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Notes from the TCRWP workshop with Carl Anderson: Writing With Mentor Texts — Part of #TWTBlog’s Throwback Week


It is Throwback Week on Two Writing Teachers! Every day this week we will throw it back to one of our favorite posts from our archives.  This gives our readers the chance to revisit some of our older posts and to catch up on posts you may have missed the first time.

Today, I am throwing it back to one of my favorite posts written by my friend and co-author, Tara.  In March, Tara attended the TCRWP’s Saturday Reunion.  As always, she returned home and generously shared her learning with all of us.  In this post, Tara shares what she learned from Carl Anderson about a more systematic way to study mentor texts.  Carl Anderson shows how he might analyze a mentor text for structure.  Then, in true Tara fashion, she showed us what this looked like when she brought it back to her own classroom.

I appreciate Tara’s work to take a truth about writing – that writing is an act of making choices – and to teach that truth to her students in a concrete way.  I know many of our readers will want to try this with their own students this year.


I knew I’d learn something fabulous about the use of mentor texts in writing workshop at Carl Anderson’s session  during TCRWP’s  March Saturday Reunion, and I did! It was one of those ah-ha moments in teaching practice which all of us long for every time we engage in professional development opportunities.

Carl began by discussing two key elements of  teaching writing: envisioning – the thinking, planning, drafting work we do before writing, and revision – the work we do to polish and strengthen our writing piece.  For both these elements, we rely on our writer’s knowledge of texts, i.e. the mentor text work we’ve already done in our reading lives.  Sharing texts with our students in a systematic way allows them to take note of craft moves writers make as they structure and elaborate upon their writing; it allows our students to see what these craft moves do and also what they look like.  Carl shared four steps in this process of using mentor texts effectively in writing workshop:

Gather texts we love in the genres we teach, but especially ones that will entice our students. It does no good to share a piece we are wedded to, without considering the needs and interests of our students.

Immerse kids in the genre we are teaching in the beginning of the unit, and turn it into a reading event.  Here, we need to “find a way to make the genre provocative”, so that our kids will truly be interested in trying their hand at writing memoir, or argument, or whatever.

Select a few of the texts you’ve shared, two or three which you have had the chance to test drive and know inside and out (i.e. that you have done the work of figuring out structure and craft moves). Focus on:

  • meaning – figuring out what the author was trying to say
  • structure – the underlying design
  • detail – the tiny images that, woven together, create a scene
  • voice – how to set up thoughts and where to place emotional emphasis
  • convention

Break down this underlying structure, so that kids can “see” the layout of the piece – from lead to scenes to ending.

Carl's chart

I pride myself on the amount of immersion we engage in our sixth grade classroom, and the careful way in which we study mentor texts in order to learn effective writing strategies we can then model our own writing upon, but I am not sure that I always go about this in as systematic a way as the one that Carl presented.   That was my ah-ha moment, and this is what it looked like in my classroom:

First, I walked my kids through the process of naming and blocking out scenes and craft moves to create a chapter  flowchart in much the same way that Carl had done for us that Saturday.  We also used a chapter from Ralph Fletcher’s memoir Marshfield Dreams:

Flow chart 1
Then my students worked on another chapter in pairs to get a feel for this type of  thinking for themselves:

kids mentor text

And then we shared our thinking:

our flow chart As I watched my kids working, I was reminded of  the truth of what Carl Anderson had said that Saturday morning – writing is an act of making choices, and our kids need lots of practice with mentor text work to get better and better at knowing how to make those craft decisions that help writers embed meaning into the text.

Dana Murphy View All

Literacy Coach, Reader, Writer

2 thoughts on “Notes from the TCRWP workshop with Carl Anderson: Writing With Mentor Texts — Part of #TWTBlog’s Throwback Week Leave a comment

  1. Hmmm…thinking on this–how to use the concept with first graders. If I copy a few applicable pages from the picture books I use for mentor text–they could do this too! I’d have them highlight specific areas of evidence for word choice, voice…etc. Thanks for the planted seed!


  2. Deconstruction of writing BEFORE writer’s write is what has made a difference for my writers this year. They MUST have the exposure to the mentor text to be exposed to the understanding of the structure and design of the type of writing that they are about to embark. Once that is in place, writers have the confidence to let their thoughts flow unto to their paper. It’s been a privilege to observe writers take ownership of their pieces! I’m watching my BlueJays soar to new heights! Thank you, TWT!


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