A Mentor Text Goldmine for Movie Buffs and Writing Workshoppers Alike!

It seemed too good to be true when I first happened upon it: a database with hundreds of free Hollywood movie scripts, ready to download and dig in to for writing studies!

I had landed upon The Internet Movie Script Database (not to be confused with the International Movie Database)  — an amazing resource for writing workshop. I have used its contents to teach the obvious genre (screenwriting) — but I have also used the scripts in memoir and fiction writing studies to teach about dialogue, creating character, writing concisely, show-don’t-tell and so on.

Do yourself a favor and head on over to the IMSDb before reading on. You’ll notice that you can search the database by title or genre. You can also browse the newest titles on the homepage, under Newest Releases.

Two Scripts & Some Ideas

It’s easy to get lost in a script; it does take some time to plod through hundreds of pages in search of excerpts to use with students. I often just pull the first few pages of a script to share — or if I’ve seen the movie and can identify a scene I want to look at, I’ll search within the script for phrases I remember from the movie. To get you going in your study, below are two scripts you might consider exploring with your writers and ways to use them.


Photo by Jim Bridges Roadside Attractions Publicity via tpr.org


Summary: Two young boys encounter a fugitive and form a pact to help him evade the vigilantes that are on his trail and to reunite him with his true love. (International Movie Database)

Click here for the full script.

Click here for the excerpt I used.

How I used it:

I used this excerpt from Mud to demonstrate one way to create character: through setting. Nancie Atwell encourages her writers to “create [their] character’s bedroom and fill it with the stuff of his or her life that reveals parts of the present or past.” In this excerpt, director Jeff Nichols demonstrates this technique using narrative description to show the abandoned boat that Mud has turned into a temporary home. The students will enjoy discussing what the contents of his boat-treehouse reveal about Mud.


Photo by Global Panorama via Flickr

A Fault in Our Stars

Summary: Two teens, both who have different cancer conditions, fall in love after meeting at a cancer support group. (The International Movie Database)

Click here for the full script.

Click here for the excerpt I used.

How I used it:

I used this short excerpt to teach students about lean writing. David Trottier, author of The Screenwriter’s Bible, advises screenwriters to keep description “on the lean side, providing only what is absolutely necessary to progress the story.”

While this advice applies more to screenwriting than it does fiction, this lesson helps students become more intentional and “choosy” with the details they include in their writing. Beginner writers usually run into one of the following problems at some point: they don’t write enough description, or they get carried away with their description. Studying this excerpt may help students think about the types of details they can include or aid them in eliminating details that don’t move their story along. With this particular excerpt, we talk about why the screenwriter may have chosen to include the title of the book Hazel is reading. We also discuss the importance of the “squeal of delight.”

Another Goldmine

Current, engaging mentor texts that reach every writer in the room are like gold, so finding multiple drafts of a current, engaging mentor text is equivalent to striking it rich. This is what happened to me when the IMSDb lead me to other screenplay resources, like Drew’s Script-O-Rama, a recent favorite of mine.

In addition to offering hundreds of scripts, it also offers (for some movies) multiple versions of the same script. For example, here is the first draft of Batman, the revised first draft, and the fifth draft. Not only is it cool to study how scripts change over time, but these drafts can be bundled together to create a cluster for a revision study.

Drew’s Script-O-Rama offers fewer classic scripts than the IMSDb but tends to have a better selection of contemporary films.  Here is a list of just a few Oscar-nominated and winning films this website offers:



Gone Girl

How to Train Your Dragon 2



These mentor texts databases, coupled with our Mentor Text Dropbox that you have continued to help us build, offer so many possibilities for genre and technique studies next year. If you haven’t already, go ahead and add “explore the dropbox” to your summer to-do list. We can’t promise you won’t get lost inside, but with a glass of iced tea, and some extra time on your hands, it’s an adventure worth taking.

In your initial browsing of the IMDB, what scripts offered themselves up as mentor texts? In what ways do you envision using The IMDB or Drew’s Script-o-Rama in your workshop? Feel free to leave a comment below, or find us on Twitter @allisonmarchett @rebekahodell1.


Writing Workshop Finals (or Wrapping Up a Year of Writing Workshop)

In our workshops, we want our students to learn to craft moving pieces of authentic writing. But we hope that this will extend far past our classroom — how do we do this? How do we assess and ensure the independence we hope we have instilled in students all year long?  As a final project (or final exam, as we are currently required to give one), we ask our students to use the processes and resources of the class — specifically mentor texts — to create one final piece of writing.

In a way, this is similar to the beginning-of-the-year mentor text activities we use to open class (Here is what I did last year, and here is what Allison did). For these final, independent writing projects, we look for mentor texts that are engaging (often this means that they are highly visual), easily accessible to students of all abilities and reading levels, and thematically help us wrap up a year’s worth of work.

For an end-of-the-year writing project, the biggest difference is that rather than walking students through the process of studying and using mentor texts like we do in every other study of the year, we ask students to do this for themselves. They follow the process that (hopefully, by now) they have internalized:

  • Study the mentor text cluster and make noticings
  • Decide which noticings they want to study more closely & use in their own writing
  • Return to the mentor text as needed for additional clarity, ideas, and inspiration

Want some ideas for final projects to engagingly wrap up your workshop? We have three for you (ranked from easiest to most challenging):

What it is

In this collection of essays and gorgeous bookshelf art, editor Thessaly la Force examines the books that have had the most significant impact on prominent cultural figures ranging from Patti Smith to Chimamanda Adichie.  While illustrator Jane Mount creates stunning depictions of these “ideal” bookshelves, the contributors craft an essay considering the impact of these texts on their lives.

How to Use It

Have students create bookshelves of the year. These might include:

  • Students’ independent reading
  • Everything a student has read in your course this year
  • The most personally influential pieces the student has read in your class
  • Everything you student has read this school year in all of his classes
  • Their all-time best book list

Give students a cluster of mentor text essay-and-art pairings from the book, and have them create their own!  La Force has even included a blank bookshelf template in the back of the book for you to photocopy and pass out to students! In this study, the content and presentation are fairly uniformly determined by the editor, making this an easy entry point into mentor text independence.

This is also a  great project because it includes a built-in publication processes as La Force encourages readers to take a picture of their bookshelf and post it to Twitter using a special hashtag.

  •  Buzzfeed List

What It Is

You know you love these, and your students do, too. Buzzfeed creates handfuls of fascinating annotated lists every day. Some are more serious (“30 Most Powerful Photos of the Week”), while others are lighthearted (“26 Things You Might Have Missed in Wayne’s World), and some are straight up ridiculous.

How to Use It

Using a Buzzfeed list as your final project has a few distinct advantages. First, they are a strong cultural meme that your students will be instantly engaged by. Second, all Buzzfeed lists include images (sometimes captioned) or GIFs. This mentor text study would force students to think not only about content but also about presentation.

You can choose a cluster of lists for your students to study (sometimes this is a good idea because not all Buzzfeed lists are equally appropriate) or just set your students list on the site to pull together their own cluster of 3-5 lists from which they will draw ideas and inspiration.

  • Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life Screen Shot 2015-05-16 at 8.57.54 AM

What It Is

Amy Krauss Rosenthal’s memoir includes so many unusual and captivating genres, that you really just need to see it for yourself! Including almanacs and alphabetical encyclopedia entries, Rosenthal tells the story of her life.

How to Use It

Have your students create one page of their own Screen Shot 2015-05-16 at 8.57.44 AMencyclopedia using Rosenthal’s memoir as a guide!  In this study, they would have to carefully consider content (Rosenthal uses lists, timelines, quotes, definitions, narratives, among others!) and presentation (she includes charts, illustrations, etc.).

How do you wrap up a year of writing workshop? How do you assess students’ independence with both the processes and the products of writing? What would you add to our list?

Comment below or comment on Twitter (@rebekahodell1 and @allisonmarchett).

5 Mentor Sentences to Help Students Write Better Analysis

Photo by Alan Cleaver via Flickr

Photo by Alan Cleaver via Flickr

If you haven’t checked out Rebekah’s series on analysis, stop what you’re doing and go read about her brilliant work with her IB students! I’ve never been more excited to teach analysis than after reading her thoughtful blog series.

I’m going to piggyback on her posts and share something that I have found useful in the teaching of analysis with my ninth graders: using mentor sentences to help them articulate their thinking about a text.
Like Rebekah, I, too, am searching for ways to make literary analysis a richer experience for my young writers. While my students are working on a fairly traditional literary analysis of a poem right now, I have been able to complicate the simplistic formula they have been trained to use for far too long (5 paragraphs, claim as last sentence in introduction, sentences that start with the phrase “This quote shows that…” and so forth ) by sharing ways that professional writers have written about themes, symbols, and diction.

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Literary Analysis Week Wrap-up: Observations, Conclusions, & Lingering Questions

You might remember that this burning desire to meaningfully bring literary analysis into a real, thriving writing workshop began because I was trying to find a solution for the mutual malaise experienced by my students and me in my IB English class. There had to be something more — something better — than the by-rote way we had been used to writing.

Together, we discovered that writing workshop can transform the writing of literary analysis — making it dynamic, making it invigorating, moving it out of the classroom and into real life.

In the last couple of weeks, I have shared about

Today, I want to share with you some things that I have observed after diving into this full-time with my IB students over the last few months. I also want to share some of my lingering questions, wonderings, and itches — the places I intend to investigate next.

My Two Biggest Instructional Take-Aways

  • For my older writers, the time in class to write and confer has much more to do with the rehearsal acts of writing than actual paper-on-pencil drafting.

One of the many reasons I wanted to bring writing workshop to my older students is that they had gotten into very bad habits of procrastinating on writing tasks and then turning in work they weren’t proud of because they didn’t have any time to revise. I wanted to break this habit by showing them the value of working steadily along in small pieces.

This didn’t exactly happen.

Though I followed the exact same workshop routines that I follow with my younger students, when I finished the mini-lesson with my 12th graders, their work looked a lot more like talking through ideas with peers, writing off the page, and studying mentor texts. Initially, I looked at this and saw failure. But Katie Wood Ray saved the day (as she has a habit of doing) when she visited my class one day, and said, “But they are writing. They are doing tons of rehearsal, and that is writing!”

I think my students still write most of their papers in the nights immediately before a due date, but they have spent many more hours considering their writing, planning their writing, rehearsing their writing aloud than they ever did before. To borrow from Andy, one of my students, they are now writers with a plan rather than “writers floundering in a vacuum.”

  • We are all more engaged, and we are all better writers

Bringing the depth of literary analysis into the life of writing workshop has engaged my students more deeply than I have ever seen them engaged before. I taught this year’s seniors before when they sophomores. I know them well. This is the hardest I have ever seen them work, the longest I have seen them toil in productive wrestling with their ideas. It’s the best writing I have seen them produce.

And not just for the brilliant writers, whose work I have shared with you in this blog series. Writing in a more open, more authentic way about literature has benefitted my students who are still struggling with commas and structure and logical organization and effectively supporting their ideas. Even when their product isn’t perfect, they are thinking through the task in deeper ways and coming out with writing that has more voice and personal imprint.

I am also more engaged. This has been a (wonderful) challenge for me, too. Finding mentor texts that speak to the tasks of literary analysis has been a new kind of treasure hunt for me. Answering their questions has pushed me, too, to define literary analysis for myself, to examine what is truly being demanded by IB/AP/school standards, and to reconcile my beliefs about writing instruction.

Without doubt, I am a better teacher than I was months ago because I jumped into this experiment beside my students.

What I Wonder

As I move into my summer period of idea incubation and research, there are still lots of avenues I want to pursue. Specifically:

  • Is there a scaffolding of analysis skills that should progress as students move from 9th to 12 grades?
  • What does brain research actually say about the teenage brain and its capacity for analysis? What should we be expecting of our students in terms of cognitive development and this very challenging way of thinking and writing?
  • What are accessible literary analysis products for newer and younger writers? If they aren’t ready to write like writers from The New Yorker, what are they ready for? What’s fair?
  • Do our writers ever need to write a traditional, academic piece of literary analysis? Are journalistic analysis pieces “enough”?
  • Should we ever teach formulaic analysis? Is that truly a stepping stone for more sophisticated analysis? Does it ever make sense to teach skills we will later want to unteach?

Answers — and inevitably more questions — are forthcoming.

In the end

Perhaps my biggest — and most surprising — takeaway from this school year is that this kind of writing has actually done the work of moving writers. I expected the quality of writing to improve. I expected students’ engagement with the writing process to improve. But I didn’t expect to grow aspiring writers through the process of writing literary analysis.

Multiple students have reported to me that they now “feel like a real writer” as they craft papers for English class in response to the literature we are studying. One student, Madison, says, “I now am actually considering a major in journalism because of studying the mentor texts.”

Friends, treating our students like writers, regardless of the kind of writing they are producing, truly makes them think of themselves as writers. It raises the stakes everywhere.

Thank you for following along with me this week! What lingering questions do YOU have? What other observations have you made? Where are you still nervous? Skeptical? What makes you the most excited to dive in with your students and redefine literary analysis?

Comment below and find us on Twitter @rebekahodell1 and @allisonmarchett.

A Different Way to Teach Literary Analysis: A Literature-Based Analysis Study

This week, I gave my ninth graders this definition:

Analysis: breaking something into its parts and pieces so that we can closely examine it and, ultimately, come to a better understanding of the whole.

Literary analysis: when we do this with a piece of literature.

In the traditional high school English classroom, literary analysis has looked one way — like an essay, sometimes in five paragraphs, beginning with a generic introduction, thesis statement, body paragraphs (following a strict topic-sentence-followed-by-evidence-and-explanation format), and a conclusion that regurgitates all the was said before.

But look at the definition of analysis again. Can we teach students to use these same skills — thoughtfully, deeply — and come out with a different product?

Last week, we looked at one way to approach this in a writing workshop classroom — breaking literary analysis into sub-genres, teaching the techniques and characteristics of that sub-genre, and using real world analysis examples as mentor texts. You saw two different technique-based analysis workshops as they lived in my classroom:  an analysis of two texts side-by-side and a character analysis study.

But there is another way to approach literary analysis in the writing workshop: literature-based analysis studies.

After we have studied a work of literature together, that text morphs into a writing mentor text, and students craft their own piece based on the work of this mentor.  Literature-based analysis studies came to life in my classroom because I wanted to give my IB students a different kind of writing experience, while still focusing on the whole-class literature we are required to study and analytical skills they will need for their exam and for their future.

This is the ultimate double-duty workshop classroom moment. Students already do the noticing and studying of craft moves as they read and discuss the text. They simply lift the analysis they have done in their reading and translate it into a piece of writing! For this reason, literature-based analysis studies tend to be a bit shorter than technique-based analysis studies.

Here’s how the process works:

  • Whole class studies a piece of literature
  • Students choose some of the mentor’s moves to put into their own original piece of writing, in the same style as the mentor  — when we study a poet, the students write poetry; when we study memoir or essay, the students write memoir or essay, etc.
  • Students mark the footprints of their mentor in their writing
  • Students write a brief commentary analyzing how their own mentor-inspired choices have impacted the overall meaning of their piece.

Analysis is all over this kind of work — analysis of a text, analysis of a writer’s choices, analysis of one’s own writing and the impact of one’s own choices as a writer.  My students report that this is way harder than they thought it would be.

Here’s a taste of a literature-based analysis study my students did after studying the poetry of Seamus Heaney.

The Assignment
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Literary Analysis Blog Blast Day #3: Character Analysis Writing Workshop

On Wednesday, I shared the rationale for analysis workshops centered on different analytical techniques, and I shared one technique-based analysis study in which students analyzed two texts side-by-side. Today, I want to share another technique-based analysis study with you — this time, a character analysis.

The Assignment

Without choice, there really is no writing workshop, so, for this writing study, my students had choice about which character in which piece of literature they wished to analyze. They could interpret this charge anyway they chose — broadly or narrowly — writing about a clearly defined protagonist, a secondary character, or even something far more abstract that they defined as acting like a character in the text.

The Mentor Texts

Since my students have been chirping about the new Netflix original series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, I pulled three different character analyses about this show.

  1. Why It’s So Hard for Us to Agree About Dong from ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ (NPR) — This text looks at Dong, a secondary character from the series, and weighs his role against ideas about conventional Asian stereotypes.
  2. Candy Girl (The New Yorker) — This piece analyzes Kimmy, the protagonist, against the broader themes of the show. While it seems like the most conventional piece, this was probably the most sophisticated mentor text in the cluster because of the quality of the writing and the breadth of the argument.
  3. ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ Takes on New York City (The Washington Post) — This mentor text considers New York City as a character in the series.

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