How to Learn from the Experts

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Kelly Gallagher shares how teaching students to emulate model texts improves their writing as discussed in his article “Making the Most of Mentor Texts,” in the April 2014 EL.

Writing better with models In my college years, I was hired to be a waiter. Not knowing the first thing about waiting tables, I went through a training period, which essentially saw me following an experienced waiter and noting his “moves.” I watched him carefully, I analyzed how he balanced the demands of the job, and when I was deemed ready, I began emulating him.

The idea that we learn by observing someone who is an expert has influenced my teaching, especially when it comes to teaching writing. In my article in the April 2014 issue of Educational Leadership, I argue that young writers greatly benefit from having models to emulate, and that this modeling should occur in the prewriting stage, drafting stage, and revision stage. It’s simple: When students know what the writing task looks like, they write better.

I’d like to hear your thoughts about the use of models to foster better writing from your students. To start the conversation, I ask you to consider one or more of these following questions:

  • What models have proven especially effective in your classroom?
  • What balance do you strike between modeling your own writing process and using models from professional writers?
  • How do you treat the gray area between emulation and concerns about plagiarism?