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 poem 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!):
in a quiche
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):
you serve it–
whether on bread, pasta, or pizza
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
but once I got that
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?