"Mentor texts" in writing are endorsed by Kelly Gallagher, Ron Berger, and, for what it's worth, me. The basic concept, as I used it most recently, is this:
1. Student decides what they want to write about.
2. Student chooses a "mentor text" with a structure and/or subject matter the student would like to emulate.
3. The student studies the mentor text, takes it apart, isolates different aspects of it, and uses what they find to inform their own writing.
4. The student acknowledges the mentor text in some way when they publish their own piece.
I've got a structure for Step 1 (taken straight from Kelly Gallagher) that I like a lot. I've laid it all out here. As for Step 2, I've got a collection of potential non-fiction mentor texts here and of science fiction short stories here (if you'd like access to these and you don't work at High Tech High, get in touch with me. There are lots of tricky aspects to Step 2, but I'm not going into them in this post.
This post is about Step 3. Specifically, it's about a concept I've been working on for a while: the "reverse-engineered outline". The idea is that students look at the structure of their mentor text and make an outline out of it (hence the term "reverse-engineering"). You can see examples of past students' reverse-engineered outlines here, and an example of a variation on the "reverse-engineered outline here. You can also see an example of the most recent version of a reverse-engineered outline I've done here.
I've never felt entirely happy with this process, but at a meeting with my Director, Lillian, yesterday, we came up with a process for "reverse-engineering" a mentor text that should help students apply to what they learned about the mentor text to their own writing. Here it is:
The next step is to test it out myself! If you give it a try, I'd love to hear how it worked for you!