10 Ways to Use Mentor Texts to Write Better Devotions by Guest Blogger, Tammy Brown

Have you ever read a page of instructions and said to yourself, “If only I could see what they are talking about, I’d be able to do it!” Writers’ craft books tell us how to write well, but mentor texts show us by providing a model to follow. If you are new to writing, you may be wondering, what is a mentor text? A mentor text is simply an example of excellent writing. 

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If you attended the recent master class in writing devotions, you probably came away with pages of notes and a head full of ideas. So much great information from Karen Whiting and others!  But whether you did or didn’t attend, the use of mentor texts can be a productive next step in your writing journey. Mentor texts are helpful not only for devotion-writing, but other genres as well. (Thank you to Nancy Sanders, who suggested this during our breakout session!) 

How do you select a good mentor text? First, choose an excellent model. Look for award-winners or well-regarded authors. Or, ask others in your critique group.  You don’t want to emulate a poor example! Second, choose a piece of writing that is relevant. If you aim to improve your devotion writing, then select a devotional. If you aim to write for a specific publication, use their published work. Even more important–choose a text that you love!

What do you do with a mentor text? You can analyze a mentor text for many aspects of an author’s craft. In what areas do you want to improve your devotion writing? Choose one thing or a few to focus on. You might try reading the mentor text aloud and then copying it verbatim before you begin your analysis. 

Here are 10 ways to analyze a mentor text as you work toward improving your devotion-writing craft:

  1. Elements

How has the author incorporated the 4 key elements of a devotion: the hook, scripture, an illustration, and an application? What do you notice about each element? 

2. Format

How did the author structure the elements? Is this structure consistent across all devotions in the publication? 

3. Point of View

Is the point of view first person (use of “I,”, “me,” “my) or third person? 

4. Audience

What is the intended readership? What makes this devotional particularly well-suited for this age-group in terms of word choice, topic, and approach.

5. Lead and Wrap-up

How does the author begin the devotion? How does the devotion conclude? What makes the beginning and ending effective?

6. Transitions

How does the author move from one element of the devotion to another? From one idea to the next? What key words signal transitions in thought? How do these help the reader?

7. Sensory Details

What details cue the reader’s thoughts about what they see, hear, taste, smell, or feel? 

8. Word Choice

What words or phrases make the devotion “pop”? How does the author’s use of active verbs compare with the use of passive verbs? (Consider making a list of interesting words.) 

9. Tone

What is the tone of the devotion? (Try to imagine the author’s facial expression.) Does the author sound like a “guide alongside” rather than authority figure? How is the tone conveyed?

10. Titles and Headings

Why do the titles grab your attention? How long are the titles? How does the title suggest the content and/or organization?

Here are a few devotionals you may want to consider using as mentor texts:

Dinosaur Devotions by Michelle Medlock Adams

How Great is Our God by Louis Giglio

The Whole Story for the Whole Family by Michael Kelley

Which children’s devotionals do you consider examples worthy of emulating? Please include them in the Comment section!

References

“Mentor Texts” https://iowareadingresearch.org/tags/mentor-texts

Mentor Texts: Teaching Writing through Children’s Literature by Dorfman & Cappelli

Tammy Brown lives in Pennsylvania (but seeks out Florida sunshine as frequently as possible.) She is an Associate Professor of Education at Marywood University. When not writing or teaching, she can usually be found outdoors reading a cozy mystery with a Diet Coke in hand. Drawing on her experiences as a reading teacher and Christian ministry leader, Tammy enjoys writing devotions, as well as education-related materials. You can find Tammy online at https://likeatreeplanted.com/books-resources/.


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