As an author, I find that mentor texts are one of the most powerful, and versatile, tools in my toolbox. As a teacher, I used mentor texts to teach both reading strategies and writing skills. So here is one way I helped students understand inferencing by using my book, First Day Jitters.
Students will study and analyze a short piece of teacher-selected text to learn how an author leads the reader to make inferences about the characters.
When my 6th grade students were practicing their inferencing skills, I pulled out First Day Jitters. Presented with the short excerpt (see below) they went through and identified all of the clues that made them think Sarah was a child. I had them not only circle or underline the clue but also jot down their thinking as to why this clue worked.
So for instance, most kids noticed the fact that Mr. Hartwell was getting Sarah out of bed. (clue). They decided that it worked because, in their experience, many kids have had their parents come into their room in the morning to get them out of bed. (effective because it is a common childhood experience.)
Once they were done finding as many clues as they could we shared and discussed our answers. My students wanted to take it one step further when I challenged them to try it in their own writing. I had them write a very, very short story that had some kind of surprise ending or twist at the end and they had to purposefully put in clues that would lead to incorrect inferences: It was fun. They came up with stories about football players who were girls, teachers who were aliens (of course) and dogs who were really cats. They enjoyed it because it was low stakes writing done in their writing journals to just try out a new skill.
Excerpt from First Day Jitter
Question: How did the author get the reader to think the main character was a kid?
“Sarah, dear, time to get out of bed,” Mr. Hartwell said, poking his head through the bedroom doorway. “You don’t want to miss the first day at your new school do you?”
“I’m not going,” said Sarah, and pulled the covers over her head.
“Of course you’re going, honey,” said Mr. Hartwell, as he walked over to the window and snapped up the shade.