Tag Archives: Oral Mentor Texts

Oral Mentor Texts co-author Connie Dierking on celebrating stories

Connie Dierking is the co-author, with Sherra Jones, of Oral Mentor Texts. Their book presents new ways to use the power of oral language to reinforce comprehension and help writers internalize narrative structures. In a special blog for Heinemann, Connie explains that the beginning of the school year is the time for celebrating story. (click here to read an earlier blog from Connie Dierking on What is an Oral Mentor Text)

I just received the annual conference issue of NCTE’s The Council Chronicle and was thrilled when I saw the conference theme: “Story as the Landscape of Knowing.” Program chairman Kathy Short writes, “Story is the landscape within which we live as teachers and researchers—our knowledge is ordered by story.” It is exciting to see the importance of story held in such high esteem.

There is no better time to celebrate story than the beginning of the school year. We come to know our students through the stories they tell. I look at Becky with her little bob haircut and know this new style is the result of bubble gum stuck in her ponytail. I smile inside when I remember Geri’s story about her first jump into the deep end of the swimming pool. I am amazed to hear that Robbie broke his arm the first week of summer but recovered in time for the play-offs. I know which children have dogs or cats or fish. I know who has a mean big brother or sister or no brother or sister. I know who lives by the ocean and who lives in a really small apartment. I also know that Ramon doesn’t share a story and that Sam tells pieces of stories that don’t make much sense. Story is front and center in my classroom; through it I build a community. We tell individual stories, and we come to know one another as learners and as people. We share our common stories: the nervous stomach on the first day of school or the funny statue in the library that seems to watch us with her eyes. We join together as a community in the way that only a shared experience engenders.

The first days of school, when students are practicing fire drills, learning the rules of the cafeteria, enjoying the shade of the big tree outside, or learning how to share and listen with a friend, are the seeds for stories to come. These simple events can and should be the stuff of shared class stories. While building community through story, we are also building a foundation for literacy. According to Jerone Bruner, “Proficiency in oral language provides children with a vital tool for thought. Without fluent and structured oral language, children will find it very difficult to think.” It all begins in September.

Elaine Reese, in her The Atlantic article “What Kids Learn From Hearing Family Stories,” writes, “Family stories can be told nearly anywhere. They cost us only our time, our memories, our creativity. They can inspire us, protect us, and bind us to others. So be generous with your stories, and be generous in your stories. Remember that your children may have them for a lifetime.” School can be a wonderful place to support and develop the oral language skills necessary for telling a story, whether children come into the classroom having had rich family storytelling and literacy experiences or not. In the early days in a primary classroom, we are beginning to know all our students. While the literacy road ahead may seem dauntingly long (for some students more than others), there is good news: we can create wonderful story experiences in this very classroom.

Click here to read a sample chapter of Oral Mentor Texts


Bruner, Jerome S. 1985. Child’s Talk: Learning to Use Language. New York: W.W. Norton.

Dierking, Connie, and Sherra Jones. 2014. Oral Mentor Texts: A Powerful Tool for Teaching Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

National Council of Teachers of English. 2014. The Council Chronicle, August. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

Reese, Elaine. 2013. “What Kids Learn From Hearing Family Stories.” The Atlantic, December 9.

Oral Mentor Texts: Oral Storytelling

Part Two: Oral Storytelling
Find or Create a class shared event. i.e.:

  • Blow bubles
  • Create with play dough
  • Color a picture
  • Do a dance
  • Sing a song
Teacher writes story to include craft elements for explicit practice
Learning the Story
Example of class story: Yesterday at school we all blew bubbles. The bubbles were shiny and round. They floated in the air all around our heads. Suddenly we heard, “Pop! Pop! Pop!” All the bubbles disappeared. They melted into the floor. __________ said, “I love bubbles!”   Structures for Learning a Class Story

  1. Echo Telling-Teacher says a line, student says a line.
  2. Adding symbols-Use the symbol grid to draw a symbol for each page.
  3. Adding gestures-Add a gesture for each line of the story.
  4. Choral tell the story.
Practicing the Story
  1. Get good at telling one sentence at a time.
  2. Tell it in a circle
  3. Use popcorn telling
  4. Tell it like a book
  5. Tell it to a partner
  6. Tell it to an audience.
Using the Story-Choose one at a time.
  • Highlight the beginning, middle, and end of the story grid
  • Cut up and reassemble the story grid to retell the story
  • Illustrate each page of the class story.
  • Hop the class story.
  • Act out the story
Using the Structures to Retell a Familiar Story
  • Use the grid to make symbols to go with the story.
  • Create gestures to go with the story.
  • Make props to retell the story.
Writing-Only after story is internalized
  • Entire story
  • Summary
  • Retelling
  • Innovation

What is an Oral Mentor Text?

Oral Mentor Texts, by Connie Dierking and Sherra Jones, presents new and effective ways to use the power of oral language to reinforce comprehension and help writers internalize narrative structures. Working with oral mentor texts also helps struggling readers and writers meet literacy standards for speaking and listening. In today’s blog the authors tell us what oral mentor texts are and what the process looks like.

What is an oral mentor text? Written by Connie Dierking and Sherra Jones

Lucy Calkins, Katie Wood Ray, Isoke Mia, and many others have taught teachers the importance of a mentor, or touchstone, text. They remind us that a mentor text is a scaffold, a powerful example for students as they begin to read like a writer and write like a reader. Katie Wood Ray tells us, “All texts are demonstrations of some writer’s decisions about word choice, voice, and perspective. All texts are demonstrations of some genre potential. All texts are demonstrations of how our language works and its conventions. Every single text is a whole chunk of curriculum potential.” We wholeheartedly agree! The picture and chapter books that we carry with us during literacy instruction allow our students to see reading and writing skills and strategies at work. We can show students how Ezra Jack Keats uses an ellipsis to make his reader pause or Cynthia Rylant makes details pop off a page. We use these texts to say, “See what this writer has done! You can do it too!”

What is the difference between a mentor text and an oral mentor text? 

The only differences are that an oral mentor text is based on a shared class experience and it is—and remains—oral. Retelling an event that really happened during the school day in their own classroom is a powerful mentor text that students have with them always. Many students struggle to find words to retell a personal story; can’t sequence their own stories or stories written by someone else; and need support with regard to phonemic awareness, vocabulary, or syntax. Oral mentor texts can help!

What’s the process? 

First, choose a simple event your students have experienced together—finding a lizard, noticing a bird in a tree, being in class during a thunderstorm—and write the text, strategically tucking in craft techniques and skills you want your students to practice (your students’ needs, your school and district curriculums, and the Common Core State Standards offer a wealth of choices). Once you have composed the story, teach it to your students orally. We’ve developed four structures, all oral, for practicing the story so that every student learns the story and commits it to memory. Once students know the story well, they perform the story for an audience. This oral performance is an authentic way for students to meet the Common Core speaking and listening standards.

Once the story is part of your students’ story lexicon, it becomes an oral mentor text you can use over and over as you teach reading and writing. For example, you can refer to the oral story during a minilesson: “Remember in our oral class story we started with a sound word? Why don’t we try that?” Or you can refer to a technique or skill included in the class oral story in a writing conference.

According to Isoke Nia, a book is a touchstone text if the teacher loves it, it includes many teachable things, every member of the class has a copy, it is a little more sophisticated than typical student writing, it is a great example of the genre being studied, and it is written by a trusted writer. The oral mentor text is all of those things.

Mary Osborne, the district writing coach for Pinellas County Schools, suggests some questions teachers can ask with regard to mentor texts:

• How does the writer establish the situation?

• Who is telling the story?

• How does the writer use description to develop events?

• Which words are used to create a picture?

• Does the writer use dialogue?

• Which words are used to show the order of events?

• Which elements of the writing craft did the writer use?

• How did the writer begin or end the story?

These are all questions you can consider as you develop an oral mentor text and then use it with your students. Because you have chosen every sentence intentionally, you have a text that demonstrates exactly what your students need to know in order to grow as readers and writers.

For more information on Oral Mentor Texts and to read a sample chapter from the book, click here


Nia, Isoke. 2008. Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Institute Presentation. 

Ray, Katie Wood. 2002 What You Know By Heart. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.