Studying Anchor Papers for Writing

On Raising Strong Writers

This is always a powerful exercise, leaving my first-grade writers more aware of their own writing "moves" and helping them become more engaged in the writing process. The quality of writing typically rises when we have these discussions around anchor papers... I highly recommend trying it out in your own classroom.  You can gather up student samples OR (an idea I like better) you can draft samples of your own, but they need to correlate to your grade's, school's, or district's expectations for student achievement.

In this example, I wrote four different samples based  on the same topic: Going to the beach and seeing a stingray.  (I live in Florida.  Everyone in Florida knows stingrays, some personally... ouch.)  Then, based on my district's criteria for this time of year, I wrote four versions of varying strength.  These four writing samples have become the inspiration for several minilessons during our writing workshop this week. 

On Monday, I read each of the samples and teams of students were challenged to study the stories, discuss their thinking, and put the stories in order from weakest to strongest.  (All but one team actually put them in the correct order.  The group that didn't, only reversed samples 3 and 4.)

On Tuesday, I asked the same teams to study only samples 3 and 4, the two strongest samples.  The challenge this day was discuss why the 4 was stronger than the 3.  The students came up with amazing thinking and, as a group, they discovered everything I hoped they would.  I recorded some of their comments on sticky notes and we used sticky-note-arrows to highlight specific examples in the story.

On Wednesday, we studied sample #1 and talked about why that sample was difficult to read and I asked them, "What would make this writing stronger?"  I loved it when one of my most fragile writers said, "If this writer was Stretchy Snake or used the word wall, it would be easier to read.  He's only using the first letter.  You have to guess what it says." (Brilliant observation, I thought.)

So, tomorrow is only Thursday, but I'm already seeing the benefits of these three days of discussion.  It started with an inquiry question:  How do writers know if their stories are interesting and strong?  It developed into a rubric the students can refer to when self-evaluating their own stories as we move through this narrative unit.  (A tool like a rubric can be a powerful parent-piece, too.  It's very "visual" and helps parents see what "meeting expectations" and "exceeding expectations" looks like.)

If you need to save a little time, these anchor papers and rubric pieces are available here:  

Your Turn:
What early writing lessons have you done with your children to help them monitor and self-assess their writing? 


  1. This is a great post! Thanks Andrea. I love how you have explained the process you have followed with your students and how they went. I like how you are discussing the low level texts with your kids as well as the good ones. So often, our students are given "A" standard models and don't see how they can move from their own writing standard to the top level. It's great to hear that even your struggling students are making connections and beginning to see how to improve their writing.
    :) PS I found you on Pinterest. I will definitely be back.

  2. Thank you, "M." It ended up being a really powerful set of lessons last week. Have a great weekend! :)

  3. WOW! I love this idea. I use Lucy Calkins Unit of Study and this week I'm teaching about life long partners. This will be a great lesson to start with their partners. Thanks for sharing!

  4. I'm so glad I found you. This is just what I needed to start using posted rubrics in my room. Thanks for the idea to involve the kids in why each paper is different!

    First in Maine

  5. Thank you, Kimberley. Happy holidays! :)

  6. Your blog inspires me. (I don't think I am following all the rules of the Sunshine Award, but wanted to let you know that you are on my list.) Thank you for sharing all the wonderful things you do. My favorite is the guided writing entry!

  7. I rarely comment on blogs, but this one deserves a thank you! I love this idea for teaching kids to work with a rubric. I'm going to try this with my kinders. Thanks!

    1. Thank you, Tracy... I really appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment. :) This kind of work has been done with older kids for years, but I really believe young students can study their writing and notice these key features, too. Have fun with your kinders!!


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