Writing with Anchor Text: Teaching Students How to Quote and Paraphrase


The movement with the Common Core State Standards is to reference text in writing. This isn’t completely new, but is something that usually isn’t taught until middle school and high school. Last year I began using anchor text, or text that guides student writing, to teach my 4th-6th grade students how to quote and paraphrase text correctly. Here are some common questions I’ve had from students and teachers about this process:

What is anchor text?

Anchor text is a piece of text that matches the topic or writing prompt. It’s used for the purpose of supporting the student’s opinions and/or ideas during opinion, argumentative, and explanatory writing.

A photograph of student writing sample using anchor text

Where can I find anchor text?

Everywhere! NewsELA and Time for Kids are my favorite for opinion and argumentative writing. For explanatory writing I often use pictures books about the topic that I check out from the library.

I also use an anchor text in my Complete Guide to Opinion Writing.

How much of the text should students use?

Students should choose 2-3 quotes from the text to support their own ideas. Often when you give students a text about the same topic they’re supposed to write about, they copy as much of it as they can. They just don’t know any better in elementary school, which is why these lessons are so important. Before students even read the anchor text, they should have some of their own ideas for the writing mapped out.

A photograph of student writing sample using anchor text
Begin by writing “my ideas” about the topic.
A photograph of student writing sample using anchor text
For opinion writing, highlight the
‘pro’ reasons & evidence green and
the ‘con’ red.

What should students quote?

Students should quote the parts of the text that support their own ideas. The strongest quotes are statistics and data. Since we don’t have the means to go out and poll a large group of people, we rarely have our own statistics to use in our writing.

How do students cite their sources?

The Common Core Standards say that in text citation is all they need in elementary. I do have my 6th grade students fully cite their sources when we do our research reports. It’s a good way to practice the formatting to prepare for high school and college!

We also use sentence starters to quote text. Below is a page from our Reading interactive notebooks that we use for this!

A photograph of student writing sample using anchor text
Can students paraphrase?
Yes! I tell students that if they read a sentence from the anchor text and stop to think about what it means to them, it can be paraphrased. That means that the best parts to paraphrase are short phrases in the text that make you stop and think, inspiring new ideas.

How do students organize the information?

It’s all about note-taking!  We write notes about our own thinking and the text, then organize it by reasons. Once this is organized, we have everything we need to write coherent body paragraphs.
A photograph of student writing sample using anchor text

It’s truly about teaching students balance when using anchor text for  their own writing. I tell my students that I LOVE hearing their unique ideas, so the majority of their essay should be made up of those. I get so excited when I see them supporting their ideas with quotes from the anchor text!


April Smith

Curriculum Writer and Online Professional Development Coach. 


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