Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

Using Mentor Texts to Teach How-To Writing in the Primary Classroom

Editor's Note: This blog was previously published, we're re-sharing it today during the Holiday season.  


By Laureen S, First-Grade Teacher, Guest Blogger

Describing sequential events or steps is a challenging skill for many primary students. Today's blog post will describe ways to make how-to writing engaging and fun in your classroom using mentor texts as an introduction and a way to get students excited about writing. There is also a free download included!


Choosing a book to introduce your lesson is easy with a range of narrative and informational texts from Hameray because there are so many topics of interest for your students. Earlier this year I used the narrative text Recess Time to introduce a lesson on how to dress properly for outdoor play in the winter. We brainstormed a list of clothing items needed and talked about the order of putting them on. This oral language activity helped with getting a class set of snowsuits on three times a day!

Today I am going to share a lesson with you that is used in my classroom each winter. No matter where you live, there is something magical about snowmen and they spark that interest that we want to see in our young writers. To begin, share the book Snow Fun with your students. It is a level D book making it perfect for the primary classroom. You can choose the big book version that is perfect for sharing with the whole class or a smaller version making it a great choice for a guided reading group.

Oral Language

I am a firm believer that young writers need to express themselves orally before they write. To begin a discussion about building a snowman, we first talk about transition words and create a list together on chart paper. These words include: first, next, then, after that, in the beginning, etc. You will be surprised at the list your students come up with. I remind students that as always, our list can continue to be added to when more ideas are thought of.

Our next step is to turn to our neighbor and talk about the steps for building a snowman. Encourage students to use words from the generated list and to tell as many details as possible to teach their partner how to build a snowman. I encourage partners to share with the class their ideas afterward. All of this oral language will help students generate ideas for their writing.


As mentioned above, students need to be engaged with their writing. As much as I love having students write in their journals sometimes we change it up a little. I have created a lift-the-flap writing activity that you can download for your students to use. The instructions for assembling the two-page writing activity are included in the download. There is a choice of two writing lines or you may glue it to plain paper for your youngest writers so pictures can be an option. I choose to have it prepared when I give them to the students, but that is up to you.

The first thing students will want to do is color the front. I usually give them a few minutes to do that. This gives me some time to conference with a few students before we begin writing. If it is the first time your students use a flap writing template, you will need to explain how it works. The expectation is that they write under each flap. On each flap transition words are printed to get them thinking: first, next, then, last . Remind students that they are trying to teach someone how to build a snowman and to pretend that the reader does not know how to get started.

Sharing Time

I admit, finding time in my timetable for sharing is a challenge, but I do it even if it has to happen later in the day or even the following day. Students feel proud to share their work and learn from each other. In my class, we tell each writer three things we liked about their writing and offer one suggestion. In the beginning, the criticism is difficult for some, but they quickly learn how useful it is. Sometimes it means more coming from their peers.

Be sure to take a peek at the variety of books offered in the Kaleidoscope Collection . You will be amazed at the variety of titles you find. Bookmarking this blog is a great idea too. You will be happy you did with the variety of topics discussed! Thank you for reading and of your students use the writing template above. Be sure to tag us in social media pictures!


Laureen is a first-grade teacher in Canada. She has been teaching kindergarten and grade one for more than twenty years. Laureen loves to make learning fun and you can find her at her blog, Teach With Laughter. You can also visit her TPT page here.