Mentor Sentences Routine: Break It Down (Time to Imitate)

As you’ve progressed through each day of the mentor sentences routine, you’ve seen how this transforms the way students learn grammar and language standards. Students notice the RIGHT things to do in writing, rather than the wrong on Day One. Then on Day Two, students discuss the function of words in a sentence in order to learn how to communicate clearly in their own writing. Students revise the mentor sentence on Day Three, and make sure to keep the meaning the same. Next, on Day Four, students are going to use the same style and structure as the author, but change the context of the sentence.

This is the “hardest” day for students to grasp at first, but once they understand the expectations, it will become their favorite day (and probably yours, too)! Especially if students have never worked with mentor sentences previously, this will be a tricky step in the routine… maybe even a little frustrating. But stay consistent, and start off simple (that’s why my examples have all been about adjectives) so that students can focus more on WHAT to do rather than getting bogged down in understanding a rigorous skill.

mentor sentences day four

Let’s get into how to implement the mentor sentence routine in 2nd-5th grade – day four, time to imitate!

DIRECTIVE: Students will compare the mentor sentence to an imitated example and identify how it’s the same, then write their own imitation of the mentor sentence.

mentor sentence day four directiveHow is Day Four different than Day Three?

On Day Three, they kept the meaning and context of the mentor sentence the same, and they revised by adding or changing words in the sentence. They improved the clarity or language.

On Day Four, they will change the meaning and context of the mentor sentence, while keeping the style and structure that the author used. They will be able to write about anything they want (OR maybe you want them to write specifically about a topic you’re studying or a book you’re reading- that works, too!) but they should strive to “write like the author.”

Let’s break it down! Time To Imitate:

Once you’ve read the original mentor sentence aloud, you’ll share your own example, just like you did with your revision. Again, every single week, you will want to provide a model to hit those higher-order thinking skills. They will evaluate what it is that you did in your sentence that was the same as the author, and determine how you changed that sentence to make it your own.

Rather than revealing your entire sentence upfront, you might want to model your thinking for them to help them understand how to get to the end result of an imitation. You could start off by asking yourself, “What am I going to write about? I think I’m going to write about something I like to eat. Let’s see… what will I eat? Pizza!”

mentor sentence imitate teacher display

“What kind of pizza was I eating?” At this point, some of them might be catching on and even shouting out, “Delicious pizza! Cheese pizza!”

Continue your think-aloud to the next part of the sentence, the prepositional phrases: “Where was I eating? I was playing it on a plate. What kind of plate? How could I describe that plate? I need an adjective.”

Modeling how to ask themselves those questions and think about each part of the sentence in chunks will help them to keep the structure the same.

Compare The Mentor Sentence to The Example

You wouldn’t want to walk through your thinking every week; that’s really just to help students understand how to imitate. When you get to the point where you feel comfortable simply revealing your example, make sure to lead a discussion around what they notice that is the SAME between your example and the mentor sentence. This helps students realize what they also need to keep the same in their own imitation.

For example, if the author wrote a simple sentence, theirs should also be simple. If the author included adjectives, they will, too. If the author wrote in past tense, they should, too. (This is a good time to review the noticings from the beginning of the week!)


Provide what looks like a “Mad Lib” to help them understand the sentence structure. You could write this on the board, or give it to them as a strip to glue in their notebook. This will help them not only complete the imitation but also see the patterns of how words function.

mentor sentence modification imitation

Just as I pointed out on Day Three, you don’t want them to rely on this scaffolding forever, but it is definitely a great modification for slow writers, or those who are not able to “see” the structure.


The kids really love getting to share their creative imitations. Just as you walked around during Time to Revision to make sure everyone was on track with the lesson, you’ll want to check to be sure they are imitating correctly as well. And while you’re peeking over their shoulders, make a mental note of a few that are really on point. Those students should not only share out with the class but also get a special display of their imitation sentence.

mentor sentence student share imitation

You might have those students write their sentence on colored sentence strips with smelly markers, then hang them with the original sentence somewhere special, like the hallway, or a board in the classroom.

mentor sentence celebrate

Keep in mind, you won’t want to choose the BEST sentences each week for display or, as we all know as educators, it would probably always be the same students getting picked. Look for the students who did a good job following the structure, or maybe wrote about something really interesting or creative, too. You might even allow students to get into groups and vote for the sentence they think is the best imitation of the mentor sentence.

You always want to provide the time for them to pair-share as well, because they’ve done all this work that they should be proud of and they will want to share it.

mentor sentence pair share imitations

Application of Imitation Into Writing

Just as you saw on Day Three, you’ll want to be sure this carries over into writing by continuing to work with the skills. You don’t want mentor sentence time to be an isolated “subject,” or then you’re still just teaching grammar in isolation. Keep stressing the focus skill throughout their writing time, and referring back to the mentor sentence for things you want them to continue doing in their writing, too. Read more about setting up a writing lesson schedule to make mentor sentences stick here.

mentor sentences in writing time

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