Mentor Texts with Lively Leads


Hi! My name is Wendy D., and I am joining this highly talented group of teachers and reading specialists from Ms. D's Literacy Lab.  Before moving to the Boston area, I resided in Texas. I taught Head Start, Pre-Kindergarten, Kindergarten, First Grade and Reading Recovery over a time period of seven to eight years. I loved ( and still love) reading aloud a new picture book to students or seeing if they are amused with the same funny parts of a chapter book as I am. After moving to Massachusetts, I went to Lesley University and worked as a Graduate Assistant for Dr. Irene Fountas while she was writing her Guiding Readers and Writers book for intermediate readers and writers. After graduating with my Master's Degree in Reading (K-12), I have worked as a Literacy Coach for eight years and a Reading Specialist for thirteen years in a diverse, suburban, Title I elementary school near Boston. I love it!


Leads can be one of the most challenging parts of writing for students. Over the years, I have noticed that those students who read notable books have an easier time writing a lead because they have been exposed to so many different types of writing styles and authors.  In order to introduce leads to students in any grade level, I like to read a variety of exemplar texts during read-aloud time and revisit them during Writer's Workshop time.

Lucy Calkins states, "When upper-elementary students draft and revise leads, they are doing so not only with an eye toward a good lead but also because they recognize that each lead represents a different way the text could go: "If I start it this way, it'll take too long to get to the main part."        Units of Study for Teaching Writing, Grade by Grade series, 2013

When teaching writing, one way to expose students to different types of leads is to categorize them. I like to categorize leads into three different categories for students.

Mentor Texts with Lively Leads

Character Leads or Topic Leads (Nonfiction)

A character or topic lead is introduced in the first few lines of text with descriptive language that makes a reader want to keep reading and learn more.

"Have you ever wondered about turkeys? Where are the wild turkeys found and how do they live? What do turkeys eat? ... This book answers these questions about turkeys and more."
--All About Turkeys by Jim Arnosky

"From the beginning the baby was a disappointment to her mother. She was born red and wrinkled, an ugly little thing. And she was not a boy."
--Eleanor by Barbara Cooney

"Out in the hottest, dustiest part of town is an orphanage run by a female person nasty enough to scare night into day."
--Saving Sweetness by Diane Stanley

Time and Setting Leads

A time or setting lead is introduced at the beginning of the story and gives the reader background knowledge on where the story takes place.

"The Barefoot didn't see the eyes watching him as he ran onto the overgrown pathway.  His breath came in great gasps.  In the house since he had run from the plantation, he had traveled faster and farther than ever in his life."
--Barefoot: Escape on the Underground Railroad by Pamela D. Edwards

"One day, my dad looked out at the endless desert and decided then and there to build a baseball field."
--Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki

Challenge Leads

A challenge lead is a short sentence with exact words that implores the reader to read on. It is such an interesting start that a reader can't wait to read more.

" Everybody knows the story of the Three Little Pigs.Or at least they think they do."
--The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka

"It should have been a perfect summer."
--Enemy Pie by Derek Munson

 Mini-Lesson Idea for Writer's Workshop:

Choose a few favorite read-alouds from your class and revisit them. After reading the lead and a bit of the text, discuss with your students what makes this lead grab your attention. Begin to classify them on chart paper and post them in your writing center.

As a follow-up, students can begin adding leads from their own independent texts. In addition, they need to be prepared to explain why they thought it was a character/topic lead, setting/time lead, or challenge lead, as well as why it grabbed their attention and caused them to read on.

What is one of your favorite books to teach leads?


  1. Wendy-
    My writing teammate and I are always looking for good mini lessons for our writer's workshop. I am going to pass this on to her right now. Thanks so much!

    1. Em,
      I am so glad that you find this helpful !
      Enjoy !

  2. This is a perfect post for me! We are just finishing one of our narrative units and the students will be writing their own short story for an embedded assessment. I had a list of some on-liners from various novels, but this is better because the students can spend time with the books and not have to read so much that they get off track from their writing. Thanks for posting!

  3. Giving students ownership in writing skills helps them to begin to notice leads in everything they read. I hope your students enjoy it. Best of luck on state assessments !

  4. Wendy, you just cost me another $15 because now I have to return to Ollie's and purchase Saving Sweetness and Enemy Pie that I just saw there two days ago! I *love* to teach writing as you've probably figured out, and I've been working on hook ideas with my students. I appreciate the suggestions you've provided, and now I need to scan my shelves and mark books for this purpose. Do you keep your books sorted in a certain way for modeling? I always start off with books well organized, but then I let my kids pull and read them, so things never get returned to the same place! Fabulous information.....and so jealous of your work with Irene!

  5. When we ordered Writers Workshop books through a grant a few years ago. We did put a sticker on the front of the books to tell a type of writing or what it could be used for leads, small moments. I am guessing that one could write it in pencil inside of the front cover as well. I know Carla... Bookstores and new books are a frequent stop for me, too !

  6. I'm off the the bookstore again! Can't wait to purchase the books you've mentioned. Surprisingly, I only own two of them. This was a great post-packed full of useful information! Thanks for sharing!
    :) Wendy
    PS You were a graduate assistant to Irene Fountas?!?! Impressive!

  7. Great post Wendy! I love you've explained the different types of leads. Leads will definitely have to become a Mentor Monday topic. I love the mention of Saving Sweetness too. This is one of my old favs. BTW- We're both Lesley graduates!! :))
    Emily, TRT/OG

  8. First off, I had NO idea you worked as an assistant to Dr. Fountas. How exciting!! We started 6+1 Traits this year and had a great in-service before school began about the whole process. My favorite part was when we talked about having good leads. Thanks for the ideas!

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