Short Story Mentor Texts

As I’ve been reading Write Beside Them, I’ve been very impressed with Penny Kittle’s use of mentor texts in her classroom. She seems to use great works of literature, both traditional and contemporary, to help demonstrate certain concepts or skills she wants her students to develop. She has even suggested a couple of mentor texts specifically up to the point I am at in the book – notably, Rick Reilly, one of my all-time favorite columnists and sportswriters.

One of our units is a Reader’s Workshop unit in which students select a novel of their choice that they will read and they use that book to compare to other texts and complete assignments on. Popular texts this past year included the Twilight books, Harry Potter, the Maximum Ride series, and other popular YA titles. Our focus in the unit is to help students dig a little deeper into conflict and resolution, as well as develop comparing/contrasting skills on a deeper level (we introduce symbols, motifs, and themes in previous units).

The problem I ran into is that I just didn’t use enough texts to compare their books to. After reading Kittle and listening to her describe how often she uses these texts, I realized I need a better sampling of good mentor texts that will help students better understand the concepts we’re studying. Since I don’t have a lot else to do, and since I feel like this unit can be infinitely better, I’m trying to get some ideas now (we won’t do this until late mid-semester).  A couple of writers that I am already looking into using are Sherman Alexie (my personal favorite), Ray Bradbury, and possibly Jonathan Swift (I’m itching to get “A Modest Proposal” into the class somehow).

Unfortunately, I don’t have a very broad background in short stories (our genre of choice for this particular unit), so I decided to reach out to my “other” professional learning community and ask for your help:

What short stories could I use to help students understand different types of conflict? What stories would provide opportunities for in-depth comparison with the books they choose? What short stories have you used with success in your own classroom? I’m open to any suggestions you might have.


3 responses to “Short Story Mentor Texts

  • ggratton

    Great project! When discussing the science fiction/fantasy genre with my 10th graders, I used two short stories by Ray Bradbury: “There Will Come Soft Rains” and “April Witch,” and “The Garden of Stubborn Cats” by Italo Calvino. They loved reading these stories. I used them as the basis for writing their own sci-fi/fantasy short stories. It was one of our favorite units.

  • thehurt

    @ggratton: Thanks for the suggestions! I’ve read “There Will Come Soft Rains” – what a great story for working on subtlety and message. I’ll definitely check out the other two.

  • Tammy Gillmore

    Just found your blog…I’ve enjoyed your comments.

    I wish you had joined our dicussion of Write Beside Them at I just commented there and asked if anyone might be interested in discussing our implementation (or not) of her ideas. Maybe?

    May I also invite you to join the Ning for English teachers at Literacy Lighthouse at Lisa Huff set this up for us, and several teacher have already joined.

    As far as mentor texts go, how about Guy de Maupassant’s “The Necklace” or Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour”? I also like using Sandra Cisnero’s vignettes in The House on Mango Street. Dave Berry is also great…so funny…and discusses conflicts faced by so many, especially himself!

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