Writing Under the Influence- SOL #27


Last month I attended the Literacy Institute in Hong Kong where I got to rub elbows with and learn from Kathy Collins, Matt Glover, and Carl Anderson. I know, I know…I’m a pretty lucky girl! I wanted to share a little bit of what I learned from Carl about the power of mentor texts. We all know mentor texts are important because they can give us some background on a new genre or style of writing, and we all know how important they are to writing workshop. A phrase I love that Carl used was “writing under the influence,” and I think it’s really important that we not only learn from and use mentor texts in our own writing, but teach our students to write under the influence as well.

As an engagement activity, Carl gave us 1 minute to write a poem about anything at all. I’m not joking! We had to write a poemย in 1 minute! That’s a tough task, especially when you don’t have a topic, but we just had to go for it. Scrambling to think of a topic, my brain immediately went to goat cheese. Here’s my first draft of my poem (now, don’t laugh…it’s not that good!):

Goat cheese
warm or
on bread
in a quiche
any way
any day
I love it

After our initial poems, we were given a poem to read– first like a reader, then like a writer. The poem was entitled “Red” by Lilian Moore. After reading like a writer, we brainstormed things we noticed about how Lilian crafted her poem. We talked about things we liked, didn’t like, have seen before in other mentor texts, and so on. Next, we were given another minute to write a second poem about the same topic, only this time we were to write it under the influence of the mentor text, “Red.” Here’s my second draft (a little better, but not quite there):

Any way
you serve it–
whether on bread, pasta, or pizza
that tangy
distinct taste
envelopes me
in love.

We shared our poems with our table, noting how it felt the second time around, when we had a mentor text to guide our writing. Most of us found it easier. I didn’t love “Red,” so I thought it was a little bit difficult, but it was definitely easier than the first draft when we didn’t have a mentor text at all. Next we were shown “Knoxville, TN” by Nikki Giovanni, a list poem that I related to as both a reader and a writer. Many of us were able to connect to the content and feel of the poem, which told a story of a church picnic through a list. After sharing what we noticed about the author’s writing, we were ready to write. For our final draft, we were given 2 minutes to write under the influence of Nikki’s poem. Here’s my final draft (the one I’m most proud of):

I haven’t always loved
goat cheese–
but once I got that
first taste,
I was hooked.
Goat cheese bruschetta,
on toasted bread–
the crunchiness of the toast
coupled with the warm
pillowy goat cheese
drizzled with honey
and topped with roasted capsicums–
was heaven in my

What I got out of this learning engagement was the power of writing under the influence and how very important using engaging mentor texts is in writing workshop. The level of my writing was elevated by being exposed to quality texts, being able to discuss the things I noticed with my peers, and being given a time and space to write and play around with words.

What successes or challenges have you had with using mentor texts in writing workshop? How much time do you generally devote to reading mentor texts and discussing them with your students?

10 thoughts on “Writing Under the Influence- SOL #27

  1. Cathy

    This is a great reminder. It was interesting to see how your poem grew and changed as a result of reading a little poetry and revisiting your first draft. I always love to see how a writer’s work evolves and changes across time.

    I just picked up goat cheese for the first time at the store this week. I’m using it in a new recipe I have been wanting to try. Your post makes me look forward to giving it a try.


    1. aggiekesler Post author

      Thanks for your comments- and yes, reflecting today on my progression through the poems helped me see just how much it had evolved. ๐Ÿ™‚
      This makes me so happy–goat cheese is the best! What recipe are you trying?

  2. Lisa Keeler

    This was a really informative slice. Thanks. I’ve been gathering lots of ideas about our poetry unit from things I began thinking about after reading your post.

  3. elsie

    Katie Wood Ray also uses that term, writing under the influence. It is exactly what our students need, especially those who don’t have a rich literate life. She suggests that you spend time in immersing the kids in the mentor texts prior to teaching specifically. This gives the kids time to come to a generalization of what the format consists of for that genre. I loved seeing how your poem evolved. I don’t know that I could have come up with something so quickly. Sounds like it was a great conference. I will see Matt Glover this summer.

    1. aggiekesler Post author

      I haven’t read much of Katie Wood Ray, although I want to. I didn’t know she used the same term. I firmly believe in using mentor texts to teach writing. It is so important for students to come to their own conclusions about different types of writing and how they work. Have fun seeing Matt! He’s just great!

  4. Holly Mueller

    Oh, how interesting – your poem changed a lot, and the final result was so descriptive. I want some goat cheese now! I think mentor texts are imperative. I use them throughout the year, choosing them depending on what genre or format I’m teaching. I’ve been using them myself lately because my writing partner and I are working on a professional teaching book. I can’t imagine working on it without expert examples!

    1. aggiekesler Post author

      So, so true! It makes me think back to my days as a student…I never knew what a mentor text was, let alone read examples of the types of texts I was asked to write. Writing instruction has come a long way since the 80’s! ๐Ÿ™‚


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