasts (with transcripts), poetry/songs, feature articles (including a series of blog or social media postings) and memoirs and biography and can be entire texts or extracts.”VCAA VCE English and EAL Study Design 2023-2027

VCAA Study Design 2023
Table of contents for free crafting and creating texts ebook

Understanding the audience and purpose of mentor texts

First and foremost, make sure that your students understand the audience and purpose of the mentor texts you are studying. This will not only help them to analyse the texts, but will also help down the track when they need to write their own pieces.

Before diving in to the close analysis of a mentor text, try to develop an understanding of why the author wrote the text, for whom, and how the context and purpose may have impacted the writing. Here’s an example from my Futures mentor text collection (which can be found at the end of this article):

  • Idea: Futures
  • Text: It’s not climate change, it’s everything change
  • Author: Margaret Atwood
  • Illustrations: Carl Burton
  • Audience: Medium readers, international, young adult-adult, not paywalled (free to access), interested in climate crisis, possibly left-leaning (like the author)
  • Purpose: to emphasise the interconnectedness of environmental, economic, and social issues, and to argue that a fundamental change in our way of life is necessary to address the challenges of climate change. To persuade and entertain.
  • Context: Margaret Atwood is a Canadian author, poet, and environmental activist who has been a vocal advocate for action on climate change. The article was originally published in the Matter magazine on in 2015 and has since become a seminal piece on the topic. The context of the article is the urgent need for action on climate change and the recognition that the problem extends far beyond just environmental concerns. The article draws on Atwood’s personal experiences and observations to argue that climate change is not just an environmental issue, but a challenge to our entire way of life.

It’s worth going into at least this much detail with all of your mentor texts (or better yet, getting the students to dig into the detail). Later, when students come to write their own texts, they should frame their writing with a similar clarity of audience, purpose, and context.

Analysing language through mentor texts

The main purpose of mentor texts in the Crafting Texts area of study is as “models of effective and cohesive writing” (VCAA Study Design). Primarily, the mentor texts serve as inspiration for language, techniques, form and structure.

It’s important to note that, except for a brief mention in the reflective commentary, students do not need to respond to the mentor texts. There is no analysis of the text required for the outcome, and students do not need to write about how the authors have written on the idea or framework being studied.

The purpose of analysing the mentor texts, therefore, is to identify language, techniques, and structures which the student might later adapt into their own writing: they are for inspiration. Here are some aspects of the mentor texts you might analyse:

  • Word Choice: Pay attention to the specific words chosen by the author and consider why they were chosen. What connotations or associations do these words have? How do they contribute to the overall tone or mood of the text?
  • Sentence Structure: Analyse the way in which sentences are constructed. Are they short and punchy, or long and complex? How does the sentence structure contribute to the flow and rhythm of the text?
  • Literary Devices: Look for literary devices such as metaphor, simile, personification, and alliteration. Consider how these devices contribute to the overall impact of the text.
  • Voice and Tone: Consider the author’s voice and tone. How does the author’s style contribute to the overall mood or tone of the text? What emotions or reactions does it elicit from the reader?
  • Structure and Organisation: Analyse the structure and organisation of the text. How is the text divided? What is the order of the ideas presented? How does the structure contribute to the overall impact of the text?
  • Characterisation: If the mentor text is a piece of fiction, pay attention to the way in which characters are developed. How are they described? What actions do they take? How do they contribute to the overall story? If it’s nonfiction, how are the “real” people constructed by the author?
  • Ideas: Consider the main ideas of the text. What messages or values is the author trying to convey? How are these ideas developed throughout the text?

One thing that I think is particularly successful in the new Study Design is the way that the Key Knowledge and Skills “stack” throughout the course. In Unit 1 Area of Study 1: Reading and Exploring Texts you will have introduced students to annotation skills, how to analyse texts, and how to identify techniques and ideas. In this area of study, although the outcome is very different, you’ll continue to develop those analytical skills when reading the mentor texts.

Worried about students using ChatGPT to write their Crafting Texts outcomes? Wondering how you might use AI in the classroom to support this kind of writing? Check out the upcoming PD Teaching Writing in the Age of AI

Applying the key ideas to writing purpose

After analysing the mentor texts, the next step is to apply that knowledge to the student’s own writing purpose. This process involves considering how the language, techniques, and structures used in the mentor texts can be adapted and applied to the student’s specific writing goals.

It’s essential for the student to consider their audience and context when applying these techniques. Each piece of writing is unique, and the mentor texts may have been written for a different audience or purpose than the student’s own writing. By adapting the techniques and structures to suit the specific needs of their own writing, the student can create a more effective and engaging piece of writing.

Applying the techniques from mentor texts allows students to develop their own unique writing style that is both appropriate for their audience and purpose, and incorporates successful writing techniques learned from the “experts”. Ultimately, this process not only enhances the student’s writing abilities but also enables them to express themselves more effectively and communicate their ideas more successfully.

Using the mentor texts

Here’s a step by step process for students using mentor texts:

  1. Outline the purpose, audience, and context of the mentor text.
  2. Read and analyse the mentor text, noting the language, techniques, and structures used. There are some practical suggestions for this at the end of the post.
  3. Identify the key ideas and values of the mentor text.
  4. Consider how the language, techniques, and structures used in the mentor text could be adapted and applied to your own writing.
  5. Determine which techniques and structures are most relevant and effective for your writing purpose and audience.
  6. Plan how you will incorporate these techniques and structures into your own writing.
  7. Write a draft of your piece, incorporating the techniques and structures learned from the mentor text.
  8. Revise and edit your draft, ensuring that the language, techniques, and structures used are appropriate for your writing purpose and audience.
  9. Seek feedback from others, incorporating suggestions and making further revisions as needed.
  10. Reflect on the process and the effectiveness of the techniques and structures used, and consider how they could be further developed and applied in future writing.
A person writing with a pencil
Image from Openverse

Practical Strategies for Using Mentor Texts

Here are three activities which can be used before, during, and after reading the mentor texts. Breaking it up this way follows the writing cycle we’ve suggested in Practical Writing Strategies, which is coming soon from Amba Press.

Before Reading: Audience, Purpose, and Context

  1. Choose a mentor text to analyse.
  2. Research the intended audience of the mentor text. This might involve going to the source website (e.g. for an article) or researching the author’s typical audience. You could also check out the author’s social media followers.
  3. Analyse the purpose of the mentor text. What was the author trying to achieve with this piece of writing? Is it persuasive, informative, entertaining, or a hybrid piece? Fiction, nonfiction, or creative nonfiction? How does the form align with the purpose?
  4. Consider the context in which the mentor text was written. What was happening in the world at the time? What cultural or societal factors may have influenced the author’s writing?
  5. Based on your analysis, brainstorm ways that the author tailored their writing to suit the intended audience and purpose.

During Reading: Close Reading with Mentor Texts

  1. Choose a mentor text to perform a close reading on.
  2. Read the mentor text carefully, paying close attention to language techniques, voice, and style.
  3. Annotate the text as you read. Make notes about anything that stands out to you. Use the Harvard Library annotation guide to help
  4. Use a Harvard Project Zero visible thinking routine to help you analyse the text. For example, you might use “Connect-Extend-Challenge” to identify connections to your own life, extensions of ideas in the text, and areas where you are challenged to think differently.
  5. With the same text (multiple exposures to the same text is very important) complete another close reading activity like a Text Walk
  6. Focus on specific language techniques used by the author. How do they use imagery, metaphor, or other literary devices to enhance their writing?
  7. Consider the author’s voice and style. What makes their writing unique? How does their voice contribute to the overall effectiveness of the piece?

After Reading: Using the Mentor Texts as Inspiration

  1. Choose a writing purpose and audience.
  2. Identify specific language techniques, voice, and style used in the mentor text that could be adapted for your own writing. Choose elements identified in the earlier close reading activities.
  3. Practise incorporating these techniques into your own writing. Experiment with different approaches to see what works best. For example, use a particular language technique or word choice, but adapt it into your own context. Or, use a similar form or structure to one of the mentor texts.
  4. Seek feedback from others to help refine your writing. Consider sharing your work with a writing group or teacher for feedback.
  5. Revise and edit your writing as needed, incorporating feedback and refining your use of language techniques, voice, and style.
  6. Reflect on your use of the mentor text(s) in a short annotation or written response. This will be useful for the assessment task outcome of the reflective commentary.

Further resources

Here are a few other resources to help with using mentor texts:

I hope you find this post helpful, whether you’re using the ideas for VCE English or any other writing unit with mentor texts.

If you have any questions, feedback, or there’s something you’d like to see in this series of posts, then please let me know via the form below:

2 responses to “Crafting Texts: Using Mentor Texts”

  1. […] Crafting Texts: Using Mentor Texts […]

  2. […] first three posts in this series have covered the mentor texts, ideas, and assessment of Crafting Texts. In this final post I’m going off in a slightly […]

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