Mastering Mentor Sentences, Part 2: Developing Better Writers

Have you all been anxiously awaiting part 2? Hanging on the edge of your seat? 🙂 Make sure if you haven’t read Part 1 to read it before this post so this one makes sense. 🙂 And now set aside some time, because this one is a bit long… just trying to make sure I give you all the details!!

So you saw, Monday focused on style, language, structure, and some grammar, too. Tuesday was all about grammar. Wednesday and Thursday will focus on the students as writers.

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…

No laughing allowed…….. :o)  And let’s NOT pin this one, OK?  OK.

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:

(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…

Today’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, 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!

Make sure to go read Amanda and Stacia’s Part 2 over at Collaboration Cuties next!! :o) 
If you want even more IN-DEPTH step-by-step help with implementing mentor sentences, check out my courses!