Skip to content
Shop Bilingual at Home - $4.95 flat-rate shipping for online orders!
Shop Bilingual at Home - $4.95 flat-rate shipping for online orders!

Creating mentor texts for dual language programs

Many countries around the world use a set of national standards for all schools.  Imagine the Common Core Standards or the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) being applied in exactly the same sequence in all schools.  In the United States, each state is given autonomy, which means that instructional content can vary considerably from one state to another.  Decentralization of content is furthered when districts make additional instructional decisions based on their local educational goals.    For dual language teachers, these hyper-local standards can create a lot of content roadblocks because we cannot find content at a grade-level or language-level that is appropriate for our students.  

Sometimes, when you are faced with resource scarcity, the easiest solution is to create a resource from scratch.  In this post, we wanted to show you how to generate great mentor texts for your students, and share some insights on how to tailor graphics and illustrations for these projects. 
We are based in Georgia, where there are over 70 dual language programs.  As a consultant, I work closely with several school districts in our home state.  This year, one of my clients asked to create writing units based on science and social studies standards.  For a third grade unit, we decided to have the students produce a scientific article on pollution and the environment that would be a 2-page spread.  The Georgia standards we were looking to include were:

In addition, the district added specific expectations for high achieving students such as: 


Slim Pickings
We looked for resources in Spanish and French on plants, animals and habitats from Georgia, and found texts with reading levels that were far too high, even for our native speakers.  Most texts included unnecessary scientific information, so translating them would have been mostly a waste of time.  We could use bits and pieces of information, but not an entire text.  

We located some excellent videos on pollution and conservation of resources, but hardly any texts that specifically addressed Georgia’s role in pollution and conservation, and how that affected native species.  

A Must Have
We quickly realized that there was a triple priority in needing to create this resource.  First, the information in the text needed to be closely related to what the Georgia science standards stated.  Requiring every third grade teacher to create that content from scratch made no sense.  It was best for a team of teachers to compile the information for everybody to use.  

Next, we had to have lots of visuals, not just written words about scientific facts.  Language learners are visual learners.  They must have visual scaffolds to make sense of complex concepts.  These can be photos, illustrations, maps, bold words, captions.  We were looking to create a learning support that was a nonfiction book.  

Finally, we had planned on students writing an article, and wanted them to be armed with plenty of relevant background knowledge without having to do independent research online, reading through content that was far too difficult for them to understand, and sorting through useful and useless information.  So, this document had to present the information students would be looking for as they wrote their article. 

Writing with a Specific Audience
I was tasked with writing the text for the book.  We decided that it was necessary to write the content first in English so that it could be translated into the three immersion languages taught in the district.  I researched native endangered species: where they were located in Georgia, and how they were affected by the different types of pollution.  I investigated ways students and their families could help conserve the environment and recycle.  I identified Georgia-specific problems and solutions to meet the hyper-local expectations. 

When I began writing, I kept in mind that I was writing for a third grade maturity level.  At the same time, this wasn’t about simplifying the content, it was about simplifying the language.  I had to use the relevant academic vocabulary, while making my sentence structures simpler.  Interestingly, this sometimes means having longer text because you’re writing more simple sentences than compound sentences.  

Creating a Bank of Visuals

As I was writing, I noticed that I had a very hard time finding quality visuals to support all of this fact gathering.  I enlisted the help of our graphic designer, Hailey Sarnecki.  Hailey has been working with us for a year and half, and she has so many artistic talents.  In the interview below, Hailey explains how she made this text-heavy book come to life with lots of beautiful graphics and hand-drawn illustrations. 
Marie: When we first began collaborating on this project, I sent you the original document with all of the written text, and some directions for visuals.  Where did you begin the creative process?  

HaileyFor me, it’s easiest to start sketching out the ideas by hand. I can share the sketches and take notes on the feedback before beginning digitally and getting detailed. 


Marie: That map of Georgia with the different animal species is so helpful in understanding how pollution in different geographic regions can affect native species.  Your graphics for the animals are so realistic.  How did you put it all together?

HaileySince this map was going to be a very accurate map of Georgia, I wanted to make sure the animals being placed on the map would look realistic and not cartoonish. I found real photos of the animals and did a simplified drawing of them so they were each distinguishable while fitting in with the stylize of the map I created. 


Marie: As I was writing the text, I was finding that it would be difficult to understand without a chapter-specific set of keywords.  I started bolding words, and asked if you could play around with a layout for keywords.  What do you think makes the bank of words easier to read for a language learner?
Hailey:I think the way the Key Words and their definitions are spaced out is very clear and legible. Having the Key Words box itself being orange and yellow makes it stand out amongst the rest of the text within this book, so I think that makes it easier to find. 

Marie: I also found that a lot of concepts had to be communicated visually such as how different forms of pollution could reenter the soil through the water cycle or how different human actions play a role in hurting or helping the environment.  You used so many different design techniques.  What made you choose certain techniques over others?
Hailey:I think adding a variety of different styles throughout keeps it a little more fun and engaging. I tried to style the graphics based on the text as well to have them match up with the tone of the information.

Open Source Documents
This document of originally 9 pages of writing is much improved with 20 pages of visuals.  Hailey’s graphics and illustrations will make learning scientific content so much easier.  I’m really excited about the impact that this will have on schools in Georgia (and perhaps elsewhere in the country).  

As school districts commission the creation of customized resources, we will share them with you.  Here is the Spanish version of Conserving Georgia Wildlife: Conservación de la vida silvestre de Georgia.  

Please reach out to if you are interested in creating an electronic resource for your student audience.  

Your partner in all things dual language,
Previous article The Power of Rereading Read Alouds with Language Learners, Part 1: Lexical Comprehension
Next article Six context clues strategies to figure out new words in authentic texts - Part 2

Leave a comment

Comments must be approved before appearing

* Required fields