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What does it mean to “Write Under the Influence”?

What does it mean to “Write Under the Influence”?

In her book, Study Driven, Katie Wood Ray talks about immersing children in a genre by having them read well crafted examples of it (mentor texts) and then notice what the author did to make the piece compelling.  As they read and deconstruct these mentor texts, students try out some of the techniques they discover in their own writer’s notebooks.  At some point in this process, the time comes for students to draft their own pieces.

For the last month, we have been exploring place-based memoir as a genre in Opal 4.  I have been sharing mentor texts,


inviting students to explore the places they had chosen in materials,


and watching them find their special places and know how they would show their readers the emotional connection they have with their places. 

All of this time and work, and yet, I felt unsure whether it was time to let them fly the nest – to send them off to draft their pieces.  Were they really ready?  Drafting is so different than just writing in your notebook, it’s the first step toward publication, where the words start to matter.  Would they feel confident and knowledgeable and would the drafting feel empowering and, dare I say, easy and fun?

So I gave myself a deadline.  It was drafting day. 

I invited the class to the stage to hear just one more mentor text, Bigmama’s by Donald Crews.  They saw right away that I had chosen a place based memoir that did all of the things we know place based memoirs should do.  They were surrounded by the posters they had made calling out the properties of the genre and their growing confidence as authors. 


Still, I needed to ask them one more question, to invite them to support each other as they took this next leap:

How do authors start a draft?


Then they were ready.  They moved to their writing seats, took out paper, pens and pencils and wrote under the influence.  They are already authors of place-based memoirs, working in a community of writers to produce pieces for publication.  Pages and pages of well crafted, organized place-based memoirs were drafted in a 50 minute writing period, and many students were disappointed to hear that it was time for lunch.



Once again I am reminded to trust the children, trust the process, and trust the idea that a learning community who knows that their words matter, and knows that they are capable, valuable, powerful writers will produce high quality work. 

I am so excited to see how each piece turns out, how revision will affect each memoir and how the children will choose to get their words out to the world.