“Talking About…” A Nonfiction Mentor Text

I wrote the article that follows in the spring of 2011. I am finally sharing it here for the first time as my contribution to SDAWP’s #113texts Mentor Text Challenge. I realize that this is more timely than ever with the emphasis on informational texts and informative writing in the Common Core State Standards.

nonfiction mentor textsMost of the writing we do as educational professionals is nonfiction. We write smart goals, PLC notes, and lesson plans. We communicate via email, social media, and blogs. Rarely do any of us—as teachers of writing—write fiction.

Why, then, have we focused instruction on narrative writing? Ironically, even though we are writers of nonfiction, we have been much more comfortable with lessons that focus on narrative writing, and our classrooms libraries have been stocked with mentor texts that tell well-crafted stories using vivid language.

We need to get serious about the teaching of informational writing. The members of the Nonfiction Study Group, which met as part of the San Diego Area Writing Project’s book study series during the 2010-2011 school year at UCSD, set out to do just that. We knew that the reading would demand risk-taking and experimentation if the process were to lead to growth for ourselves as writers and as teachers of writing. In fact, as we completed the Four “A”s Text Protocol during our first meeting, we listed “feeling equally confident teaching nonfiction writing as narrative writing” as one of our aspirations.

The authors of Nonfiction Mentor Texts, Lynne R. Dorfmann and Rose Capelli, helped us find what we aspired to by challenging our thinking about nonfiction writing instruction. The book is a dense read complete with a 50-page “Treasure Chest of Books” that includes an extensive list of mentor texts. In addition, each chapter includes several “Your Turn Lessons” that include easy to follow exercises.

I discovered a gem in Chapter 2 with “Your Turn Lesson 3: Using a Scaffold for Point-of-View Poetry” (pgs 33-35). As usual, I procrastinated and read the chapters assigned for our November 13th meeting in late October. As I pondered the subject, “Establishing the Topic and Point,” I struggled with how to convey the idea of point-of-view in informational writing to the 4th grade students in my intervention class. I was determined to find a lesson focus that would help me effectively illustrate a complex concept.

Thankfully, “Talking about Sharks” gave me something to talk about. As I read through the lesson, my focus became quite clear. Halloween was approaching, and I realized that I could engage students with interesting facts about nocturnal mammals popular at that time of year, bats.

As I worked through my interpretation of the lesson, I realized that Dorfmann and Capelli were onto something. In fact, the work that my students completed through the point-of-view process developed into some of their best writing of the year. (See samples below.) They wrote deeply felt nonfiction pieces that happened to be poetry. At subsequent study group meetings, other members also shared how they used the point-of-view poetry lesson. PJ added it to the work her 5th grade students were doing for Black History Month, and Tyna modified it to fit her social justice lessons.

I had previously thought of nonfiction student writing as confined to voiceless, fact-laden, out-of-the-textbook, report-of-information kind of writing. However, after trying many of the ideas in Nonfiction Mentor Texts, including the “Talking About Poem,” I discovered that the voices of our students can be heard in their informative writing if we simply take the time to guide them with unusual and inspiring mentor texts.

Your Turn Lesson 3
Using a Scaffold for Point of View Poetry

Adapted by Janis Jones
Non-Fiction Mentor Texts: Teaching Informational Writing
Through Children’s Literature

By Lynne R. Dorfman & Rose Cappelli

bAts1. Read aloud from nonfiction texts that provide interesting facts about the chosen topic. I used Bats by Gail Gibbons and Zipping, Zapping, Zooming Bats by Ann Earle.

2. While reading and discussing the information, students take notes on the facts they find most interesting.

3. Read the “Talking About Sharks” poem on p. 34 of Nonfiction Mentor Texts and discuss the literary techniques used. For example, my students recognized the repetition of the line “talking about sharks,” and they noticed the commas at the end of most lines. They also noticed that a colon was included in every stanza.

4. Before asking students to begin their own poems, brainstorm a list of words that express emotions that could be used to write from a variety of points of view. My students were able to create the following list:

Terrifies me bat pic 2
Fascinates me
Makes me sad
Amazes me
Makes me mad
Scares me
Shocks me
Frightens me
Makes me happy
Thrills me
Astonishes me
Surprises me
Amuses me
Hurts me
Excites me
Interests me
Depresses me
Hurts me
Confuses me
Impresses me
Makes me furios

5. Students choose three emotions that they feel when discussing the topic. Ask them to refer to their study notes to find facts that support the reasons for their feelings as they write their own “talking about” poems.

Talking About Bats
By Kayla

Talking about bats
Hurts me:
How they are being killed,
Their homes destroyed
Because they are misunderstood.

Talking about bats
Impresses me:
How they sleep
hanging upside down,
How they hunt for food
by squeaking,
How they stay together.

Talking about bats
Terrifies me:
How they swarm
when they are afraid,
How they lap up blood,
And sometimes
they attack people when they sleep.

Talking about bats!

Talking About Bats
By Sydney

Talking about bats
Terrifies me:
Blood sucking creatures,
Flying mammals
With super long fingers,
And live baby bats.

Talking about bats
Scares me:
Vampire bats
Creep through the night
Attacking sleeping cows.
They make a scratch
And lap up the blood.

Talking about bats
Makes me sad:
Hunted for food,
Nets in caves,
Destroyed roosts,
Starved to death.

Talking about bats!

This entry was posted in Education, Mentor Text, Teaching, Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to “Talking About…” A Nonfiction Mentor Text

  1. kd0602 says:


    I’m so glad you shared this! It ended up being two mentor texts–the professional text and the student mentor text, twice as good! Great reminder that we have some resources to return to when we are feeling stuck…like Non-Fiction Mentor Texts by Dorfmann and Capelli.

    Love the student writing! It really breathes life into these mentor texts ideas!


  2. eleakin says:

    Great information!! That is why I’m such a big proponent for the Common Core. Kiddos will relate to soemthing that is relevant to them and in most cases that is non-fiction.

  3. Pingback: “Talking About…” A Nonfiction Mentor Text | Write the World | So. Consider

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