Practice Essay Structure with Mentor Texts

Beth Basinger

Editor's note: We were first introduced to fourth-grade ELA teacher Beth Basinger in our conversations with model teachers from the Cypress-Fairbanks (Cy-Fair) ISD in Texas. She instantly blew us away with a simple yet brilliant teaching strategy that links reading and writing in a super-effective way, using short Storyworks articles as mentor texts. It works equally well for Storyworks Jr., too! Check out her strategy below and try it out in your classroom!


My students are learning how to write short essays with four key features:

  • An intro with a hook and central idea
  • Two body paragraphs with topic sentences, details, and supporting evidence
  • A conclusion with a closing and restatement of the central idea


To enforce this structure, I use an I-chart like the one below:



The top section is for the intro, the middle sections are for the body paragraphs, and the bottom is for the conclusion. My students are used to this format when structuring their own essays, but I wanted to show them that this format isn't just for the STAAR test! I found that Word Power, the short nonfiction piece on the first pages of each issue of Storyworks, is a great mentor text for this type of structure. 

I had my students read the Word Power feature from last year's March/April 2017 issue, The Power of Stink. Then I typed up the story, printed it, and cut out each paragraph. Students then rebuilt the article using the I-chart.



This was a great way to get students thinking about the link between what they read and what they write. Reverse-engineering the article showed them that this essay structure that they've been working on can actually be found in a lot of what they read. I hope this strategy works in your classroom!

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