Mentor Texts, Grammar, and TEKS: A Success Story

Kristen Cruikshank

Editor's note: Texas fourth-grade teacher Kristen Cruikshank recently shared with us a WOW idea for infusing an authentic learning grammar lesson into her regular bag of tricks. We felt it had Genius Teaching Idea written all over it! Let us know what you think in the comments below. And, to learn more about Kristen and her amazing students, read Lauren's most recent post about how they met.


As a reading and writing teacher, I choose the texts that I’m going to use with my kids wisely. When I am looking through different texts, I examine them closely and look for grammar rules and spelling patterns that I can teach through the text. As a believer of authentic learning, I use the text to find mentor sentences to refer back to throughout the year so my students have a connection to a particular skill. I don’t want them to just memorize grammar and spelling rules, but learn them and see how real authors apply them correctly when they write.

This month, we are up to our knees in the fiction genre. When I was planning my lessons for the upcoming week, I came across the Storyworks article “The Ghost of Specter Elementary.” I loved the article for multiple reasons—it was a ghost story, which was perfect for the month of October; it met my genre requirement; and it had great examples for my grammar and spelling lesson.


My students know that when we begin a new text, we always read the story for enjoyment first to gain initial comprehension. When we re-read this story, though, we laughed, read with spooky voices, and discussed the story’s structure. We talked about the author’s purpose as well as the theme the author, Lauren Magaziner, wanted us to learn through her main character’s actions. By then, the kids had a firm grasp on the text. They were ready to attack their text and search for the hidden gems: plural and possessive nouns.

After the activity, we came back together to discuss our findings. We shared examples and cleared up misconceptions about certain words. It was a powerful discussion. For example, a lot of kids were writing phrases like her arms and her fingers in the possessive column. They were questioning whether or not those words were actually possessives, because there wasn’t an apostrophe in them. Our lesson was focused on possessive nouns, not possessive pronouns, but this led straight into our upcoming lesson on possessive pronouns. We also had a conversation about the difference in using an apostrophe to show possession vs. using an apostrophe for a contraction. Some students were writing down contraction words containing an apostrophe followed by an “s” in the possessive column, like she’s and there’s.

Our 4th grade Texas state writing STAAR assessment tests students on mastery. However, as teachers, we know that our students are going to come to us with gaps to fill, and some gaps will be quite large. I taught this lesson because I knew we needed to backtrack and re-teach TEKS skills that had already been taught. 

We use every opportunity we can find to find great text examples to expose our kids to these essential grammar and spelling skills in-action. (See the end of this post for the specific standards.) In this case, possessives and apostrophes are introduced in 2nd grade, refined in 3rd grade, and should be mastered in 4th grade. We have determined certain skills that most students still struggle with and focus our lessons on going back and refining them.

We also re-wrote sentences from the text that had an apostrophe in the word that was supposed to be written as a plural to show the students how that one little apostrophe changed the entire meaning of the word, and the sentence! That’s when I heard a lot of “Ohhhhh!”s. I wrote the following sentence from the text with the students: The ghost’s body broke into a pile of pieces and then quickly reassembled itself. Then, I rewrote it and took out the apostrophe in ghosts. One student said “Wait! There aren’t TWO ghosts in the story! There’s just one!” We saw how the importance of one little apostrophe and how it can change the entire meaning of a sentence.

Here’s an anchor chart we created at the end of the lesson. These will be our mentor sentences to connect with as we continue to grow as writers: 

We modeled the same lesson structure a few days later with our spelling pattern of the suffix –ed. Instead of memorizing a list of words that they didn’t have any connection to, we looked at words we found in the text, sorted them by their suffix sounds, and made connections to other words that follow the same spelling pattern. When they are publishing their own pieces of writing, I hope to hear my students connect back to these anchor words from this excellent mentor text!

By constantly spiraling back to previously taught TEKS and teaching new skills as we go, we begin to see the growth that we know every student is capable of. Choosing adequate text is KEY! So here’s to killing two (or more!) birds with one stone using a fantastic mentor text to refer back to all year long.

TEKS: 4.6, 4.20A ii, 4.21C, 4.22D

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