Step-by-Step: The Why and How of Mentor Sentences - Ideas By Jivey: For the Classroom

Step-by-Step: The Why and How of Mentor Sentences

This post is going to be a big one, but definitely worth your time if you are interested in Mentor Sentences!

Do I have your attention now? :-P  After hearing Jeff Anderson speak about them and reading his books, I was hooked on the idea and knew I wanted to make a routine that would work in my elementary classroom! I have adapted his ideas, and explain how I did so in this post. 

If you aren't sold enough to read the whole post yet, let me tell you why I use Mentor Sentences in my classroom.

#1: I already use children's literature to teach my mini-lessons in reading and writing. 
Why not use those books for grammar, too?

#2: Kids need to learn from amazing, 
well-written sentences. 
Giving them a sentence filled with mistakes 
and telling them to "fix it" doesn't work 
if they don't even know what it's supposed to look like to begin with!

#3: My kids don't know they are learning grammar during our daily Mentor Sentence time. 
They think it's a scavenger hunt, or a game, or a challenge.

#4: My students' grammar knowledge 
AND WRITING improved. 
I found my students actually trying to 
imitate the mentor sentences  
in their own writing.

#5: It only takes 10-15 minutes per day!

Are you still with me? (How could you not be?) I realized after blogging about Mentor Sentences last year that although reading about them is helpful, seeing it in action is really what teachers needed. (Raise your hand if you are a visual learner just like over half of the students in your classroom!) So, I made a video. That's right, Y'ALL go ahead and get ready to make fun of my accent if you aren't from Georgia. ;o) 

Did you hear how excited the kids were? They can't WAIT to find out what the Mentor Sentence will be each week, and they are dying to be the one who figures out the skill I want them to see in the sentence, or for their sentence to be chosen to get displayed.

Still need more...? Want to read about it, too? Here you go, friends. Below you will find information about grades 3-5 mentor sentences. If you are a primary grades teacher, there are mentor sentences for you, too! Read about how you can implement them in the lower grades here!

**These are two posts written in April 2013 combined!**

On Monday, I give the students their sentence for the week to glue down into their journals. (Mine use the back of their Writer's Notebook.) This sentence comes from a book we read the week before, or we are going to read that week. Usually, I have not read the book when I give them the sentence, so when I do read the book, they are hanging on every word, waiting to hear the sentence. I have trained mine to snap when they hear me read the sentence (instead of shouting out). Last week, we used a sentence from one of my favorite books, Step-Stomp Stride by Andrea Davis Pinkney which I had already read to them the week before as part of our biographies unit.

Sojourner put one big-black-beautiful foot in front of the other and she STOMPED on the floorboards of ignorance that were underneath.

Once they have their sentence glued down, we practice reading the sentence together fluently. I'll call on some volunteer students to read it by themselves to show off, but we read it a few times chorally as well. Then, they "notice" what is so awesome about this sentence. Some things I ask to prompt them and get them going are:
How is this sentence different from others you've seen? How is it the same? What makes it so awesome? Why do you think I chose THIS sentence out of ALL the sentences in the book? What about the way this sentence is written stands out to you?

I expect them to write at least three things down on their own, but usually they write more. I give them just a few minutes, and then we come to the floor and they share what they saw. I add their "noticings" to the chart. I always have something in mind that made the sentence stand out to me, and the students know they are trying to "guess" what it was that made me pick it. This helps with their list of "noticings" too because they know it's usually not something small and simple (although, sometimes it is!). Here is our list from last week's sentence:

I have my students tell me why for everything. They can't just say the sentence is descriptive. They had to tell me they could imagine the scene in their head like a movie. They couldn't just tell me STOMPED was in all capitals- they had to tell me why they thought the author put that word in all capital letters. You'll notice the star next to "big-black-beautiful"- there were two things about that, and they got them both!! Alliteration, and the hyphens! We also talked about this being a compound sentence, but I just realized it didn't make it on the list. I don't know how that happened! Whoops! I am usually really good about making sure everything that they say is there! My apologies!

On Tuesday, the students re-write the sentence in their notebook, skipping lines in between, and label all the parts of speech that they know (first, independently). Then we come to the floor again, and they tell me what parts of speech they know, but again, they have to talk about WHY. Here is the completed sentence, but check below it for examples of the dialogue we had as we labeled:
Student 1: Sojourner is a proper noun.
Ms. Ivey: How do you know that?
Student 1: Because it's her name, and she is a person.
Ms. Ivey: Good! What else?
Student 2: Underneath is an adverb.
Ms. Ivey: Really? But it tells position. Why isn't it a preposition? (yup, I'm mean. Trying to trick them!!)
Student 2: (thinks for a minute) Because it tells where they were, but it doesn't connect it to a noun...? (She was not totally sure, but she was right! I was so proud!)
Ms. Ivey: Very good!!! No fooling you!! What else do you notice?
Student 3: Oh! "On the floorboards" is a prepositional phrase, because like <student 2> just said, it DOES connect to a noun. On connects to the floorboards, and it tells where!
Ms. Ivey: Very good!! You are right, and actually, our whole prepositional phrase is "on the floorboards of ignorance"- of is ANOTHER preposition! (It's okay to tell them some things, like this, because you don't want them to be confused...)
Student 3: So "in front of the other" is a prepositional phrase too, right?
Ms. Ivey: Yup!

You can see that, by this point, I am not having to really lead them too much. They do most of it on their own. This is a different story at the beginning of the year. Please do not believe that the conversation you just read above happens right away. They begin to understand the "language" and know how to tell me the answer as we get more comfortable with the process. Of course, I would not give them a sentence like this in the beginning of the year either- I want them to feel successful, which they can do on simpler sentences at first. Something you might hear from them early on is, "big is an adjective." Instead of just labeling it, make sure to ask, "how do you know?" If they give you a blank stare, or just tell you it's a describing word, make them tell you what word it's describing!  Same with nouns. Yes, at this point they had BETTER know what a noun is, but make them tell you what MAKES it a noun! (For example, it's a person.) This is what leads to them being able to tell you why something is a preposition, for example. It also is great when you get into those adjectives that are also nouns, like "kitchen table." They want to tell you kitchen is a noun. Well it is, by itself. But it's describing what kind of table!

Mentor sentences give you the chance to hit several aspects of grammar repeatedly each week. I rarely teach grammar in isolation anymore because I can do it through mentor sentences! 

The focus of day 3 is to make the sentence SOUND even better than it already does. I have an exercise I do with the kids every Wednesday (and other times in writing also, but they expect it during Mentor Sentences on Wednesday). I ask them, "what happens when we edit?" I have taught them editing makes our writing LOOK better, so they all say together, "we make it look better," as they put their hands on their eyes like binoculars. I ask students to share ways we can edit- capitalization, punctuation, spelling... And then I ask, "what happens when we revise?" I have taught them revising makes our writing SOUND better, so they all say together, "we make it sound better," as they cup their hands around their ears to give themselves supersonic ears! I ask students to share ways we can revise- changing verbs to make them more vivid, adding descriptive language like adjectives or figurative language, combining sentences, etc...

So, now they are ready to revise this week's mentor sentence! We do talk about how just adding any old adjective (or adding TEN adjectives) is not revising because we want to make it sound better, not just "longer." I always give them an example of the sentence that I revised. This helps get their brain going. It also allows conversation for what kinds of things can be done during revision. Here's my sentence from last week:
(Remember, the original sentence was: Sojourner put one big-black-beautiful foot in front of the other and she STOMPED on the floorboards of ignorance that were underneath.)

We talk about the things that are different in the revised sentence:
*I changed the word put to placed, making it more vivid.
*I also replaced STOMPED with POUNDED- both are vivid, but POUNDED makes an impact in all capital letters, too.
*I used the preposition across instead of on because I thought it fit better with POUNDED.
*I changed the adverb underneath to below.

The students write their sentences and I allow the ones who volunteer to share; the rest of the class listens for the revisions and shares what they hear. It's very important that you stress to them they are keeping the meaning of the sentence, but just making it sound better. Once they learn Thursday's task, they will sometimes get confused and want to change the meaning of the sentence. Just remind them that they won't do that until the next day...

Thursday's task is to write like the author. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery, I always say! So, on this day, the students decide what they want to write their sentence about (this is the day they change the meaning!) but try to keep the structure of the sentence the same. It is important to go back and review the noticings from Monday. The author used a metaphor? Oh, I should too! The sentence is a compound sentence? Then, so should mine! The author connected three alliterative adjectives with hyphens? I will, too!

Again, I share my example with them and we compare how it is the same as the mentor sentence:
I wrote a compound sentence with three alliterative adjectives connected with hyphens followed by a prepositional phrase, and capitalized my vivid verb. Sometimes, I even go word by word or phrase by phrase, pointing at the mentor sentence and pointing at mine to talk about the similarities. Then it's their turn! They all imitate the sentence and I choose 4 students to write their sentence on sentence strips with special markers. Some weeks, it is REALLY difficult to choose only 4! The students all want to be one of the four chosen, so they really try hard to write some SUPER sentences. I also try to pick different students each week to give everyone the chance to be displayed on the bulletin board.
The four sentences I chose last week were great! You'll notice they don't have EVERY element from the mentor sentence, but that's okay! You can tell they are trying some of the elements, and hey! I would be so happy with these sentences written in their writing pieces! The first one is by far my favorite. I laughed out loud!!

My dog dropped one stinky-smelly-surprise in front of me and BARKED for me to clean it up.

I bounced the basketball with my super-sweaty-super-sized hand and threw the basketball into the white netted hoop.

My mom made the best-blasting-booming with taste pasta and my brothers and I devoured it.

Jeremy bought delicious-dreamy-delicate brownies from the Debie Snack store and he STUFFED the brownies in his mouth and ate it.

Perfect sentences? No. But better than those boring ol' sentences I'd be getting otherwise? Absolutely!! And YES! They do try to incorporate the elements and structure of mentor sentences into their own writing! I have seen improvements in my students writing over the last few years while using mentor sentences.

As I mentioned in my last post, I teach grammar through mentor sentences and through my reading and writing lessons. Very rarely do I teach it in isolation. We have been working on distinguishing between simple, compound, and complex sentences for the last several weeks. I alternated my mentor sentences between compound and complex, and we talked about how we knew it was compound vs. complex.

Every Friday, I give a mentor sentence quiz. The quiz requires them to edit the sentence that they've been seeing ALL week (so they know at this point what it should look like), and it assesses whatever skill we worked on as the focus for that week. It sometimes also spirals back to include skills that were previous focuses but also showed up in this sentence. For example, in this week's sentence, I focused on the fact that it was compound (last week was complex). But we also talked about the alliteration in "big-black-beautiful" which was a previous focus in our figurative language unit and another mentor sentence... so I included it on the quiz!
FYI: this is one of my ELL students! Yippee!
You can easily pull a sentence from any book and try this in your classroom, or if you love the idea of all the work being done for you, check out my TPT Store for Mentor Sentence Units. 

(There are freebies in my store, too so you can try it out!)

Remember, CONSISTENCY IS KEY! To see real improvement, you need to carve out a time in your schedule to do Mentor Sentences daily. I promise you, it's worth it! You won't have to teach grammar in isolation so much anymore (BORING!) and you'll see improvement in the students' writing! 

If you want even more IN-DEPTH step-by-step help with implementing mentor sentences, check out my courses!

For more ideas with mentor sentences, follow my Pinterest board!


  1. Thanks for sharing this past post on mentor sentences and describing what it looks like in your classroom. The video is really helpful too. I'm excited to use them this year with my 3rd graders.
    Mrs. Bentin's Blackboard

  2. Ugh, teaching grammar in a meaningful way is so hard!! I love what you've done with Mentor Sentences. I'm glad I caught this post. I'm definitely going to check out your stuff! Thanks for the throwback!

    Wild About Fifth

  3. I love your Mentor Sentences!! Since I'm a visual learner, the video really helped with knowing how they work and how much the students interact which is awesome. Thanks for this great post!!

  4. I have been wanting to learn more about Mentor Sentences since I first heard of them. Thanks for explaining in detail and in a way that's easy to understand. I'm excited to use this with my 4th graders next year.

  5. I'm going to take what you've done and use it with first graders. They really need to see what good sentences look like. Thanks!

  6. This sounds great. Can you give me some idea how you start the year? Do you go over parts of speech? Do you do units? You practically have to draw a picture for me! Thanks

    1. I teach 4th, so the majority of them know parts of speech. It really depends on how you feel your class is doing- if they are ready. I generally walk them through mentor sentences the first two weeks so they know what I expect... but what you saw in the video was the third week of school! They get the hang of it, and they love it! I don't expect them to know everything every week either- we use the teachable moments! :)

    2. Is there an interactive language arts notebook for each unit or just the first one? Thanks

    3. There are notebooks for all of them- there is a bundle that will save you some money if you are interested in getting them all! I just added the link to the post above at the bottom! :o)

  7. As you know, I am a huge fan of Mentor Sentences and your units. They were a lifesaver for teaching grammar authentically last year! Since I loop with half my kiddos, I'm super glad that you finished unit 4 so I can use new books for the first ten weeks! Now...get to work on the next twenty weeks worth! ;)

    Thanks for linking up!
    Sweet Rhyme – Pure Reason
    Follow my blog with Bloglovin

  8. I purchased a few sets when you has them on sale recently, and I'm excited to try them out this year. Will have to start filling my Amazon cart with books soon. Also stealing your editing and revising eyes and ears connection. You said you also use the same books for reading and writing. Do you have a product that shows the reading/writing skills you use for each book? That would be great! Thanks!

    1. Nancy I am almost done with a pack that goes with all 40 books for reading and writing and it will HOPEFULLY be released by the end of next week! That's my hope. ;-) You will love it!

  9. This looks incredible. I'm so excited to try it!

    Trials and Triumphs

  10. Thought about trying mentor sentences last year but with new Common Core stuff, it was just too crazy! REALLY thinking about trying them this year. As far as grading goes, do you grade any of their mentor sentence work during the week or just the quiz? Do you count it as a classwork grade or a test/quiz grade or both?

    1. Hi Lyn! This is actually PERFECT for all the Common Core craziness because it has them give evidence for all of their noticings! As far as grading, I only take the Friday quiz for a grade. I count it as a classwork grade, but that's because of our grading requirements at my school. You could count it as whatever you think! I don't count anything during the week as a grade just because I want them to take risks and try new things, and don't want to punish them if they don't get it quite right... hope this helps! :)

    2. Thanks! Am I correct in thinking that there are other grammar/lessons besides the mentor sentence sequence referenced here? It seems like there would be actual lessons some other time and then the mentor sentences are used to review/refresh/develop good writing.

    3. I do teach new skills in isolation but mostly, my grammar is taught solely through mentor sentences because of the consistent spiral of most skills! :)

  11. This looks amazing! I will be moving from 5th and 6th grade math to fourth grade self-contained. I am trying to "beef up" my reading/writing/spelling curriculum and this is going to be a PERFECT addition! Thank you so much for blogging all your wonderful ideas!

  12. Do you have anything for 7th grade?

  13. Thank you so much for sharing this & posting your lesson. It is SOOO helpful to watch it in action. I have tried this before, but I wasn't as successful. I am going to try this next week. How long does this take? 5-10 min? I imagine the kids get faster as the year progresses.

  14. This is SO helpful!! The video & then your written explanation truly explain how you use them!! I kept hearing the term Mentor Sentences for the last few months, but did not fully understand them. I can't wait to try them this week!! thank you!!!

  15. I was also wondering if you had anything for 6th graders! I've taught gifted students for the past several years, but this year will be teaching a mix. So I'd love to find something for the lower middle school level.

    Lit with Lyns

    1. Hi Lyndsey! This is a future project of mine! At this time, I can't give you an idea of a date, but I definitely want to get some done for middle grades!

  16. Great mentor sentence lesson and super cute classroom! Where did you get those writing goals posted on your board? I would love to get a set of my own. Thank you!

    1. Yes! They came from my friend Christy:


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