The most effective way to learn to write is not to practice writing, but rather to read extensively in a style or genre that we want to write ourselves (Mason 2004, Krashen 2014).
Smith explains that books children share succeed in “showing how something is done but doing it with us. The situation is identical to that in spoken language when adults help children to say what they want to say… The author becomes an unwitting collaborator” (25). Books give children words before they are ready to write on their own.
Recently, educators have embraced this idea and the phrase “mentor text” has become a buzz word. Mentor texts are good books that represent a genre or style to help students learn to write by reading. This is a huge step in the right direction, away from worksheets or intensive writing “practice.”
Mentor texts have great potential, however, the only pitfall is the type of reading used. As always, intensive reading, as with novel studies, is not as effective as extensive reading or Free Voluntary Reading. Mentor texts are most efficient when paired with Free Voluntary Reading through Krashen’s Sheltered Popular Literature.
Mason, B. (2004). The effect of adding supplementary writing to an extensive reading program. The International Journal of Foreign Language Teaching, 1(1), 2-16.
Krashen, S. (2014) The Composing Process. Research Journal: Ecolint Institute of Teaching and Learning. International School of Geneva. 2: 20-30.
Smith, F. (1988). Joining the literacy club. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.