Growing Readers and Writers by Teaching with Mentor Texts

Mar 18, 2016

One of our most important goals as educators of readers is to help instill a love for reading.  Yes.  It is also to teach them how to read.  Yes.  But we also want them to understand what they are reading. And not just at a surface level, but at a deeper level.  So basically...our goal is to nurture our students into...
deep, thoughtful, fluent, "can't put the book down" readers.

Not an easy task.  But an exciting one.
And one that requires some great mentor texts that support and excite our young readers.

Last year, Tanny McGregor stopped by our classroom to present a new lesson on theme.  Within this lesson she used concrete materials, anchor charts, and discussion to help our firsties discover the theme across several texts. We were excited to put what we learned from her into place this school year.  And we knew just the books that we wanted to use.

 Ruby In Her Own Time and Leo the Late Bloomer are two texts with a similar story line.  As you can probably guess from the titles, both stories are about characters that learn to do things a bit later than their peers.  They are "late bloomers" and learn to do things "in their own time."

Ruby is a duckling that hatches later than her siblings, learns to eat late, and also learns to swim last.  But as the title states, Ruby learns to do all the things that her peers do, but at her own rate and in her own time.  Just like the little duckling, Leo learns to read, write, draw, and speak; however, he did not "bloom" until he was ready. It is interesting that the mother in both texts know that the child will "bloom" in their own time.

To begin, I want to introduce the word "theme" to my first graders because this a new term for them.  The Common Core states "retell stories, including key details, and demonstrate understanding of their central message or lesson."  The shift from the term "central message" to "theme" happens in forth grade, but I don't think it is a bad idea to expose them to both terms.

 When identifying a theme across multiple texts, Tanny called them "Text Cousins." As the lesson progresses, the possible themes are recorded on a large chart paper.  This allows students to think about all the possible themes based on evidence from all three texts.

 To begin our study of central message, I will display a quote from Gandhi.  I will read it, we will read it, and they will read it.

The students can then identify surface level information about this quote such as: 16 words, 2 contractions, or 2 sentences.  As these surface level items are discussed the students will get to touch the surface of the sand in my glass bowl.

Side note: I am using "moon sand" for this lesson because I like the way it moves when we dig deeper for the theme.

After students explore all their surface level thinking with the quote, I want them to begin thinking about what Gandhi really means by this quote.  What is his message to us?  (As I ask this question, I am going to dig deeper in the glass bowl.)

As students share their thinking in this lesson, I will keep track of these theme ideas on our chart paper; however, students will also get to dig deeper into our bowl and place a "digging deep: theme" card at the bottom of the bowl.

We will continue our discussion of digging deeper into the theme with the book Leo the Late Bloomer; however, I will only be showing the illustrations from this text and talking with students about what they see going on in the story.  I want them to focus on the overriding theme and message from the author through the illustrations.  Once the picture walk is complete, students will add their theme ideas to our chart (while also digging deeper into our bowl).

The final book, Ruby in Her Own Time, will then be read aloud in its entirety.  Students will "turn and talk" to decide what they think the possible theme could be across all these texts.  As we record these theme ideas, I will be asking what evidence led them to that conclusion.

This lesson can be used with any texts that fit the needs of your students.  Within this resource, you will find the quote from Gandhi typed up in case you would like to use these specific "text cousins: (as Tanny called them).  Along with the quote, there are surface level and digging deep cards.

The surface level/deeper thinking cards can be used as an additional visual when the students touch the surface of the sand or dig deeper into the bowl.  I would like them to not only see the surface of the sand but also SEE where their thinking would fall in this bowl.  Then when they have deeper thought, I want them to not only dig, but place a thinking card.

Two graphic organizers are included to assist your students understanding of surface versus deeper thinking.  The first organizer is more of a labeling activity to help them show you what they learned from the lesson.

The second organizer requires students to determine the theme of a text and provide support for their thinking.  This could be used in a whole group, small group, or independently. hope that this is a lesson that you can use with your students this year. Be sure to grab your Freebie by clicking on any of the product images!  Please let me know if you have any suggestions or questions about this lesson on theme.  Thanks!

 Before you move on to the next post, my mystery word is Butterflies. [HERE] is the link to the form you can use to keep track of the mystery words at each stop. You'll need them for an entry on the Kindergarten-2nd grade Rafflecopter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway



  1. This is an awesome idea! And I agree they need to learn the words are interchangeable since standards are constantly evolving. We've used central message, theme, big idea, lesson, moral, etc.!

    Literacy Spark

    1. It seems that things are always changing so it is good to help them be flexible! Thanks for reading.

  2. I love this idea! Thank you for a great post. Theme has always been tricky for me to teach, so I love hearing new ideas. :)

    1. Yes! Helping them to think about their reading is never an easy job. So I am always looking for new ways to accomplish this goal.

  3. We are both Tanny McGregor "fan girls," my friend! I love the hands-on approach to digging in the sand for theme vs. interpreting text literally. As a "late-bloomer" myself, I LOVE Ruby and Leo!

    1. I can't wait to help others become Tanny "fans!" She has changed me for the better!

  4. Such great ideas! Thank you so much for sharing! :)

  5. I just love your post and the concrete examples. Fabulous as always, and thank you for the freebie!

  6. I love this and Tanny McGregor! Thanks for sharing!

    Reading Toward the Stars

  7. I love the book and I appreciate you sharing your ideas!

    1. Thanks so much! I really love the Ruby books! They are so sweet.


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